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House diaries
A Working Holiday
Chapter 1: We Leave for France
Chapter 10: Looking for Mr. Goodstone
Chapter 11: A mission to la Clape
Chapter 12: Dinner at Château de Lignan
Chapter 13: Antiques and plunder
Chapter 14: The vintner next door
Chapter 15: The rooftops of Nézignan-l'Évêque
Chapter 2: Comes the crusade
Chapter 3: The 13 colonies
Chapter 4: Our curtains are dreadful
Chapter 5: Naked beaches
Chapter 6: A visit to Château des Estanilles
Chapter 7: A pilgrimage to Toulouse
Chapter 8: Remembering Collioure
Chapter 9: The priest and the mayor
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A Working Holiday
Chapter 5: Naked beaches

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October in Valros: the plaza in front of the village church. The church's bells are one rooftop away from our front bedroom windows.
It's not exactly beach weather.
Gales.
Temperature in the low 60s.
October.
But we've decided that we need to scout some day trips for our guests, so they don't waste time wondering how to find things of interest. Today our destination is the nearest Mediterranean beach, in Marseillan-Plage. We estimate a half hour away.   Although it is hard to miss the Mediterranean, to date somehow we have. We've made four trips to the house since we bought it, and we've yet to set one inquiring foot on the white sands of the Lanquedoc coast. There are beaches from Montpellier to the Spanish border. We've seen them out a car window.
We'll drive by La Taverne du Port.    One of our first discoveries, found early one evening when I was desperate for a bottle of outstanding wine. I had my wish list; I couldn't find any of them in the supermarket. We stopped in Florensac, at a one-start restaurant (now out of business), and asked at the reception: Where was there a good wine store? They directed us to La Taverne du Port.
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A new cafe in neighboring Pézenas, the region's
arts festival and antiquing center.
This store and tasting bar is in a narrow building next to the calm, ruler-straight little harbor of Marseillan. Bruno is the owner and sommelier, the cellarman. His taste has stocked the shelves with rewarding wines and single-malt whiskies. Hopeful, the first time, we unfolded our list of recommended small labels from the region; he had them all. Bruno speaks English. You can walk across the street to the Noilly Prat apéritif distillery for a free tour. Or eat in any of several restaurants. The Bassin de Thau stretches ahead. Flocks of flamingoes stand in the shallows. Oyster farms cover the surface, a dark pattern over the blue. Ten percent of France's considerable oyster consumption comes from this one lagoon.
It takes us 30 minutes exactly to reach Marseillan. Another 10 to Marseillan-Plage, the beach town. The beach scene didn't exist here until the 1960s, when the government launched Mission Racine, a conservation and development project that yielded eight new resorts separated by miles of protected, untouched coastline.    It's early October. A Saturday. Marseillan-Plage has only a skeleton crew on hand to receive visitors. One snack bar open out of a dozen. Autumn leaves cascade down the streets. Instead of crowds, there are a few aimless people on each block. We find an open parking space in the middle of town, next to the beach.   The wave action is small. Like tablecloths settling. A few people are sunbathing, huddled back against the retaining walls. The sun is warm. The wind is blustery. There are a lot of sand castles, but no one's in the water.    Simone and I start walking, even though were not dressed for it. I'm wearing black shoes in the sand. A young woman wearing a tray of donuts around her neck stops us. She needs change to make a sale. No luck. She's the only beach vendor we see.
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Looking toward shore from the breakwater at Vias-Plage, a modest beach on the edge of autumn woods.
The resort hotels of Cap d'Agde shimmer in the distance. We head that way. The trailer camps and parking lots behind the beach are empty. Cap d'Agde bills itself as Europe's largest "naturist" colony. Nudist is not an exact synonym, because nudity can be exhibitionism and flaunting. Naturists have a higher calling: "living in harmony with nature, characterized by the practice of nudity in a communal setting." It's about respect. Self-respect. Respect for others. Respect for the environment.    Which probably means the guy standing up in the dune grass and masturbating for all the world to witness and wonder at is not the poster boy for the naturist recruitment effort. He's chatting with a group of naked women on a nearby blanket. Like old friends. But he never stops stroking himself. Maybe it's a different kind of self-respect. Unpuritanical self-respect. Horny? Go do something about it.   And he's not the only rampant nude. The dunes are full of them, huddled out of the wind. Mostly men, some women. A white-haired man strolls past in a flapping dark shirt, black calf-length socks and sandals. Naked between and chilled blue. We glide past a surf caster, a weathered middle-aged man with a big, hairy gut, not wearing one stitch. He turns to get something. Penis confirmed. Watch out for those fish hooks, pal. Don't want to land the big one.    In Cap d'Agde there are nudist bars, nudist banks, nudist grocery stores. Simone and I are feeling a bit out of place: neither of us has our crotch exposed. We reverse direction. In front of us, two gentlemen talk earnestly and amble through the foam that today passes for surf. They look expensive. Well-groomed. Gold accessories. Wearing white beach shirts. Forty-somethings. Their swimsuits dangle from their hands.   There's an invisible demarcation here, between Cap d'Agde and Marseillan-Plage, a line where full nudity stops being suitable attire.    We follow the two naked butts. They swing like brown paper sacks. We're back a polite distance, maintaining visual contact. Sure enough, when they get near a family, the men stop and step into their white bathing trunks. Left, right. Almost in unison. A silent agreement.
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