MIDSUMMER GRAB BAG: SECURITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT

This Saturday the roads in France are meant to be black.

That’s what Bison Futé forecasts, anyway, in its annual summer traffic forecast, Le Panorama de l’été 2016. Saturday, July 30 – Saturday, August 6, too – are the summits of a French summer season that seems to run, in unison, up and down the whole of the country. The population takes to the road, with the Côte d’Azur ranking among the top destinations. For your own happiness, the Le Panorama suggests, why not consider Sunday? Travelling a day later would offer plus de sérénité.

I wonder if the annual forecast will prove true this year. It’s a strange season in the Côte d’Azur. There are fewer people here – and by here, I mean in Antibes, though we’ve heard anecdotal evidence of elsewhere. Usually I mark the influx by Antibes’ available parking spaces – not simply that there are none, but the lengths people go to ditch their cars in an increasingly claustrophobic road space. More than once at the height of the season, I’ve seen vehicles parked across the tops of small roundabouts.

But not this year. At 10 o’clock in the morning the other day, a good handful of free parking spaces remained along the beach road near Bellevue. On both sides of the street.

Beachcombers morphed into kitesurfers off Antibes last weekend.
Beachcombers morphed into kitesurfers off Antibes last weekend.

I can think of a few reasons we’ve seen fewer beachcombers so far this summer – including the fact that the beachside parking spaces have become payante. They’re no longer free. The weather has been a problem, too. Last weekend the wind ripped through the bay outside Bellevue, turning it into a kitesurfer’s paradise.

But these are minor contributors. This summer it’s not the superstars or festivals or macarons that are on everyone’s lips. It’s the memory of Nice. It’s the security situation in general. One local friend recently walked on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais with her young son and said everything looked impressively normal. In the next breath she asked, “Was I crazy to go there? Am I a bad mother?”

The alert level is permanently high in France these days. So just like the locals, we are learning to restez calme et tenez bon. To keep calm and carry on. Sort of.

Diana Krall: Sublime is the most fitting word.
Diana Krall: Sublime is the most fitting word.

The show goes on: The Jazz-à-Juan festival started up again after three days’ national mourning. Philippe and I decided to use our tickets. That night in neighbouring Juan-les-Pins, the arena constructed under the stars every year for this festival was packed. Diana Krall was sublime. Transcendent, that is, once I’d chewed over half-a-dozen escape routes ranging from the advertised exits, to jumping over the stage, to crawling beneath it. Beside me Philippe was doing the same thing – but we only voiced that fact the next evening.

The Fernand-Léger Museum was the perfect way to get away from it all.
The Fernand-Léger Museum was the perfect way to get away from it all.

Our family stays on the move: Lolo needed new shorts. She’s growing like all 11-year olds do in the summertime. What about a trip to the brand new, American-style shopping mall in Cagnes-sur-Mer? I suggested last weekend. Local friends said it was incredible. There was even heaps of parking.

Then we paused. Shopping malls are known targets in France. A journey to Nice’s Cap 3000 mall earlier this summer began with a reasonably diligent bag search – but that time the visit had been essential. Cap 3000 is home to the Côte d’Azur’s only Apple store.

Yoko has felt like a princess in the Côte d’Azur.
Yoko has felt like a princess in the Côte d’Azur.

For Lolo’s shorts we headed to a local shop. Then we went together to nearby Biot for a walk around the blissfully pastoral Musée National Fernand-Léger. What better time to tick off the 10-year-old to-do list?

The poodle gets a little French: Yoko enjoys these days out, too – along with regular trips to boutiques, restaurants and dinner parties. There are benefits to living in France. She’s also getting language lessons. Now our miniature poodle sits to the command “Assis!” Shortly, I fear, her French will be better than mine.

Aesthetics still count (despite the bigger problems): Philippe and I were among the first to wear Crocs in Antibes. I remember the outing some eight or nine years ago with complete clarity given the finger-pointing. Today there’s a whole Crocs store in Antibes’ old town that’s dedicated to this rainbow of resin shoes – but only the French can make them look so stylish.

Crocs and fashion actually intersect in France.
Crocs and fashion actually intersect in France.

Taste still matters, too: Our local boulangerie proudly displays a new certificate over its racks of bread: Trophée de la Meilleure Baguette de Tradition Française des Alpes-Maritimes 2016: 1er Prix. They bake the best baguette in the whole of the French Riviera.

Which type? I asked the assistant when I first spotted the certificate. Baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de tradition?

Neither of the usual baguettes won top prize. It was the campaillete. The baguette grand siècle.

The grand siècle! I remembered the variety from years back. We adored its fine interior and chewier consistency, but it somehow had disappeared.

