Sunday, December 5, 2010

Recollections: The Sea and me (part 1 of 3)

Certain events in life register with you for many years or forever. If an important event happens when you are a child, it certainly makes a lasting impression. As I mentioned in earlier posts, when I was about 6 years old my mother and I took a ship from Marseille, France to Istanbul, Turkey. This voyage lasted about 10 days I think because the ship had to stop, first in Athens, Greece, to make repairs and then it also stopped whenever we were close to a torpedo floating in the sea. This was in late 1946. Below is a picture of my mother and me visiting the Acropolis in Athens while the ship was being repaired.

Mother and me at the Acropolis, Athens, Greece, in late 1946

My mother was very sea sick and stayed in her cabin most of the time. I was free to roam the ship and I did. I made friends with other children, English, American, Greeks and also the staff. They kept an eye on me I think as I was always on deck watching the sea. I was fascinated. It was on old ship, no elevators but metal stairs. An old sailor there, or it could have been a petty officer, gave me a tour of the ship and often brought me in the galley. He told me “tu vois, au grand large, les vagues elles caressent notre bateau” [you see in the open sea the waves they caress our ship] “la mer, c’est comme notre mère, elle nous câline” [the sea, it is like our mother, she pampers us - In French the word for “sea” sounds the same as the word for mother – mer and mère.] “les vagues partent et reviennent sans arrêt , aujourd’hui et demain, autour du monde.” [waves come and go ceaselessly, today and tomorrow, all around the world.] How wonderful I thought that these waves saw the entire world. I decided that when I grew up I would see the world by ship. When we arrived in Istanbul I did not want to leave the ship, but I had to.

Picture taken in Istanbul in the fall of 1946

We stayed in Istanbul 4 or 5 months to take care of my grandmother’s affairs (selling her house, etc.) We did take a ferry to cross the Bosphorus – the strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara - to visit the Asian part of Turkey. Then we took the ship back to Marseille. This time both my mother and my grandmother were sick as the Mediterranean Sea was quite rough. I did not take pictures then so I’ll have to rely more on my postcards, vintage or modern.

My love of the sea started with this sea journey to Turkey. In the summer we returned to Marseille to visit my father’s Armenian relatives that had been found again. I was pleased to meet then but also to often go to the sea in Marseille.

Picture on the Marseille Canebière boulevard, with our new found Armenian cousins – I am wearing dark glasses.

Since we lived in Paris and then in the suburbs I always talked about going back to the sea. Luckily at the time (I don’t know if it is still done) the primary schools of our “département de Seine et Oise” (county) finished the year by taking all the kids for “Une journée à la mer” (a day by the sea.) It would be somewhere in Normandy – usually Dieppe. Very early that morning all the children were brought to the train (steam train) and we would ride to Dieppe. We would go to a local school for lunch, then spend the rest of the day on the beach. It did not matter to us that the beach was not made of sand, but “galets” (smooth stones) we had a great time and came back late, exhausted and sun burnt.

Postcard of the beach at Dieppe and stones on beach, Normandy

When I was 11 years my mother finally said that we could go and spend the month of August on a beach if I planned the trip and selected the town. I had fun researching all the beaches, not too far away. I remember the first beach we went to was called Fort Mahon. Sand dunes were covering the beach, but not much else was happening there. Below is an old picture near Fort Mahon – a bit of a desolate place and a newer picture of the beach which shows it has not changed a lot…. I wish I had had a horse like the girl in the picture.

Beach de Fort Mahon, France (Wikimedia Commons)

We had no TV, no phone, no radio and knew no one. We went to the beach every day and when it was cool, I just would sit watching the waves or walk along the beach. But as long as I was near the sea, I was happy.

Picture of me on the beach in Fort Mahon, 1951.

Then every year after that we went to a beach in August and stayed for the month. Once it was in Saint Malo, in Brittany.

Vintage postcard of St Malo, a fortified town in Brittany

Another time we stayed at the Mont St Michel first for a week, then went to another beach.

