Ten (More) Ways to Spot You’re in the Côte d’Azur

Let summer begin! It’s not just that the calendar has sailed past June 21, varyingly known as the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and France’s Fête de la Musique, when entire cities put on their dancing shoes.

The world joins in for la Fête de la Musique.

Non, another sign of summer – at least according to our friends – is that Philippe, Lolo and I have returned to Antibes.  We’re the locals-but-not-locals in this town.  We live mostly in Toronto, but for the past decade our summers have been based here, in this coastal town of the Côte d’Azur known for Picasso, megayachts, and a crumbling rampart wall that, girding the old town against the Mediterranean Sea, has launched millions of postcards.

French Lessons is delighted to appear once again in your inboxes.  As the Med’s waves lap gently along our shoreline and the humid air curls our hair (even more), we’ve tallied up a few other ways that you know you’ve arrived in France’s delicious Riviera:

Your taxi driver wears five-inch sandals. It’s midnight, and we’ve just flown for a whole day with a dog, but there is Christelle waiting for us on the other side of passport control.  A favourite among French Lessons readers, Antibes’ beloved, six-foot redhead is punctual and sunny and, even at this time of day, she dons her five-inch heels.  This year it’s blue-and-white striped wedges, which coordinate perfectly with her skinny white jeans.  I feel a shopping trip coming on.

Did you notice the dog reference?  Nobody cares that you bring a pet into this country.  Once the immigration officer checked our human passports, I waved my sheaf of papers for Yoko.  Back in Toronto, these documents were a major group effort coordinated among Philippe and me, Philippe’s PA, our vet, our vet’s assistant, our vet’s receptionist and a Canadian federal agent with the all-important stamp.

Standing before the French passport control officer, I begged her to take a peek at my packet.  “J’ai travaillé très fort,” I said, mentioning my hard work hard, but still she shook her head.  Another agent said, “We’re not bothered by les animaux.”

Waking up after three hours of sleep is not a hardship.

You wake up after three hours of sleep – oh, the joys of east-west travel! – and, opening the shutters to peer out at dawn, you don’t mind being awake.

Something big is broken in your house. The local home services brigade, populated as it is by father-and-son shops, is always running out of time.  For us, this year’s headache is la climatisation.   Again.  After endless problems at Bellevue, our treasured but needy home, we invested a couple years ago in a commercial-grade air-conditioning system.  Somehow the thing is plugged to its gills in gunk.  The days are only reaching 33°C (91°F) at this point, but July soon will bear down.

Want to amaze your little princess?

The stuff that arrives in your mailbox is out of this world. There’s a stack of post waiting when we arrive at Bellevue, and among the lot, the magazine “Exclusive Fit:  Équipements, Design, Conciergerie” is my hands-down favourite.  The group’s motto that graces that first silky page?  De parfaitement cerner vos désirs et vos attentes.  To perfectly grab the full scope of your desires and expectations.  For the first time in several years, the translation inside this sort of sumptuous marketing material exists only in English.  What, no Russian?  This page of Exclusive Fit tempts its would-be clientele, “Would you like a fairy-tale like bedroom to amaze your little princess?”

Your backpack’s water bottle holder becomes more useful for carrying baguettes.

The message is taped inside the glass: Fermé exceptionnellement.

You go into town to buy a swimsuit and olive oil, and you come home with sunscreen.  You can never trust French shops will be open until you’re inside their doors.  As Lolo and I approach her favourite swimsuit store, the lights are out and a white grate seals the normally welcoming doorway.  A handwritten note informs us that “Le magasin sera fermé exceptionnellement . . . .”  The shop will be closed exceptionally. . . .

French store openings are like French grammar.  There are a lot of exceptions.

As for the olive oil shop, it seems to have disappeared.  Or perhaps the problem is that it’s Monday?  The words “sauf lundi” regularly grace the entrances of local shops:  Except Mondays.  Perhaps Olivier & Co is simply boarded up beyond recognition.

Your dog is allowed in the pharmacy. She’s not just allowed inside but truly welcomed.  In Toronto, Yoko can’t even set foot into the camping store.  In Antibes, the lovely pharmicienne wonders whether notre chienne would care for a little water to round out her visit?

You recognize the regulars on the beach. Our habituée is the woman with jet black hair and a dragon shoulder tattoo who sunbathes at the far edge of the beach beneath Bellevue. Philippe discovered her 10 years ago when he was perusing the bay with a new set of binoculars, and she has installed herself in the same spot ever since.  My husband can describe every detail of that tattoo.  This week he announces, “She’s not topless anymore.”

