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trouble in paradise


IMG_2024

I have a small balcony. Well, actually, I have three tiny balconies.  There’s not a ton you can do with them.   There’s a small table, two chairs and a plantation growing on them.

IMG_5257To me, plants are like added decor–they add color and warmth inside and out.   And in many cases, they also provide handy kitchen necessities, like basil, chives, mint, etc.     In fact, I think my little garden ups the real estate value of the apartments facing mine; maybe the whole street.  I’ve been to the apartment across the street and my balcony is a joy to behold.   It’s tres freaking charmant, I tell ya!   It’s like the hanging gardens of Babylon on Rue Vauban.   My own private Idaho.

It’s spring and everything is blooming.   Including this yellow flowering plant that smells pretty nice.   This is the time of year I love my tiny balconies.   It’s not too hot to sit and have a cup of coffee out there in the morning, smell the flowers and look across the port at the still snow-capped alps.

But today, as I sit out here with my coffee, I hear buzzing.   I don’t think much about it, until I notice an inordinate number of bees out here.   Usually, there’s one or two.   This morning there’s more like six.  Or 10.   Or a hundred.   I scurry back inside and make sure all the doors are shut and locked before I investigate.

There’s a freaking cloud of bees circling my balcony that houses the nice-smelling yellow plant.   The yellow flowers are dripping with bees suckling on it.   Meanwhile, the air is thick with bees circling the plant and balcony waiting their turn.   It reminds me of the sky above Kennedy Airport on a busy day.   Or The Birds, if the birds were bees.

I’ve never seen so many bees in one place.  I don’t know what the hell is going on.   It can’t be the yellow flowering plant, it’s been blooming for a few weeks now.   Why are they suddenly attracted to it now?   Is this the only plant bees like in France?   Maybe they’ve conducted a pilgrimage here and have just arrived.   It’s like the hajj for bees and this one yellow plant is the bee equivalent of the black box.   Or maybe they bees are after me.   I have been eating a lot of honey lately.   Maybe they’re pissed.

What I do know is I can’t live with a gazillion bees circling my sanctuary.   Hell, what if they build a nest?   What if they have already?   Do they have bee exterminators?

But wait, I don’t want to kill them.  As my mother constantly reminds me, “Bees are good.  And they’re disappearing” (I beg to differ).  “The vanishing bee population is a sign of the end of the world.  Or the decline of civilization as we know it.   Or something really, really bad.”

Don’t worry, mom, I won’t kill them.   I just want them to go worship some other plant.  Preferably one in Italy.   Oh my God, they’re practically covering the glass on the door.   KILL THEM!

I Google bee repellant and discover that orange essence keeps them away.   But even if I had orange essence, I’d be afraid to go out there and spray it.   What am I gonna do?

I weigh my options.   Find a new apartment?   Marry a bee shoe-er?  Get rid of the pretty yellow flowering plant?   Never go out on the balcony (or open the doors) again?  Start making honey?

I close the curtains, because if I don’t see them they don’t exist.   But as I try to distract myself by writing something deep, meaningful and/or arty, a heavy feeling of doom settles over me.   I try to shake it off, but it keeps sneaking back in there.   It’s the bees.   They’re going to ruin everything!

beekeeper-clothing

my new outfit

I go over to check if they’re still out there and I don’t even have to open the curtain. I can hear them buzzing.   Now I’m cowering and whining pathetically to the heavens ‘Why me?   Why me? Why me?’   Worse, now I’m full of self-loathing because I just un-ironically sounded just like Nancy Kerrigan.

I need to do something that will totally get my mind of this whole bee situation.   Just forget about it.   Maybe it’s just some passing seasonal thing and will pass as quickly as it arrived.

So I go shopping for a few spring fashion necessities and buy a whole new outfit.

I feel better already.

an inconvenient truth

view of alps from antibes 11/2012

View of Alps, mid-November 2012

alps from antibes november 2013

View of Alps, mid-November 2013

One of my favorite things about living here, is being able to step out on the balcony and see the port, across the bay to Nice with the Alps looming majestically in the background.    There are still moments when I gasp at the shock of its beauty.

