An appointment in Perpignan one afternoon in August was all that we needed to create a little seaside outing. We like the waterfront villages on the Mediterranean coast close to Spain. While much of the Languedoc and Roussillon coast is flat, with long arcs of beaches, as you get close to Spain, the Pyrénées Mountains spill into the sea. The result is dramatic steep hillsides that embrace pretty fishing villages. (More about this area in some previous blog posts: Collioure, Port-Vendres, Perpignan, Le Train Rouge, La Côte Vermeille.) Despite this being high tourist season, we found an available room at Hotel Le Catalan which overlooks the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer.
Our goal was simply to relax next to the hotel pool, read our novels, and enjoy the view and holiday ambiance.
The hotel offered a dinner option, which meant we could enjoy some rosé by the pool as the evening came ashore, followed by a nice simple meal, and not have to touch the car. Super relaxing!
Since our appointment in Perpignan the next day wasn’t until 4:00 pm, we had time to stroll along the beach promenade.
The beaches around here are something between mud and gravel! Not quite where we’d like to spread a towel. But the calm sea looked refreshing.
We noticed quite a few sculptures along the promenade, like this one:
We didn’t realize it at the time, but these are sculptures by one of Banyuls-sur-Mer’s favorite sons, a very famous French artist, Aristide Maillol. Here’s a bit about Maillol:
Aristide Maillol was one of the most famous sculptors of his time. His work, silent, based on full forms, developed from the study of the female nude and simplified to the point of purity, represents a true artistic revolution, anticipating abstraction. His creation marked the turning point between the 19th and the 20th centuries, inspired many great artists, including Henry Moore, Arp or Laurens, and found resonance in Picasso, Brancusi and Matisse.
Through his synthetic vision, focused on the arrangement of the masses and the radical break with the descriptive art of the 19th century, Maillol, in his field, paved the way towards abstraction, like Cézanne in painting. From the outset Maillol thought of a sculpture of the immobile and reached a perfection of proportions, both for the small-format statues and for those of monumental dimensions. The eternal beauty of his work, which is in line with Jean Goujon or Edme Bouchardon and recalls the figures adorning the ponds, fountains and gardens of the Palace of Versailles, makes him one of the greatest French artists.
While some of the beachfront buildings have some traditional charm, most of the village is simple holiday accommodations, restaurants and cafés.
Amid the palm trees and summer vacationers in swimsuits and flip-flops, a dose of reality show up: a covid-testing station.
Pretty nice setting for a summer lunch:
We finished our short time in Banyuls-sur-Mer with an unwelcome adventure. While we were walking on the rocky beach before lunch, we were taking photos. One of us (the unlucky one will remain anonymous!) kept wallet and iPhone in the same pocket. We think that at some point, while pulling out the phone to take a photo, out came the wallet as well. It was only later, after lunch, that we realized that the wallet was missing. We checked around the restaurant and asked if anyone had found it. Unfortunately, it was just about time to leave Banyuls-sur-Mer in order to get to our appointment on time. So, we sat in the car for a few intense minutes, using bank apps to cancel credit cards. But the wallet had the driver’s license, Titre de Séjour (annual residency card) and Carte Vitale (ID used for access to medical services), all of which would obviously need to be replaced somehow — processes that felt like they’d be a lot more complicated than getting replacement credit cards.
Dispirited, we made it to the appointment on time, and back home by early evening. Some very focused research showed that replacing the Carte Vitale wouldn’t be too difficult. But an email response from our local Prefecture revealed that replacing the Titre de Séjour was fairly easy administratively, but expensive: 270€, the same cost as the annual renewal. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
The story ends well. A few days later, we found a voicemail from the police in Banyuls-sur-Mer. They’d found the wallet. A quick call back, and we confirmed that we could drive back right away (Banyuls-sur-Mer is about 2 hours from home) to retrieve the wallet.
We stood at the police station counter while one of the policemen pulled out two big bins of envelopes. He rummaged through both of them until he found our wallet. The number of lost items seemed huge; how many vacationers lose wallets like we did, and perhaps don’t check in with the police? The police were good-humored and helpful.
We were hugely thankful that the wallet had been found and turned over to the police. We just wanted the Titre de Séjourand driver’s license. If the person who had found and returned the wallet wanted the cash, that would be just fine. A little reward! But nothing was missing from the wallet, including the cash. We were a little shocked, as were our French friends. How nice to have a moment of kindness and selflessness. Something we all need more of these days.