A Return to Antibes – Ready or Not

Last week as we prepared one of our final, self-isolating dinners at home in Toronto, Philippe scrolled through his emails. “Walid wants to know if we’ll join him at a soirée dansante at the golf club,” he said.

A dinner dance at a golf club?  I nearly broke into hives.  My husband’s buddy was anxious for our return to Antibes this summer.  I put down my paring knife.  “You can’t be serious,” I said.  Was he?  

“Walid says his wife will go if you go.”

“We’re going to Antibes for the change in scenery, not a change of lifestyle!”  I picked up my knife and started chopping again.

The pandemic has turned me into a hermit.  The world is in the middle of the biggest social and economic upheaval in modern history, and the rule has been to keep your distance.  As I learned these ropes in Toronto, my version of living on the edge became a socially distanced, BYO cocktail in our garden, with me providing the Lysol wipes.  

Thousands of pieces created pandemic entertainment for us in Toronto.

Over the past few months, I’ve been oddly okay with the volume nearly on mute.  Writers can thrive in solitude and often have enough slow-burn projects to last a decade.  Our 15-year-old daughter Lolo has missed her friends but remained oddly okay with Toronto’s online schooling situation.  Yoko, the miniature poodle, was confused by our continual presence and, not so oddly, very okay with our luggage remaining locked in the hallway closet.  Philippe has been our troublemaker.  To occupy himself during our months of social distancing, he walked hundreds of kilometers and put together thousands of puzzle pieces.  Life improved drastically once the golf course reopened, but still it wasn’t enough.

Philippe tried his hand at making chouquettes, France’s answer to Timbits and donut holes.

At the onset of the pandemic, we mourned the loss of Antibes, our habitual summer home for 15 years.  The Côte d’Azur is our normal.  It would be weird if we didn’t show up in June.  Instead, we drank (almost) nightly rosé piscines in our Toronto garden.  Philippe (when he wasn’t walking, puzzling, or golfing) even baked a decent batch of choquettes, France’s answer to Timbits and donut holes, just nicer.

Friends from Antibes sent photos of our summer home, Bellevue, its red roofing tiles glowing in the sunshine as the pink lauriers bloomed with unusual splendor.  These folks kept us apprised of the local situation as the pandemic played out.  It had started as a trickle.  Some locals indisciplinés ignored distancing guidelines, prompting closure of the beaches.  Shortly afterward, the whole country had shut down.  Leaving your residence required a printed and self-signed attestation that disclosed your name, date and place of birth (naturellement), home address, exact time of leaving your home, and reason for being out.  Except for essential work, medical appointments, and the like, you had a daily hour and a kilometer to play with.  Policing was strict (at the start, at least), and the fines were steep.  A black cat, we heard, had meanwhile moved into our garden.  The neighbouring harbormaster wasn’t happy, but if we couldn’t use Bellevue, we rejoiced from Toronto that at least something could.

sunflowers, sunset, rosé wine
Some things are always best in the Côte d’Azur.

And then – ready or not – the world opened up a bit.  As I fluttered between excitement and anxiety over our delayed return to Antibes this season, a wise Toronto friend reminded me:  Travelling in the middle of a pandemic is a privilege.  Hear, hear.  First, we are Canadians; happily, I’d battled the paperwork last year to expand my American citizenship.  Second, we had the means to travel, and to do so in relative safety.  Third, Lolo’s summer science class – the one that originally was going to wipe out the majority of our summer season in Antibes – moved online.  By some great alchemy, we arrived in Antibes – and earlier than we had expected this season! 

In this same breath, a gros merci to each cherished French Lessons reader who has sent an email during these past months, or has shouted up the driveway from a socially distanced walk.  I’m grateful for the encouragement to continue this summer blog, no matter on which side of the ocean I found myself.

A few days after I had nixed the soirée dansante, Philippe had another proposal.  We were packing our final things while Yoko slinked moodily between the outstretched luggage.  “Walid’s inviting us to a party at their place on the 14th!” he said.  “It’s the fête nationale!”  

“We’re going to Antibes for the change of scenery, not a – “

“They’ve invited 10 couples – all good people!  He says we have to come!”

What was it The Economist magazine had just written?  Oh, yes:  “You may have lost interest in the pandemic. It has not lost interest in you.” 

plage de la gravette, antibes
Even Antibes’ popular Plage de la Gravette was socially distanced when it first reopened for sunbathing.

Fortunately – or sadly? – there is no quarantine for us now that we have arrived in France.  Signs at Nice Airport encouraged people to stay one meter apart.  What happened to Toronto’s two?  The local radio jabbers on about face masks.  Where are they?  Coming out of lockdown, Antibes’ beaches had been a model of respectability.  A friend had sent photos!  But as we drove into town toward our beloved Bellevue, the local beach throbbed with teens celebrating the end of their brevet exams, and everyone else.