Sometimes my mother would go back to stay with my father and a guardian would stay with me. One year we were in Courseulles sur Mer, in Normandie.

Getting ready to catch some shrimp in Courseulles sur Mer, Normandy, 1954

There were still some German blockhaus near the beach and I would go and visit them. The Canadian forces had given the code name of “Juno Beach” to Courseulles for the D Day invasion there in 1944, just ten years earlier. You can find more about Juno Beach here
(click on "Canada in WWII" under the heading Juno Beach Center) and here.

Courseulles sur Mer (Juno Beach) Normandie

I found some more pictures, but with not any date or location. I always wanted to stand near a ship or a boat when photographed.

Then when I was maybe 16 years old my father bought a small house in Mers-les-Bains, a small Normandie town 27 kms from Dieppe (16.7 miles.) I spent many hours reading on the beach, or roaming all around the little town with a bicycle, alone. Here is a picture of a similar house as ours in Mers-les-Bains – and a picture of my mother at the window.

We would drive there quite often as it was not too far from Paris – 95 miles/150 kms or so. But when I was 17 I started going to Italy in summer – the first two summers I traveled with a chaperone to San Benedetto del Tronto, on the Adriatic Sea.

Picture taken at San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy, near a boat (of course) in 1957.

The 3rd and 4th year I travelled to Rimini, also on the Adriatic Sea, with 4 other girl friends. I spoke better Italian then than English.

Concurrently, starting when I was 13 years old, I went to England to improve my English. I joined a school group in December 1953, but on the ship crossing the Channel, I managed to stay alone. The family in England was so very nice. They invited me the following July to accompany them to a beach on the Isle of Wight. I was pleased to go of course as I could take a ferry first to go to England and then another one to the island. The beaches on the Isle of Wight were lovely. Here is a 1950 era postcard showing the ferry to the Isle of Wight.

For several years I went back to England, mostly during the Christmas vacations. I would travel on the ferry taking the longest time to cross the Channel, the 4-hour crossing from Dieppe to Newhaven instead of the 1 ½ hour Calais-Dover. I did not take a picture of the ferry then, but below is a vintage postcard showing a Dieppe ferry boat.

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll finish next week. My mother (my mère) loved a song created by the French singer Charles Trénet, called “La Mer” (the sea.) He composed it in the 40s after a trip along the Mediterranean Sea. Later on lyrics were written in English, unrelated to the French lyrics. Bobby Darin made it a hit in 1959 under the name “Beyond the Sea.”

La mer
Qu'on voit danser le long des golfes clairs
A des reflets d'argent
La mer
Des reflets changeants
Sous la pluie...

Note: Top picture was taken off the coast of Sicily on 11/05/2009 with my Nikon.


DJan said...

Oh! I get to be the first commenter! VB, this is just so perfect. You were always a beauty, it seems. Seeing you as a young girl in sunglasses, a young maid in billowing skirt, all with the sea behind you, it's just beautiful. Your life has been filled with the sea and boats, and you are continuing on with it in your travels. Thank you for your lovely and, as always, well researched post.

Jojo said...

Such a fascinating experience for a young person. Oh to have such adventures and memories! As I read along I felt I was a part of a film.

Anonymous said...

I love the song. It sounds so much better in French!
I enjoy the sea, as well, but living in the Midwestern US, it is very rare that I am near it. When I am, it is hard to drag me away. I also loved the ferries. We crossed by ferry from Dover to Calais, and several other trips, and I loved it each time. I haven't taken a cruise. I wonder if I would enjoy it. Thank you for such a beautiful post. You look like a very girly little girl, but obviously with a high taste for adventure!

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** A Istanbul, à Athènes ou sur la plage de Fort Mahon ... je te trouve très jolie Vagabonde sur ces photos ! merci !!!
Je te souhaite un excellent début de semaine ! GROSSES BISES !!!! :o) ***

Pondside said...

