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rage against the machine (and the jerks who drive them)

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jackass on loud motorcycle

I have a terrible confession.   I entertain dark thoughts.   Violent fantasies.

It usually happens when I’m sitting on my balcony and one of those motorcycles with the cranked up mufflers comes thundering down the hill at 9 million decibels.   I imagine that, with perfect timing, I pour a bucket of water down, drenching the motorcyclist and the street.   It makes me feel good, no great, to see the shocked driver spin out of control.

The daydream continues as the driver, with the motorcycle on top of him skids out, violently ricocheting between the parked cars and buildings lining the narrow street.   He is smashed.   Bloody.   Most probably dead.   I am now a murderer and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

On one hand, the guilt is a heavy burden.  But something had to be done.   Not just for me, but for all of mankind.   Well, at least whoever falls in the audio range of the bike, which I’m fairly certain includes Northern Italy and Switzerland.  But murder…Can I live with that?

Now that I’m confessing, I might as well also cop to the fact that the other day I heard a skid and a crash followed by anguished yelps.   I ran to the balcony to see what happened and saw it was a downed motorcycle and driver.   I did a happy dance before calling emergency services.

Before you label me a terrible person (which I probably am), you have no idea how obnoxious and annoying they are until you’ve lived in a fairly popular French village.   Mere de Dieu!

I can block out a lot of noises, but that particular din pierces through everything.   It’s like a jackhammer to the head.  I don’t know what the decibel level is, but I do know it’s the worst form of noise pollution, probably qualifies as torture and offenders should be prosecuted.   No tortured.   No, executed.   No, tortured AND executed.

I mean seriously, only a dangerously insane person wants to make THAT much noise.   Who else would want to inflict that kind of suffering on innocent people who are just trying to have a thought, conversation or watch a movie?   Clearly they must be  card-carrying sociopats.   Either that or they’re recklessly overcompensating for something.   Some shame or deficiency.   Small ears, perhaps? A high squeaky voice? A complete lack of physical presence?  Whatever,  they’re a danger.

Worse, these mother effing a-holes, use their size to muscle their way through pedestrian zones and quaint ancient villages.   It’s disturbing the peace at the very least.  And illegal.   I guess the French legal system deals with loud vehicles in pedestrian zones the same way America’s deals with assault weapons (which are also very loud, I’m told).

Lets not forget that the insufferable noise itself poses a threat, and not just to eardrums   I’ve come precariously close to injury when the sound exploded through my windows, shattering my focus, which left me unable to maintain my balance during a yoga pose.

IMG_20140913_185645921_HDRI read somewhere that there are some enthusiasts who argue that the horrific noise they inflict on humanity makes their lives safer from accidents because the noise forces other drivers to notice them.   To them I say, bull hickey!   You chose to ride that infernal machine.  Don’t inflict your goddamn choice on the rest of us.   Drive defensively, wear a helmet and put a cork in your goddamn exhaust pipe, you goddamn self centered sociopath with small ears and a squeaky voice and zero physical presence!

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.   I’ve seen people shake their fists and middle fingers at them as they roar past. Some people grow red with rage when discussing them. Some peoples’ blood pressure rises precipitously at their mere mention.   We hate them with a white hot passion.

Someday, we’ll all rise up against them.   In the meantime, I’ll be sitting on my balcony.   Watching. Waiting. Dreaming.

trouble in paradise


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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.

a little lesson in french law

law_ebay_french_courtThere are somethings that just aren’t covered in the books on living in France and can be only learned from experience.

A friend of mine, who I’ll call Michel, learned something new just last Friday night.   This is his story.

What he remembers:   He went to a friend’s house, drank a bottle of champagne, a bottle of rose followed by ¾ of a bottle of Jack Daniels. He headed home around 3AM.

His final memory of the evening was singing Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” while performing an awesome air drum solo as he walked home.

He woke up the next morning in his bed with a bad hangover, which was to be expected. What he didn’t expect was to find himself wearing a pair of boxer shorts that he had never seen before. They were definitely not his.

Clearly, there were a few blank spots, so he called the friend he spent the evening with to find out what he missed.

Turns out, somewhere between the drum solo and home, he was arrested.   He was quite incoherent, but managed to give the cops the name and number of the friend who he had spent the evening with (merci a dieu it wasn’t me).   The cops called him and asked him to pick up Michel and to bring some pants.

