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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.

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.

looking down on the masses

“Mur des amoureux” by Raymond Peynet

I’ve been wanting to visit Le Cannet for awhile now, but have put it off because it’s not directly on the train line.  It’s a small artists’ village in the hills above Cannes.   Its selling points as far as I’m concerned are the Peynet painting on the side of a building I’ve seen in pictures, a vieux ville (an old town), the Musee Bonnard and the fact that it isn’t Cannes.

It’s a simple 10 minute bus ride up the hill from the Cannes train station (#1 Le Cannet bus).  I get off at the Town Hall/Musee Bonnard stop.   It’s not the old town, but I suspect this is the closest the bus can get.

The quiet up here is a little disquieting   Nobody is brushing against me.   I don’t have to maneuver walking down the street.  It’s practically deserted.   Maybe the rapture happened on the bus ride up and all the good Christians were up here in Le Cannet.    I’m feeling positively light-headed and I don’t think it’s the altitude.   It’s probably some form of culture shock from having just been in the frenzy of Cannes 10 minutes ago.  Well, either that or I’m hungry.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of food options.  There are several cafes and restaurants with varying degrees of expensiveness.   But before I eat, I have to scope out the village and make myself so hungry I don’t have to choose which restaurant to dine at, but rather eat at the one whose entrance  I pass out in front of.

How can nobody be here?   Granted, there’s not a preponderance of little shops.   There are some storefronts where artists show and sell their work, but I’m a little afraid of them.   I can’t imagine anything is in my price range and don’t want to insult some up and coming artist.   Or break something.   I feel the same way I used to feel about designer stores on Madison Avenue (which I got over, but it cost me dearly).   But I digress.

The village is lovely.   The Peynet “mur des amoureux” (lovers’ wall) is all I dreamed it would be.   And there’s a funky tiny ancient church restored by Theo Tobiasse with the theme life is a party (an interesting choice for a church).  The musee Bonnard is..pleasant, kind of like Bonnard’s work.   I like it, would probably put one or two on my wall, but nothing screams “genius”.

Now I’ve passed from light headed to shaky and vicious.

Fortunately, I collapse in front of a small restaurant called Arts & Assiettes which is low on the price scale with a simple menu that doesn’t muddle my little brain with options.   It’s not really a menu…it’s a plat du jour which today is a combination of daurade (some kind of fish), ratatouille, smashed blue (actually a vibrant violet that the photograph doesn’t capture) potatoes with persillade (a parsley pesto popular in these parts — the green and purple together are stunning! and a couple of cheese raviolis.   Despite the fact that something on the menu lead me to believe I was getting veal, it’s pretty damn good and the colors are beautiful — a vision in Fauve.  It’s all fresh, organic and grown locally.    I just wish the daurade wasn’t staring up at me while I devour it, but I’m going to have to get over that.   The French clearly don’t mind looking their food in the eye.

In all, I got a little culture and had a delicious typical provencal lunch in a quiet, charming medieval village overlooking the Mediterranean for a mere 12 Euro.  If I were among the masses down the hill in Cannes, I probably would have paid 40 Euro for the same lunch (sans culture).

Suckers!

i went to italy and all I got was this lousy dishrag


When I embark on the hour and fifteen minute train ride just over the border to the Friday market in Ventimiglia, I have visions of cashmere sweaters, fab purses, scarves, gorgeous italian cookery (and food), and an assortment of stuff for the maison.  Since I plan to stock up, I bring my big  shopping bag with wheels.

When I arrive in Ventimiglia and walk the three or so blocks from the train station to the waterfront where the market is held, I’m not disappointed.   It’s like miles and miles of consumer wares, from an array of gorgeous leather goods to housewares to dime store crap.     I’m atwitter with excitement — very similar to how I used to feel before going to Barney’s.