What an interesting childhood you had! I loved the photos of you as a child and as a young woman - always beside a boat!

Ginnie said...

I would LOVE to see your natal chart, Vagabonde! You have so much travel and sea and wanderlust in you. I absolutely love that you can go that far back and tie all these threads together. I wonder how many of us could do that!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What an interesting childhood. I love the sea also, but didn't grow up near it. Your first voyage must have been exciting, but the torpedo sounds frightening. How wonderful that the old sailor took an interest in you.

I've heard Dieppe is lovely. A French teacher of ours grew up in Dieppe during WWII and the stories she tells about the soldiers living in their house are fascinating.

You've certainly lived an exciting life.

Vicki Lane said...

What a poetic old sailor he was! Of course, I've noticed that almost anything sounds better in French.

I really enjoyed seeing the pictures of you on your various adventures!

Reader Wil said...

Merci Vagabonde de ce beau voyage et cette belle chanson! J'aime cette chanson chantée par Charles Trenet!
Vous avez écrit de Rimini, où j'ai aussi été quand j'ai été jeune. C'était long temps!:(

Bonne journée, Vagabonde!

Ruth said...

With that first ship's sailor who told you how the sea cares for the ship (I never thought about mére and mer like that), you were hooked, mais biensur!

Also, of course I love hearing about your trip to Istanbul. We lived on the Asian side, but how I wish we had lived on the European side, in the old part of the city.

The way your independence was fostered at a young age, along with your wanderlust, it is no wonder you are Vagabonde, maybe the most suitable pseudonym in blogdom for anyone.

Such wealth, and I feel it beautifully and keenly through your words, photos, and postcards.

Miss_Yves said...

J'aime beaucoup votre collection de photos anciennes, qui portent la trace de souvenirs et d'époques troublées .
(Désolée,je n'ai pas lu intégralement votre texte, juste en diagonale: je comprends l'Anglais, mais lire un long texte ,assise en face d'un écran me fatigue et j'abandonne très vite)
Je possède aussi le timbre sur le mont Saint-Michel.
j'ai fait cet été une série sur les villas normandes de la côte fleurie.
Il me semble que le maillot de bain de 1951 était un modèle à "smocks"!
(J'ai également mis une réponse sur mon blog)

Jeanie said...

What an incredible post. We share a passion for the sea, but oh, the stories you tell and how beautifully you illustrate them with the photos of your life. Normandy -- I loved it there, albeit briefly. And those photos by the boats... Oh, my!

I am impressed at how your family allowed you the gift of independence when you were quite young. That doesn't seem to happen much anymore -- maybe for good reasons, but nonetheless...

I have a bit to catch up on but will have to do it after I return from a week away. Like you, I'll be preposting!

tasteofbeirut said...

My grandmother and parents used to love to listen to Charles Trenet, so I learned the song as well! This trip to Marseilles and Istanbul you describe could have very well been taken by one of my relatives, one of my aunt, Marcelle, was raised in Marseille; in those days, the coast all alongside the mediterranean was not filled with tourists and resorts and it was so lovely!

Elaine said...

You led a very interesting childhood! It must have been quite exciting to take that first voyage to Istanbul, and from that enjoyable voyage you found a lifetime passion. I enjoyed traveling with you on your early explorations.

Margaret said...

Truly amazing! I have a feeling the girl riding the horse on the beach would have gladly traded places with you. Such treasures, those photos and how wonderful to take trips with your mother like that. Reading and alone time is what so many young people need today, to enjoy the outside and experience life! What rich memories you have and THANK YOU for sharing them with us here. I never find your posts too long... just that I have too little time. I will keep an eye out for the follow up. (And I LOVE the artwork of the last postcard)

kyh said...

How interesting! I never knew you've got Armenian roots! No wonder you seem to be interested in the history behind the naming of Armenian Road in George Town, Penang a while back! ;)

You have such a wonderful, wonderful childhood. I never get to travel so far from my home until recent years.

lorilaire said...

