This Saturday the roads in France are meant to be black.
That’s what Bison Futé forecasts, anyway, in its annual summer traffic forecast, Le Panorama de l’été 2016. Saturday, July 30 – Saturday, August 6, too – are the summits of a French summer season that seems to run, in unison, up and down the whole of the country. The population takes to the road, with the Côte d’Azur ranking among the top destinations. For your own happiness, the Le Panorama suggests, why not consider Sunday? Travelling a day later would offer plus de sérénité.
I wonder if the annual forecast will prove true this year. It’s a strange season in the Côte d’Azur. There are fewer people here – and by here, I mean in Antibes, though we’ve heard anecdotal evidence of elsewhere. Usually I mark the influx by Antibes’ available parking spaces – not simply that there are none, but the lengths people go to ditch their cars in an increasingly claustrophobic road space. More than once at the height of the season, I’ve seen vehicles parked across the tops of small roundabouts.
But not this year. At 10 o’clock in the morning the other day, a good handful of free parking spaces remained along the beach road near Bellevue. On both sides of the street.
I can think of a few reasons we’ve seen fewer beachcombers so far this summer – including the fact that the beachside parking spaces have become payante. They’re no longer free. The weather has been a problem, too. Last weekend the wind ripped through the bay outside Bellevue, turning it into a kitesurfer’s paradise.
But these are minor contributors. This summer it’s not the superstars or festivals or macarons that are on everyone’s lips. It’s the memory of Nice. It’s the security situation in general. One local friend recently walked on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais with her young son and said everything looked impressively normal. In the next breath she asked, “Was I crazy to go there? Am I a bad mother?”
The alert level is permanently high in France these days. So just like the locals, we are learning to restez calme et tenez bon. To keep calm and carry on. Sort of.
The show goes on: The Jazz-à-Juan festival started up again after three days’ national mourning. Philippe and I decided to use our tickets. That night in neighbouring Juan-les-Pins, the arena constructed under the stars every year for this festival was packed. Diana Krall was sublime. Transcendent, that is, once I’d chewed over half-a-dozen escape routes ranging from the advertised exits, to jumping over the stage, to crawling beneath it. Beside me Philippe was doing the same thing – but we only voiced that fact the next evening.
Our family stays on the move: Lolo needed new shorts. She’s growing like all 11-year olds do in the summertime. What about a trip to the brand new, American-style shopping mall in Cagnes-sur-Mer? I suggested last weekend. Local friends said it was incredible. There was even heaps of parking.
Then we paused. Shopping malls are known targets in France. A journey to Nice’s Cap 3000 mall earlier this summer began with a reasonably diligent bag search – but that time the visit had been essential. Cap 3000 is home to the Côte d’Azur’s only Apple store.
For Lolo’s shorts we headed to a local shop. Then we went together to nearby Biot for a walk around the blissfully pastoral Musée National Fernand-Léger. What better time to tick off the 10-year-old to-do list?
The poodle gets a little French: Yoko enjoys these days out, too – along with regular trips to boutiques, restaurants and dinner parties. There are benefits to living in France. She’s also getting language lessons. Now our miniature poodle sits to the command “Assis!” Shortly, I fear, her French will be better than mine.
Aesthetics still count (despite the bigger problems): Philippe and I were among the first to wear Crocs in Antibes. I remember the outing some eight or nine years ago with complete clarity given the finger-pointing. Today there’s a whole Crocs store in Antibes’ old town that’s dedicated to this rainbow of resin shoes – but only the French can make them look so stylish.
Taste still matters, too: Our local boulangerie proudly displays a new certificate over its racks of bread: Trophée de la Meilleure Baguette de Tradition Française des Alpes-Maritimes 2016: 1er Prix. They bake the best baguette in the whole of the French Riviera.
Which type? I asked the assistant when I first spotted the certificate. Baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de tradition?
Neither of the usual baguettes won top prize. It was the campaillete. The baguette grand siècle.
The grand siècle! I remembered the variety from years back. We adored its fine interior and chewier consistency, but it somehow had disappeared.
I’ll have a grand siècle, s’il vous plaît! I said expectantly to the assistant.
Il n’y en a plus, she said. There are none left.
The next day Philippe got the same response. The economics of a French boulangerie don’t follow the traditional demand-and-supply rules. But luck was on our side earlier this week.
The show goes on 2: Fireworks are nearly a birthright during a normal Côte d’Azur summertime. Philippe, Lolo and I invited a local family to join us in Cannes in a few weeks’ time for the fabulous Festival d’Art Pyrotechnique.
Oui, avec plaisir! they said. A beat went by. Mais, do you think it’ll be safe?
Rereading this post, superstars and festivals and food do still roll off the tongue in the Côte d’Azur. The place continues to bewitch us. But this summer’s recurring theme – one that returns time and again, both in day-to-day and more festive situations – is entirely different from years past.
Yesterday I rode my bicycle home to Bellevue. Three uniformed gendarmes, members of France’s national police force, congregated around a squad car at the roundabout outside our boulangerie, just beyond Antibes’ sandy beaches. They were surveying traffic. I sailed through the intersection on my bicycle, handbag swinging on the handlebars. The gendarmes found me patently uninteresting. And yet I was glad to see these men – embodiments of France’s perpetual high level of alert – posted right here in our neighbourhood. They were doing what they could to keep us safe – or at least to manage our collective anxieties.
I intended to leave the post right around here – except that now, as I prepare to hit the “Publish” button, I discover online the reason for the gendarmes’ presence at the roundabout near Bellevue. Text messages were making the rounds yesterday about two separate discoveries of explosives destined for the beaches of Antibes and Juan-les-Pins. After a number of telephone calls, the national police force denied these rumours.
So why, then, call out the gendarmes?
With all the turbulence – substantive or otherwise – arising in this alluring corner of the planet, the annual forecast for France’s road network this weekend may prove to be a rumour, too.