The first thing I see is cashmere sweaters.   I touch them, careful not to make eye contact with the proprietor.  Once you make eye contact, they’ll bargain you down and the next thing you know, you’re the proud owner of the butt ugly puce sweater (the one you happened to be touching when eye contact was made) because you can’t resist a bargain.  They’re thick, colorful sweaters in a variety of designs.   I want them all (except the butt ugly puce one), but know I can’t even consider buying anything at this early stage.

The prices and quality varies from stall to stall so I stroll the stretch along the promenade to comparison shop.

I’m told Ventimiglia is lovely.  A beautiful seaside setting, an ancient village perched on a hill, tree lined streets, cafes and gelaterias on every corner.



I wouldn’t know.  I’m so immersed in the shiny affordable objects everywhere, I might as well be at the mall.

It’s only been five minutes and I’m already in a mental frenzy.   What color should I get?  What style?   And more importantly, what?

Oh my god, look at the scarves!  It’s like the crayola 500 pack…so many colors!    Orange suede boat shoes for 10 Euro!   They say orange AND boat shoes are in this year.   This could solve all my fashion problems.   A huge chunk of parmesan reggiano for 4 Euro?!!!!!   That’s better than Trader Jo prices!  More cashmere…hmmmm, that reddy orange color is nice, but I’m not sure it looks good on me.  What do I wear it with?   It’s almost summer.   I don’t really need it.   What if that color is out of fashion by next fall?  Maybe I should just get black.   Boring.   Damn, I could use a large pot for pasta. Those are the most beautiful olives I’ve ever seen.  Ooooo, batteries.

By the time I’ve reached the last little stall, I’m still not sure what to get.   I want everything.  Sort of.    Maybe I’ll be able to narrow it down on my second lap.

It’s starting to get crowded,  and I’m just as confused this time around.  I can no longer think in complete sentences.   My brain is a cacophony of “blue? red? orange? green? v neck?  crew?  move it fat ass.   fuchsia? button down? zebra striped? 6 quart? 8 quart?  don’t touch me bitch.  crockpot? orcchiette?  penne?  double A?   triple A?   Jeezus christ lady don’t push!   zipper?   hoodie?   parmesan?   asiago?    BLUE!   periwinkle?   navy?  teal?  aqua? powder?

By the end of the second lap, I’m emotionally and physically exhausted.   I don’t know if I can handle another lap.   Especially without sustenance.

Do I want a sandwich from one of the stalls?   Something sea-foody from one of the cafes along the waterfront?   A pizza?  Panini?   Pasta?   Salad?   I’m getting woozy and need to sit down.

Three hours later (it took an hour to decide what to order, an hour to get it, ten minutes to inhale it and 20 minutes to get “la conta.”), I venture back to the market which is now a seething cesspool of humanity (I use the term “humanity” loosely.   I can’t go back in there.   But I must.   I can’t go to the famous Ventimiglia market and return empty handed.   I dive back in and find myself in front of yet another cashmere stall pondering the age old questions (Periwinkle? Navy? Teal? ….)

But wait!!!!    I can see them from here.   Shining like a beacon in the glaring sun.   A couple of little yellow and white dishrags.   I’ve been looking for something to replace the clumsy white terrycloth hand towel in my 1/2 bathroom.   And they’re called torchons in France and panni straccio in Italy, both of which sound much more elegant than dishrag.   1 Euro.   Sold!   My work is done here.   I’ll have to come back for the cashmere sweaters, the pots and pans, the purses, shoes and scarves another day.

On the train ride back to Antibes, I look into my almost empty wheelie bag and am overcome with non-buyers remorse.    I can’t believe I wheeled this thing all over Ventimiglia and only got a dishrag.   Damn,   I should have bought those olives!

the dark side of living in the south of france

Reading over past posts, it occurs to me that it may seem that I’m all content and blissful now that I’m living in the South of France.  I tend to talk about the wonderful food, the beautiful views, the charming villages.   That has got to stop!    I was raised to believe that the moment I appear to be happy, vengeful gods (and humans) will become envious and smite me.

