They whistled and giggled in gay abandon, like girls not yet out of adolescence, although their well-developed womanly forms clearly indicated shapely specimens of that exquisite species – French mid-twenties females. Every time I looked up from my Mac to the sunny sky, rolling hills and gushing mountain stream of the quaint old town of Ax-les-Thermes in the Midi-Pyrenees, or idly glanced at passersby enjoying leisurely Sunday strolls in the holiday setting, they would wave and wink to catch my eye. Engage my attention they did, and yet this most memorable of travel encounters was to remain one without so much as a solitary word exchanged. I was happily ensconced in my own world, lapping up the cool breezes on a summer day in this town of hot springs, at the foot of the ski slope nearest the French city of Toulouse some two hours away.
Why this should be such a novel experience requires perhaps a touch of explanation. As a brown-skinned Indian I am no stranger to the commonly-held perception of European girls, revealed laughingly by many in friendly company while in India, that Indian men view them with an ill-disguised
interest that can often be distinctly uncomfortable to experience. And here I was, holidaying with my Danish girlfriend at a summer house in the French countryside, with the logo of her hometown of Copenhagen brightly reflecting the sunlight off the back of my laptop, as I sat on a park bench with Ax’s pride, a casino, behind me. And what should happen but the exact inverse of that popular caricaturing of an excitable young Indian boy with his hormones raging, unable to resist reaching out in some innocuous way to one of the skimpily-clad French girls fluttering about in their Sunday best, summer dresses drifting limpidly about their graceful motion. Here I was, with three beauties eyeing me, exchanging quiet notes amongst themselves, completely unabashed to let me know my tanned self engaged their attention, sitting in this relatively unfamiliar scenery keying sweet nothings into my
What makes a travel encounter memorable? Sometimes it is the novelty of it, the incomparable exhilaration and surge of emotion at the fact of something that has occurred. Yet there are times that the very possibility of something makes it come alive and evokes a sense of wonder. In this case the
poignant aspects of that sunny moment shared across park benches with those three girls irradiates in a manner that any prolonged entanglement would have been hard put to rival. It stands witness to a quiet sharing that both acknowledged, they by flirting light-heartedly from the safety of their soil, and I by continuing to go about my life in the fullness of their terrain, content to experience but not alter. Just as the country of France, revealed to me in its first tiny detail through such unusual exposure to a
traditional village on a cozy mountainside rather than its usual beloved Paris, holds immense possibilities that boggle the imagination and pamper curiosity, this chance encounter, so unencumbered by complications, so uninhibited in its unassuming act of being and expression, and so rich in its frank lack of intent, remains alive in afterthought. Though perhaps it would have only been fair on my part to have blown them a sporting kiss!