One year we were at Boulogne for the summer in a funny little house, in a narrow street just behind the port and close to the Casino and beach. There were a great many people - all the hotels full and quantities of automobiles passing all day. The upper part of the town is just like any other seaside place - rows of hotels and villas facing the sea - some of the houses built into the high green cliff which rises steep and almost menacing behind. Already parts of the cliff have crumbled away in some place and the proprietors of the villas find some difficulty in letting them. The front rooms on the sea are charming, but the back ones - directly under the cliff - with no air or sun, are not very tempting. There is a fine digue and raised broad walk all along the sea front, with flowers, seats, and music stand.
It is a perfectly safe beach for children, for though the channel is very near and the big English boats pass close to the shore, there are several sand banks which make the beach quite safe, and from seven in the morning till seven at night there are two boats au large and two men on the beach, with ropes, life-preservers, and horns which they blow whenever they think the bathers are too far out. There is an "Inspecteur de la Plage," a regular French official with a gold band on his cap, who is a most important and amiable gentleman and sees that no one is annoyed in any way. We made friends with him at once, moyennant une piece de dix francs, and he looked after us, saw that our tents were put up close to the water, no others near, and warned off stray children and dogs who were attracted by our children's toys and cakes.
The plage is a pretty sight on a bright day. There are hundreds of tents - all bright-coloured. When one approaches Boulogne from the sea the beach looks like a parterre of flowers. Near the Casino there are a quantity of old-fashioned ramshackly bathing cabins on wheels, with very small boys cracking their whips and galloping up and down, from the digue to the edge of the water, on staid old horses who know their work perfectly - put themselves at once into the shafts of the carriages - never go beyond a certain limit in the sea.
All the bathers are prudent. It is rare to see any one swimming out or diving from a boat. A policeman presides at the public bathing place and there are three or four baigneurs and baigneuses who take charge of the timid bathers; one wonderful old woman, bare-legged, of course, a handkerchief on her head, a flannel blouse and a very short skirt made of some water-proof material that stood out stiff all around her and shed the water - she was the premiere baigneuse - seventy years old and had been baigneuse at Boulogne for fifty-one years. She had bathed C. as a child, and was delighted to see her again and wildly interested in her two children.
There were donkeys, of course, and goats. The children knew the goat man well and all ran to him with their mugs as soon as they heard his peculiar whistle. They held their mugs close under the goat so that they got their milk warm and foaming, as it was milked directly into their mugs. The goats were quite tame - one came always straight to our tents and lay down there till his master came. Every one wanted to feed them with cakes and bits of sugar, but he would never let them have anything for fear it should spoil their milk.
Another friend was the cake man, dressed all in white, with his basket of brioches and madeleines on his head - then there were the inevitable Africans with fezes on their heads and bundles of silks - crepes-de-chine and ostrich feathers, that one sees at every plage. I don't think they did much business.
The public was not all distinguished. We often wondered where the people were who lived in the hotels (all very expensive) and villas, for, with very rare exceptions, it was the most ordinary petite bourgeoisie that one saw on the beach - a few Americans, a great many fourth-rate English. They were a funny contrast to the people who came for the Concours Hippique, and the Race Week. One saw then a great influx of automobiles - there were balls at the Casino and many pretty, well-dressed women, of both worlds, much en evidence. The chatelains from the neighbouring chateaux appeared and brought their guests.
For that one week Boulogne was quite fashionable. The last Sunday of the races was a terrible day. There was an excursion train from Paris and two excursion steamers from England. We were on the quay when the English boats came in and it was amusing to see the people. Some of them had left London at six in the morning. There were all sorts and kinds, wonderful sportsmen with large checked suits, caps and field glasses slung over their shoulders - a great many pretty girls - generally in white. All had bags and baskets with bathing suits and luncheon, and in an instant they were swarming over the plage - already crowded with the Paris excursionists. They didn't interfere with us much as we never went to the beach on Sunday.
F. was fishing all day with some of his friends in a pilot boat. (They brought back three hundred mackerel), had a beautiful day - the sea quite calm and the fish rising in quantities. C. and I, with the children, went off to the Hardelot woods in the auto. We established ourselves on a hillside, pines all around us, the sea at our feet, a beautiful blue sky overhead, and not a sound to break the stillness except sometimes, in the distance, the sirene of a passing auto. We had our tea-basket, found a nice clear space to make a fire, which we did very prudently, scooping out a great hole in the ground and making a sort of oven. It was very difficult to keep the children from tumbling into the hole as they were rolling about on the soft ground, but we got home without any serious detriment to life or limb.
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