So, in case any of those mean old dieties/people are reading my blog, here are a few things that make  it impossible for me to live free from the shadow of rage/helplessness/hopelessness/misery hanging over me and will prevent me from ever having a day of peace.

  • Waiting in lines.  French people will chat away with the cashier/postal worker/butcher/baker/candlestick maker with absolutely no concept of how many people are waiting behind them.   I’ve seen lines outside bakeries here that resembled apple stores on iPad2 launch day.
  • Lots of loud motorbikes.  Don’t know why, they’re louder here.   Why would anyone want to drive something that loud?   They should be banished.   I’m certain that the drivers of these audio monstrosities are compensating for something.   Maybe they have tiny voices or something.
  • So many people here have no grasp of the English language.   To be fair, I found the same problem in California.
  • The guy at the Marche Provencal who sells roses.   NO I DON”T WANT TO BUY YOUR DAMN ROSES!!!!!   IF I DO I’LL LET YOU KNOW.  STOP BUGGING ME!!!!
  • Speaking of being bugged, they have telemarketers over here too and they call every bit as often (about 5 calls a day).   The good news is, I just say “je ne comprends pas” and hang up.   I guess I could have done that in the US too.   Live and learn.
  • There’s dust here.   It’s like every time I dust, five minutes later, there’s new dust.
  • I just spent 10 Euro on a lightbulb only to discover the lamp doesn’t work.
  • I just spent 10 Euro on a lightbulb.
  • I forgot to buy milk at the grocery store.
  • my cat just threw up on the clean sheets.

my latest sources of intense sensual pleasure

Ulti Jus d’orange, pamplemousse et frambois. 

Nectar of the gods, I tell ya!   Monoprix makes one that’s equally delish under the “daily monop” label.    And not terribly easy to find outside of big cities.   So far, I’ve only encountered it in Paris, Nice and Marseille.   It’s fresh and so good you want to savor it like a fine wine (or in my case, chocolate milk).   With every sip I take, I’m boggled by its deliciousness anew.   I think there must be something in it like crack.

A friend of mine tried it when she was visiting France and is showing signs of a burgeoning addiction.   Now when she calls me, her first question is “are you drinking that juice?” her voice thick with desire.     She’s now planning to retire here, in part, I believe for this juice.

Domaine Ramateulle 2010 Rose

I am by no means a wine connoisseur.   In fact, I never been a big wine fan.   Until I met rose (with an accent over the “e” — someday I’m going to have to figure out how to do a accent grave on my computer).   I always thought they were the white trash of wines, but boy was I wrong (well, either that, or I have white trash taste).   They’re dry but refreshing.   Light, but fuller bodied than white.   They’re jush desilicious.

So far, this is my favorite.   It’s hauntingly good.   I find myself thinking about it at various points during the day, looking forward to the moment my lips touch its cold, dewy glass.  And the best part is, it not only tastes ambrosial, it gets me drunk!    I never want to be without it ever again.

Sun dried tomato/anchovy tapenade

I can’t vouch for all of them, since every recipe is different (and they often have different names such as bagnattou, or croistillade.”   I’m in love with one at the Antibes Marche Provencal that has olives, sun dried tomatoes, basil, anchovies and god knows what else.  They call theirs “bagnattou d’angele”, which seems apt.    Everytime I eat it, I’m surprised at how utterly freaking good it is.   I find myself having it for dessert.   Who knew something without chocolate in it could be so addictive?

Rotisserie chicken from a truck

I have yet to eat a chicken as perfect as those from a truck in France.    I don’t know if it’s that the chickens are better, or fresher, or better prepared but dang, those are good chickens.   Perfectly seasoned, moist, flavorful.   I have sought tastier chickens all over the world and have yet to find one.   Particular kudos to the hot guy and his pretty wife at the Vidauban market (not pictured here).   The best of the best, IMHO.

