The drone of four giant Rolls Royce engines is nearly unbearable, like an orchestra of jackhammers, but somewhere along the eleven-hour flight from New York to Luxembourg, my head has stopped rattling and I’ve mentally added up the money we’ve saved by flying on Icelantic Airlines (fare: $319 round trip). Then, multiplying by the savings times four because Jim freeman, Mark Martinson and Bill Hamilton are vibrating in nearby seats, I forget about the noisy engines, claustrophobic conditions and bad service. It is the cheapest flight to Europe, and we’re making a film, “Waves of Change.” We don’t have a colossal Hollywood budget. Just enough for two months of beautiful European surf. Then the pitch of the orchestra changes, and the plane sinks into a hard landing.
Luxembourg: starchy customs men greet us with a glint in their eyes. We are suspect. All the elderly tourists have been allowed through. We are the last. “What’s in the cases and boxes,” a young agent translates his senior officer’s demands in monotone. “Just film and cameras,” we shrug, hoping they will assume the usual tourist Instamatics. “How much is it all worth?” they ask. “Oh about, er, $3,000?” I answer, feeling hot needles. They take my question as a statement. “You will place a $300 bond which will be refunded when you leave the country.” A gasp, then the realization that there is no other way to get into the country. We place the bond, glad we’d minimized.
Next a phone call: the Volkswagen van (ordered from California) is, amazingly enough, ready for us, and in no time we are wheeling around Luxembourg lost in a painted dream: red brick farm houses, rolling green fields with gray stone hedges, so much open, lush countryside. It’s difficult for Californians to imagine such a beautiful place escaping for centuries the bulldozer, concrete and prefab houses. It seemed unreal to us even in the center of it. But the inland blues are affecting the surfers, and “Biarritz or bust” is repeated over and over. We aim south.
July 30— Biarritz or Bust
We cross the border into France, collecting the $300 as we pass Go, and reach Paris with little time to stop and sightsee. We inadvertently pass the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower when we lose our route signs in the city’s labyrinth. We have our first taste of combat on the streets of Paris, one of the most impressive cities in the world, and escape with the feeling we would be caught from behind and downed. But what surfer likes any city?
We are again traveling through the fertile French countryside, past the unearthly precision that is the Versailles Palace, through the rich Monet landscapes: streams crowded by weeping willows, fishermen sitting in row boats upon glass, perhaps waiting for a fish, perhaps bot. Other Frenchmen ride their bicycles along the roads shoulder wearing coveralls and berets. Cars are stopped at intervals along the side of the road for lunchtime picnics: tables, chairs, checkered cloths, bottles of wine, French bread and salami are set up a few feet from each parked car.
Hamilton takes the wheel in rotation. The road is two laned. Bill will pass three slow, tiny Citroens. “I’ll just pass them,” Bill says, when a truck approaches from the opposite direction. The driver of the Citroen beside us, instead of slowing and letting us in genteel-like, is hanging out of his window, shaking his fist and shouting unrecognizable French slurs. The truck grows closer— larger. We scream easily recognizable French slur. The truck grows closer— larger. We scream easily recognizable English at Hamilton. Bill swings off the lefthand shoulder (it could be a backside at Cotton’s): “What’s all the fuss about?” he asks, retaining his constant cool. We slouch in the VW seats and take a deep breath. Mark takes the wheel in rotation. Bill pouts because he didn’t get a long turn.
August 1— Biarritz
Mark gets us there. Biarritz is in southwest France, on the Atlantic near the Spanish border. It crouches between land and the sea like a gentle afterthought. The town is like Laguna or Carmel, stacked high above coiffed coves with weaving roads and an architectural heritage rooted in the Napoleonic ethos. Now it is a fashionably busy French simmer resort. We cruise through the town’s complex of shops and displays, a bit lost, but with a direction: the Surf Club de France, where we’re to meet Joel de Rosnay. Our contact in Basque land.
We find Joel with Australian Keith Paull. The timing is so good we once again feel that we’ve found a groove: Joel has a villa for us to rent for the months we’ll be in Biarritz, and Keith has agreed to appear in the film. Mark and Billy immediately explain the rudiments of movie life, complete with rates for joining their union. Then Keith and Joel explain the basics of the bota bag: how to squeeze the wine into our dry mouths.
We leave the surf club for our new home. Picture a two-story, white plaster house, red weather shutters on the windows, a red tile roof. Put it above a secluded cove with a nice wave, far enough outside of Biarritz to be peaceful at night, and close enough to be interesting by day. Call it Villa Isabel. It was ours for 1600 Francs per month ($340). But other cottages are not as nice, and it is worth the extra to assure the morale of the crew. The five of us settle into Villa Isabel for the night, and we get acquainted with the newest member, Keith Paull: blond, but reserved, well built, 22 years old, with ambitions to see the world and shape the perfect surfboard. “He also eats a lot,” Joel warns, as he bids us good night, “Bon soir.” He also, like most Aussie surfers, takes a lot of showers. “He’s very clean,” Bill says. “Yes,” Mark frowned, “isn’t he.”