His friend went to the police station and found Michel quietly playing poker with imaginary cards and opponent.  He also happened to be buck-naked from the waist down.   As near as Michel can figure it, he must have seen the bus station which is very close to his apartment, figured he was almost home and started taking his clothes off.

Apparently, the neighbors complained about the noise and the cops came to investigate and found Michel singing, without his pants on.   They brought him in, not because he was half naked, but because he was loud, and very, very drunk. They were worried he was a threat to himself.

As you might imagine, Michel was feeling pretty crummy as he told me all this.   Being the pain in the ass I am, I asked him if he learned anything from the experience.

He thought about it for a moment and I could see see the sparkle of realization in his eyes.

“Yes!   It’s legal to walk down the street naked in France!”

i’ve always depended on the kindness of cab drivers

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Where we left off: God just pushed me down the final step of the Strasbourg Cathedral stairwell and did something mauvais to my foot.  I’m in the lobby of the Hotel Gutenberg waiting for the doctor.

The doctor arrives.   He only speaks French so we communicate in the language of pain.   He taps my foot, moves it around and I yelp when it hurts.   He tells me he thinks it’s broken (casse) and I’ll need to go for “radio”.    He gives me a couple of pills, makes a few calls and escorts me (okay, drags me), downstairs to get a cab.

After a brief conference with the doctor, receptionist and cab driver, the doctor passes me off to the driver who pretty much holds me upright as I hop to the cab muttering “merde, merde, merde.”  He compliments me on my French.

Somewhere along the way, the pills kick in and I start to enjoy the chauffeured tour of the outer reaches of Strasbourg.   Woah, full moon.  We arrive at the Clinique St. Anne Urgences entrance and the driver gets me a wheelchair.

In the back of my mind, I believe that once I sit in the wheelchair, all is lost.   So it’s either that, dumb pride or that all-powerful feeling you get when floating on a schedule 3 narcotic that makes me refuse the chair.

I hop bravely up the ramp to the door…well, half way to the door.  Fortunately, the cab driver has the foresight to follow me with the wheelchair, providing a comfortable place to collapse.   He wheels me the rest of the way in.

off to get an X-ray

being chauffeured to my X-ray

I sign in, give them my insurance card, fill in a form and somebody pushes me to the waiting room.  I’m not sure, mais je pense I’ve been parle-ing fluent Francais and understanding tout ce qu ils disent.   Yaaaay!

There are a few people already ahead of me, so I fear a long wait.  Five minutes later, my name is called and I’m wheeled into x-ray.   An intern takes a picture of my foot and tells me to wait for the doctor.   Gotta love French healthcare.

In another few minutes, the doctor comes in and introduces himself as David.   Not Doctor David, just David.   Maybe he’s a night janitor.  I don’t care.  He’s cute.  He confirms that oui, my foot is broken and I will be getting a cast up to my knee.  Honey, you can put that cast as high as you want.

Then a horrible realization hits me.   I’m wearing skinny jeans.  There’s no way I can fit a cast under them.  I’ll have to take them off (well, at least one leg).   I haven’t shaved my legs.   I need a pedicure.   Dear God, what underwear am I wearing?   What will I wear back to the hotel?   What will I wear home?

After the cast is put on, the intern devises a lovely outfit by jauntily throwing the empty pant-leg over my shoulder.   She cuts some gauze as a belt and fashions a skirt out of a paper scrub top.   I feel like I’m on Project Runway. Fortunately, I have no photographic evidence of my one-of-a-kind look.   I’m pretty sure Tim Gunn would be mortified.

My cab is waiting, and I’m faced with a new dilemma.   In France, the hospitals don’t give out crutches, they’re prescribed.   It’s 8pm and god knows how I’ll deal with it.  It’s times like this I wish I was married.   Not that my husband would be of any use to me.   He’s probably back at the hotel watching football. Bastard!

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evil crutches

The cab driver, lady at the registration/incoming wounded desk and I discuss the problem and the next thing you know, the taxi driver makes a few calls, finds an open pharmacy and we’re on our way.

The pharmacy is in a huge complex set back about 30 meters from the sidewalk.   Both the driver and I know there’s no way I’ll be able to hop up there without taking several naps along the way, so he goes in and gets my crutches.

I had envisioned myself swinging breezily from the kind of crutches that rest under your arms, but in France these forearm wrapped ones are de rigueur.   I hate them.   The design forces users to rely on balance and core strength, neither of which I seem to have.   I’m more of a leaner.