Oreillettes de Languedoc

I happened upon these babies while waiting in line at Monoprix to pay for my Ulti jus d’oranges, pamplemousse et frambois.   They’re one layer of pastry drizzled with lemon juice and sugar.   I ate the entire box in an hour an am now planning to go to Nice first thing in the morning to stock up on more (I’d go right now, but it’s Sunday).   I guess they’re a specialty of the Languedoc, which is making me consider moving there.

Meil de lavande from La Maison du Miel in Vidauban

I always thought honey was honey.   And lavender honey just sounds like so much BS.   So when Gilli told me people travel from far and wide for this honey, I took it with a grain of salt (or pollen).

Well, over here they have honey degustations (the next gourmet preoccupation?) which I’m glad to take part in (hey, free food!).   After tasting honey from across the land, I’ve come to revise my thinking.   Honey is not honey, and this stuff is amazing!!!  I wish I could describe what it is exactly that makes it taste above and beyond every other honey–a subtle hint of spicy-ness?  The round, almost buttery depth of flavor?   Yes, it’s a miracle honey.   I think it probably cures illness and eliminates wrinkles when applied topically.

Produce

Holy shit!   So this is what these things are supposed to taste like.

the village where donkeys fly

After spending a day in Cannes, it only seems appropriate that I visit a place known as “the village where donkeys fly”.

The name of the village is Gonfaron.  It’s a stop on the local TER rail line.    I’ve seen it on the train ride between Vidauban and Toulon — a pile of houses piled atop a hill with a small pink chapel at the top and a sprawling church on the bottom.  It’s two train stops from Vidauban (15 minutes).   The village spreads out from the hill, fanning out a around the church at the bottom of the hill, melting into vineyards, hills and green, green countryside.

After countless times passing the village and wondering about it, I finally Googled it.   The population of Gonfaron is around 4,000.  It’s been a village for at least, 1100 years.    It’s nestled at the foot of the Maures mountain range (you know, the mountain range where Johnny Depp lives).   Its main “industry” is cork (probably not a great business now with wine in boxes and screw tops and technology replacing bulletin boards).    It has the world’s only reserve for the endangered Herman Tortoise but also houses other tortoises as well.    Its patron saint is St. Quinis, who as far as I can tell didn’t do anything amazing, except he was a really nice guy and took a special interest in children (which these days sounds like grounds for imprisonment rather than Sainthood, but maybe that’s just me.)   The pink Chapel at the top of the hill is named after him.     But what really makes me want to finally get off the train in Gonfaron and pay the village a visit is the town legend.As lore has it, back in 1645 the community was instructed to clean up their yards for the annual Gonfaron festival to honor St. Quinis, .   One lazy, ill-tempered Gonfaronnois refused.   Years later, St. Quinis exacted his revenge.   The Gonfaronnois of “mauvais caractiere” was out riding his donkey and the donkey (l’ane) stumbled.   The donkey “glissant” (slid) down the hill with the errant Gonfaronois tumbling after.   That’s it.   It seems pretty vague.   Did they survive?   That’s a pretty long tumble.

It might be my translation, but it sounds like the donkey didn’t fly as much as it fell.   And you can read the legend several different ways.   Maybe the flying/falling donkey (ass) they’re referring to is  the Gonfaronnois who didn’t clean his yard for the festival?   Maybe the legend is really “the village where asses fall”?   Of course there are two interpretations for that too.  It could mean where human asses (I’m thinking Donald Trump here, but chose your own ass) inevitably plunge to a humiliating and painful destruction. Or maybe it’s more literal…it’s a village where my ass will actually fall…sag, drop, whatever (good, now I can blame it on the village).   Whatever, I like the flying donkey version, because it’s magical and gives me the feeling that anything is possible.

I get off at the train station and the first thing I see is a cave cooperative — a big old shed where they they sell local wines, preserves, products.    I decide not to go in because I’m saving myself for the little shops that will surely be in the village.   I walk through the “suburbs” of Gonfaron, towards the village (a two minute walk).

