Antibes Again: How Friends Erased our “Ants”

It’s all about the ants.

I’ve never forgotten the advice from one of my earliest writing teachers.  You can go on a glorious picnic – the food, conversation, and weather all perfection – but you have no story until the ants arrive. They invade your blanket and carpet your food, and despite blue skies and the best of friends, it’s the ants that create the story.

Here’s our problem: We’ve returned to Bellevue, our summertime home in Antibes, and we have no ants.  Okay, a fair few six-legged creatures scurry in their habitual line across the exterior stucco wall, transporting who knows what to who knows where. But normally our ants come in the form of the broken air-conditioning, internet, alarm, and a famously crotchety domotique.  Our miseries have offered enduring entertainment to French Lessons readers.  Now, in the thirteenth year that my husband Philippe and I, and our 14-year-old daughter Lolo, have crossed the Atlantic and creaked open Bellevue’s old, walnut door to start our summer holidays, no story ants invaded our homecoming.

La villa was never more welcoming!”  Philippe wrote on arrival in a quick email to Anne, our housekeeper.  “Toute la villa is absolutely nickel.”  

A nickel was no longer five cents.  In France, I learned, nickel meant spick-and-span, impeccable, absolutely fabulous.  

And it was. Bellevue’s internet worked.  The air-conditioning worked.  The alarm worked.  “Even the water pressure is better!”  Lolo announced the next day, her long hair still damp from a shower.  (Never mind that whenever you flush the toilet these days, it sounds like a ship is coming in.)

olive oil and balsamic
Thanks to friends, these delicacies awaited us in Bellevue’s kitchen . . .

We even found gifts in Bellevue’s kitchen.  Prior guests had left a vat of award-winning olive oil – and a delightful explanation. My opening blog last year had mentioned the disappearance of our olive oil shop from Antibes, so this year, these friends wrote, we would have olive oil from Day 1.  Along with the sparkling clean house, Anne and Jess, our other housekeeper, had left a bottle of our favourite balsamic.  Someone, too, had put an enormous bouquet of long-stemmed, white lilies and roses on the squat table in the living room.  A glorious fragrance wafted through the house.  

“Welcome home to sunny Côte d’Azur!” the card said.  “I wish you a great summer, hot outside and cooooold inside.”

white bouquet
. . . and this enormous bouquet perfumed the living room.

There was a reason Bellevue’s air-conditioning worked this year.  The huge bouquet came from our long-time friend Walid.  During the winter, he and his colleagues had installed a whole new climatisation system at Bellevue. They’d ripped out the sludge-ridden pipes of the old, hodgepodge network, carting away 13 years of angst, aggravation and downright misery, and in their place the team installed a system that pushed compressed gas through our home’s new, copper-piped veins.   It was a massive undertaking, and a superb success.

“Before coming this summer,” Walid emailed Philippe several months ago, “find your biggest, Arctic down jackets because the air-conditioning is glaciale.”

Their correspondence continued all winter long as Toronto’s snow mottled our down jackets.  The emails focused on construction details, but were embellished with a dose of motivation from Philippe.  There’s a mañana attitude in the South of France; truly no one is immune.  As the calendar flipped into June and our arrival neared, Anne and Jess battled nearly finished construction work and its endless dust.  When Jess came over, she replayed the prior weeks:  

“When are you coming back?” she’d insisted to Walid and his crew.

Demain,” Walid had replied.  Tomorrow.

Demain, Jess then rang.  “When are you coming back?”


Demain, Jess rang again.  “When are you coming back?”


“Demain de quel jour?”  she cried. Tomorrow of what day?  

Walid’s team completed work hours before our midnight arrival.  That’s when two massive white bouquets arrived.  One went straight to our living room table.  The other was an urgent white flag for the housekeepers.

“It’s my fault,” Philippe told Jess.  “I told Walid the real day we were arriving.”

The revamped Bellevue brought a bounce to my husband’s step.  “This air-conditioning thing is incredible,” he said as we sat on the terrace surveying the Mediterranean bay beneath us.  Thin waves lapped onto the rocky beach as the evening sky softened into the Côte d’Azur’s renowned palette of pastels.  “I feel like I have a whole new house,” he said.  “You have no idea.”  

He was right.  No one appreciated the new a/c like Philippe did. It was less about the coolness than knowing the system wouldn’t croak in the next hour.  Instead of ringing contractors on his first day back, Philippe went golfing.  With Walid, no less.

Bellevue has been wondrously welcoming this year, lacking all its best ants.  Even our miniature poodle felt at home.  On one transatlantic telephone call, we’d mentioned to Anne that Yoko might remain in Canada for the summer.

Violette is apparently expecting Yoko.

“Mais non!” she’d protested.  “Elle est attendue!”  Yoko was expected in France.  “Angie [the Lab], Violette [the miniature poodle], and Gucci [the bichon maltais] all were expecting her!”

Lolo took Yoko’s reception in appropriately teenage fashion.  “Yoko has a better social life than I do,” she huffed.

Which was funny even if it was untrue.  We all felt embraced by France this year – by our friends, the resident pooches, and our house.  

