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Provence: Paradise for Peacocks and Pigeons

Two distinctive types of men can be found on the French Riviera.

The beaches of Provence, where men go to be seen and stare in equal measure.

In the UK, wannabe alphamale behaviour will likely lose you friends, alienating both sexes. Grey back culture does exist north of the channel, but go to any gym or bar, and watch how the majority of the population are doing all they can to avoid those people.

Not so in France. Men comfortably project their masculinity outward. Shoulders folded back whilst walking, nose and chin calibrated above the horizon line. They gesture with their arms, emotion implicated in every move. Syllables are pronounced articulately in a rising and falling cantor.

The men of the Cote d'Azur may only be talking about the rising cost of tomato compost. Nevertheless it will appear as if they are considering life and death issues, honour, mortality, and the fate of the species through their vocal tone and their exaggerated physical gesturing.

For a seat at the top table, men still care about who gets to walk on the footpath and who has to step off the curve. It's important to wear the best watch, the correctly labelled sunglasses, to attain the even tan, the nice shirt, the right jacket, the correct way to sit, or sip, how to stroke the bread across your plate at the end of a good meal, or how to look another man in the eye when raising a Santé toast. It all matters. It adds up to your total. It's all relevant in the equation. In that respect, I don’t add up to much here.

So what of the pigeons? These are another category of the Mediterranean male entirely. They follow the women and young girls around throughout the summer months. Often wearing a cap and sunglasses, and carrying a backpack.

At first, I thought it was my imagination, but over time I realised that a lot of the women walking toward the beach had a creepy guy shadowing them some short distance behind. The beaches of the French Riviera are, from May to October, covered in half-naked people, and for every beautiful woman, there would appear to be a pigeon not far away. The behaviour reminded me of back home, how the male pigeons on the pavement would relentlessly pursue the females, back and forth, dragging their tail feathers behind them in a bid to catch their attention, with no hope of success.

They are not all old by any means; the younger guys are as likely to be a pigeon as anyone—although, perhaps for them, it is a little less icky. My balcony gave me a good view of the movements of people back and forth, but I think I would have recognised the unusually high number of pursuing pervs that the golden beaches draw from all over Europe.

I suppose, if you can retire anywhere, it makes a strange logic to do so beside sun-warmed sands dotted with bikini-clad women. It just edges out looking over a roundabout from sheltered accommodation on the outskirts of Stuttgart or Greater Swindon.

Pigeons are not always alone. I have seen many who sit there with their wives, making sure their beach chair is placed in the perfect spot to ogle the topless girls laid out just feet in front of them. I even saw one filming with a video camera between his legs, and even when I went up and stood in front of him to signal I could see what he was doing, both he and his walrus of a wive took no notice.

I shouldn't be so surprised. Having grown up in Brighton, I am used to seeing the old men peering over the railings to look down on the sunbathers. It could be a universal law of the beach the world over, that for every one semi-naked woman, there is a man with a semi of a different sort watching from behind the lip of a newspaper or out the corner of his dark glasses. Who knows, perhaps in 30 years when I'm collecting my free bus pass, I won't be so judgmental.

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Provence: Paradise for Peacocks and Pigeons
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