• Follow real france on WordPress.com
  • Archives

  • Auvers sur Oise

  • antibes

  • Paris

  • chantilly

et tu, france?

Crepe on a stick

Crepe on a stick

One of the nice things about France has always been their approach to eating.   They sit, enjoy and savor finely prepared foods (even if that food is a goddamn snail).  In moderation.

I’ve seen that trend fading with the preponderance of fast food places and prepared foods at the grocery store (which I like to pretend are geared towards american tourists, even though logic tells me otherwise).

But I’m sorry, a crepe on stick?   Yes, this was at an outdoor festival of food.    I’m sure it’s lovely to be able to stroll around with one hand free while eating a crepe, but this just isn’t right.

Jeez, the next thing you know they’ll be making camembert-whiz and drinking wine out of berets.

Wine-Hatphoto of wine cap from www.likecool.com.

 

the 13-year houseguest


IMG_20140402_151515186-1If you’re anything like me (a public school educated American), you probably didn’t learn about Jean Cocteau in school.   You may have intuitively envisioned him (or her) as elegant, artistic and French. You might have sometimes confused him/her with Jacques Cousteau, or some famous old school French actress (hey, Jean is a girl’s name, right?).

cocteau

Photo of Cocteau at Villa Santo Sospir

At any rate, if someone mentioned Jean Cocteau in a conversation, you’d nod knowingly (knowingly, because the name sounds familiar) and say nothing for fear of embarrassing yourself by responding with something like “she was a great beauty, fine artist and a pioneer in deep sea exploration.

Turns out, Cocteau is pretty famous over here (male, FYI).   And he was no one-trick petite cheval.   He’s famous for poetry, literature, theater, art, ballet, films, music, set design, and the list goes on.   Dude did everything.   He was the first to adapt Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et le Bete) to film (yeah, I thought it was Disney, too).   He even designed jewelry! (I discovered this at the Musee de Cocteau in Menton).  Dear Lord and American school system, where has he been all my life?

jean_cocteau_theatre_de_monte-carlo_ballet_russe_karsavina_d5546324h
A few facts:   He was born in 1880 and died in 1963 (a few hours after his close friend, Edith Piaf’s death).   Not a bad run for a once sickly child before the invention of penicillin.  His father was a lawyer and amateur painter who killed himself when Cocteau was nine.   He published his first book of poetry at 19.   He was a hard partier and drug addict.   He was good friends with Picasso and Matisse.   Hell, it appears He was good friends with just about every famous person alive, from Coco Chanel to Marlene Dieterich to Igor Stravinsky.    Something tells me that if the E network existed in his time, he’d be top news everyday and much more popular than the Kardashians.   It appears, he was visionary enough to have his own Facebook page.

jmfbabbHe was bixexual, but his longest relationships were with men –Jean Marais was an actor (starred in most of Cocteau’s productions) and Eduoard Dermit a young writer he eventually adopted.    He struggled with opium addiction.   He lived like he was rich, but he wasn’t. Which is a nice way of saying he was a bit of a mooch; living well off of other peoples’ coin.   I guess he was just so wonderful, charming and clever, people just wanted to be around him and invited him to stay with them.

Which is how he wound up spending 13 years at Villa Santo Sospir on Cap Ferrat.

Cocteau, Weissweiler and Dermit

Cocteau, Weisweiller and Dermit

Francine Weisweiller, a rich socialite whose husband spent most of the time in Paris with his mistress, owned the villa. She invited him and his extremely handsome adopted 23-year old son, Eduoard Dermit to be her guest in the Villa for a week.   They wound up staying until over a decade later, when after a huge fight with Francine, Cocteau stormed out and they never spoke again.

IMG_20140402_150233772I’ve heard differing stories on the nature of Francine and Cocteau’s relationship.  I tend to think that putting up with a guest for that long without killing them indicates a love beyond reason, but that could just be me. One thing is certain, Cocteau never really left her. He left his imprint in the form of murals, tapestries, tiles and doodlings all over the house.  Santo Sospir was his sketch pad.

