Babette’s Court

Antibes from Point Bacon

This little corner of the Cote d’Azur has, over the past decade, become Babette’s court. Every weekday morning, between 8 and 10 am, a gathering of people arrives. All are over 70, several are in their mid-eighties. All are happily retired, some wealthy, some not, but all are comfortable.  They meet to swim, or just to bob about in the water if they cannot swim.  There is an unwritten rule that you stay in the water for at least half an hour, in order for it to do you all the good that it can.

When I first arrived, two years ago, I inadvertently parked myself in the key area.  When the group began arriving, they merely arranged themselves around me, with a few polite nods and ‘Bonjour’s, and got on with their conversations and their bathing. Then one day, Babette pointed at me, and asked loudly of the group, ‘Who is she? Who is that lady?’. Nobody knew, so I sat up and introduced myself. ‘You are welcome, Madame,’ she said, smiling, and proceeded to introduce me to the others.

The next day when I arrived, Babette was already there.  I prepared to lie in the sun, placing a colourful towel and a jolly book on the gravelly surface. ‘No! No no no madame!’ she said, wagging an imperious finger ‘Do not lie in the sun first’. She pointed at the water, ‘Get into the sea straight away, otherwise you get warm and it is then hard to go in’.  She was right, so I did.

 

Les Vieux Amis

Monday morning; a shining sea and a blue, blue sky….

 

With her bright red curls stuffed randomly into the cavity of an old-fashioned wide-brimmed bonnet, and her two-piece swimming costume, Babette presents an image that is half in the last century, and half in this.  At 84, she is the acknowledged and natural matriarch of the group; the ringleader.

Her swimming costume comprises very contemporary shorts and a matching top made of black lycra, with the words ‘Rip Curl’ emblazoned in pink across her breasts.  She rises from her beach chair without recourse to its plastic arms, and holds out her hands like a child, turning to see who will come and take one.  The entrance to the sea has a steep shelf of fine gravel, and it is hard to keep your balance. Louis jumps to his feet, smiling, and does the honours.  Stomping past two young men who are still waiting for the right moment to take the plunge, she accomplishes the first few steps into the sea with Louis’s help, then launches herself with grace and determination.  The effect is tempered when she turns to the shore, a wide grin splitting the generously rouged lips ‘come on boys!’ she cries, laughing at them. That is Babette, who has the gift of finding something to smile at every minute, and gives this to whoever is with her.