Annually, the Payots ski for two months in Switzerland. Turia has long since become expert. She plays consistent athletic tennis, with the result that her mother-of-pearl toenail polish is always cracked and ridged.
They have traveled widely, and at first Turia's Tahitian ways sometimes caused problems. She couldn't walk around Paris alone because she was so engagingly friendly that men presumed her a hooker. "I got scared," she says. 'I didn't know how to turn them down." Necessity has taught her to assume an un-Tahitian shell of ice.
She is intrigued to find that the SI swimsuit issue has had the ability, year after year, to shock, to prompt cancellations. She smiles at that, as would all of Tahiti, where female toplessness on the beach is perfectly acceptable. The native insouciance about dress, of course, stimulated 19th-century moralists either to celebrate the Polynesians as noble savages or—horrified—to attempt to clothe them. The latter was tried in both Tahiti and Hawaii, and the two cultures now stand in some contrast. In Tahiti, women accepted the lengths of missionary cloth and tied them into those revealing wraparound skirts known as pareus. In Hawaii, the fabric became the tentlike muumuus.
The explanation may be that Tahiti was settled by the French, who had a tendency to wink and enjoy. Hawaii, meanwhile, was swamped with immigrants from modest cultures: Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and fire-and-brimstone New Englanders. "Oui," says Ren�. "Puritans. I come from Calvinist Switzerland, and they are very strict on such things...the idiots."
At home, the Payots entertain Tahitian society, including French nuclear scientists and generals. "I am not fond of politics," Turia says. "But I know that when you help people, you're doing right." Does she regret not having pursued a modeling career? She bursts into that smile. There is a tiny gap between her front teeth. It is a signature grin. She might have been a Polynesian Lauren Hutton. She draws Ren� and Vatea close.
Between becoming a wealthy model or living the life that befell her, which would she choose? "La famille," she says, and kisses her husband and daughter.