However, lately that gasp has been tinged with a wee bit of concern.  Last year, there was already snow up there in September.   It’s now mid-November, and as you can see, nothing.  Maybe Al Gore is right about this whole global warming thing.

If that’s true, the way I figure it, pretty soon (less than a millennia), Antibes is going to be unbearably hot.  OMG, August is going to suck so bad.   Hell, if the ice caps melt, it could be underwater!   Well, I suppose that would solve the tourist problem.

No, this is very inconvenient.   If all the evidence bears out, I figure I’ve only got about 300 years to find a new place to live.

damn you, snooty antique dealers!

Every April there’s a big antiques fair in at Port Vauban (about a 5 minute walk from my apartment).   Over 120 antiques dealers are here from all over Europe and you’ve got to pay 9E just to look at some of their stuff.

It’s one of those changeable weather days, threatening to rain, so I wander on down to the port after a flower run at the Marche Provencal.   I pay my 9E, enter and immediately feel intimidated.   I may be under a big tent, but it feels like a museum in here.   Instead of the locals selling their wares, chatting with the regulars and having their breakfast at the weekly Saturday market in the old town square, these guys are in suits (black) and they’re all on their cellphone or texting very important things.  I’d say it’s the antique/art version of the Cannes Film Festival.

Despite the fact that a lot of the items shown here are a little fussy for my tastes, many are beautiful and I want them.   Like the Asian portraits of the man and woman (see extremely blurry photo on right).   The man in this picture –the human, not the painting–yelled at me for not asking to take the picture.  Since he was scolding me in French and I understood every word, I was inappropriately cheerful (but desole) which seemed to make him want to scold me more.  But why should he give a crap if I take a picture?   Maybe his wares have actually been stolen from some museum and he’s afraid of being exposed.  He’ll be pleased to know the picture turned out like crap.    However,  I won’t be buying his awesome Asian art (which I was totally going to do, sir) because he’s a total dill weed (that would be “connard” in French).

I also want this book with butterflies coming out of it.

And one of the garden gnomes (below right) for my balcony would amuse and please me every time I looked at it.    But I’m afraid to ask how much anything costs.

One woman who has some of the most beautiful Asian art and antiques I’ve ever seen glances at my 3E posies from the marche provencal and says something rude.    Well, I’m pretty sure it’s rude, she’s talking pretty fast.   I storm off in a huff.

My synapses are starting to go crazy.   I don’t know where to look. Too much stuff.  Things that would look amazing in the living room of my new apartment.  Things that would look good in the dining room.   Things that would look good in the bedroom.    Things that make me gasp in awe at their beauty in much the same way I do when I see the alps on a clear day.   I’m starting to get lightheaded from all this gasping and the horrible realization that my life won’t be complete until I can afford to buy these items, which I’m pretty sure will be never.

Must.  Get.  Out.    If I can find the exit.   I’ve tried two doors with little running person icons pointing towards them only to be stopped by security.   I’m lost in a maze of really expensive stuff and clearly, the only way out is to buy everything in my way.   I feel like I’m back in NYC.   Dear lord help me!   I find the exit right before I’m forced to ask the price of the inlaid desk, credit card clutched in my hand at the ready.

I walk home quickly, trying to shake off the tentacles of consumer desire tightening in my gut.  When I get there, I step on the balcony and gasp again.

While I was out, the wind blew off the cloud cover and I can see the alps clearly.   I know there’s a message in this.   Something like:   “Ha, you rude purveyors of gross materialism!   Who needs all your probably ridiculously expensive, too awesome to be photographed stuff?   I’ve got my view of the alps,the blue sky and the Mediterranean practically  at my doorstep.    What the hell more could I want?”

Damn, one of those garden gnomes sure would be great up here.

snow in the south of france!

Okay, so there wasn’t a ton of snow in Antibes.  But today, all the hills surrounding Antibes have a light dusting of it.   And the alps are a lot whiter.

 

According to the news, the cold weather is due to a Siberian cold front and has caused schools to close and flights to be cancelled.   The  freezing temperatures are expected to continue for another week or so.   The Antibes weather forecast calls for another tablespoon of snow to fall on Saturday.   Maybe I’ll make a really tiny snowman.

the nomad and me

I’ve been admiring him from afar for quite a while now.   Today we met, up close and personal.

