We’re overstaying our welcome.
The sand on Antibes’ long beaches has become visible once again. The city’s gridlocked traffic has mutated back into its usual rush hour pattern. The Austrians’ house – the one across the road from Bellevue that never sleeps – is all shuttered up. Shopkeepers are taking overdue breaks and, worst of all, Lolo’s friends are donning shiny new backpacks and returning to the classroom. All are hallmarks of the annual French rentrée.
Philippe, Lolo and I are still here. It feels as though we’re the last to leave a long, hard party. The music has stopped and the hosts are busily toting dirty dishes into the kitchen, but we’ve yet to find the front door.
As the Côte d’Azur pulls itself out of its annual summer onslaught, searching again for its own normality, I’m even more beguiled by the place. Not only am I comforted by its milder air. I’m also sucked in by a gust of reality.
It has been a full summer for our little family – both on the pages of French Lessons and beyond – and yet there are some nuggets that never found their way to this site. Each story, in its own offbeat way, sheds light on the fullness of Côte d’Azur life (or in a couple cases, on real life in France as a whole). Before we grab our coats and head out the door until next season, I simply have to share:
Life With the Outrageous: A couple weeks ago one of Philippe’s buddies invited us aboard his brand new megayacht, Savannah. Given its 276-foot length and five-story height, and the fact that the vessel is kitted out with onboard pool, exercise studio, disco, video-linked infinity walls and more metallic paint than ever has been slicked onto a megayacht’s walls, “stunning” is an inadequate description:
During our evening aboard the floating palace, a petite stewardess told me about life aboard another, even larger yacht. Stewardesses having roles that faced guests had to be at least 185 cm (6’1”) tall. It took me a few beats to realize how bizarre this employment requirement was. Standing there on Savannah’s wooden deck, strobe lights swirling and Europop pumping, the yachting world’s eccentricities had quickly morphed into my idea of normal life. Then I got a grip. What if someone had told me the same story in Canada? And by golly, what if a tape measure came out during a job interview in the US?
Life Amid Anxiety: As I scanned the current edition of the English-language Riviera Magazine, I found a box article sharing these security tips:
- Avoid a routine – use a different route when you drive somewhere frequently. This will make it more difficult to plan an attack at a particular time and place.
- Don’t stop – it is very difficult to attack a moving vehicle, so try and read things like traffic lights changing and junctions to ensure you keep moving through them.
Seriously? Am I still living in Johannesburg?
Life in a Practical Sense: I popped by Miam Miam, our favourite rôtisserie, on my bike earlier this (scorching hot) summer. As the owner rang up my purchase, I asked whether the thin plastic sack was strong enough to carry a whole, piping hot, rotisserie chicken with extra drippings back home on my handlebars. She handed me a second sack, just in case, and then asked in all seriousness: Why didn’t I simply put the chicken in my sac à dos?
My backpack, I should say, is made of smooth leather. It’s my handbag, and it’s about as big as, well, a rotisserie chicken. Fortunately it was already full of stuff.
Life Steeped in History: Days after our arrival in June, Philippe pointed out this monument in Antibes’ old town. We’ve driven past it for a decade now, but only at that moment, freshly back in this land, did we see its treasure:
Defense de laver dans le bassin et d’abreuver les bêtes attelées. No bathing in the basin, and no watering of harnessed beasts.
Okay, noted. All summer I’ve been intending to photograph these words in all their beautiful ancientness – but then life overtook us, as it often does in the Côte d’Azur. The monument quickly blended back into the background. When I finally returned last week, a woman happily sat for her portrait:
Life Within a Dire Economy: Sadly for us and for long-time readers of French Lessons, news came this summer that the famous Roman boat – the large, well-preserved vessel dating from the 2nd or 3rd century that was unearthed in 2012 during Antibes’ parking excavations – will not enjoy the light of day. The 500,000-euro price tag attached to its conservation and exhibition is too steep.
In this era of high unemployment, it’s probably the right answer. We can console ourselves with photos displayed in the new Pré-des-Pêcheurs underground parking lot, the place where the vessel hid for untold centuries.
Life by the Rules: Not that Antibes’ parking situation has been fixed to perfection. One particularly oppressive afternoon this summer, our friend Geneviève and her children walked some distance from their home in the old town to ours on the Cap. I have a car, Geneviève insisted, but I’m afraid to move it. It’s in a white spot.
Life With Its Grèves: Some stay off the roads for another reasons. A thousand tractors are invading the streets of Paris as I type. Meanwhile another 4,000 or 5,000 of the nation’s agriculteurs are plugging the city’s trains. They have no particular beef; they’re simply worried about the future. Parisians, too, are taking a day off.
Strikes are actually an expected part of the rentrée period in France. One grève that’s whipping up for September 17th this year should be no surprise to French Lessons readers: Teachers are walking out over proposed collège reforms.
It’s high time for us to take the final sips from our party glasses. Our summer hosts – the charming people who live and work here in the Côte d’Azur year-round – are waving us out the door. Philippe, Lolo and I have made the most of Canada’s late Labour Day, and thus Lolo’s delayed start to school, but finally we are quitting our sometime-hometown of Antibes and heading back to the Great White North.
First thing on my to-do list back home is ugly, black Oxfords. School shoes become a must from September 10, and it seems as though Lolo’s feet sprout an extra toe-length every summer. My daughter must be working on her 185 centimeters. Before she returns to the classroom, though, we will add a new member to our family: Yoko.
I’m already losing sleep. Life for the next few months will lie far, far away from the sweet summer days of the French Riviera. But now that I think about it, Yoko may actually be an upside for this blog. As one friend had suggested several years ago, I could better experience local life here – more cordial ‘bonjours’ from French folks doing their errands, more casual chats with those lingering in sidewalk cafés – if I did one simple thing: Borrow a dog for an afternoon.
It probably was a more practical solution.
Either way, French Lessons wishes you au revoir for the 2015 season. Merci beaucoup for smoothing on your sunscreen and joining the summer-long party with us. Feel free to send a cheery coucou during the long, white winter. And we look forward to travelling with you again next summer, when the music will flick back on and we’ll circulate amid the festive crowds together, long-stemmed glasses of rosé in hand, ready to unearth more tales of real life in the sunny Côte d’Azur.