You start saying things like “She’s the mother of Hugo” rather than the more normal “Hugo’s mom.” Or you hear yourself summoning the French verb garder (to keep) with too much relish.  Out pop things like “Look, you’ve guarded that for a whole year!”

Whoops, that’s already 10. I’m not quite done:

The big one fits into the little one with a wave of the Riviera’s magic wand.

Your morning Americano – when you order it out in a French café – fits into an espresso cup.

You see a parking space – one where you can open both doors – and it doesn’t matter that it’s a mile out, you simply want to take it. Because you can.

You meet a tanned, shaggy-haired gentleman of a certain age who’s sitting on a seaside wall wearing yellow, beatnik sunglasses, and you pass pleasantries as he washes his feet in a fountain before donning his espadrilles. And you think that, honestly, he may be fully there.

I can go on – and surely you can, too.  Feel free to add your own recollections in the comments space below!

For now, though, it’s time for French Lessons to go out and, fingers crossed, actually find that bottle of olive oil.

29 thoughts on “Ten (More) Ways to Spot You’re in the Côte d’Azur

  1. Wonderful, as usual. Looking forward to seeing you in Illinois and then spending the summer in France via your delightful sharing in your writings. Love & blessings to all.
    Aunt Nancy

    1. Bonjour, Ann! So glad to hear from you. October is a normally a beautiful time of year here. Unfortunately we won’t be sharing it with you as we’re already back in Toronto at that point. School and all… Have a coffee for me when you’re here! How about that? I can completely recommend La Torref de Fersen (coffee lover’s par-a-dise), Choopy’s (amazing cupcakes with your cappuccinos), and Lucky Break (build your own wrap and then have a coffee). Enjoy. j

  2. Sigh! It’s exceptionellement transporting to observing French life through your eyes. Thanks for sharing your unique point of view with us!

  3. So happy to read you again! In french we would say: « comme vous avez une belle plume! »
    The way you you write is lovely!

    It is also so nice to live all the wonderful things Summer brings us. Here, in North western Quebec, the weather is absolutely marvelous this year!

  4. Welcome back to you and your family (dog included) — looking forward to many fascinating and well-written lessons!

  5. Hurrah! So fun how the appearance of two words, “French Lessons”, in my inbox creates such fun anticipation! Thank you again for letting us all transport ourselves to Côte d’Azur for the summer! So looking forward to your entertaining and thought provoking stories!! Hugs to all! xo Ann

    1. To all of you lovely French Lessons commenters, gros merci! Your words are like a big group hug at the start of the summer.

  6. Glorious to think of you all back ‘home’ for the summer – Regalez-vous!! And, how about this; you look in the (comparatively) small fridge and see it is disproportionately stocked with Whispering Angel….! Now, I know your household is more ‘angelic’ than ours, but that’d be a sure sign for me!!

    1. Oolala…je l’adore! Merci, Tracy, for your rosé-coloured glasses! That’s a great one. Similarly: When you walk into the local supermarket, and the first wall you see is covered in bottles of rosé. True! j

  7. I was just wondering when you’d be back! Greetings from a very sunny Crete. Sadly back to England on Tuesday.

  8. Bienvenus “à la maison”. On se réjouit de vous suivre pour un nouvel été méditerranéen. C’est un suspense qui débute chaque juin, comme une nouvelle série. Au chapitre des olives, vous avez un expert dans le marchand du Marché provençal qui se fait un plaisir de donner un cours à ses clients sur les vrais et les fausses olives de Provence. Son assurance d’avoir “the best olives in the world” fait aussi partie des landmarks auxquelles on reconnaît qu’on est dans le Sud.
    Bel été, beau temps et beaucoup de belles expériences à vous trois.

    1. Ahhhh, the olive seller! I know exactly who you mean, and a couple years ago young Lolo even had a moment of stardom in that market when she wore his apron and ran his stand! He certainly speaks Antibes to me, too. That said, how do you tell a real Provence olive from a false one? Are there even fake ones in this town? And gros merci for your kind comments.

    1. We did, thanks! O & Co sadly has shut its doors – but the tea shop and the pasta shop in the same street carry O & Co products. And these two shops, just down the way from each other, are owned by husband and wife, a fact we learned while chatting at the till. Another way you know you’re in the CdA!

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