Tes photos anciennes sont très jolies !
Merci de nous faire partager tes souvenirs d'enfance qui ne sont pas communs !
Bisous du Havre !

Marguerite said...

What a wonderful childhood you had! Loved hearing about your travels and seeing the pics of you as a young girl. As I may have told you before, my mother's family was originally from Dieppe, and I would really love to go there someday. Enjoyed my visit, as always! Cheers, cher!

Diane said...

Thank you so much for visiting my blog as it now means I have found yours. I am absolutely intrigued by your story and I am now looking forward to part 2. I will be reading more of your posts over the next few days. I am so jealous that you obviously have no problem with languages. Having spoken English all my life, trying to learn a new language when past 60 has been very difficult for me. I struggle with memory and the French grammar, though I do somehow manage to get by. Most of my friends in France are French but this does not help me that much. We have only spent one Christmas in France so far but I found it was equally as Christmassy as the UK. I will be back. Diane

LivingOceania said...

Wonderful story; you and the sea. Such a fabulous experience at tender age. Love your old pics, particularly of Marseille and the younger you - cute!.

Olga said...

Thanks for stopping by...I loved perusing through your blog. This last post is fabulous!

claude said...

Hello !
Dis moi, c'est une grande histoire La Mer et Toi ! Et en plus tu es une grande voyageuse.
Il me semble me rappeler que la première fois que j'ai vu la mer ce devait être quand j'étais en colonie de vacances à Berder en Bretagne. Nous avions pris un vieux bateau de pêche pour nous rendre à Quiberon tout en s'arrêtant à Belle Ile et à l'Ile d'Houat.
Sinon ce fut camping au bord de la grande bleue ou au bord de l'Atlantique où il fallait pour aller à la plage se grimper la dune du Pilat.
Plus tard, ce fut la Casta Dorada en Espagne.
Nous avons vu aussi la mer du nord dans le nord de l'Allemagne et la Manche à St Brieux,St Malo et au Mont St-Michel aussi, et bien évidemment en visitant les plages de Normandie où une années nos avons emmenés nos amis de SLC à Utah Beach.
Côté bateau encore ce fut pour aller à l'Ile d'AIx et aux Antilles pour aller d'Ile en Ile en Express des Iles ou en catamaran à Fort de France Je pense que la mer que je préfère est la Caraïbe.
Ecoutes, tu vas rigoloer, Courseulles sur Mer est la ville de mon Pépé, Il était Normand.
Et aux repas de Noel, dans le temps, mon Papa qui était Baryton Martin nous chantait La Mer de Charles Trenet.
Un autre point commun, Vagabonde, j'ai habité aussi la Seine et Oise.
Bises !

claude said...

J'ai oublié de dire que j'aie bien les maisons typiques de la côte Normande que j'ai parcourue jusqu'à Etretat.
La dernière image est très belle et je trouve toute jolie aussi.

Baino said...

Oh how I love your French photos. Didn't get to see much more than Paris and the south west and north east and not much in between. I came to Australia on a boat many years ago and remember the sea sickness well. Thank goodness for Travel Calm. Love these things. Apologies for not having been here for so long, many weeks of internet woes and disconnection. Lovely to catch up.

Friko said...

Oh I thought i had commented a long time ago.

I too love the sea, ever since I was sent to an island to recover from illness when I was very small. Unfortunately, I have ever lived by it.

I know many of the French coastal towns and areas you describe, the English visit French beaches more than they visit their own.

Anonymous said...

I am a water person as well...the sea always gives me peace. I see you were truly born a vagabond, born to travel and enjoy many countries and many beaches. How lucky you are to have a collection of memories from them as well.

Jeruen said...

I envy the fact that even after moving here and there, you still have all these memories of old photos and such. I don't think I have my old photos: perhaps if I rummage through the old house in Manila, there might be one here and there, but I just don't have them with me. We moved a lot when I was growing up (my dad is a diplomat) and so it was way easier to make little baggage than collect things. My current apartment here in Buffalo is very minimalist, because I know for sure that once I get my degree, I am moving to some other city, even country perhaps.