I attempt a graceful exit from the cab.   The driver’s arms are out, ready to catch me as I stand up shakily and freeze like a dog on an escalator, trying to figure out what goes first, the crutch or the foot.

The trip to the hospital and pharmacy took an hour and a half.   It takes another hour and a half to get to my room.

I immediately start to pack (well, after a short rest).   My plane leaves at 7:30 AM and I have a lot to figure out before then. I’m happy to discover that I did pack pajamas.   I can wear the bottoms to the airport.   A thrill rushes through me knowing that for the first time ever, I will have worn everything I packed.  I’m also pleased to discover that I’ll save a lot of time in the morning because I can’t take a shower.

The next morning, I get to the airport (by cab) without a hitch.   The driver passes me off to the wheelchair and attendant he wrangled for me inside the airport.   I feel like a rolling baton being passed from person to person.

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At first, I’m a little embarrassed.   Yes, I’m that unkempt person in pajama pants being wheeled through the airport.   But as they whisk me through security, keeping close track of my passport, purse, coat and even wheel me over to the cash machine on the way to the gate.  I even get a whole row to myself on a packed plane (could this be because I can’t take a shower?).  They even fasten my seat belt. I could get used to this.  Maybe I’ll save the cast and crutches for all future travel.

Another wheelchair and attendant await me in Nice as well as my checked bag.  Once I’m comfortably in the cab, I realize a new set of obstacles await me.   Have I mentioned that I live in a third floor walk-up?

I’m pretty sure  I can get the driver to carry up my bag, which despite being small is way too much for me to handle with these godforsaken crutches.   But what about me?   I just fell down a stair.   The thought of three flights fills me with terror..   Maybe I can crawl?   Slither up on my belly like a snake?

In the foyer of my apartment building, the cab driver assesses the situation and has an idea.  First he carries my bag up the three flights.   Then he carries me,  piggy back.   He sets me down and holds me upright, while I open the door.   He carries my baggage in and helps me inside.   I pay him (HUUUUUGE tip).

I close the door and lean against the wall feeling an enormous sense of triumph and relief.   I made it!   I’m home!

A half hour later, once I’ve rested from the exertion of being carried up the stairs, I make the ½ hour trek to my couch   I begin to realize that getting home was the easy part.   How the hell am I going to get out of here?  How will I bathe?   How will I cook?  How will I get groceries?  How will I clean the apartment? How will I hang up my goddamn coat?   I’m alone now.  I have nobody to love and care for me. I’ll probably starve to death and my cat will have to eat me until someone discovers my remains.

Or, I can call a cab.

 ***

Postscript:   Don’t feel too sorry for me.   My niece, Alex came down from Switzerland and waited on me.   I’m so glad my sister had the foresight to breed!

my lavish lunch at the hotel du cap (or thereabout)

hotel du cap eden roc exteriorThe Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc is a landmark.   Well, it should be a landmark.  Maybe even a UNESCO world heritage site.   It was built in 1869 by the founder of Le Figaro newspaper as a sanctuary for writers seeking inspiration.

In 1889, it was sold to an Italian hotelier and became the Grand Hotel du Cap.

Up until the 1920’s the hotel was a winter escape for the wealthy and was closed for the summer.  Until Cole Porter introduced Gerald and Sara Murphy, two wealthy American ex-pats to the Cap d’Antibes and they fell in love with it.   The Murphys begged the hotel management to keep the hotel open for summer to accommodate them and their friends.   The management was more agreeable back then —  in 2011, they refused to open for President Barack Obama during his visit to the Cote d’Azur for the G20 conference in Cannes (maybe the current owners are Republicans?).

The Murphys brought F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and ultimately ushered in a resurgence to the area.

Fitzgerald immortalized the Hotel in Tender is the Night as the Hôtel des Etrangers. Marc Chagall sketched from one of the shady beachside cabanas (now over 500 Euro a day) .  Kennedys had trysts here.   World leaders negotiated here.   Everybody who is anybody in Hollywood has stayed here, from Gene Kelly to Cary Grant to Robert Redford to Johnny Depp.