Downtown Gonfaron consists of an astonishingly beautiful square.   It’s huge for such a little town, with the Church at one end.    The trees make a perfect ceiling over the entire square.   It’s blistering hot today, which makes the leafy canopy that much more appealing (and the square that much more difficult to photograph).

There are really no shops to speak of…a bakery that’s closed.   A butcher that’s closed.   There’s a tiny grocery store that’s closed.   A tiny real estate office that’s closed.   Sure, there are three cafes, but woman doesn’t live on food alone.     I check the train schedule for the next train back to Vidauban.   Three and a half hours.   How on earth will I pass the time?    Dear Lord, I’m trapped in a village with no shops!   Maybe if I climb to the top to the hill and bray like a donkey, I can fly home?

I tour the village, which is lovely.   I climb to St. Quinis to admire the view, which is also really lovely.  Which leaves me another 3 hours and 27 minutes to kill.   I’ll definitely have lunch in the square, but that’s good for 2 hours tops, and only if I drink waaaaay too much coffee.

I decide to visit the tortoises and follow the signs that lead me out of the village and into the aforementioned vineyards and green rolling hills.   Have I mentioned it’s hot?   Or that I don’t have a hat?   J’ai besoin de chapeau.   Without one, I’ll dehydrate and die.   And get a headache!   In order to preserve my health, I turn back to the village, wishing desperately a little shop will have opened in the village where I can buy a hat.   And some macarons.   And maybe a nice pair of shoes.No such luck.   But I do manage to kill a half hour trying to decide between the three cafes.   One looks a little sandwichy.   One has a curry special, which doesn’t seem very french or cafe-like.   So I pick the other one and spend another half hour anguishing over what to order.   I decide on the grilled entrecote (pas trop rouge s’il vous plait) fries and a salad.   It’s pretty damn good.

I linger over a cafe creme and watch the people having lunch here.   I’m the only English speaking person here, so I make up what they’re saying and little stories about their relationships.   A very young French couple have brought their dog, who is clearly a substitute for the baby they’re unable to conceive.  He eats a bowl of kibble by their table while they dine.   She practically burps him when he’s finished (the dog, not her significant other).   A German family is trying to reconnect, but the teenaged daughter is having none of it.    A pack of bike riders all decked out in spandex and helmets, thankfully decide to lunch elsewhere.   I spend a good 15 minutes hating them from across the square.

As I’m paying the bill and noting I have another hour until the train arrives, I hear the clattering of steel shutter doors..   It’s the tiny grocery store opening!!!!   I practically skip across the square.   I spend the next 45 minutes really studying the different kind of cookies that are available in France.  Even in a tiny grocery store like this, you get a good representative sample.    I’ll save my conclusions for another blog.

All in all, I’ve had a lovely afternoon even without the benefit of one shop (tiny grocery stores don’t count and I didn’t even buy the Bon Maman Citron Tartes I wanted).   There were no miraculous donkey flights, nothing amazing happened.

When I get to the train station at the correct time and the little monitor tells me “train retarde 20 minutes” I don’t even get mad.   Not even when it’s retarde another 15 minutes after that.  While you may not consider that a miracle on the order of a donkey taking flight, I’d say it’s pretty darn close.

goody bags from cannes

I’ve been to Cannes once many years ago and frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed.   So even though I’m only about 50 minutes away, I haven’t been compelled to pay a second visit.   But it’s the Cannes film festival and I’d have to be some sort of full fledged agoraphobic (as opposed to the partial agoraphobic I am) to not go check it out.

The train ride is lovely.  After 15 minutes of riding through rolling hills , medieval villages perched on hills and vineyards, the train gets to the ocean, which is a deep teal blue, offset by coves and rocky outcroppings (slate/green and terracotta colors) and medieval villages clustered in coves along the shore.

There are armed police and military officers, all over the Gare de Cannes,  but other than that everything looks pretty normal.