IMG_20140402_154519920After Francine’s death in 2003, Villa Santo Sospir was passed down to her daughter, Carole.  In order to avoid the huge inheritance tax and because the historic and cultural nature of the villa, the family had it classified as an historical monument. Unlike many historical monuments, it still evokes the essence of the people who lived there.  It seems unchanged, as if they’re all still present, possibly getting very drunk and having wild, celebrity/intelligensia-studded orgies on the terrace overlooking the sea.

The villa is open for tours, but unlike nearby Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villa Kerylos, you have to make an appointment. Eric, the caretaker and once caregiver to the aging Francine, conducts the tours, and offers unique, intimate insight, much of which I probably either miss or misunderstand because the tour is in French.

It doesn’t matter. The setting is spectacular and It’s like Cocteau opened his brain and splashed it all over this quirky place.  You can practically feel the stories that happened over those 13 years.

In many ways, Villa Santo Sospir is the embodiment of the epitaph on Cocteau’s tombstone: “Je reste avec vous” or “I stay with you.”

No kidding.

A tour of Villa Santo Sospir

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

all hail the mighty lemon!

Monet's rendering of a branch of Menton lemons

Monet’s rendering of a Menton lemon tree branch

Last year in French class, there was a discussion about the Menton Fete de Citron.   My friend Michel scoffed at the idea, wondering how can they have a whole festival for a goddamn lemon?   He wound up going and returned a changed man, with a newfound respect for both lemons and the French who gave the lowly fruit the love and attention it deserves.

This year, my friend Angela and I embark on the same pilgrimage hoping for a similar transformation.

Menton is two or three train stops east of Monaco/Monte Carlo (about 10 minutes), on the French/Italian border.   You can feel the Italian influence as well as hear, smell and taste it.

IMG_6954For a place you’ve probably never heard of, it’s quite beautiful with grand buildings built in the 1900’s when rich nobles wintered here. It boasts a long pebbly beach fringing blue, blue water, an old town splashed in the warm sunny colors of this patch of the Mediterranean. It’s surrounded by dramatic cliffs that seemingly drop from Alps to the Sea in a heartbeat creating a perfect micro-climate (316 days of sunshine a year, they say).

So, what is Menton’s main claim to fame?   Lemons, of course.   Well, citrus in general.   But the Menton lemon is special.   It’s larger, often misshapen.   It’s also supposedly sweet enough to eat like an orange (I beg to differ).

Legend has it that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve grabbed a big, golden lemon from paradise and took it.   When they finally settled in Eden-like Menton (which was probably called something else back then), she planted it.   An industry and tourism hook was born.

Every year at the end of February-early March, the town of Menton holds a Fete de Citron.  It’s their equivalent of Mardi Gras except replace the beads, masks, great music and young people with lemons and oranges.

IMG_6812The place is packed.  I’m a little frightened despite the fact that half the attendees are walking slower and more laboriously than me (the median age here, appears to be about 70—I feel like a spring chicken)..  This is my first major public outing without my walking boot, and one pushy German could ruin my hard won, still tenuous mobility for me.

Orange trees line the streets, full of ripe oranges, festive in their own right. There’s something very reassuring about a place where food grows on trees.   I put Menton down on my list of possible places to be broke and homeless.IMG_6845

The theme of this year’s festival is “20,000 leagues under the sea.” I honestly don’t know what it has to do with citrus, but what the hell. The parade is the strangest combination of floats: ships, fish made of citrus, mermaids and the most baffling float of IMG_6797all, a kangaroo made of citrus.   Possibly left over from the Australian themed Fete de Citron, or maybe the Marsupial themed one?  There’s also a garden of displays (like the Eiffel tower and pagodas done entirely in citrus) and fireworks at night, and all kinds of citrus based products being sold.