The hotel is now owned by an elite German hotel chain.  It may be the only place left on the Cap not owned by a Russian or Saudi.  These days, a room goes for 830E -6150/night.   Cabana not included.   And don’t even ask about the Villas.   No prices are listed and I assume, they’re going by the philosophy that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

Up until now, I’ve walked by the gates of the hotel, but was afraid to go within 10 meters of it for fear of setting off some poverty alarm and being tackled by the security guards flanking the gates.   But today, dammit, I’m going in.  Even if I have to shell out for a 90Euro lunch!   Rumor has it, the food is impeccable and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a room (hell, I’ve stayed in hotel rooms that are cheaper than lunch at the Hotel du Cap).

I take the number 2 bus from the Antibes Gare Routiere to the tip of the Cap (probably not the most elegant vehicle from which to make one’s entrance to the hotel, but what the hell).   It’s about a 10 minute bus ride.

I get off the bus and walk confidently towards the hotel, getting closer to the gates than I’ve ever been before.   My heart is racing.hôtel du cap Then I read the sign:   Fermature Annuelle.    Sigh.  A couple of gardeners open the gate a bit to roll out a dumpster of leaves.  I consider making a break for it and running through the gates, but figure I’d be shot.    Damn, I’m going to have to wait til April to see this place. And I’m as hungry as hell all of a sudden.  And there aren’t a lot of (any) restaurants here on the tip of the Cap d’Antibes. 

My plans are ruined.   I intended to eat a lovely, civilized  lunch, walk the grounds, look for famous people and walk back to Antibes.   But here I am, locked out, starving and weak.    How will I make it back without sustenance?   Maybe I’ll collapse in the middle of Boulevard Kennedy and get run over by a rich handsome man with an exotic accent in a Ferrarri.   Maybe he will stop, pick me up and gently deposit me into his Ferrarri,  drive me to a hospital and never leave my bedside until I fully recover and by then of course, we’ll be madly in love even though I’ll never walk again.  That sounds great!   Clearly I’m getting light-headed.

IMG_5880Then I remember that I wisely put a banana in my purse before I left.   I find a nice spot across the street from the hotel, which just happens to be the garden of Les Chenes Verts, the villa where Jules Verne lived and worked.   I sit down and elegantly devour the banana (pinky finger out) and savor the sweeping vistas over the Golfe Juan.

I still can’t speak to the splendor of the Hotel du Cap or the skills of its chefs. But I can honestly say, this is the best damn lunch I’ve ever had.

recent photos of Antibes (give or take a century)

Antibes has been around since the 5th century BC when the Greeks discovered that its protected port made it an ideal trade center.   Unfortunately, they didn’t have cameras back then to document the changes over the millennia and archaeologists have yet to unearth any ancient postcards.

I did, however, find some postcards from the early 1900’s to compare modern Antibes with what it looked like over 100 years ago.   This is before the jazz age.   Before Zelda and F. Scott got here.

I’ve tried to match the old shots with photos of the same location here and now.   We should all age this well.

Place Mace (now Place de Gaulle)

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Place de Gaulle is in the new part of town (new meaning 100 years old, as opposed to 700), about a block from the entrance to the old town.

I looked up Ernest Mace, who this Place was formerly named after and found nothing.  Maybe he was evil and has been stricken from the records. Why the hell didn’t they name it Place de Gaulle in the first place?   Oh yeah, Charles De Gaulle was still in military school when the top picture was taken.

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Port Vauban

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Ahhh, the ancient port.   This is where the Greeks, Romans, and various barbaric tribes first staked their claims on Antibes.   Today’s port is where the Arabs, Russians and now the Chinese are currently staking their claims.  A berth here today costs upwards of a million Euro.

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Rue de la Republique, old town

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Rue de la Republique is the “main drag” from Place de la Republique through the old town to the Cours Massena and Hotel de Ville (town hall).

I want to know what was behind that wall on the right in the earlier pictures.   If there’s a shoe repair shop, would somebody please give me directions?  I’d gladly travel through time to get there.

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Place Nationale

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Place National is in the old town center.   The war monument is no longer a fountain and the trees have grown significantly. Other than that, not much has changed.   Note the piece of ancient Citroen in the lower right hand corner.

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Boulevard d’Aguillon

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Boulevard Aguillon in the old town, lines the rampart walls near the port.    While it appears that nothing has changed over the last 100 years, I’m willing to bet that not one of the cafes lining the street had a karaoke bar back then.