The streets near the station are pleasant and almost Provencal, except for an occasional person with the tell-tale identity tag hanging around their neck rushing  by, cellphone clutched in white knuckled hand.  I figure they’re crew members, bloggers or actually working the festival or they’d be in limos or staying in a lavish hotel on the Croisette.

Once you hit the Rue d’Antibes, you’re in the Cannes zone.  From then on, it’s a bunch of fancy stores and restaurants that cater to “les trou du culs’ as one shop person put it. Up until now, I haven’t seen ONE Sephora in France, even in Paris.   In Cannes, there are two.   I know that says something deep and significant about the people who come to Cannes, but how can I concentrate when…ooooh, look!   Shiny!I watch an American woman drool to her significant other over a 350 Euro pair of flip flops in a window that look just like my $2.00 party flip flops I got at Old Navy except they have a Hugo Boss logo on them. which makes them worth 348.59 Euros more (approximately $495 US  as of today), apparently.   I’m starting to feel a little self conscious about my ON (Old Navy sounds classier as an acronym, don’t you think?) flip flops.

It appears that men over 5’7″ are not allowed in Cannes… (unless they’re locals on their way to their jobs serving men who are all 5’7″ or shorter).   They’re usually accompanied by woman teetering down the streets in their designer clown stilts preceded by their lips, boobs and an unpleasant whiff of eau de trying too hard.   It looks like a convention of Real Housewives here.

I know I’m getting near the Croisette by the shiny black cars lined up, security guards standing at attention, photographers and peasants lined up to look at anything that happens to be behind a barricade (especially if a red carpet is back there somewhere).Here, everyone is either speaking English or Italian, car horns are honking, photographers are everywhere.

I stand with the crowd, curious as to who might emerge from those guarded doors Then it hits me;  I’m in arguably one of the most beautiful strips of land in the world, and I’m looking at someone’s head who’s looking at someone else’s head who’s looking at someone else’s head who’s trying to get a glimpse of someone else’s head.

An hour or so later, I pry myself away from the still waiting crowd and cross the street.  Looking back several in case Johnny, Brangelina or whoever aren’t finally making their entrance.

But when I get to the beach side of the street, I only get glimpses of the water, sand or even the view because of all the tents, posters and crap blocking the view.  It kind of reminds me of Waikiki.  Or Waikiki Disney.   I wonder if Cannes gets this crazy when hosting a Dental Convention?   Do they plaster the Carlton Hotel (which is actually a very cool old building) with pictures of famous dentists?

Do poseur dentists wander the streets of this Americanized version of a quaint Mediterranean town and buy ridiculous stuff they can get anywhere at a higher price here just so they can say they got it in Cannes?

I find a nice stretch of blocked off road and stroll up the Croisette towards the castle, past the Palais des Festivals to get a look at the coast, which is stunning. Some photographers are snapping pictures of somebody launching a yacht for somewhere.   Pigs!   My iphone can’t get a clear picture of whoever it is from this distance.

I retreat to the quieter backstreets and find lunch for under 15 Euro (I’m splurging, it’s Cannes, forgodsakes).    I order aile de raie with lemon, butter and capers because I’ll eat anything with lemon, butter and capers.   It’s not the best aile de raie I’ve ever had, but it’s not bad with the lemon, capers and butter, and not at any point during the meal do I consider the possibility that the chef may be trying to poison me–always a plus.

After lunch, I stumble upon a macaron store.  Not a patisserie with a few macaron flavors, a macaron store.   This is the biggest assortment of macarons I’ve ever seen outside of Paris.     It even has ridiculous fois gras flavors (I’m sorry, that’s just wrong!!!).   And some of them have some kind of shiny almost glittery substance in the meringue portion of the cookie which in my opinion is gilding the lily.   But who cares?    They have the coveted beurre de sale (salted caramel), a flavor that has thus far has eluded me everywhere except Paris.   You know that feeling when you’re falling in love and you’re having this perfect moment that you never want to end?  Eating a properly made beurre de sale macaron is like that.   I also get a chocolate one, which is my “go to” flavor.   These two little gems will be my rewards when I get home.

