Lolo and I stand on a sidewalk in the easygoing town of Juan-les-Pins. We’re debating. The store sounds young to me, like the name of an aspiring rap artist. At last we open the glass door of Banana Moon.
“Bonjour!” I say to the shop’s sole attendant. She replies with the same.
“Nous cherchons un maillot de bain,” I say. (Of course we’re looking for a swimsuit. There’s precious little other inventory.) “Pour elle,” I continue, indicating my 13-year-old daughter. That makes the statement more interesting.
The woman leaves us to browse her tiny shop, tucked into a narrow shopping street in this seaside town. Banana Moon has lots of options for Lolo, if you ask me. I spot a tie-dyed, pastel rainbow suit with a freeform ice cream cone drawn on the belly. It’s the ideal, early-teen swimsuit, and my daughter needs a one-piece.
Lolo gives it a hesitant “maybe.” After some thought, she changes her mind. “The colours are too happy,” she says.
I had such high hopes. My daughter is normally such a buoyant character, more agreeable kid than stroppy teen, but today my finicky customer has returned. In our recent foray into swimsuit shopping in Antibes, I’d braved many rebellions. Most colours on the palette wheel, Lolo decided, were “too happy” for her swimsuit. Extra strings were “too complicated.” More flatteringly-cut swimsuits were “my kind of swimsuit.” (It was not a compliment.) Eventually my kid found a not-too-happy, uncomplicated, and not-momsie bikini – but we face an irrefutable truth: Lolo still needs another swimsuit.
She actually needs a couple more swimsuits. Summer in the Côte d’Azur makes for a lot of water time, and Lolo has outgrown everything she owns. Focusing my attention, too, are her upcoming weeks at camp in the lakes and woodlands of Ontario. The new peach and lavender bikini will not do.
We bid our au revoirs to the clerk at Banana Moon and head through a stone archway toward the seaside. The Mediterranean stretches before us, its waters forming dollops that sparkle in the sunlight.
“I hate the smell of the sea,” Lolo says. “I hate the smell of sun cream.”
My hopes and I will not be torn down. Today is a new day, and we are shopping in a town that is surely more relevant to a new teen. Antibes and Juan-les-Pins, though amalgamated for governmental purposes, are chalk and cheese. Antibes grew up around ancient history, planted in its place by the Greeks and Romans for its defensive port position. Juan-les-Pins popped up at Antibes’ back door around the turn of the 20th century. The new community was a fabrication of gambling and absinthe that has grown over the years thanks to jazz and festive spirits like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Today the resort town specializes in ice creams, beaches and discos. If any French town has swimsuit stores, it will be Juan-les-Pins.
Lolo and I dart into shops along the sea road, pleased to find the intermittent cool of air-conditioning (and for Lolo, a respite from bad smells). Inside each door we find a single attendant governing a small rectangle of a store, its broad front windows letting in light, and its back three walls displaying swimsuit options, each in only a handful of sizes. A few clothing racks fit the floor space.
In one shop I rifle through a line of bikinis, a rainbow of simple possibilities. There are no complicating strings or busty, preformed cups. Some of their colours are downright gloomy.
“No triangles,” Lolo says.
“The top cannot be triangles. It has to be more like a line.”
I accept the new constraint with what I hope is grace. “Au revoir,” I say to the clerk, and we pass back into the sticky sunshine.
As we weave in and out of these little shops, I am gobsmacked by what constitutes a swimsuit in Juan-les-Pins. Plain is rarely an option. There are laces that X-X-X up the back of suits, and laces that X-X-X up the front. There are little chains stitched into the shoulders and around the waistline. There are tiger prints, and suits made of lace sealed up in all the important spots. Suits of silver sequins, or of shimmering gold fabric set in the pattern of crocodile skin. One bikini top (triangles) is encrusted in rhinestones.
A whoosh of cool air welcomes us into the next shop. “Bonjour! Nous cherchons . . . .,” I say again and begin rifling through the racks, avoiding triangles. I’m still the leader of this expedition even if Lolo’s French is more fluent than mine, but I’m choosing my battles.