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Place du Château (now Place Marijol)

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This is Place Marijol, in front of the Picasso museum.   Back then it was just the Place du Chateau in front of the Chateau Grimaldi (which was built on top of the ruins of an ancient Greek acropolis).  The chateau has been here since the 1300s.  Picasso didn’t move in until 1946.

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The port with Fort Carre in the background

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antibes 2013

Fort Carre hasn’t changed much over the years, but clearly the parking lot has grown.

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View of the old town from the rampart walls

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antibes old town from ramparts

Again, the old town remains the same where the world around it has changed drastically.   Fortunately, there is still no Walmart within 3,000 miles.

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Rue Aubernon, Port gate

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This is a street in the old town leading to the gate that leads to the port.  As you can see, people dressed a little more formally back in the day.

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Cours Massena/Marche Provencale

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They put a roof over the market in 1900.   Perhaps it now lacks the charm of the Cours Massena of the 1900’s, but it’s got a much better selection.  In the summer it gets a little crowded and pushy.   Kind of like Whole Foods in the US.

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Rue de la Republic (in the “new” part of town)

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This street spans the one block from Place de Gaulle in the “new” part of town to the old town entrance.   It’s astonishing how similar it looks.   But the chances of getting run over by a car here are much better today.

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View of Antibes from Port Aubernon (now Port de la Salis)

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While one might be a bit nostalgic for the peace and quiet of the good old days, you’ve got to admit, the view is still pretty darn nice.

***

View of Antibes and the Cap d’Antibes

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When the top picture was taken, the population of Antibes was approximately 10,000.   It’s now almost 75,000.   From the looks of things here, it would appear the 65,000 newer residents are living on boats.

Post cards courtesy of notrefamille.com

what are these people smoking?

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Over the last couple of months I’ve been noticing them everywhere.   People contentedly suck on them (sometimes greedily) in airports, cafes, and the street.   And they’re exhaling billowing clouds of what looks like smoke.  They look like a a seductive mix of toy, high end tech gadget, and drug paraphanalia.   I don’t know what they are, but I know I want one.

ecigs

Turns out, they’re the latest trend in France. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes.   E cigarettes are supposedly healthier than smoking because you’re not inhaling burning carcinogens, just vaporized nicotine and flavor.   No smell.   No fire.   You recharge the battery in the USB port on your computer.  You can get them in various nicotine strengths and in more flavors than Baskin and Robbins.   They even have a cannibis flavor, which I was sad to learn, contains no actual cannabis.

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On a one-mile walk to Juan Les Pins the other day, I noticed five new e-cigarette stores have opened on Boulevard President Wilson. They display an array of lovely and varied e-cigarettes, pipes and even cigars as well as small bottles of the nicotine liquid.  There are also  necklace clips, carrying cases, stands, travel packs, fancy cartridges and so on.   It’s like buying a Barbie…the real money is in the accessories.

I’ve got to admit, I’m tempted by the concept.   I’ve even tried a disposable one, and while not as satisfying as a real cigarette, they’re not bad.

Granted, it might be just another ill-fated attempt to get people to quit smoking and spend a bunch of money in the process.   Not long ago, my neighbor Joc was smoking a lovely silver etched e cigarette.  Oh how I coveted it.    I asked her about it and she told me it was great.   She swore by the virtues of the ecigarette.    I was almost convinced, but the following week, she was back on the cigarettes. That doesn’t bode well for the long term.

IMG_4024But still, they’re so…shiny.  And they have the added benefit of being able to pretend I’m actually making a healthy purchase.    I’m tempted to get something really blingy.   Something that will make me feel like my name should be Zza Zza.   Or maybe something sleek and classic (in which case my name would be Inga).   Or one of each.

e cig bling

I can see it now.   I’ll convert to the ecigarette, my lungs will be purified, I will be healthier than I’ve been in years.  My skin will become  luminous and dewey. My apartment will always smell fresh, and there will be no new burn marks in my clothes.    Then I’ll choke to death on a loose Swarovski crystal.

an inconvenient truth

view of alps from antibes 11/2012

View of Alps, mid-November 2012

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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.

a tale of two dermatologists

I’m fair skinned.  That means I have to go to the dermatologist a lot to make sure one of my 8 million freckles hasn’t become deadly.

After hearing about a few people dying of melanoma recently (thank you Facebook), I figure it’s time for a check up.