Ooooh, they also have my favorite tea.   It’s ridiculously expensive, but it’ll really top off the macarons.

On my way back to the train station I find Maison du Chocolate tucked away in a quiet little spot off Rue d’Antibes and discover some of the biggest chocolate covered orange peels I’ve ever seen.  Not grotesque big, mind you.   That would be…well, grotesque.   Instead of twigs these are about 1/6 an orange peel each.

One of the many beauties of chocolate covered orange rinds is you can tell yourself they’re healthy.   Did you know the rind is where most of the nutrients are in an orange?  It’s the ultimate in being environmentally friendly by reducing waste, since what else was anyone on going to do with those orange peels?   They would have just become landfill.    So I pick up a couple of those in the name of sustainability.    Now I really can’t wait to get home.

The return trip is a little tense only because I have to be careful not to crush my delicate treasures.

So here I am, back in Vidauban.   I’m sipping my freshly brewed Mariage Freres Yuzu Temple tea with my Maison du Chocolate orange rind and Jean Luc Pele macarons, I ponder Cannes and the shallow, label loving, acquisitive, pleasure seeking hedonists who seem to gravitate to it.   I really don’t like the place at all.

I bite into the beurre de sale macaron and my eyes roll back in pure bliss.

I wonder if I’ll have time go back to Cannes later this week.

change you can believe in

You’re looking at approximately $23 worth of change in Euros (16 Euros).   By tomorrow, it should be worth more against the dollar.

With my 16 Euros I can buy a roast chicken, loaf of bread, cheese, coffee and still have money left over for dessert.

In San Francisco, a roast chicken and bread salad at Zuni Cafe costs $49.00 (and isn’t nearly as tasty as the $7.00 roast chicken from the rotisserie truck here.

Why am I telling you this?   Because I’m pissed off.   I’m pissed off because I can’t afford to exchange all my hard-earned, increasingly worthless US dollars into Euros at the moment because of poor money management, not on my part (and believe me, I’m no financial genius), but on the part of the US government.   The government that I just paid tens of thousands of dollars to on April 15th… or else.

Thanks to their poor management and favoritism to the very rich (I’m talking to you Geithner, Bernake et al), I spent the past year slaving away 24/7 to earn money, much of which is now being spent on wars, bank bail outs, interest rates to China and corporate tax breaks.

Sure, the French will tell you their taxes are high, but it seems they’re getting some value for their money.   Their healthcare system is rated number one in the world, so they don’t live in fear of being bankrupted by illness.   Their roads are well maintained so they don’t blow out their tires on a simple drive to the grocery store (and get taxed when they’re forced to buy new tires).   They don’t work inhuman hours for an ever decreasing wage.   Public servants, teachers and people who actually produce things aren’t treated as second class citizens to be bilked by the rich and powerful.

So where’s the change (aside from the pittance in my hand), President Obama?  I understand that Bush got us into this mess, but from where I’m sitting, which is thankfully far away, things are only getting worse for the working class.

Ironically, the only way I can live the American dream these days is to be in France, where while I still can’t afford to buy a home, at least I can afford a chicken.

driving in france

Gilli told me about a time she drove to Nice.   She drove around Nice for two hours looking for a parking place where she wouldn’t have to put the car in reverse, didn’t find one and drove back home.    Makes perfect sense to me.

I can’t think of one time I’ve driven in France when I didn’t want to turn around and go back home.   Unfortunately, I’m usually unable to because I often find myself on really narrow one-lane roads that require putting the car into reverse,  Often a cliff is involved.

The ubiquitous manual transmission

Most of the cars here have manual transmissions.   Many car rental places don’t even offer automatic transmissions and if they do, you will pay dearly for one.   But as I have learned, if you share my fear of stick shifts, you’ll also pay dearly without one.