By the way, not to nitpick, I don't think that's the Acropolis. I think that's the Temple of Olympian Zeus, in some other part of Athens. I believe the Acropolis just refers to the hill that contains the Parthenon and the Erechtheum. Oh how you remind me of the awe and wonder I had when I visited Athens in 2005: my parents asked me which city I wanted to visit as a graduation gift when I graduated from undergrad, and I chose Athens without hesitation.

Lonicera said...

I particularly like your family stories, and your youth in France. My closest friend in Argentina is from a French family, who when they got together, sang Trenet songs - apart from La Mer, I remember her father and his sisters singing together by firelight 'Douce France,
cher pays de mon enfance...' I found a cd of his a few years ago on eBay.
Have been looking at blog2print that you mentioned - really interesting, trying to figure out how much it allows you to change things yourself.

livininlb said...

What a wonderful, spellbinding post! I can't wait for part two. How is it that I am still learning so much about you? I get your love of cruises so much more now. And I would have guessed you to be a few years older than you actually were in each of your pictures (which I love!) The song is t'aime, ma mère.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

How wonderful to have traveled so much as a young person, and in so very many interesting and wonderful places--Especially Normandy. And to think you were there only ten years after D-Day....! You have had a very interesting life, my dear...I think it is FABULOUS!

bowsprite said...

"les vagues elles caressent notre mer, c’est comme notre mère, elle nous câline..." oh. this moves me. I love Trenet! Dieppe is still on my list! merci pour the rich post. You look the same! same intrepid energy that time does not affect!

Sue said...

That was so enjoyable to read and to see all your old photo's...I have been to many of the places you mentioned in France...we took a trip down the coast through Normandy...we loved it and would love to return someday...
Thanks for stopping by my blog...I live in Marietta also, for the past 26 East Cobb. That was the first time I had been to a show at the Strand and it was wonderful. Would love to go back when they have another musical....
as for that great pumpkin pudding if you would like a good recipe for it please feel free to e-mail

Jeannette StG said...

Wow, what a post! How serendipitous - I was 5 years old on my first sea voyage (for 3 weeks), from Indonesia to Holland, and the places I still remember are the rock of Gibraltar (bartering leather goods -probably Morrocan) and the Gulf of Biscay (spelling) -because 90% of the people got sea sick there. It has made an lasting impression on me.

Arkansas Patti said...

Thanks for stopping by TNS.
Wow, what an interesting childhood you had.
Like Naomi, I marvel that you did all that so soon after the end of WWII.

Cheryl Cato said...

This is a wonderful post and I look forward to the rest of it. I appreciated your visit to my blog and completely understand what you said about the neighborly friendliness or lack thereof. Just now I am reading this & commenting from my husband's computer. When I go to mine I will send an email to you with further comments.Thanks for the visit. :-) LF

Jenn Jilks said...

What a wonderful post! You are so beautiful! Can you believe how time flies?

Angela said...

I just LOVE your blog, Vagabonde! What elegant dresses your Armenian cousins were wearing, and oh, all those MEMORIES!! You really filled a lot in your lifetime, and we are so glad you share your adventures with us. My love to the sea is also strong, so now we ended up living right next to a sandy beach!
Thanks for always stopping by here, even if only by blogging

Zuzana said...

What an absolutely grand post! One can get lost in the text and the pictures, which eloquently bring back the era of times goes by, one that I would very much have loved to have belonged to...
Have you ever considered compiling this in a book, it has an exquisite quality of "life lived", that appeals to my romantic and nostalgic sense.;) Besides I think some of these photographs must have a historical value.
Beautiful and I look forward to part 2.;))

Vagabonde said...

