Double Vision: The End of a Cap d’Antibes Summer

I’m living in two parallel worlds again.  That’s how I know this glorious breath of France is now coming to an end.

It’s time to think about whether Lolo’s black oxfords fit anymore – for school in Toronto.  Fresh air and sea salt always seem to add a size or two to her feet.  It’s time to return all her French library books and to sign-up for ice skating classes in the autumn.

In an out of the way corner of Lou Gargali – somewhere that won’t overshadow my last precious moments here – I’ve begun to stash some French items I can’t live without in Canada:  my favourite vinaigre balsamique, le blé gourmande (quite simply, durum wheat), and hair conditioner.  (I know, women and their toiletries.)  I’d like to take home one of Jacques Vial’s oozing, wholly unpasteurized rounds of chèvre from Antibes’ Marché Provençal, but I think the Canadian authorities might get a little snippy.

That said, last spring a French friend living in Toronto was thrilled to receive a care parcel from home:  pâté, saucissons (dried sausages) and hard cheeses.  The covert, cross-border food swap is quite remarkable.

The Domaine la Dilecta is available for rental.
The Domaine la Dilecta is available for rental.

Not that my last few days in the Côte d’Azur this season have been any less, well, Côte d’Azur.  The place is still offering up some gobsmacking stories.  Property gossip from Angela, our dear agent immobilier, is always a treat:

  • We now know the rental price tag for Domaine la Dilecta, the sprawling property at the top of Cap d’Antibes where our family had the pleasure of spending the Fourth of July (see July 6, 2011 post).  You, too, can be King and Queen of the Cap in this 10-bed, 10-bath, 19,375-square-foot mansion and its 4.5-hectare park for a mere EUR 300,000 (US$429,000) per month.  That includes lawnmowing and pool maintenance, but no breakfast.
  • After years of rumours, German heiress Heidi Horten’s property, a rare, sprawling villa on Cap d’Antibes land that’s pieds dans l’eau (literally “feet in the water”, meaning nothing, not even a road, lies between it and the sea) is officially on the market.  The asking price is EUR 55 million.

    This rambling seaside property is even for sale.
    This rambling seaside property is even for sale.
  • Back into the stratosphere, the top floor apartment over La Brasserie, a restaurant between “our” boulangerie and Angela’s real estate office, recently sold for EUR 1.5 million.  EUR 10,000-a-square-metre rate was significant for our seaside village of Antibes (though still a snip in Cannes).  An interesting trend surfaces:  The pad sold to a Frenchman.  He and his country folk are once again investing in Côte property.  After all, the banks aren’t paying anything.

Non-property assets also tempt the ritzy, summer clientele.  Philippe stopped into Cannes’ Cartier shop earlier this week.  A Russian mother and daughter were shopping for an engagement ring (which in itself is interesting).  Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.  The daughter couldn’t make up her mind between the ring for EUR 1.2 million and another for EUR 1.4 million.

Almost permanently berthed along this far-flung quay at Antibes’ Port Vauban, this yacht featured in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again.
Almost permanently berthed along this far-flung quay at Antibes’ Port Vauban, this yacht featured in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again.

And the yachts along this French Rivieran shoreline!  For two weeks now, Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse has been anchored in Antibes’ bay, perfectly centered within the little porthole window that peers from my office onto the bay.  Poor Roman, the UK’s Daily Mail Online reports.  Antibes’ authorities tell him there’s no space in Port Vauban for his 538-foot megayacht, the longest private yacht in the world.  The sole berth that could possibly accommodate his extravagance is a far-flung jetty occupied by super-wealthy Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud’s jewel, a mere 265-feet in length (though nonetheless a storied vessel, having featured in the 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again as ‘The Flying Saucer’ owned by villain Maximilian Largo).

Yes, we have the occasional spat in the sunny Côte.  What the Daily Mail Online didn’t realize in reporting the rude brush-off by Antibes’ authorities toward the king of Chelsea Football Club was that the Saudi prince actually paid for this jetty to be built.  His multi-decade lease is still running.

Closer to reality, Lolo has lost her third and fourth teeth this summer, so Lou Gargali has enjoyed two visits by la petite souris.  The toothfairy hasn’t obtained landing rights in France, so French children rely on a little mouse for payment.  Except that Lolo, who gets tenderhearted about any marginally collectable item, couldn’t bear to part with either of her teeth.  We’ve learned that a pleading note – and a small wedge of cheese – will ensure the souris’ money.

I expect tooth number five will present a drama.  Will the toothfairy accept cheese?  We’ve never actually met her.  Somehow my daughter has managed to lose each of her four teeth so far under French jurisdiction.

A final note, too, for continuing readers of French Lessons who’ve followed this summer’s investigations:  Philippe and I enjoyed a last-minute invitation to visit the Aussels at none other than Le Bosquet, the storied home occupied by Antibes’ last viguier (the local representative of the King of France) back in the mid-1700s; the very bastide that housed Guy de Maupassant in 1886; and the family home of our own home’s founding father, Edouard Muterse.  We stood in the salon where Edouard met his friends.  We glimpsed his office.  We ambled through the library he built and walked upstairs to see the space that housed his family museum.

This plate is precious for its story.
This plate is precious for its story.

Philippe and I returned to Lou Gargali that evening feeling as though we’d somehow met this man who’s now long gone.  We held another precious gift in our hands:  The Aussels gave us a plate from Lou Gargali’soriginal collection, the very service used, quite incredibly, by Madame Aussel during her own childhood, a plate furnished for Lou Gargali by Edouard Muterse himself.  (To understand what on earth I’m talking about, and what has grabbed the fancy of readers this summer, take a look these posts in order:  June 30, July 15, July 22, July 30 and August 11, 2011).

But now it’s time to go.  The July/August issue of Cannes Soleil will soon be pulled from the shelves in our neighbouring city.  Did I mention that Lolo and I featured in a story on the revitalization of Cannes’ produce markets – picture and quotes and all?  Our fleeting celebrity soon will evaporate.  Summer’s expiring and so is that bit of fun.

So will end another favourite French escapade.  The alarm went off the other night just after midnight.  One of the sensors, we later learned, had rusted.  But in the heat of the moment, Philippe and I rushed outside onto Lou Gargali’s balcony to try to glimpse the theives’ escape.  At that very moment, the only thing missing was the clothes on a young couple beneath us, who waded from the shoreline into the sea.  Ah, l’amour….

Time for all this Côte d’Azur fun to stop.  School is starting.  Lolo’s excited to show off the holes in her mouth to her Canadian classmates – and to share new lyrics to the traditional tune of “Happy Birthday”:

Joyeux Anniversaire,
Le gâteau tombe par terre
Sur les pieds de ma grand-mère
Qui sentent le camembert! 

Happy Birthday,
The cake falls on the floor
On the feet of my grandmother
That smell of camembert (cheese).

Did I honestly believe at one time that French kids had perfect manners?

One thing’s for sure, though.  The field trips back in Ontario will be less interesting than those in the Côte d’Azur.  Last year one of Lolo’s six-year-old French friends went on a field trip with her class to a winery.

It is sad to say this temporary goodbye.  It’s true that I look forward to living in a unified world again, even if that world is the Great White North.  But we’ll hold France in our hearts, especially in the winter months – cheese, megayachts, skinny-dippers, little mice and all.

And I’m buoyed by the knowledge that we’ll return to the Côte d’Azur next summer where – in the continual pursuit to understand what makes this place so utterly mesmerizing to foreigners like us – I’ll be dishing up a whole new series of French Lessons.

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