Ahh, the dog days of August. They bring to mind sunshine and the beach. The days for both are swiftly drawing to a close.

Let us, therefore, consider both for a final time this year.

The burkini

As Britain baked for two glorious days, France debated a hot question.

For the past fornight, RMC’s (radio) talk shows have been crackling with daily discussions about the dreaded burkini, which, by the way, is sadly becoming part of the fundamentalist Christian wardrobe. All in the name of modesty.

Modesty, my foot. This is physically dangerous (inhibiting swimming) and socially provocative. Christian women have no business wearing such an outfit.

Around the time the Catholic priest near Rouen was stabbed to death in cold blood as he prayed the Mass — and, just as importantly, the Nice attack two days before — this notional swimming garment hit the headlines. In a preventive measure the mayor of Cannes — David Lisnard, LR (Les Républicains, conservative) — forbade burkinis on the city’s beaches. The city of Nice, the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet and a dozen others followed suit as did the town of Sisco in Corsica. Sisco was recently the scene of a violent altercation by a group of Muslims against several locals — on the beach. No burkini appears to have been involved. A court case will be heard on September 15.

These local burkini bans are being debated at national level in a French court, in response to a complaint by a human rights group. A decision might be arrived at as I write on August 25.

The Guardian reports on the wording of relevant local law:

The various mayoral decrees do not explicitly use the word burkini; instead they ban “beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation,” citing reasons such as the need to protect public order, hygiene or French laws on secularism.

French opinion is sharply divided on the burkini. Opponents say the garment goes against French values. Others surmise that it is a religious or political provocation. Coming so closely after the murder of the priest and the Bastille Day attack in Nice, the burkini does seem to be over the top. Both groups support the mayoral bans. So does the prime minister, Manuel Valls.

On the other hand, feminists, oddly enough, say it is liberating, even if they do not wear one. Muslims say it has nothing to do with religion. Secularists say that allowing the burkini promotes republican values; after all, don’t people wear swimsuits everywhere?

No, they do not. Not even on the relaxed Côte d’Azur.

I know Cannes well and have stayed in Nice long enough during the summer to know who goes to the beach. Contrary to what French Muslims say, nuns, monks and priests do not go. Whilst that is stating the obvious, I have heard that argument posited on RMC nearly every day.

I have seen Westerners on the beach and Muslim African men peddling trinkets. That’s it.

When I walk the streets of Cannes — and, similarly, those of Nice — everyone wears normal clothes. I have never seen anyone in a bathing suit. I mention this because pro-burkini people say that bathing suits are allowed everywhere. Whilst there are no signs forbidding them, I have never seen anyone going to or returning from the beach without a cover of tee shirt and skirt or shorts.

It’s like it is in the United States, although many establishments in American beach resorts have signs on the doors saying that patrons must be dressed appropriately. Swimsuits are strictly forbidden.

The police in Nice have issued fines to 24 women seen inappropriately dressed on their beaches.

The most controversial police intervention involved a former flight attendant on Tuesday, August 23. Did it happen in Cannes or in Nice? Were there two incidents? It’s hard to tell and, frankly, it’s not worth the time to investigate further. You can see photos at the links.

It looks to some people as if this woman — or these two women — might have been seeking attention for the following reasons.

One, she came with no towel or beach bag and, according to reports, had one or two children with her. They were not nearby when photos were taken of the police approaching her. Furthermore, as can be seen by the photo, Nice’s public beaches are stony, not sandy as they are in Cannes. Regardless of terrain, no one goes to the beach without a towel. Nobody, nobody, nobody would ever lie on a public beach without a towel. The woman just looks weird lying there curled up on uncomfortable stones. One of RMC’s panellists, a grandmother, also pointed out that parents always bring toys and soft drinks for their children. I can vouch for that. There were none in the photo.

Two, even if the woman denied she was wearing a burkini, her outfit looked suspiciously just like a … burkini.

Beachgoers seemed divided. Global Scoop has more.

I read in passing on a French site that Frenchwomen opposed to the burkini did not want fundamentalist Muslim ladies to turn public beaches into places where modesty patrols take place. One lady wrote:

What happens when children see a lot of women in burkinis? Do they look at those of us in swimsuits and say, ‘Look at the Frenchwomen prostituting themselves’?

I predict that, next summer, Muslims will be requesting their own public beaches, in the same manner no-smoking stretches of beach were allocated in France a few years ago.

Regardless, informal modesty and vice patrols could become a reality.

On August 24, The Guardian reported on the trial of a British convert to Islam found guilty of assaulting a teenager hugging his own girlfriend:

Michael Coe, 35, was driving through east London when he spotted the two 16-year-olds hugging on the pavement. He pulled over to confront the pair, demanding to know if they were Muslims and calling the girl a “whore”.

He then grabbed the boy by the throat and threw him to the ground, kicking his head and leaving him unconscious and bleeding from two injuries. When passing schoolteacher Boutho Siwela tried to come to the teenager’s aid, he was also attacked.

Coe admitted “shoving” the boy, but claimed he was acting in self-defence. He was convicted after a trial at Southwark crown court of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and battery in Wilson Road, Newham, on 15 April.

The jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts after 90 minutes of deliberation.

Coe was convicted of a similar offence in May 2013, after getting out of his car to confront a group of young people about their “inappropriate language” on an estate in east London. During that incident, he allegedly called a girl a “slut” and the others “kafir scum”.

And that’s appropriate language?

In any event:

Judge Michael Gledhill described Coe as a danger to the public and warned him that he faced a “substantial” term of imprisonment. Sentencing was adjourned until 21 September for further reports.

And who knows the motive behind the murder by a French national of a young British woman in Queensland? The perpetrator, making the usual cry (‘AA!’), also killed a dog at the hostel and injured a man who tried to intervene in the attacks.

A happier subject: the man tan

It’s summer. It’s supposed to be a happy time. So, let’s end on a lighter note.

A few summers ago, the French newsweekly Marianne had a humorous yet true analysis of the link between the man tan and social status.

If people from the ancient world, whether Mesopotamia, Greece or Rome, were to come back to life now, they would be shocked to see that the Western male with the highest social status today has the suntan a slave would have had a few millennia ago. Only a senior executive or wealthy business owner has deep and (nearly) all-encompassing colour.

The plagiste — private beach attendant (plage means ‘beach’) — has the same skin tone from his summer on the sand, however, a tee shirt and shorts limit his man tan coverage. A plagiste directs you to a chaise longue and gives you a beach towel. He also takes your order for — and may serve — drinks and snacks.

Last year, I spoke with a senior executive who worked as a plagiste in France one summer when he was a university student 20 or so years ago. Like many French, he has dark hair and colouring. He said that, by the end of the summer, his hair was blond. Although we did not discuss man tans, he did volunteer what happened to the soles of his feet. In his day, he and his colleagues were barefoot during their working hours:

The hot sand hurt like anything. It took weeks to build up calluses which served like a shoe sole. After that, we felt no pain. I didn’t think anything more of it, until term started again. I was off the beach, back in socks and shoes. By October, the calluses were coming off — in big strips of skin. It was weird at first. Oh, and, by the way, my hair grew out too — back to its normal colour, as you can see.

Beneath the plagiste in the pecking order is the construction worker, who has the same man tan but lacks the advantage of working on the beach.

At the bottom of the pile is the man who had no opportunity to seek sunshine and relaxation. Marianne said, tongue in cheek, that he deserves our empathy. Indeed.

I hope that all my readers had the chance for a relaxing summer holiday, even if it was one at home. I also hope that the sun shone brightly on you and your chaise longue.

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