Djan, Jojo, alwaysinthebackrow,Pondside,Vicki Lane, Elaine, Margaret Bednar, Earthgypsy, Artful Nuance, Baino, DianeCA, livininlb, Lady from the Hills, Jenn Jilks, Angela - Thank you all so much for visiting my blog and leaving such a great collection of comments. I always look forward to reading them.

Vagabonde said...

Ginny – Thank you for your kind comments. I do not have a natal chart. I could send you my birth date and place of birth but I am not sure about the time.

Ruth – I would love to go to Istanbul again. There are some cousins left there but unfortunately I don’t know where they are. I am pleased that you enjoyed the post.

My Carolina Kitchen – Dieppe is a great little town. There is a castle high above the town. When I used to visit it they would let me play a few notes on the piano of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, which was in the castle. I don’t think they do that anymore!

Jeanie – Yes, I am surprised to at how free I was as a child. I remember going all around our neighborhood in Paris fetching errands for my mom, then starting at 10 or 11 taking the train. I read that there is much less crime on children in the US than even 10 years ago but if one happens it is all over the TV so parents are afraid and a bit obsessive here.

Vagabonde said...

Tasteofbeirut - as a coincidence, my father’s cousin in Marseille was also named Marcelle. I am not sure where her mother was brought up. Her mother (my father’s first cousin) was one of five daughters who had been orphaned in Istanbul and sent to 5 different orphanages, one in Jordan, another in Beirut, another one in Syria and so on. Three of them ended up in Marseille and reunited and they found my father at the time we went to Istanbul.

Kyh – thanks for stopping by. Yes my father was Armenian, so that makes me half Armenian half French. Unfortunately his family is all over the world and I don’t know them. My father passed away before I had a chance to ask him. I know that some live in Canada and Australia.

Marguerite – if your family was from Dieppe, you certainly need to go and visit there. There are some very affordable flights to France if you go out of season and the train is very reliable, you don’t even need to rent a car. Thanks for your comments.

Vagabonde said...

Friko – have you visited any of the Normandy beaches? I’d love to hear your impressions on them. Thanks for stopping by.
Linguist-in-waiting – you may be absolutely right about the photo in Greece. I was very small then so please excuse me if I made any mistake. Thanks for the comment.
Bowsprite – you flatter me dear friend. The years have certainly taken a toll on me, but I don’t think my spirit has changed much. Even when my body asks to take it easy I am still ready to go, pain or no pain.

Sue – so we are neighbors, how nice. I’ll take your offer and shall send you a request for your pumpkin pudding. Thanks for offering.

Jeannette – your sea voyage from Indonesia to Holland must have been a lot longer than mine. Have you written a post on your memories yet? Thanks for the comment.

Vagabonde said...

Lonicera – yes I also like Douce France by Charles Trenet. This is another song we heard often on the radio. Thanks for stopping by.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charentes, Arkansas Patti, Lizzi Frizzfrock - Thank you for coming to my blog and welcome. I always like to hear from new blogging friends. I hope you will come back.

Zuzanna – yes I have thought about having all the recollections posts placed into a book. Already I have three books on my blog so far – I have one done every 6 months. When I have enough recollection to place in a separate book I’ll have 2 printed for my daughters. Thanks for your nice comment.

Vagabonde said...

Nancy, Reader Wil, Miss Yves, lorilaire, - je suis très heureuse que vous êtes venues voir mon blog. J’aime toujours savoir ce que vous pensez de mes posts. Merci.

Claude - Toi aussi to as bien voyagé. Je ne connais pas l’état de l’Utah ni la Martinique. J’ai une “soeur” (correspondante) qui habite en Martinique et elle me dit d’aller la voir un jour. Etretat aussi est une bien jolie ville. Si ton pépé était normand on doit bien cuisiner dans ta famille! Merci pour le com.

Dutchbaby said...

Oh how I love cruising with you and your mother and listening to "La Mer" as I write this comment. I have Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" on my iPod and I play it often.

Every single one of your photos of your young life is fantastic. Who took most of these photos?

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