He’s known as “La Nomade d’Antibes.”  But I just call him Nomad.

He is even more attractive than I imagined and he really doesn’t have a bad angle.   He’s 8 meters high–that’s over 26 feet.  I’m a sucker for a tall man.

He’s composed of random white stainless steel letters and occupies a prime piece of real estate, overlooking the Baie des Anges over to Nice, Cap Ferrat and beyond.  He probably has one of the best views in Antibes. His view to the right is the old town of Antibes and Cap d’Antibes;  his view to the left is Fort Carre and the alps (if he could turn his head).    I can’t keep my eyes off him.   But I’ve always had a thing for men of letters.

He hasn’t been in Antibes much longer than I have, so we’re both newcomers.  He was erected in 2010, when Jaume Plensa, a Catalan artist, was commissioned to create a monumental sculpture that would grace the recently renewed Bastion Sainte Jaume (which has been around since the Greeks parked their boats here).  It’s just a coincidence that the bastion and the artist share the same name.

Nomad is a controversial character.   From the moment he was commissioned, he’s been a source of controversy and rage.   It’s the typical anger you’d expect in a bad economy, when people are unemployed and having problems putting food on their tables.   The naysayers considered the $500,000 price tag trop cher.   But like the Transamerica building and the Eiffel tower, which also met with great resistance originally, Nomad is now an important part of the Antibes skyline and a tourist attraction.   He’s here to stay.   I think he looks quite dashing with the ancient town as a back drop.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a nomad, so I kind of feel like we’re soulmates.   It’s kind of romantic when you think about it:   two nomads meet in the South of France and settle down together in Antibes.

 


living a life of luxury on the french riviera. well, the riviera part is true.

Never in a million years did I imagine I’d wind up living on the French Riviera (or any Riviera for that matter).   I figured I would have to be rich and fabulous.  But here I am.

I live in Antibes now, which is smack dab in between Nice and Cannes.   The population is about 75,000 which may seem small by urban US standards, but is huge compared to Vidauban (population 8,000), which is where I was originally.

The vibe in Antibes isn’t in the least bit fancy schmancy. Where Cannes is leathery skin squeezed into tight, trendy, un-age-appropriate clothes, trout pout and faces that aren’t quite human, Antibes is leathery skin in shorts and flip flops.   Well, that’s not exactly true.   There are a lot of Brits here, so there’s a lot of pasty skin as well.

Here are a few other reasons I love Antibes:

The weather 

Mostly sunny.  Not too hot, not too cold.  It’s like living in California without the Californians.

The train station Every train stops here, so I can get to a lot of places quickly and easily.  No car necessary.   It’s 20 minutes to Nice, 12 minutes to Cannes, 35 minutes to Monaco, 40 minutes to St. Paul de Vence (with a bus transfer), 5 minutes to Biot or Cagnes sur Mer, 1 hour 15 minutes to Italy, and so on.

The daily market (marche provencal)

Most villages have a market once or twice a week.  Antibes has one every day except Monday, plus a bunch of antique, clothes, crafts and flea markets.

One of the best ancient medieval villages ever


 

 

The new part ain’t bad either

Ten minute walk to the beach

Or 10 minutes to a morning cup of coffee on the ramparts overlooking the Mediterranean with the alps looming in the background..

Little shops

Art, culture, history

Antibes has been around for millennia.      It used to be called Antiopolis.   They’re not sure if the “anti” means opposite from Nice or Corsica.   Ligurians, Ionians, Phoenicians, Etruscans frequented the place before the Greeks settled in 5th century BC.    It fell into obscurity in the 1400’s, and was rediscovered in the early 1900’s (the jazz age).   Napoleon, Monet, Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, all hung out here at one point or another.   And now me.

There are museums, theaters, concerts (the Jazz festival in July is pretty famous).   There must be hundreds of paintings by dozens of famous artists of the place.  No wonder.

Killer views


I may not be living in a lavish villa with a view of the sea (try a one bedroom apartment with a view of another apartment building, lots of sky and palm trees), have no yacht, Rolls Royce or even a car, but to me,  living somewhere this awesome is a luxury in itself.