Even though I learned to drive a manual transmission and I understand the concept, when I try to put it into action, my brain gets all flustery.    I swear I lose about 70% of my IQ focusing on my hand to brain to foot coordination.   If I’m driving the car correctly, chances are, I’m using all available brain cells and I won’t be able to answer a relatively simple question that I can normally answer in a heartbeat ( like ‘what do they call that thing over there?’ Answer:   a stop sign)

this is what the French consider an intermediate sized car

Apparently many French people have the same sense of panic when forced to drive an automatic transmission.   I’m told they are at a total loss as to what to do with their hands and spare foot.   Stupid French people!

Transportation, not lodging

Unlike cars in the US, French cars are not designed to provide all the comforts of home.  Cars are smaller in France.   And for good reason….so are the roads.    Some of the cars are so small, you couldn’t live in them unless you were permanently wedged into the fetal position (or amputated your legs, which would make shifting gears even more difficult).

Get off my ass, Frenchie!!!!

In France, if you are not driving above the speed limit, chances are you’ll be enjoying a steady view of french drivers in close detail in your rear view mirror.   Even if you’re on a roadway with lanes and they can easily pass you, they’ll be there.    I’m told it’s not an act of aggression.   They’re not in a hurry or trying to push you off the road.   It’s just the way they drive.   Good to know, but I wish they’d stop.

Road laissez faire

So far, the only road rage I’ve encountered in France has been my own.   The French are actually fairly mellow drivers.   I’ve often checked my rear view mirror to see if the drivers behind me are cursing me, flipping me off or calling the police.   I rarely see expressions of impatience or rage and in the rare instances it usually turns out the driver is from Belgium.

I’ve done things that I’d be shot for on a California road and I don’t even get the finger here in France.   Maybe a quick honk..   But they seem to take all delays in stride. Which I guess is easier to do when you have four hour lunch breaks.

The beauty and splendor of hazard lights

The first thing the car rental personal always shows me when I start the car for the first time and it immediately shudders to a stop is where the hazard light is.  They’re a godsend.  When I stall, I turn the hazard light on so the people waiting behind me will assume the problem is my car instead of me.   It takes a little bit of the pressure off.

Roundabouts

These little arteries are the most mortifying thing about driving in Europe.

Not only do you have to downshift and yield, you have to read the signs in order to get on the right road, because once you’re on the wrong road, god knows when you’ll be able to get off.   You may wind up in Bratislavia before you find a graceful exit.

The only way to survive the roundabout is to stay calm and try to ignore the fact that there are other drivers on the road.   Go around as many times as you need to even if it takes all day.   Relax and remember that the worst thing that can happen (besides a fatal collision with a truck) is you’ll take the wrong road.   And you can always pull a u turn and double back from Bratislavia.

Toll roads

Oh how I love the toll roadways of France!   There are several lanes, they’re smooth and well kept and you hardly have to shift!   Unfortunately, they had to go and ruin it with frequent toll booths that force one to down shift, stop, manuever through little gates, take tickets, pay and do more shifting.

The pay booths are particularly difficult because I don’t understand the signs indicating which lanes you want to be in for your payment option.   You can pay with coins, you can pay a person and you can use a credit card.

There are icons over each toll booth lane indicating whether there’s a human or machine to take your payment.   Don’t worry if you wind up in the wrong lane.   If you stall in an unmanned tollbooth while searching frantically for the correct change, eventually someone will come out and help you.   Don’t expect them to speak English though.

A note about horrid little medieval villages

Who doesn’t love a charming medieval village?   Well, that’s how I refereded to them before I had to drive through a few.   Avoid them at all costs.   Sure, St Paul de Vence is lovely, Antibes totally rocks as do Les Arcs, Les Baux and Arles.   But don’t go there, unless you park well outside the city limits In a spot with lots of space.   Like the Sahara desert

You can always see nice pictures of those villages in books or online.

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