As we write this final chapter of French Lessons for Summer 2019, an email appears in our inbox. “I will miss your blogs now that summer is almost over,” Angela writes.
Merci, Angela. Gros merci. We love being part of our readers’ summertime lives.
This post will remain at the top of French Lessons’ feed until next season – so if you’ve landed here for the first time, please check out our more typical articles. Summer 2019 inspired this lineup from Antibes, our summer hometown in the Côte d’Azur:
- Antibes Again: How friends erased our “ants”
- Antibes’ Gilets Jaunes: Chaos, nuisance, or rien?
- Les Fêtes: The Côte d’Azur’s space festival
- Côte d’Azur Heartbreak: Ode to the fig
- Geoffrey’s of Antibes: You are what you eat?
- Antibes’ 75th: What happened at Libération during WWII
To round out the season, please enjoy these extra items (including a couple bloopers) that didn’t manage their way into print:
GOOD FORTUNE: We knew it’d be a good year before it began.
“VERY GOOD NEWS!!!” our neighbour Karl emailed in April, two months before we’d arrive in Antibes. “Doves breeding on your roof!!! Brings Good Luck!!!”
Karl is from Vienna. He’s an intense, scruffy-bearded chap who, when not watching the German bond market, is sorting out his investments in Eastern European and Chinese vineyards.
Our neighbour attached a photo. There they were, a pair of doves nesting on our red tile roof. Was this omen an Austrian thing or a French thing? It didn’t matter. It was good luck and we’d take it.
THE REST OF THE STORY: Everything was so rosy on our arrival to Bellevue, our summer home by the sea, that we had trouble crafting an opening blogpost. The internet worked. The so-called domotique (Bellevue’s brain) worked. More surprisingly, the air-conditioning actually churned out cool air because we’d engaged Walid, our fabulous construction friend, to rip out the old system and install something shiny and functional. We tried not to gloat as a French heatwave scooped headlines around the world.
Having sweated the opening “what to write” question and settled on a storytelling parallel about ants, I began to upload the post late one Friday afternoon: story, title, excerpt, photos, captions, links. The new software was a bit fiddly, and then life intervened. I would finish the job in the morning.
At 4 a.m., someone stood over my side of the bed, jostling me out of a dream. It was either a burglar, my fuzzy brain told me, or my daughter Lolo, who was giving me a three-two-one notice before she barfed.
My heart pounded. “Who’s that?” I barked at the shadow, trying to focus.
“It’s me,” my husband’s voice said. “We don’t have any electricity.”
“It’s too hot. I can’t sleep.”
“I looked around and the neighbours all have electricity.”
“Um. Oh!” My brain began chinking into place. Had someone cut our power lines? Had we been burgled – like we had been a dozen years ago in these wee hours of the night?
Bleary-brained, Philippe and I rummaged for flashlights and le beep (the panic button: did it even work?). We searched Bellevue with these instruments, looking for something wrong, like broken glass. Nothing. Then, after insisting to our now-sparky miniature poodle that it was still “time to go to bed,” I listened to Philippe spend an increasingly antagonistic hour on the telephone. Thank goodness one of us was fluent. First, he rang our sympathetic service d’sécurité, and then a tangled automated response system for emergencies d’électricité. At last – for by some miracle we must’ve pushed enough buttons to overload the computer – a real French person came on the electricity emergency line and told us to call back in the morning.
Early the next morning, I hopped on the bus (as walking was impossible with a sprained ankle, and my bicycle felt scary). At a favourite café in old Antibes, I scooped power and Wi-Fi (pronounced WEE-fee) and finished uploading my material. I hit “Publish” on French Lessons‘ first blog of Summer 2019. It was all about how crazily perfect our house was.
Back at Bellevue, Philippe made more phone calls. The first respondent promised the electricité was working. (It wasn’t.) The second told him he’d called the wrong provider. The third charged five cents a minute to listen to music, and eventually declared they were only open Monday through Friday. It was, of course, Saturday.
In the end, we sorted out the problem thanks to our property agent’s brother. He whipped over to Bellevue in his beat-up builder’s van, rummaged through a tool box at the back, and picked out a canny little gizmo that opened our street-side electric box. He turned a switch. We were none the wiser, but we had power.
WWII MIXED WITH FAME: Glitter and World War II, especially on this 75th anniversary of Libération, merrily co-exist in the Côte d’Azur. When Philippe, Lolo, and I lunched at Le Square Sud, a brasserie lining Antibes’ central Place de Gaulle, the manager was particularly attentive. He seemed to be sizing up our teenage daughter for his son. As the man hovered, we got to talking, as people do in this town – especially when your group contains a chatty French-Canadian. Ours was Philippe.
It turned out that this manager originally came to Antibes from a small coastal town in Italy, near Naples – the same town, in fact, were Sophia Loren grew up. Philippe took particular interest in this factoid, and that delighted our raconteur.
“World War II changed the course of my uncle’s life,” the man declared. His uncle had been engaged to Loren, but the nuptials were postponed because of war – and then she got discovered and moved away.
(French Lessons has checked the facts. Loren was, in fact, born in 1934, and would not yet have reached her 11th birthday at the close of World War II. But facts never diminish a good story in the Côte d’Azur.)
DIRGE TO THE FIG: As summer marched on, my Ode to the Fig post became a dirge. Bellevue’s figuier produced a second bumper crop in August, underscoring my trauma in June that was caused by a new fig allergy. Philippe and Lolo engaged in another fig jam-making extravaganza, this time with our daughter’s childhood friend Clo.
“We need a second bucket!” Lolo called those jolly words up from the garden as I watched the trio from Bellevue’s terrace. My daughter flashed me an okay sign with one hand. Her other hand was thick in figs.
Moments later we gathered in the kitchen, where the latest treasure trove piled on the counter. Milk seeped from the figs’ stems as Philippe washed and inspected each specimen. “Oh là là,” he said, turning one plump fruit in his wet fingers. “Celle-ci, elle est parfaite.” That one is perfect.
Was he trying to taunt me? Did absence truly make the heart grow fonder? Diane, a former neighbour who – so I learned through this summer’s blog post – shares my allergy, sent me a recent article from The New York Times. Author Yotam Ottolenghi quoted food writer Jane Grigson, who once declared that figs weren’t necessarily her favourite fruit, but “they are the fruit I most long for, that I never had enough of.” Ottolenghi then admitted that in the Mediterranean town of his birth, where figuiers abound, the annual fig mountain regularly outstrips local appetites.
The same thing happens here in Mediterranean Antibes. Crime that it was, the last of Bellvue’s figs were left to bleed or wither on the kitchen counter. Without my participation in this year’s feast, we had a lot of leftovers.
That’s where we leave Summer 2019, wallowing in a glorious excess of figs. Thanks to our buddy Walid and the good fortune of the doves, Bellevue’s air-conditioning kept us cool for the whole summer. The internet worked, too, as did the electricity. On the other hand, I must offer blame rather than thanks for the doves’ role in our figuier’s fecundity. I’ll soon be crawling onto the red tile roof to tip that nest over the edge. I can’t risk lodgers again next year.
As French Lessons returns to regular, non-summer life, we will remember our summer hometown of Antibes as most people do: through memories, through photos, and through the eyes of painters who have recast their visions. May the Côte d’Azur’s sunshine warm you throughout the wintertime – and let us rendez-vous here next year in this glorious place. Subscribe here if you haven’t already. And be sure to pack your sunscreen and a floppy hat.