Well, I think I mentioned earlier that we were going swimming once a week. The kids and I both loved it but it cost us about 20 Euros each time so we weren’t much loving that! A friend of André’s at work told him about a place along the Loue river where people could go to swim for free. Plus, it had a waterfall.
I knew, immediately, that we had to go. The next day was Wednesday and we had lunch with Daddie at work and then hit the road. It was supposed to be about half an hour away – and easy (according to Julien) to find. Of course, others might find it very hard to find since, technically, you aren’t supposed to swim there. The turn was described to me as completely unmarked and unremarkable – but obvious. Sounds great! André was hoping I would wait until the weekend so he could help navigate – but time waits for no man (or woman with 3 hot kids who heard the word river and went crazy).
I fearlessly headed off and, after going in the complete opposite direction for the first 10 minutes, seemed to be on the right track. I watched my mile markers, counted my roundabouts and swerved into the first dirt road on the right I came across. Hmm…. that was a field. The second? A logging road… The third? A small village with no sign of the ‘No Swimming’ sign that was to be my big clue – plus there was pavement – must not be right. Have I mentioned recently that Mr. Liberty is not equipped with 4 wheel drive and my driving skills are, I admit it freely, not the best in the universe? Frustrated, I called André for help and, consulting his map, he told me to go further – which I did and finally – after only one more false try – I found the right road. It is right across the highway from the large sign pictured – and the dirt road actually does have a signpost – one you wouldn’t see unless you were a local, but that’s not the point, right?
We wandered down about another kilometer of dirt roads until we came to the sign I had been waiting for. You know you are corrupting your children when you say: “Look, look! The ‘No Swimming Allowed’ sign!” and their response is ecstatic cheers. But just wait, my friends, the corruption for this day was nowhere near over. At the end of the dirt road were lots of cars. Keep in mind we are literally in the middle of nowhere so I knew that had to be a good sign. I found a place to park and noticed 2 other guys getting out of their cars. We discreetly followed them - this is easy to do when your kids are very slow and the guys are very fast. Luckily they were walking across a deserted field so we didn’t lose them. Eventually, we came to a break in the trees and saw….a naked man. (I bet you thought I was going to say the river, right?) Well, we saw that too – but the naked dude sort of trumped. I am not talking a guy with just undies or a speedo – I am talking Nudie Judie folks. He seemed to be alone on the beach. The kids wondered why he was all alone and I theorized it was because he wanted some naked privacy – so we shouldn’t stare, ok? As we walked a bit closer, we realized that he was not alone, far, far from it. The beach was littered with naked male bodies, on the beach, in the water, walking around, you name it! You know, I’m liberal, I’m open, I’m all that – but when push came to shove on total male nudity – I admit I did feel uncomfortable. But I also felt very, very hot and very determined to go for a swim. So, I said – what the hell? We found the place where the barbed wire fence had been pinched together so you could crawl under safely – took note of the polite warning sign. (Translated “You are in a place where you could see naked people”) and walked to the river’s edge. We found a shady spot to put our blanket, called worried André to inform him we had arrived and it seemed to be full of naked people, and hopped into the water.
Remember how I said that no one, ever, has come up to me in France to politely say hello? Well, now a naked guy has. He was perfectly nice – and I tried to not let the fact that he was nude detract from the warm and fuzzy feelings generated from random conversation. The kids were having a great time playing in the water – Griffin walked all the way across the river. There were some other non-naked people there, but very few. I was a bit peeved because the water wasn’t very deep, the waterfall was tiny and there was no shade – this didn’t seem quite right. Plus, why hadn’t Julien mentioned the nudity? Was this so common as to have slipped his mind? Was he swimming nude? Also, there were NO naked women – it seemed to be only men. What’s more, only about 2/3rds of the men were naked – some still had their Speedo’s on – which seemed kind of unfair, if you ask me. Was this like a gay bar? A single sex semi-nudist colony? What was the deal?
Then, I turned my head and noticed, far up river, something else – I could see a taller waterfall, a shady beach, deep water, and, best of all, a bunch of families playing – none of which were naked. I pointed it out to the kids as a more comfortable locale and they quite willingly moved over there. It was just about another 10 minute walk along the river bank. I hope I didn’t offend the naked men. I support their right to be there – I even thought it was kind of cool – but I needed shade, deep enough water to swim in – and no penises please! When I thought about it later, I kind of thought it was unfair that the naked guys section of the river wasn’t as nice – they deserve equal rights! How can I write to my congressperson?
In the past I have said the kids don’t really notice nudity (topless bathers, women in the red light district in Amsterdam) but they sure noticed this (except Griffin – he was totally unfazed). They basically just wanted to know why those guys were nudie judie and I said that they must like being naked. The kids can relate to that – although Zander and Callie are getting more modest, it wasn’t so long ago they played ‘run naked’ in the house before bath time. In fact, a few days later Zander came to me and said, “Mom, I think one day when I grow up I’m going to go back to the river and swim naked.” When I calmly asked why, his answer was, “Well, I think it’s kind of fun to be naked and I want to know what it’s like.” I told him I thought that was great – and it is fun to be naked! And what’s more, I actually was being totally honest.
We had a wonderful time at the other section of the river – the current was quite strong – enough to carry Callie and Zander along for a ways – but not so strong or so deep to be scary for them. It was a bit scary with Griffin, who can’t swim at all – but he mostly stuck with me or was on the shore wrapped in his towel (it was cold water!).
There were probably 20 or 30 other people there enjoying the water and, across the field, there were a ton of cows and a few horses. The beach was pretty poopy from all the animals that must drink there, but we worked around it. Well, at around 5 o’clock I guess it was time for a drink because the horses decided to come on over. Griffin was up on the ridge at the time and they came right next to him – you can see him, left, fleeing in fear of being accidentally stomped. The mother and her colt stopped at the water’s edge – it was such a beautiful moment. However, in short order, the cows followed – en masse. There were probably about 40 of them and they came right on over – not stepping on anyone that I could tell but just wandering right on over all the blankets etc…. so they could get a drink. It was so strange it was almost like it wasn’t even happening. I can say, without a shred of doubt, that such an experience never would have happened to me if I had not come to live here. It was like being in some sort of parallel universe. After the drink, the livestock wandered around the beach and the blankets – the horses were particularly interested in the swimmers and I even saw one trying to eat a woman’s straw beach bag!
It was time to pick up Daddie from work, so we headed for home. But, there was still one more experience to be had! We were driving slowly along the dirt road for the highway when, I am not making this up, we had to stop for a cow crossing. That’s right – it was literally time for the cows to come home (probably why they stopped for a drink, right?) and they were going across the road in front of us. There was a farmer (a 30-something woman dressed like an average woman you’d see in Besancon) and a real live cow-dog rounding up the animals. Let me tell you, those cows can really move – the stragglers were galloping to keep up with the rest of the herd. They obviously aren’t made for speed, though – it looked like they might keel over at any moment. That dog was awesome too – totally listened to the farmer and chased those babies home. Some other impatient drivers went through cow-gaps but the kids and I stayed to the bitter end. Who knows when such an opportunity will come again?