Rumor has it, the lemons and oranges used in the floats and displays come from  Morocco—which I suspect is true, given their uniform, smallish size.  Some of these Menton lemons are bigger than a pamplemousse!

Possibly the most exciting part of the Fete de Citron for me, is the Menton lemon honey I sample in the one the stores, Mille et un Miels.   OMG.   Give me a straw.   Hell, I’ll chug it straight from the jar.  I’ll eat it with my hands.   Angela and I both buy a jar.

When I get home, I sit down to Google Menton over a nice hot cup of Lemon Honey (with a little water).   I discover that Jean Cocteau the French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist, filmmaker. and general post-modern Renaissance man was an important part of Menton.   There is a Cocteau museum showing his work, as well as that of his friends’ Picasso and Matisse.   You can see more of his art in the Bastion, on the waterfront.

Being a person of taste and culture, suddenly, I’m obsessed with going back to Menton.  I’ve got to get more of that lemon honey!

the soiree of terror

The day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived.    I received the above invitation a few weeks ago.

Every year at this time, French people try to get to know/reconnect with their neighbors in what is called “Fete de Voisins.”   The idea is to form bonds that will counteract the isolation of city living and build stronger communities.  So this little fete will include everyone in my small apartment building.   I’m pretty sure all the tenants here are French, except one family.   I’m also pretty sure their English is no better than my French.  In most cases worse (gasp!).   Naturally, I’m terrified.

I walk s-l-o-w-l-y down the three flights to the party.   On the way I bump into my only English-as-a-first-language speaking neighbor (Denise) and her four year old son (William).   Denise is very thoughtfully locking her door, and staring at it as if trying to remember something.  Turns out, she’s trying to remember a reason she can’t go to the party.   She’s as nervous as I am.  But she’s lived here for seven years, so she clearly has an advantage.   William, who is fairly fluent in both French and English and fearless because he’s 4 and there promises to be cake, he’s ready to partay.   At least now, I have a suitable escort.

We enter the apartment together, doing the whole introduction and kissing both cheeks thing.   Damn, these people talk fast!   I still don’t know what anyone’s name is because I can’t distinguish the words from the names.

The table overflows with food like some decadent still life.   I wish I brought my camera. There are about 11 guests ages ranging from 4-75.  The host and hostess are a 70-ish couple and live on the ground floor with an amazing garden with a small koi pond.   The husband speaks a petite peux of English (not as much as he thinks).

Representing the 1st floor a 60-ish couple ( think the man was a bit older).   They both only speak french, although the husband’s rapid-fire french is punctuated with seemingly random “OH MY GODs” (in English—maybe he’s trying to make me feel at home).

From the second floor we have Denise and William.   I’m the third floor.

From the top floor brings two female college students who are renting the apartment.   Also in attendance, the attractive 40-ish man who owns the apartment.  There’s also a woman I can’t place, but for some reason I think she has something to do with the top floor.

As much as Denise and I would prefer to sit in a corner and talk to each other in English, we know it would be cowardly and we must mingle.  I watch her dive bravely into the fray.   I’m intimidated by her ability to understand questions and answer them. I feel better when she tells one of the neighbors that her son, William is 40.

In the following three hours, I learn as much as I can about my neighbors and bond with them given my limited French skills.   Here’s what I managed to pick up:

The hostess quit smoking after 52 years and she said something about cocaine and morphine in the same sentence.   I’m assuming she said it was harder to quit cigarettes than cocaine or morphine.   Either that, or she used cocaine and morphine to kick nicotine.   Will have to delve deeper into that when my French improves.   In response, I tell her that she must have started smoking when she was two.   Well, I hope that’s what I told her.   She kind of clutched her hand to her heart, in what I hope was a gesture of gratitude or pleasure.

The man on the second floor feels very strongly (OH MY GOD!) that The painter Nicolas Stahl was very something.   So was Picasso.   He also said something about Collioures, which is a small fishermens village near the Spanish border where a lot of famous painters spent time.   I’ve always wanted to go there, so I nod enthusiastically.

