Lolo has adapted completely to Toronto’s time zone. Which would be brilliant news, except that she is still waking up in Antibes.
It’s a sign that summer 2017 has gone full-tilt – and is all but over. Theoretically, my pre-teen could obliterate all jet lag as we close up our Côte d’Azur home, Bellevue, and leave this beloved region for more conventional days in Canada. The over-arching reality is, I fear, that Lolo has grown accustomed to 1:00 a.m. Sensible bedtimes will remain a battle no matter where in the world we are.
The French Riviera, with its abundant sunshine and endless rosé piscines, has again worked its acclaimed magic on us. In some ways, 2017 was a summer like no other.
When French Lessons returned to Antibes in August after some days away, a sunken sailboat clung to the shoreline in the bay beneath Bellevue.
“But you missed the tornade!” Christelle cried from the driver’s seat of her taxi.
“A tornado? In Antibes?” Surely I misunderstood.
“Mais oui, une tornade!” The voice of our favourite chauffeuse was rich, almost lustrous. Her highlighted red locks fluttered above the shoulders of her psychedelic maxi dress with its plunging neckline. She broke the news of the incident that happened right there on the sandy beaches, just a breath away from Bellevue. “There’s even a video!” she said.
The idea of a summertime tornado on this parched landscape is startling. Antibes’ last rains, other than the most fleeting sprinkles, came in April. Still, one resident managed to capture the recent drama on her cellphone, laughing all the while as she filmed. The sky during Antibes’ so-called tornade remained its typical, crystalline blue, while candy-striped beach parasols spun high into the air like Munchkins’ hats.
The frothing apparitions that frequently erupt on Canada’s Weather Channel suddenly seem like scenes from The Exorcist.
Meanwhile, even during Antibes’ brief tornade episode, sunbathers have packed themselves onto the sandy beaches this late summer. No one seems bothered by the trio of soldiers in full-on fatigues who make their rounds on the boardwalk, machineguns slung across their meaty shoulders. It is, after all, only a team of three guards. Last summer it was four.
The local police have stepped up their tours, too, taking evening strolls along the same boardwalk on horseback while kitted out in bulletproof vests.
“I like them,” one beachside restaurant boss told Philippe and me. “The city is putting on more rounds next year.”
There also have been major changes in traffic circulation this year, most notably through the piétonnisation of Antibes’ old town. Most of its streets are now the sole jurisdiction of the foot and the bicycle; bollards rise out of bordering routes to restrict heartier forms of traffic. In the sprawl of Port Vauban, situated at the edge of this new pedestrian district, even foot traffic is now blocked on the far-flung quay known colloquially as Billionaires’ Row. In past summers you could walk this pavement and ogle up-close at the orchids, helicopters and full-on jet engines that belong to the world’s swankiest superyachts. But in the name of security, it’s no more.
It is true that the new circulation rules are more harmonious with the original forms of traffic intended for these centuries-old corridors. If only this summer’s move, launched June 21 and lasting into perpetuity, had been guided by such historic principles.
Many people still think twice about attending big events along the Côte d’Azur, but a greater sense of calm has emerged since the nearby atrocities of last summer. Call it time; call it new road rules. Definitely, too, call it Opération Sentinelle, under which the French Army stretches its corps to the maximum and continues to protect the whole of the country at red-alert level. As pedestrians lick ice cream cones and check their iPhones while drifting along Antibes’ old streets, a khaki jeep winds along the sole street still open to vehicular traffic in the old town. Inside sits a trio of military men decked out in camouflage fatigues and turtle-shell helmets, automatic rifles strapped to their chests.
But whatever you call it, don’t attribute the South’s relative calm to the Macron factor. There’s little love affair in this region with France’s new Président.
It’s impolite to discuss the intricacies of politics with friends, but we couldn’t help mention over the course of the summer that Macron was receiving quite a favourable brush in the overseas press. Could we go so far as to say that there was a smidgeon of French optimisme that may be bubbling up in this new era?
The summarized version of local thought on this matter? Non.
Meanwhile, if our conversations lingered too long on the forbidden subject, my accent always came to the fore. “And what about Trump?” friends asked. Suddenly les français were counting their lucky stars.
The more festive parts of summer life go on, too. Just beyond the beach boardwalk and its amped up security measures, our figuier has been more procreative than ever. After June’s unexpected abundance came a second luscious crop, its fruits dropping from the tree in swelled profusion.
Good food still punctuates life. Philippe and I were reading the chalkboard menu outside a new Antibes café recently when two diners emerged from its passageway. “Il est trop bon! Il est TROP bon!” one woman effused without the tiniest provocation. The food inside that courtyard had made her day. And this new restaurant has made my ever-growing list.
The same passion exists over ice cream. In a town boasting dozens of glaciers, why do we all keep finding ourselves in the same infinite queue?
Other towns along this coastline may boast bigger parties. Leonardo DiCaprio was requesting the pleasure of Philippe and my company at the Fourth Annual Saint-Tropez Gala. Prince Albert was involved in the event, as were Cate Blanchett, Penélope Cruz, Tom Hanks, Kate Hudson, Emma Stone and Madonna. Goodness knows if they all showed up. But Philippe and I were simply double-booked. Where else in the world would you find such a conundrum?
French Lessons is apparently not alone in thinking that the Côte d’Azur – and Antibes in particular – is a special place. Word has it that the BBC has been sniffing around in our town, too. Wouldn’t Antibes be the ideal setting for a new TV series? Some locals hope not. Why make the ice cream shop’s queue even longer?
But you, dear readers, are most welcome to join us next year in Antibes, and all along the glamorous Côte d’Azur, as we again will highlight the beauty and passion and idiosyncrasies that make this place so special. A gros merci to every one of you for travelling alongside us this year. In the meantime, may we wish cheery thoughts to one another over a glass of rosé – even as the snow falls.