The previous evening is not mentioned the following morning. You wish you had been less eager, less English, instead adopting the French version of time, drifting in to the bar as languidly as the two lovers, making friends of them both. You could stay another night, be mistakenly American two days running, but the chance feels missed. And the cycle repair man is on his tourist-snubbing congé annuel, so hurriedly you collect your bike to catch a bus out of Etretat. Two friends stop to talk to Virginie as she waits with you for the bus, so your goodbye is inhibited, a brief handshake. The driver lifts your cycle into the boot of the coach, and you are on your way to Fécamp. The coach winds along a sinuous, danger-sudden-drop coast road, and you lose yourself in the sudden hairpin appearances of the sea. Only the occasional jolt reminds you of another missed chance.
Having found both a hotel room and a cycle repair shop in Fécamp, you return to the sea. The promenade is Brighton in miniature, with a shingle beach, arcades and seaside glitz, and a mix of ages and nationalities strolling its length. Up an otherwise ordinary street perpendicular to the front is the Bénédictine Abbey, where the liqueur is made, taking the place of the Royal Pavilion, and in its own way as surprisingly ornate. An arrangement of wooden walkways leads to the protecting wall of the harbour to the east of the front, above which rises a headland topped by a lighthouse and a chapel. Pursued still by the chance you left behind in Etretat, you decide on cold water medicine and strip for a swim. The momentary change from unbearable iciness to oneness with the salty buoyancy of the element is what was needed, and for a time it allows the cage of your personality to drop away. You tread the incoming waves, feeling yourself to be no more than a particle of water moving up and down. Then you let your body plunge into the nothingness where the submerged beach slants sharply away.
Your exhausted limbs dried, they relax into the heavy numbness of satiation, and your mind follows suit, drifting along the promenade and stopping before a giant chess set and a game in which the players are attempting without much success to break the equilibrium. You watch a few cleverly parried attacking moves and drift on. Further along you find a map of the world painted on the promenade, coloured like an atlas so that neighbouring countries never clash. But the peaches and pinks, yellows and greens are warmer than the traditionally dry shades of the political map of the world. A white dove, a salty tear rolling from its eye, is painted over the Middle East. It takes several long strides to cross from Alaska to where New Zealand should be, but isn’t; was it forgetfulness on the artist’s part, or did the erasure come later, as a non-pacific or even bellicose reference to the Rainbow Warrior? More puzzlingly, not being at the extreme of a rectangular representation of the world, Japan is also missing. The rudeness of this slight puzzles you, because the inhabitants of either missing country are not the least likely tourists to turn up in a resort on the north coast of France. Britain is there, of course; the enmity now a friendly one. You measure how far you have come since June: the distance of exactly half a black boot.