First floor’s son got married in Santa Barbara.   He may also live there.   It’s very beautiful there.

The students on the fourth floor are studying at some school on Jules Grec Blvd .  I know where it is, so I nod enthusiastically.   They’re majoring in either agriculture, horticulture or quantum physics.  They are originally from somewhere in the north of France.  I know where the north of France is so I nod in knowingly.

The recipe for Gateau du thon (tuna cake, think meatloaf made with tuna instead of meat):   Tuna, lemon juice, capers, egg, salt pepper and a touch of mayo with Dijon mustard.   Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

The proprietor of “Le sex shop” (a few doors up the street) is very charming.

David and his wife, Nikki  (the couple who own the apartment I live in) are lovely, and Nikki is both smart, beautiful and a bunch of other stuff that is said in a very positive manner.   Great.   I will always be compared to her.   I bet her French is perfect, too.   Bitch.

The crowing I hear from the building next door at about 10AM every morning is actually a chicken (I figured it was a lazy rooster)   They used to have three but two of them died.   Not sure if they ate them.

William wants his bubbles (as in to blow bubbles).   Bubbles in French ar “bulles de savon”.   I initially thought they said bulles de savant (bubbles of knowledge).   It took about 15 minutes to clear this up.

The tarte is delicious.   The hostess didn’t make it, she bought it at the bakery on the Rue de Republique

The rest of the evening, I’m pretty sure they were just saying bad things about me.

I used the phrase “lentment s’il vous plait” approximately 14 times.

I guess some would say this is a pretty lame example of my French skills if this is all I got from three hours of continual conversation.

On the other hand, a year ago here’s the sum total of what I would have picked up:

Cocaine.   Morphine.   Cigarettes.  Picasso.  Collioures.   OH MY GOD!   Santa Barbara.  North of France.    Tuna cake.   Salt and pepper.   They like Nikki better than me.   Chicken.   Dead.  The Sex Shoppe.  Knowledge.   The tarte is delicious.

I’m making progress!

how i became the thing i fear most (a german)

To be clear, I’m pretty sure my fear of Germans has nothing to do with that Hitler/exterminate the Jews thing.   It’s more visceral than that…I think I feared Germans before I even heard of Hitler or WW2.

I think it’s the accents.   My dad’s whole family had them, including the pediatrician who also had a booming voice.   Imagine the terror.   A German can say the nicest thing and it always sounds like an order.   “Enjoy your cappuccino” sounds like “Enjoy your cappuccino, or else” when a German accent is added.     Then there’s the fact that in my travels,  I’ve been shoved by more Germans than any other nationality.   If there’s a head or person blocking the most scenic photo ever, you can rest assured, it’s a German.     And lets face it, they can be a little cold and officious.   That being said, I know my fear isn’t rational–there are lots of lovely Germans.   But I digress.

A lot of people ask how I handle the visa thing over here.   It’s simple.   I became a German citizen.   As an EU citizen, I can stay and work here without a bunch of paperwork.

Of course, becoming a German citizen, wasn’t exactly a leisurely day in the park.    It actually took a lot of effort.

First, my ancestors had to be forced to flee Germany based on religious/racial persecution, which believe me, is a lot of work.

 

Then someone had to tell me about a little known law that allows US German citizens whose parents or grandparents were persecuted and left Germany due to religious, racial or political persecution, to become citizens.   And I had to remember it.

Then I had to tell my niece who was way more hot to trot to get EU citizenship than I was.   She had to drag me to the German consulate to hand over the forms, photos and documents most of which she gathered (hey, I filled them out!).   It was quite a struggle for her, since I really didn’t want to go someplace full of Germans (scary).

Then my niece had to prod and cajole them to give us our damn citizenship papers already.

It took almost exactly a year of diligent effort, but I’m officially a self-loathing German.

 Information on how to get restored German citizenship

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

%d bloggers like this: