First, news from last week:
Voting is pretty much unanimous. Early indicators came from the crew at Plage Provençal, and you’ve confirmed it: Our Bellevue is rightly known as Lou Gargali. Now, if only switching the name was as effortless as the French shrug….
Now for something new:
It’s mid-August, and La Rentrée suddenly infiltrates the air. La Rentrée is the French institution that resurrects itself as September looms. The beaches and ice cream parlours begin their annual clear out – en masse – as long-time holidaymakers head back to the grind.
Tomorrow (Saturday), French highways are already labeled “red” by Bison Futé. Put this way, everyone who’ll be stuck in Saturday’s bouchons – and there will be hundreds of kilometers of them – knows ahead of time that the jams will exist. Meanwhile, Bison Futé says today (Friday) will be a “green” day for half the country. But of course no one will shorten their holidays.
That Rentrée feeling steals up every year. On Monday, the 15th, mid-August exactly, I sat chez le coiffeur for some overdue assistance. Only two hairstylists worked; the others idled at the front desk. As Terrence wielded his scissors over my head, he looked onto the quieter pedestrian street and declared, “It’s the end of summer.”
Just like that, it’s decided. But it’s not just him. In the streets of Antibes, the sauf lundi regime had returned in a silent, unanimous onslaught. Outside the summer peak, Antibes’ shopkeepers run reasonably precise schedules, many of which include the phrase “sauf lundi”. Except Monday. This Monday afternoon gates reappeared over shop doors.
La Rentrée has got me all reflective. It’s been a great summer, no doubt, but it’s been, well, different. Of course, as readers of French Lessons will know, I’ve spent decent hours in the Archives Municipales, the Médiathèque and the Bibliothèque Antiboulenc. That’s as good a reason as any to call a sea-and-sand Côte d’Azur holiday different. But there’s more to it.
At the beginning of June, when our family returned to this sun-kissed land, we visited Gelateria Pinocchio in Juan-les-Pins. It’s owned by friends and, as luck would have it, Pinocchio’s gelato is both luscious and lovely. As Marc stacks the creamy goodness into a cone, he forms the shape of a rose.
“If gelato sales are good at Easter,” he told us in June, “then they should be good in summer, too.” That’s the local economic indicator. And what luck, Easter was good this year.
But this summer’s gelato sales wouldn’t be strong because of weather. According to Riviera Radio – if I must admit it, that’s the English-speaking station in Monaco – the average temperature in the Côte d’Azur during the whole of July was five degrees Centigrade less than average.
Think about that. Five degrees Centigrade is nine degrees Fahrenheit. And we’re not just talking about the odd, cloudy weekend. We’re talking about the whole of the middle of summer.
And there has been rain. Real rain in the Côte d’Azur! Last summer we apologized profusely to friends from Leiceistershire who visited Lou Gargali in mid-August, coinciding with the only rain of the season. (In fact, they didn’t mind the moisture. Like I said, they were from Leiceistershire. They brought anoraks. They called the rain “lovely” and “warm”.)
One evening this summer as Philippe travelled, a storm cut out part of Lou Gargali’s power supply. A loose shutter banged against an exterior wall, echoing through our home’s ribcage at the exact time I led Lolo up to bed.
“I think the house is haunted, Mommy,” she said. The years flooded back. When we signed on the dotted line in 2005, French contract law pointed out that we couldn’t back out of the purchase based on any servitudes occultes – any supernatural forces – that may afflict the place. Maybe we should’ve considered the phrase more carefully.
As clouds have descended on the Côte, sidewalk cafes and restaurants have unsurprisingly felt the barometric pressure. Even the four, seasonal snack shacks that reign day-and-night over the nearby beach, had their windows snapped tight for a couple days.
Tourist traffic is different, too. Higher campsite volumes have hit hotel businesses. Arabs continued to take up residence in Cannes’ chichi accommodations, but Ramadan started in early August – and swoosh, out they went. All put together, the Nice Matin newspaper said tourist numbers were up 10% in the Côte d’Azur this year – but that people were spending less. Except, apparently, for the Russians.
The attendant at Juan-les-Pins’ Pain de Sucre, a branch of the chic swimsuit shop, confirmed the year’s trend. Her Italian clients traditionally come at the start of each season to select three designer swimsuits. This year, she said, they bought only one new suit – if they came at all.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s still the famed Côte d’Azur and all. Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse megayacht – the world’s longest at a full 538 feet – is anchored in the bay outside Lou Gargali this week as I write. Earlier this season we’ve gawked at Luna, “A”, Katara, Lady Moura and a host of other floating subdivisions.
Meanwhile, our postbox continued to suck in the usual, French Rivieran offerings, like these:
- A brochure from SL Cannes trumpeting “Our Chauffeur – Your Car”. A chauffer comes to drive your private car, to the airport or anywhere else in Europe.
- A calling card for a “Luxury Car Wash”. Cars need TLC, too. Someone comes to your house to wash your car, starting at 60 Euros a pop. (Surely the actual price will be a function of the grime, the make of the car, and the size of your property.)
- A handwritten note from a Cannes real estate agent: “Merci de me contacter le plus rapidement possible.” Thank you for contacting me as rapidly as possible.
A single mail drop about Lou Gargali hardly resurrects the property heydays of 2007 and 2008. That’s when the likes of Brad Pitt and Bernie Madoff – not that I mean to compare them – contracted to purchase apartments in Juan-les-Pins’ famed-but-ruined Hôtel Provençal for EUR 30,000 per square metre, so a source told me this summer. Now the owner of the prominent shell does a small burst of construction every six months or so, just to keep his building permit alive.
Interest is on pause at Lou Gargali, too. A few years ago, countless people (mainly Russians) stopped by to ask how much – even though the house was hardly for sale. This summer the enthusiasm was confined to an early evening. The street gate buzzed. A teenage boy was kicking his ball on the neighbouring beach and – whoops – it flew over our wall. Could he claim it? Philippe let him in – but told his five friends that only one person was necessary to fetch a ball. They groaned. He finally relented and ushered the boys in for a gawk. “Nice place you have here,” one of them said politely, and in English.
A pause from the typical Côte d’Azur silly season has suited me just fine this summer. I’ve hardly minded a drop in the beastly heat and humidity. And anyway, I’ve spent far more time indoors than most anyone would consider permissible.
In the end, the strange summer hasn’t been bad either for Marc, our friend at Gelateria Pinocchio. Even if holidaymakers weren’t frequenting the area’s restaurants or buying swimsuits with their usual gusto, they’ve been piling into rose-shaped gelato cones.
Terrence at the salon is upbeat, too. A cooler July means summer is delayed, he said. September will be terrific in the Côte d’Azur.
Unfortunately, we’ll hardly know. It’ll be the time of our own Rentrée.