After a first, disrupted sleep, Walid’s wife sent me a voicemail.  “Come to the party!  You must come!  No handshakes.  No kisses!” 

What happened to two – I mean one – meter?

She promised she understood.  They had hibernated for five weeks.  They never went out.  “But France is open now.  You get used to people quickly.  You will see!”  

Can I bring my own cocktail and tape measure, and you lay on the Lysol wipes?


43 thoughts on “A Return to Antibes – Ready or Not

  1. I had wondered whether you’d be travelling to the South of France this year.

    We are locked down in sunny (for the most) Britain still, but are beginning to think about a summer holiday – probably to France. I’ll be even more interested in your writings this year to see what sort of holiday one can have in these odd times.

    I hope you all have a great time and that you stay safe and healthy 😉

  2. I just read an article from a psychologist about the fine line between social distancing and agoraphobia. Many people are tipping over the edge after months of Covid distancing. So I say protect yourself from agoraphobia: go to the party, drink and be merry!!! Xo

  3. Hurray- did our hearts good to see you return to Antibes! Quarantine in Victoria for Frankie and us. But the sun is shining and the patio beckons. So pleased to see French lessons in my inbox this morning. Enjoy, use wipes, wash your hands!

  4. So happy that you were able to return. We in the US are not going to be able to do that for awhile (don’t get me started!). We are missing our pied-à-terre, our friends and the beauty of the place, but like you are grateful for the time that we can spend there. So, we will have to be content on our deck with French rosé piscines, streaming Radio Monaco and living vicariously through you – santé!

    1. I will take up this charge with you and Underminer (above) at the forefront my mind! While there still are visitors in Antibes, the crowds are so far down significantly from the usual. Please know you’re not the only ones missing out. Raise a rosé piscine to the prochaine année!

  5. What a delightful surprise to see you are back in Antibes. I have regretfully accepted my decision to wait until 2021 and will coast along on memories and reports such as yours from local friends. We have done so well in Canada in dealing with the virus, will you continue to wear a mask in France? Stay safe and enjoy la vie Française. I eagerly anticipate your wonderful posts!

  6. According to some experts it is a sign of a good writer to be able to evoke feelings in the reader. If that is correct (I believe it is) you are a very experienced writer by now. Because first I was so HAPPY to see that you have arrived safely in France. It feels like the normal summer can start now and I was on my way to send you a message suggesting a coffee.
    Then I remember that I am still stuck in northern Sweden (well, I could leave but I want to finish my corona-project first (my recent pictures are a clue to what I am doing)). When I realised that I was FRUSTRATED.
    Then I continued reading and I was a bit SAD that everything isn’t as usual. I am sincerely feed up with corona by now (even if I am having lots of fun with my project).
    Anyhow, I look forward to reading your accounts from your summer!

    1. Merci, Kristina, that is high praise from an artist herself. Enjoy your productivity in northern Sweden! And I will do my best to be a scribe for you, and Patricia (above) and Staci (below), and so many others as we battle through this season together.

  7. Lovely to read your post and that you have escaped to Antibes!
    Wishing you all a wonderful season as you experienced an unexpected freedom opportunity!

  8. Bon jour lovely friends, so happy you can enjoy sun, beach, golf and friends. Mariana and I send our love to all, enjoy and live😘🌹❤️

  9. Wonderful to hear that you are all well and back in Antibes! Love getting your updates. Enjoy the party! Xx

  10. I smiled when I saw French Lessons in my inbox. It made me happy that your family could return to a bit of normalcy. Enjoy your beautiful summer home. Much love to all of you. Barb

  11. Now I know why I didn’t hear back from you last week! Seems we were both coming out of relative hibernation at the same time. This might not be doable, but one suggestion would be to not mix party, people, and drink. From what I hear, it’s the combination that makes one shed all their inhibitions and ability to socially distance. Maybe think of it as a work event – an anthropoligical study in human behaviour which will yield much writing material.

    Definitely looking forward to your next blog post.

    1. Yay! So excited to see this in my inbox once again…and be able to live my life vicariously through you! We have ventured 40 minutes south of here…I mean, it’s not the South of France but it is the South of, well, Wooster!!! No beautiful shore but hey, we have Lake Erie!!! Miss you, my friend. Love to your family. ❤️

  12. So happy to hear you made it across the pond! Soak it all in for all of us!!! (Like you, our family also has a troublemaker. Bet you can guess who!!!)

  13. Glad to hear that you made it safely back to your beloved Bellevue. I agree with Fern about drinking and distancing. If you go to the party you may have to cut back on the rosé piscines that evening but I will have an extra one in your stead!

