Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bottled Epiphany

Camped on the beach near Sete

We are on the beach at Sete, in the south of France, a place I had remembered from a previous visit. July, maybe August, 1989. We were all younger then.

Despite the wind, the damp, the cold—it is February—I go for a walk along the beach. 10,000 paces per day is my goal. I rarely miss.

The beach is as I remembered it: miles of blond sand and shell, no development, no condos, no trinket shops, just beach. The waves roll in, not quite lazily, but not violently. The horizon where sea and sky meet is merely degrees of gray. I am alone. I wish it were August.

I have ended my walk, far enough, and turned back, and I am wondering what the chill factor might be. I have already put on my hood and gloves. This is not fun.

Then, I see it.

Among the debris and sands and shells and pebbles...a bottle. A whole wine bottle. Green. How had it washed ashore? Is there any wine in it? Would I drink it? Is wine lighter than sea water?

Something beckons me. Why has this bottle not sunk to the bottom, not become beach glass? I look more closely. South African wine. Whatever. The bottle has a screw-on cap, still in place. (This should have been a clue). And there is something inside, a note or card, rolled up like a scroll.

It is a dream of mythical proportion: walking along a deserted beach, finding a bottle, with a note. It is a gift, a blessing.

I pick up the bottle and examine it. Alas, there is no wine inside, not even South African wine. The cap is still on, but it winds off easily. The cylinder inside is indeed a note, more like a postcard , with a picture of a sail boat, rolled up. With a shake or two it falls easily out the bottle's neck.

What message will it bring?

My mind explodes with possibilities. Something of historical value? A note from captives of Mediterranean pirates? A plea for rescue from an abducted damsel? Maybe an heiress? A last will and testament before shipwreck? A treasure map? An offer of fame and riches for the finder? Some good Powerball numbers? A message that will change my life or the lives of others? My excitement is such that I can barely open the scroll.

Damn! It is in French! Don't these people know that English is the lingua franca?! And it is hand-written, although reasonably legible.

“Se message est pour la liberte des coeurs. Je t'envoie naviguer par las mer pour mes parents et ateux. Que j'aime pour cett annee? … Quelle me porte chance? Pour le personne que traverra cette bouteille veuiller me retourner cette carte a l'adresse si dessus.”

The return address is Beziers, about 10 miles away.

Some pimply-faced kid with a skateboard who probably adores McDonald's went boating last weekend with his family and, to keep the boredom in check, wrote this note. “Dad, could I have that empty bottle of Chateau Screwtop you have been drinking? SVP?” This is my gift, my blessing. Jeez.

So here's the epiphany: next time you do this, Daniel, at least enclose a euro or two for postage. Or a SASE. And write your note in English as well as French (if you must). And make it a good story. An abducted and beautiful and wealthy damsel in distress, offering riches and fame, and other favors, to her rescuer (or anyone else who contributes materially to her rescue). Give GPS coordinates.

At the very least, put it in a French wine bottle. With wine. You might get a response.

PS. I have retained the card; when I am in Wellington or Queenstown next winter, I am going to mail it to Daniel. Ha!
In Sete

In Sete Harbor

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