There’s one more friend to mention.  Someone added a step to Bellevue’s marble staircase at 2 a.m. on that night we arrived, and as Philippe and Lolo slept, I had a massive yard sale of the unpacking in my arms.  There, I suppose, among the perfection of our return, lay the opening aria of my ant.

Jess took a look at my ankle and insisted I not worry. “Il y a une crème,” she said.  

I was truly back in France.  Of course there was a cream.  There was a cream for everything in France.

medicins sign
Happily, they dealt with my ant.

After a few days of hobbling, I rang our local doctor.  Friend that Jean-Marie was, he offered me an emergency appointment as he zipped shut his suitcase for Vietnam.  He prescribed the special crème while introducing a few more French words.  Une échographie (an ultrasound) soon confirmed that it was just une entorse (a sprain), but a bad one.  L’attelle (the brace) worked only with les baskets.  My attempts to negotiate something other than sneakers flopped entirely.

This first message of French Lessons 2019 might be the clichéd “Phone a friend” – but we don’t offer that suggestion casually.  Friends are treasures.  We count our lucky stars that we’ve traipsed these shores long enough to have them.

45 thoughts on “Antibes Again: How Friends Erased our “Ants”

  1. Funny you mention ants today as the wife and kids and I have been coming to Antibes for the last 7 or 8 Summers (alas only for 2-3wks at a time…) and always note the vigorous ant population in the house we rent (‘our’ house is straight across the water from you on the sea wall around the corner from Les Vieux Ours restaurant…). And, indeed, just this morning, we spent some time watching a crowd of them dismantling a wayward cookie crumb on the balcony. But, thus far, they’ve been respectfully keeping to themselves and they seem to move-on quickly so we’ve not been too bothered.

    Given the muggy weather at the moment you must be thrilled with the AC… Congrats!

    1. Thanks for writing, Adam! That’s a beautiful corner of town where you are situated. I’m told that ants have nothing to do with uncleanliness (cookie crumbs aside!), and they seem content with their own industry. Best wishes in keeping cool over the bay.

  2. Delighted to see summer has truly arrived- I always know because Frenchlessons arrives in my inbox!
    May you all enjoy the summer and take care of that ankle!

  3. We were in Antibes
    the other day for shopping and lunch and I thought that we all should be hearing from you soon. Bienvenue!

    1. Merci, Darcey, for your note. It’s so nice to know we’ve become an expected part of the season in this wonderful part of the world. j

  4. Glad to hear you have AC AS I’ve been reading about the record heat in France. Enjoy your summer.

  5. Une entorse peut être traître et les conséquences durer longtemps. Le médecin a raison : porter des chaussures qui tiennent bien le pied, pendant…et longtemps après l’entorse. Mais l’entorse est aussi un signe de bienvenue qui pourrait vouloir dire : ” ne bouge plus, on veut te garder ici” ! Bel été

  6. Just yesterday I was thinking “When will French Lessons be arriving in my inbox?” And here it is. hope your ankle heals quickly!

  7. I’ve enjoyed reading your delightful posts since we started visiting Antibes a few years ago. This one is especially wry and amusing – not to mention resonant: when we arrive on July 9, I too will be hobbling due to a sprained ankle! I’ve been bemoaning that since it happened a week ago. But your words are a reminder that the big picture is pretty fabulous, and a few ants won’t mar it. Wishing you and your family and wonderful summer sojourn.

    1. J’adore this comment, Anne, and am delighted to know this blog has resonated with you over the years. We suffered our sprains around the same time, so perhaps we will recognise one another in Antibes’ streets by our lopsided gaits. Or better yet, by the time you arrive, we both will be fully recovered!

  8. Hello! Happy to read you « à nouveau »!
    You will certainly catch up on your reading with the sprained ankle. I wish you a rapid recovery!
    I am back for the summer at my cottage in north western Quebec and the Moskitoes are our flourishing ants! Hihi! There are a multitude of mosquitoes awaiting at the door to ferociously attack us! Nevertheless the pleasure of being in the woods is the winner in this battle of the flies! Hihi!
    Love, Marie-Claire Lacasse

  9. Let summer 2019 begin. Bring on the French Lessons. Absolutely loved this first read. Looking forward to a wonderful summer w/you and your adventures.

  10. Hello and welcome to La Salis, I wish you terrific 2019 holidays and hope your ankle won’t bother you too much, you should try a green clay poultice…

  11. Very interesting and well written as always, Jemma.
    Looks like every country and every area have their own small but very annoying invaders; in Canada, every year in June, while we are playing golf on our courses surrounded by giant and beautiful pine trees, those trees serve also as temporary residence for black flies which sometimes look like they weight two kilos; and believe me, they’re a pain in the …. tolerance, to use a kind word.
    Fortunately, those black flies seem to take their vacation in July when we almost don’t see them anymore; let’s hope that the French ants learn to do the same. Especially that July is also my own favorite moment to go to Europe and do a lot of walking with my friend Philippe.
    Enjoy your summer on the French Riviera, certainly one of the nicest areas in the world and make sure to protect yourselves not only from the ants but also from the heat wave.