I have two choices, find an English-speaking doctor, who is probably in Cannes and costs a gazillion dollars, or find one in Antibes who probably doesn’t speak English and is a fraction of the cost.    Being lazy and cheap, I make a rendez-vous with a Dr.  Michelle Bagni, Docteur Dermatologue-Venereologue, about 5 minutes from my apartment.

There is no receptionist.   The walls are bare.   It’s basically a big unfurnished apartment with a lovely bay window and hardwood floors.   The waiting room has a few mismatched chairs, a coffee table with magazines and brochures on how to identify skin cancer.

Everyone in the waiting room is older than me, and none of the visitors seem to be here for cosmetic purposes and if they are, they’re either actually 120 years old and don’t look a day over 90, or my doctor is a really crappy cosmetic dermatologist.   Who knows, maybe that makes her better at the health-related stuff.

After a 15-minute wait, she comes out to get me.   She’s barefaced, and I dare say, all natural.   She’s probably in her 50’s.   Her office is like her, no-nonsense, no frills, but good bones.   There’s a desk, chairs, files, computer and an examination table in the adjoining room.

As I suspected, she only speaks French, but this is just a check up, I can get through that.

antibes dermatology

She thoroughly examines every inch of my skin and finds two boutons (isn’t the word “bouton” so much cuter than “grotesque growth”?) for biopsy.   One on my leg and the other on my arm.    She cuts them out, stitches me up and sends me on my way.   The bill is only 30Euro, which thrills me (I read some guy in Cannes charges 100 Euros for a consultation!)  For some reason, I don’t worry about it.

Until I go back to get my stitches taken out and get the biopsy results.

Dr.  Bagni finds my file and scans it.   A look of concern passes over her face.   My pulse shifts into high gear.

I’m relieved when she says “Ce n’est pas grave,…” but my relief slowly dissipates as she continues speaking and I don’t understand a word she’s saying.   Worse, she’s using hand gestures that indicate cutting and scooping a large chunk of my arm.  On the positive side, she doesn’t use amputation and death gestures

.From what I can gather the bouton on my leg is nothing and the one on my arm is in fact, mauvais.  She thinks I should go to a doctor with more medical equipment because  they have to go pretty deep to get it all out.   Or something like that.

She asks me whether I’d rather go to a doctor in Cannes or In La Fontonne.   I ask which is better and she says a bunch of stuff in French and I agree to whatever it is she said.   Turns out I’m going to Cannes.  Next week.

I rush home to translate the test results clutched in my hand.  It seems I have  squamous skin cancer on my arm and the borders need to be widened.   Which leads to a day of Googling squamous skin cancer (somewhere between Basal Cell which isn’t usually deadly and Melanoma which often is) and funeral homes in the South of France.

While it’s only a 10-minute train ride away, Cannes is a whole other world than Antibes.  Apparently, so are their dermatologists’ offices.

Dr. Mangiavillano’s “Centre Laser and Chirugie Dermatologique” has art everywhere in addition to obviously expensive carpets, drapes and furniture.   There’s a huge TV monitor in the waiting room/receptions area playing some demonstration of all the fabulous things you can have done to look better using awesome looking machines and lasers.   There’s a library of brochures for things like liftmassage, laser this and botulism toxine that.   A very friendly receptionist speak a bit of English.

The clientele here is younger than the one in Antibes (well, they look it anyway).   A good-looking man with a beard asks me in French if this is my first time.   I have no idea what he’s referring to, so I just nod, say “oui.   J’ai peur.”   He reassures me in French (at least I think he’s reassuring me, and God knows what he’s reassuring me about).   I wonder what scars his beard is hiding.

CannesThe doctor comes to get me.   I’m pretty sure he’s had some work done.

His office has lots of art, fancy furniture and a bunch of really cool looking technological gadgets that I’m sure could take years, maybe decades off my face.   But right now, I just want this damn thing off my arm.

He asks me in French why I’m here.   I tell him I have a mauvais bouton and hand him the envelope Dr. Bagni gave me with the results.  I nervously study his expression as he reads my file.   He looks pretty matter of fact, which I consider a good sign.   Of course, it could be because his face doesn’t move.   He tells me to take off my shoes and lie down in the cushy treatment lounger.

He asks me if I would prefer to speak in French or English.   Angels sing “hallelujah.”  Even though I came prepared by double checking how to say “you’re going to die” in French  (“vous allez mourir”, unless he addresses me in the familiar in which case it would be “tu vas mourir”)  I ask him to speak English.

