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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.