Purple Magazine
— S/S 2006 issue 5

Ile d’Yeu



Ile d yeu is an island defined by light. The motto is: Au large, la lumier et le refuge. When this was written the hazy light obscured the continent. The wind and sun, caught in the poplar trees and on the waves, flickered silver and grey, like echoes of each other. The island is in the Vendee region in France, about an hour from Nantes and an hour from the coast by ferry. It is small in relation to most places, but the landscape is alternately ominous and sublime. On the Atlantic side of the island—La Côte Sauvage—the grass is low and wiry, the trees slant in the direction of the wind, and the ruins of an 11th century castle is the sight that pirates once used to shipwreck boats by lighting the rocks to look like a harbor. By edict all the buildings are whitewashed and tile-roofed, and the port looks decidedly Mediterranean. Some of the beaches are lined with pine-barrens, some with dunes, and still others with cliffs. As you travel clockwise the sand goes from fine white powder, to an orange color the consistency of muesli. In their gardens people grow poplar, olive, pine and palm, fig, and apple trees, hydrangeas, roses and lavender. Not surprisingly the main industry has always been fishing, but fewer locals fish anymore because of the scarcity of fish, and because bigger boats and new technology have monopolized the industry. The old ones who still wear marinière, striped by the sun-faded outlines of old suspenders, look as if they might vanish on their morning walk to the Café du Centre. You recognize locals by the weather in their skin. Local history is defined by storms, by heat and drowning. But of the people who live on the island year round, the strangest are those who have settled from elsewhere. More often than not they are running from something on the mainland: husbands, addiction, or else to take advantage of the roaming attention of tourists to sell art and crafts that wouldn’t or couldn’t be sold where they came from. An island is always intense. Good or bad, a mood can last for days on end. In the summer I love to come with friends, especially when my family is around. I arrive with books and projects in mind, and easily overcome all the usual distractions. Many things, such as the bread, the seafood, and their weddings are still done with traditions that create a beguiling sense of old-world simplicity. In June the region is in flower and you usually don’t need to share a beach with more than a handful of people. Swimming is ritual for my sanity, and water is the best place to loose your anger, or anxiety, since I’ve never gone in and come out of it feeling the same. It seems like paradise on earth. I’ve also come in winter and early spring, when the sky is low and the ocean is rough, and sea-foam is licked up to the house by the wind. It’s unfailingly damp, the weather is bad, people gossip, and there is only one ferry out per day. People get nervous. They feel both exposed to the elements, and then conversely shut in the house. The stomach flu goes around, and the pharmacy runs out of medicine. Then I also arrive with books and projects in mind, and the island makes it impossible for anything to happen. The weather is supreme there.

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