Thankfully there are no signs left of the Amoco-Cadiz’s marée noire (“black tide”) on the Plage des trois moutons, “beach of the three sheep”. Puzzling name. One possible explanation is that in French, white horses are called “sheep”, moutons. But there are thousands of “sheep” on the sea, as I take a walk on the beach one morning.
The tide was low. At sea, au large, white horses by the thousand. But on the beach, the sea, has been tamed and exhausted by a maze of rocks and boulders. It has generously deposited onto the golden sand its most random gifts. Mermaid’s purses, seashells, brightly-coloured small snails and whelks. A coconut, a long-distance rider of the Gulf Stream. When I opened it after my walk, it smelt delicious, looked immaculate, and tasted horrible.
Sea weed. A plethora of colours, shapes and textures that would put fashion designers to shame. Slick, translucent, vivid green fragments of sea lettuce. Long, rubbery stems of kelp, the colour of rust make the perfect toy for dogs to fetch. Some long brown ribbons, could be kelp too, or laver; some are smooth, others almost pleated. Irish moss forms spongy lumps of frizzy, dense, chocolate brown filaments. Dulse adds notes of red, pink, and purple; some palid beige could be discoloured kelp, or another type of seaweed. Some embossed, shapeless fragments remind me of an octopus’ suckers.
Their shapes in the sand are as the last wave left them. The tiny streams that run down the beach slowly rearrange them and take them down to see. Some seem to form letters. Slippery, almost slimy, their texture changes as the sun and wind dry them, some become papery, others brittly, others harden.
The sand itself is beautiful. Cream, very fine, in places it creates fine lines and ridges that are uncomfortable to walk on bare foot. Where the waves tide it smooth, it is delicately striped in beige and soft grey. Smalls streams run down the beach and across the stripes, delicately carving the sand into miniature river banks and islands. The grains of sand they carry sometimes catch the sunlight and glitter, almost golden. At the bottom of the beach, the sand reflects the sky, or breaks it up a thousand times.
Wrack form cushions on the mounds of granite boulders that interrupt the beach. Very dark green, almost black, it only reveals its delicate side as you take a closer look, with its blisters of air and toothed fronds. The only sounds are the incessant song of skylarks in the dunes, the gentle lapping of the waves, the hum of the sea, the occasional clamour of the seagulls, and the sand softly yielding under my feet.
You can buy algae from biscuiteries. Those are more delicatessen’s and souvenir shops these days than in my youth – do I sound old yet? You can buy wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), sea lettuce (laitue de mer, Ulva lactuca), and “Persil de mer“, “sea parsley”: a mix of sea lettuce and dulse (just pronounce it with a French accent) (Palmaria palmata). I leave them for ten minutes in cold water, and they add the flavour of the sea to my impromptu salad, pasta dish, crepe, risotto or omelette. Curious Explorers, read a recipe of charred leeks with tartare d’algues here.
I don’t dare yet picking them from beach. It isn’t like mushrooms, that I picked with my parents as a child; I picked up the identification skills from observing them. But one rule with mushrooms is, if you not absolutely sure, don’t even touch them: “Dans le doute, abstiens-toi“. If in doubt, abstain. I don’t think there is anything in the seaweed from the beach that could kill me, but you never know (“On ne sait jamais“). And they look a bit gritty right now anyway.