More pictures of Antibes

2000 leagues over the sea


According to the Ville de Eze Tourism website), Eze is 3.66 square miles.   I’m pretty sure most of that is vertical.

It’s located between Nice and Monaco–about a 15 minute train ride from both (from opposite directions) on the Cote d’Azur TER line.    The train stops at seaside Eze, which is pretty much a residential area for rich people (Bono has a villa about 500 meters from the train station).   There’s a pebbly public beach, a couple of cafes and a small tourism office.  As lovely as it is, the main attraction, the charming medieval village with shops, is about 2000 feet above sea level.   It’s up there somewhere behind the cliffs looming overheadSome insane people like my sister or my father might want to make the 3 kilometer hike to the village, I’m perfectly happy to take a bus.   In fact, when I consider the alternatives (walking or driving myself) I’m thrilled to take a bus.  This road is so windy, the lanes so narrow, there’s no way I could have managed this, even if I was driving a car with an automatic.   The mere thought makes me want to abandon all hope, park on a hairpin turn, weep and wait to die.

Being “chauffeured”, makes the journey both less and more hair-raising.   Less because I don’t have the responsibility of driving but more because some stranger who may have had a bottle of Rose for breakfast holds my life in their hands.   And shit, this bus is big.   It’s probably a matter of centimeters between here and oblivion.  Which isn’t to say oblivion isn’t breath-taking.

At one point I notice the man sitting next to me is laughing at me.   I’m outraged until I realize that all the screams, groans, gasps, prayers and “oh my gods” raging through my head during this ride, are also leaking from my mouth.  I’d be laughing at me too if I wasn’t looking down at a gazillion meter chasm of death two inches to my left.  The ride takes an eternity (15 minutes).

When we finally get up high enough in the cliffs, I see Eze.   I wouldn’t even call that a hilltop it’s perched on, this is more like a jagged shard of rock.   Jutting up from a cliff.   The bus drops me off at “base camp,” the bottom of the jagged shard, where there’s a few real estate companies, restaurants, tourist shops, banks and the requisite pharmacy and tabac shops.    I climb the road leading to the entrance of the old town.

Tiny little streets that barely accommodate one average person, cute ancient stone buildings, balconies and rooftops dripping with flowers, tiny shops (tres cher), beautiful, charming hotels where one night costs more than my monthly rent and finally, a killer view.   No, make that a million killer views.

Part of me is thinking this is the most beautiful place on the face of this earth and I must live here.   The other part is thinking what a pain in the ass it would be to lug groceries up all these tiny steps on a regular basis.  And how the hell would I get my armoire up here?

Whenever I reach a plateau, I stop and admire the view which I don’t think could get any more beautiful until I reach the next plateau.

The streets get narrower and more maze-like, until I reach a clearing, which is the entrance to Le Jardins d’Eze, which is essentially a hanging garden with a path leading to the castle ruins at the top through exotic cactus plants, statues, sitting areas and views to die for.   I almost do die for the view when a stumble on a cobble feels like I’m about to fall off the face of the earth.   At this point I’m practically crawling, but I make my final push to the summit.
Holy crap.  I can see past Cap Ferrat, Nice, Cap d’Antibes to San Tropez and all the way to Italy on the other side!   I’ve got the Cote d’Azur at my feet.   I take a moment to savor my accomplishment and the views before tackling the descent back to base camp.   More tourists have arrived,   I believe they are the “boat people” (people from huge cruise ships), because they are constantly looking at their watches.   The narrow streets are getting backed up.  If I don’t start my descent now, I could be stuck here all afternoon.  I’m hungry and thirsty.  I could perish up here!

Down at base camp I find a reasonably priced restaurant and have the recommended lunch (three courses for a set price).    The meal is unmemorable, but fine (fine meaning it’s edible and it doesn’t poison me).   Over dessert, I ponder my next move.   I can actually ascend even further upwards to the Haute Corniche d’Eze.  Imagine the views!   Imagine the horror of getting there!  Or I can go back down to the beach part of Eze.   Imagine the views!  Imagine the horror of getting there!

I order a second cappuccino.   Maybe I’ll just sit here and enjoy this particular view a little while longer.

Click here for more pictures of Eze.

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