“What about this one?” I say to my daughter, holding out a bandeau top with a pretty wave of contrasting swimsuit material. The frill is elasticized to form two shoulder straps, or to stretch around the top of her perfect shoulders to form a nude neckline.
“But they’re so pretty!” I say.
“No. They’ll constrict my movement. And anyway, they just say, ‘Look at how pretty I am while I lie on the beach.’”
Well, yes . . . and with her natural tan, and extra-long, wavy hair, why not?
Lolo and I visit every swimwear shop along Juan-les-Pins’ waterfront, and all we accomplish is making her catalogue of requirements longer. No triangles, no frills, no complications, no jolly colours. Still determined, I weave us away from the shoreline back into one remaining shopping street in town. More than anything, we must find a one-piece swimsuit. Camp is coming.
“Bonjour!” we both say – one in Anglophone French and the other in perfectly French French – to the two (two!) attendants in a larger swimsuit shop a couple blocks from the sea. “Nous cherchons un maillot de bain pour elle,” I say, indicating Lolo, and the younger clerk takes our case. The three of us flick through an array of swimsuits dangling along the walls and on free-standing racks. The selection is astounding: Only a single size of each style fills the room.
As our personal assistant pulls out swimsuits that would suit many teenaged girls, I counsel her on our particular needs, doing my best to explain in Anglo-accented français. “No bright colours, nothing complicated, no triangles. And definitely age appropriate,” I add, noting sultry, crisscrossed bodices and jewel-encrusted décolletés.
At least that’s what I try to say. Every now and then the woman looks to Lolo for translation. I sigh. At least my linguistic fumbles are drawing my kid into the mission, and eventually she agrees to try a few swimsuits. The assistant finds the right sizes, and my daughter steps into a changing cabin.
“C’est difficile de trouver un maillot pour elle,” I say in the sudden quiet of the shop.
The woman looks shocked at what I say – as surprised as any helpful assistant can allow herself to look. I realise almost immediately: She must hear clients complain all the time, like I just did, about how difficult it is to find a swimsuit. They’ll bemoan their boobs (too big, too small), waists (inevitably too big), torsos (too short), hips (too broad), thighs, forearms. Everything is too this or too that. We women can be our own worst enemies.
I now imagine what the clerk is thinking: What possibly is so difficult about this girl’s shape? She’s tall and willowy. She’s thirteen. Does the madness start this young?
I hear myself trying to explain. “Elle n’est pas un enfant,” I say. My daughter is not a child – but she’s not an adult either. She’s an ado. Try finding a swimsuit for an adolescente in this town!
The assistant nods, seeming to understand. At last Lolo steps out of the cabin wearing her favourite swimsuit of the bunch.
“Wow,” the older clerk whispers from her seat at the till. The racer top and bikini bottoms – mostly in black but with hot pink and baby blue floral insets – make my 13-year old look like an athlete. Like a tanned, athletic model. A smile flickers on Lolo’s lips before she dives back into her cabin.
Just in case, I have her try the other options she chose, still hoping to land a one-piece for camp, but even the somber, fatigue-patterned swimsuit doesn’t make the grade.
As Lolo changes back into her shorts, I check out at the register. The beautiful swimsuit is expensive. The number is made worse by translating it from Euros into Canadian dollars. Good thing we are walking out with only one.
We celebrate our find with cool drinks at a café in one of Juan-les-Pins’ pedestrian streets. Our summer swimsuit tally is one beach bikini and one rather precious, athletic bikini. Lolo is set for the Côte d’Azur, but neither swimsuit works for a Canadian outdoors camp. Sipping our drinks, we start searching North American websites. It takes some time, but at last something promising pops up on my phone screen – an appropriate, not frilly, not too joyful, not triangly, and not mumsie one-piece swimsuit, available online from L.L. Bean. It’s a sixth of today’s price – and then there’s a 50% off code in the banner ad.
Back at Bellevue, the first thing I do is order the one-piece. It’ll arrive in Toronto in time for Lolo’s outdoor camp. Somehow the additional purchase also calms my nerves about the prior ones. Adding this swimsuit to the summer’s haul, the average price swings back into the range of reasonable.