  12. Jemma, I was sitting on my patio this morning just after sunrise wondering when I would hear from “French Lessons” Thank you so much for the pleasure of participating in your summer adventures. Be safe. I am of the mind set that “ants” always carry a lesson for us.
    Have a wonderful and blessed summer.
    Love to all
    Aunt Nancy

  13. Bienvenue chez vous! The news was all so great … until the ankle report! Sorry to hear about that, but delighted you have your wonderful a/c system to help get through this canicule. French Lessons blog is most definitely a sign that summer has arrived. Bises!

  14. So good to know you’re back in Antibes! And the writing is as excellent as ever. Take it easy with that ankle… Love G C H and V x

  15. I have anxiously been waiting to see whether “French Lessons” was going to appear this summer. I am delighted you are back. Just today (June 29) on television news they showed people in Paris dealing with the worst heat wave in many years- they quoted 114 degrees in Paris! Philippe planned very well for this Air conditioning project and must be commended for his foresight:)
    Enjoy you summer!

    1. Wonderful to have these “lessons” in my email again ! I can feel the space and smell the flowers! You bring it all to life ! Love reading this! And keep that foot elevated. 🙂

  16. Glad to hear that the ant population has diminished. By now I am sure you are thinking that the new air conditioning system is the best investment you and Philippe have ever made as I understand the heat has been insufferable in France so far this summer.
    Sorry to hear about the ankle. Knowing you it will not slow you down one bit!! Look forward to more French Lessons. XO

  17. I just came back from Toronto to be greeted by French Lessons now I know summer has started
    Have a lovely holiday

  18. Vive les vacances!! How’s the heat down there, is it as bad as in Paris? Thinking of you, of the view from Bellevue, of the unmistakable ‘azurienne’ perfume in the air, of the crunch of a fresh baguette, and especially of the purr of functional climatisation….But also of your entorse…bummer! I am sympathetic, have a torn tendon myself….but you’ve SO much to distract you from it! Hope it heals quickly, dear friend! oxoxoxoxo to you all!

  19. Thanks for a lovely welcome to summer, for the great lesson about the value of “ants” for writers, and of deadlines for handymen. Special shout out to your reader Marie-Claire for the the Canadian analogy of black flies. From my itchy, picturesque post near Algonquin Park, ON it resonates best of all. Hope Pierre and Lolo spoil you while your ankle heals!

  20. Welcome back. Are your figs ripe? Now I know you have the best a/c in town, I’ll be knocking at your door x

    1. Looking forward to hearing your knock, Rae! And the figs – oh, the figs. Big problems. More fodder for this site….

  21. So strange to read about the joys of glacial A/C while it’s wintry & cold here in Oz – makes me shiver! But for you guys – indispensable. So sorry about your sprained ankle – but I know that won’t at all inhibit your whole hearted enjoyment & engagement in Antibes (Antibesian?) lifestyle.

  22. Hi there – as recent home owners in Antibes (but frequent travelers to) I was hoping you can share with me how to navigate the animal control thicket since we’d like to bring our dog with us once the home is done.
    Many thanks,

    1. Bienvenue à Antibes, Ilan! So glad for your question about bringing dogs into France. Funnily enough, I’ve written about that topic in the online magazine The Good Life France: You’ll see that this article is specific to traveling from Canada to France, but it will give you an idea of the process. There’s a standard form (with associated vaccinations and documentation) for most EU countries, one being France, but you’ll want to find out the specific requirements through your own governmental offices. Wishing you much luck and a good dose of patience! It gets easier the second time, I promise. j

  23. Glad you are back at Bellevue to keep us all posted on life in that most interesting place. After a very cool spring here in Door County we are now experiencing hot weather and the annual temporary invasion of black flies. I’ll escape for a couple of weeks to attend my bi-annual cousin reunion in Sweden, and maybe they will be gone when I return. I hope to see your mother soon again, too — that is always a joy for me. Have a great summer — I look forward to more posts (hopefully without more sprains!)

    1. French Lessons are back…summer has officially started!!!
      Sorry to hear about your ankle.
      I am sure being in Paradise will help. Happy summer to all.

  24. So wonderful to receive French Lessons and be beautifully transported to the Cote d’Azur, J! What special memories of our time together. So sorry to hear about your “entorse,” and I do hope you heal quickly since I know what fun activities await. I wonder if the message is to truly relax, with your foot elevated with your writer’s pen in hand or perhaps doing nothing but gazing at the Mediterranean from la terrasse with a glass of rose in hand. Gros bisous, Abigail

  25. How wonderful to be welcomed back to your “second home” with such thoughtfulness from friends. It may have been cool in your home but definitely warm at heart by the love of friends. This was great to read:). Not great: your “entorse”…hope you’ve been able to give your ankle ample healing!
    Enjoy the pampering and hope you’re on two feet in good timing! Looking forward to more “French Lessons”! Bonne Vacances!!

  26. Your ants may have immigrated to our cottage this summer! Somehow their scurrying into our screened room will now always make me think of this – your first blog of 2019! Welcome back French Lessons!

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