He tells me that I have skin cancer, it’s not serious, he just needs to cut a wider border than the piece Dr. Bagni cut out for biopsy and then it will be gone.

He leaves the room for a moment and his assistant/nurse/whatever appears. She’s an an ageless woman (who has obviously had work done).   She holds my hand reassuringly while scrutinizing my face.   She tells me (in French) I have rougeurs and need something laser.   I’m sure I do.   I just wish she’d stop looking at me.  Now she’s saying more stuff that I don’t understand…probably telling me I need botox, a face lift and maybe some tasteful breast implants.    Now I’m really scared.     Dear God, is there an  anesthesiologist?

IMG_4803The doctor returns and they do their work, chatting to each other in French (probably talking about all the work I need done).   In all, it probably takes 30 minutes and I don’t feel or see a thing. I walk out with 12 stitches and a large gash across my arm that looks like a failed suicide attempt made by a very stupid drunk person.

I go to the receptionist to pay.   E300!   That’s 10 times the cost of the Antibes doctor!   Sure, more stitches, but jeez.   I do some quick math…that’s 25 Euro a stitch, compared to 6 Euro a stitch in Antibes.   This thread must be some rare tibetan silk woven by albino yaks.  I’m starting to feel a little sick so I sit down.  The assistant brings me a glass of water.

When I’m feeling better I head to the pharmacy to fill the prescription Doctor Mangiavilla gave me.   I drop E30 on the various bandages, gauze, disinfectant and healing unguents, plus another $70 on some miracle anti-rougeurs cream (it’s gotta be cheaper than lasers, oui?).

All in all, my dermatological excursion to Cannes cost E400.   All I can say is, when these stitches come off, my arm better look at least 10 years younger.

is this august or have I died and gone to hell?

beach antibes august

August is the month where everyone flocks to holiday on the glamorous French Riviera.   Who can blame them?  It’s oppressively hot.  It’s crowded.   Huge vicious mosquitoes are on the prowl and basically an air of rudeness permeates the entire Cote d’Azur.

For example, as I was waiting for an appointment in Juan Les Pins the other day, instead of French muzak, I heard honking horns.   Continually.   I’m not saying the horns were worse than the muzak, mind you, but it it was insistent, repetitive and brain piercing — more like really bad techno (is that redundant?).

Virginie, the assistant told me it happens every August when the people on vacation invade.   She said that it’s just non-stop honking in August.   Even in the middle of the night.  She wondered why they would become more impatient while on holiday “relaxing.”

A lot of people blame the Parisians (the only French people who don’t hate Parisians are Parisians) but the truth is, I’m not sure who to blame for this sorry state of affairs, I’d like to blame Americans, but in all honesty, I can’t.   There just aren’t enough of them in Antibes.   To hate Americans I’d have to go to Cannes or Monaco.    Perish the thought.

Recently, a friend who lives in Paris complained about how the entire city shuts down in August.  So maybe it is the Parisians.  I mean, you’d have to be from a major city to think that lying greased up and semi-naked on a small patch of beach crushed up amongst other people lying on a small patch of beach is vacation material (now that I think about it, it sounds more like the beginning of a porn flick or some harrowing Heironymous Bosch painting).   I insist on a clear two mile person-free zone when I’m wearing a bathing suit.   Three miles, when the visibility is particularly good.

Hell-Bosch

Getting around the rest of the year is a breeze but in August it’s unbearable.   The roads become like rush hour in California all day long (which pretty much is rush hour in California, come to think of it).   Additionally, the trains are ALWAYS late in August.  I assume it’s because they’re waiting for a group of sweaty, luggage-laden tourists to drag their asses aboard the train.    The stations are hot, muggy and packed with confused people of various nationalities lugging three times their bulk (and getting in MY way).  They are usually wearing too little and their skin is covered in large red oozing welts.  While my rational self assumes it must be mosquito bites, my paranoid, germaphobic self fears it’s something highly contagious.   Maybe that’s why the Asians are all wearing masks.

Here’s some advice if you happen to be here during the month of August: Don’t take public transportation.  Don’t drive.   Don’t go outside.  Bring a gun to protect yourself against the mosquitoes.

If you must go to the beach for a little sun, go after 9:00PM (21:00).

And if you’re considering a trip to the Riviera next August, I don’t recommend it.   Unless you’d like to rent my apartment.   I’ll be in Paris.

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