This one tastes the best.
This one tastes the best.

I’ll have a grand siècle, s’il vous plaît! I said expectantly to the assistant.

Il n’y en a plus, she said. There are none left.

The next day Philippe got the same response. The economics of a French boulangerie don’t follow the traditional demand-and-supply rules. But luck was on our side earlier this week.

The show goes on 2: Fireworks are nearly a birthright during a normal Côte d’Azur summertime. Philippe, Lolo and I invited a local family to join us in Cannes in a few weeks’ time for the fabulous Festival d’Art Pyrotechnique.

The Festival d’Art Pyrotechnique floods Cannes’ seaside with glorious light.
The Festival d’Art Pyrotechnique floods Cannes’ seaside with glorious light.

Oui, avec plaisir! they said. A beat went by. Mais, do you think it’ll be safe?

Rereading this post, superstars and festivals and food do still roll off the tongue in the Côte d’Azur. The place continues to bewitch us. But this summer’s recurring theme – one that returns time and again, both in day-to-day and more festive situations – is entirely different from years past.

Yesterday I rode my bicycle home to Bellevue. Three uniformed gendarmes, members of France’s national police force, congregated around a squad car at the roundabout outside our boulangerie, just beyond Antibes’ sandy beaches. They were surveying traffic. I sailed through the intersection on my bicycle, handbag swinging on the handlebars. The gendarmes found me patently uninteresting. And yet I was glad to see these men – embodiments of France’s perpetual high level of alert – posted right here in our neighbourhood. They were doing what they could to keep us safe – or at least to manage our collective anxieties.

I intended to leave the post right around here – except that now, as I prepare to hit the “Publish” button, I discover online the reason for the gendarmes’ presence at the roundabout near Bellevue. Text messages were making the rounds yesterday about two separate discoveries of explosives destined for the beaches of Antibes and Juan-les-Pins. After a number of telephone calls, the national police force denied these rumours.

So why, then, call out the gendarmes?

With all the turbulence – substantive or otherwise – arising in this alluring corner of the planet, the annual forecast for France’s road network this weekend may prove to be a rumour, too.

12 thoughts on “MIDSUMMER GRAB BAG: SECURITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT

  1. Thinking of you all. Great post, makes me feel we’re right there. Blessings flowing westward, savour every minute and yes, restez calms et tenez bon!

  2. A fresh perspective after all the media reports. What I am finding especially intriguing in everything that is happening globally is how flexible we are as human beings. Even though we may struggle inwardly, to “Manage our collective Anxieties” which you have articulated so well, we adapt. And the human spirit is one that has the ability to not be broken. BUT it does take effort. Thank you for a great read and something to chew on this morning.

  3. I am in Vancouver this week the streets and malls are packed with people with wonderful weather drawing more people to the center of town each night crowds here for the fireworks display. I am certain everyone thinks about security but people go about enjoying this wonderful town.
    Lovely article to keep thoughts and feelings in check
    Laura

  4. In interpreting your well-written missive, it sounds as if your summer has been “bitter/sweet” this year. With the awful news now coming out from Germany one can not help but be disillusioned and a bit fearful. But life must be celebrated so go to the fireworks!!

  5. This weeks entry makes very sad reading…we love our annual visit to Antibes and the surrounding area and I’m pleased that we made an early visit this year before the veil of terror fell over the Cote d’Azur. But we will be back either later this year or next as should everyone who loves this little corner of our crazy planet.x

    1. Absolutely, Nicky! So glad to hear from you and know that you’ll come back again soon. I wish you a most wonderful, sun-soaked holiday. j

  6. Congratulations on taking in Diana Krall and not declaring victory to those who would shut down the pleasures of freedom. I heard her at Ravinea a couple years ago and am jealous. Keep enjoying. Mark

  7. How lovely you were able to see/hear Diana Krall- I have several CDs and think she is fabulous. It seems as though security concerns are now a part of life and that is very sad. The world as we knew it for so long is forever changed. Thank you for keeping us informed and entertained this summer. Your Mom and I will be having coffee again soon. We always have had a lot in common and now we find we both have daughters quite a distance away. Take care of that beautiful family!

  8. The blog was very nice and reassuring… The rumors are rife that armed military personnel are patrolling the beaches of Antibes and Juan les Pins. Is that true? I like to feel safe but would not like that …

    1. Thanks for your question, Marie. I look onto the beaches in Antibes almost every day and haven’t seen armed military personnel patrolling them – but if anyone has seen something different, please chime in! On the other hand, I’ve heard that the fireworks shows in Juan-les-Pins, Cannes and Nice all have been less well-attended this summer.

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