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Rent a House by the Beach

"Oh, they're so sweet!" she cried.
"Delicious too," John said, showing white teeth in a friendly smile.

Michael Thomas, the novelist, and his wife, Barbara, had a house one summer virtually on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic at the opposite end of France, in Perros-Guirec. The house belonged to another writer, William Spackman, known for a short, eccentrically written novel called An Armful of Warm Girl. In the kitchen, normally reserved, one felt, for staff, was a large, pale green Aga stove, familiar to those who lived at the high end, like Michael, but the first I had seen. Of English design, it always had a wood or coal fire burning in it, and each burner provided a different temperature. A big Bastille Day dinner was given with an English couple and their daughter among the guests. The daughter had short hair and coltish legs. She spoke Swedish and French and was clearly eager to leave. She went to the bars in Perros-Guirec, she said. To the bars?Why?To meet men, she replied. Honoria, the Murphys' proper daughter, would never have said that. I can still see the host reclining peacefully in a deck chair on the dark terrace at midnight as we bade good-night and made our way upstairs. He was not there the next morning, though he might have been had the chill at 3 or 4 a.m. not awakened him.

We were visiting from Belle Île, an island off the coast where we had taken a house ourselves for the summer. Though the French are familiar with the highest degree of civilization, they sometimes on vacation tend toward the primitive, and Belle ële had many small houses that were, to say the least, stark in their simplicity and in which you could find the most sophisticated Parisians. Our own house, fortunately, ran counter to the trend. It was sleek, modern, and altogether comfortable. From the upstairs bedroom window was a view of broad fields scorched the color of straw by that year's lack of rain. We gathered pails of mussels on the rocky shore, something strictly prohibited on Martha's Vineyard, where, a few years before, we'd rented a house, a beach shack really, so small that it could have been used for a packing crate. Only up to the high tide mark was the beach public, and couples came down long distances from their houses to inform you that the sand you were lying on was private property. Still, we were happy.

We spent another summer in a ship captain's house on the beach on St. Croix. The rent was very reasonable, a matter soon explained by the suffocating heat and the thieves who would jump over the fence and more or less shop through the house when we went out. They stole the radio, a Nikon camera, and other things but left the canned goods and most of our clothes.

Summer passes but the memory of it does not. Of all the seasons it seems the most imperishable. It's been a while since we took a house in one place or another, not in any quest for the perfect, but merely in the lazy dips of the writer's life. We own one now, small, light-filled, set in a grassy field near the station in Bridgehampton, not too far from the ocean, about $900,000 away from it at current prices.


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