Strolling down the boardwalk in Trouville on the beach in Normandy is like stepping back in time. On June 6, 1944 the Normandy beaches were ravaged during the famous D-Day Landing, yet fortunately for my French family, pockets of the coastline were spared from the bombings. La Promenade des Planches, built in 1876 of an exotic wood that resists heat and cold, endures another kind of beating. The faded, grey boardwalk has withstood the tantrums of the skies, tempest of the sea, and the trampling feet of millions of tourists.
From the boardwalk, on your left, the ocean calls. White foaming waves wash onto a beach where children build sandcastles and fly kites while young adults shoot across the sand on colorful char sails. Children and adults alike kick footballs into faded nets, dive after volleyballs in the sand and smack tennis balls on the red clay courts. Proud owners of the beach houses lean against the white huts trimmed in blue and bake in the afternoon sun like gingerbread in an oven.
Queues form in front of the ice cream, crepes and waffle stands. Tables from the outdoor cafés spill onto the walkway. Gold, magenta, and turquoise kites dance across the skies. The steady rhythm of the waves crashes against the horizon, where only the bravest souls dare to wade in the frigid water. The beach is a beehive of activity.
If you look to the right, it’s as if time stood still. Imposing half-gabled, eighteenth century mansions line the seafront, casting shadows, looming as if guarding the coast from another invasion. My dream is to be able to walk through one, to creep up the spiral staircases and peek into the alcoves and corner niches.
The juxtaposition of past and present creates a stunning contrast. I cringe when tourists pull out iPhones. Why would anyone want to connect in artificial cyberspace, when the reality of the beach offers a feast for one’s senses?
Benches beckon beach goers to sit for a spell, to people-watch and admire the ocean. I used to identify the passersby nationality by their fashion choices. Svelte Parisian women wore tight fitting designer skirts and even skinnier stilettos. The British donned bonnets and cardigans with sturdy footwear. Americans sported baseball caps and tennis shoes.
Now that the old-fashioned, canvas Converse high top has made a comeback worldwide, national identity is harder to decipher. Styles of dress have blended, at least with the younger generations.
A stroll down the walkway fills me with a sense of timelessness. Long after I am gone, the next generations will continue to promenade on the boardwalk of Trouville-Deauville.