  14. Reading this brought me a nice measure of joy. I was wondering if you would return there this summer, dilemma and all with how to. Enjoy every minute for all of us. I certainly enjoy reading about it from here. (((hugs)))

  15. Thank you Jemma. The world seems a little more normal now that you’re summering in France and sending delightful reports!
    Stay well and happy, with much love, Shelley

  16. I so know what you mean about the fine line… after more than 4 months of going no further than the local shops or walking the dogs, I’m ok with staying home and not going out. But as a travel writer specialising in France, I need to travel for my work. I have my first trip coming up in 2 weeks time, masks, hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes will be my constant companion. Different for sure, but a start to the return of normality. I’m so happy you made it to Antibes this year, the French are pretty good, surprisingly for such a rebellious nation, at doing the right thing. I hope you have a fabulous summer in the south xx

    1. Merci for piping in, Janine – and as a bonus for all who read the comments: Janine’s latest book, My Four Seasons in France, is pictured above with the sunflowers, and is a charming read.

  17. I thought Antibes would never come, what a relief!
    We emancipated self-flagellating hermits must almost re-learn what guilt-free living is about. [My 5,000 pc Mona Lisa jigsaw proved more penance than pastime].
    It’s time for the old normal – one metre should be fine.
    Love your Lessons!

  18. So enjoyed reading about your travels and hearing from you again, but i particularly enjoyed the pic of the sunset with the sunflowers. It really captured the mood and beauty of the area. Love to all and when you are in Boston…..❤️😊

  19. I see strange and unusual tan lines in your future…..!
    Enjoy your Azurian paradise, but take good care and keep safe. As My Mom always says, “A word to the wise is sufficient….”

  20. WOW ! I’m so happy for Philippe, Lolo and you Jemma.
    As I was telling Philippe, the last time that we spoke together over the phone, with that so unpleasant and disturbing pandemic, I’m not worried about neither health or finance but I am very frustrated by losing our freedom of movement. I’m like a dog at the end of its leash and I have to hold myself back, not to bark.
    But that wonderful text of yours puts me back in the smooth and beautiful mood of the French Riviera and calms me down. So Thank You for having sent it to us.
    ENJOY your stay and Bonne Fête Nationale à tous nos amis Français.

  21. I too smiled when i saw French Lessons in my inbox!!! Enjoy Antibes! (That doesn’t sound hard at all!) I’m with you on keeping your distance. Outside is good. I broke my own rules to hold my grandchildren – but trying to be good in most other ways! I’m also with Tara McKee on that sunset sunflower pic! And love your writing!!!! Stay safe xoxo

  22. Hope you find more sanity where you are now than where I am in the USA. Have a great summer with the family
    Good to see French Lessons back it is part of the summer for me

    1. When I saw French Lessons in my mail box, for a moment I thought that we’re back to normal. But then the reality hit again. In Toronto people are still wearing masks and are encouraged to social distancing, as we are only in the phase two of re-opening.
      Great to hear you back Jemma! We all need a break and news from Antibes bring hope for a “normal’ summer, whatever that means.

  23. So glad that you arrived safely and have settled in (and that the fireworks continued for the holiday!) – just read that masks will now be required in all indoor locations in France… I hope this doesn’t dampen your usual cafe experience. Stay safe and virtual hugs to P and L ❤️

  24. There are the positive and the negative aspects of the ongoing health crisis. I look forward to reading what, in your view, are the positive impacts of Corona in la Côte d’Azur !

    1. Okay, hum. In the end, we didn’t go. Instead, with the usual fête nationale festivities cancelled, we set off fireworks (bought at the local toy shop) in the bay that night. And I’m totally okay with our decision. Each to his or her own in this weird world. As one smart friend put it, “The answer is somewhere in the middle of exuberant caution and exuberant disregard.” We look forward to seeing our festive friends in a somewhat calmer way!

      1. That sounds like a perfect solution! It sometimes takes creative ideas to achieve the balance of celebrating life, enjoying friends and remaining cautious and responsible. Nobody could have predicted this crazy summer season as you closed up Bellevue last Summer!!

  25. Oh I’m so glad you’re there! Happy happy happy! Looking forward to reading about your (non)adventures these next weeks…

  26. Ah, “French Lessons” in my inbox! Cannot begin to thank you for bringing a slice of heaven to my day! So very happy for all, and soak up all that the Côte d’Azur offers!! xo

  27. Oh, how this post made me laugh!! I can just imagine Walid encouraging you to throw caution to the wind (and using his wife’s presence to sweeten the offer). 🙂 We have also been puzzling our way through the pandemic – 1500 piece puzzles seem to last us about 3 days now. 😉

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