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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?).


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?

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

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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.

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)



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.


Port Vauban



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.


Rue de la Republique, old town

antibes 1900IMG_5403

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.


Place Nationale



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.


Boulevard d’Aguillon

antibes 1900's


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.


Place du Château (now Place Marijol)

antibes 1900

antibes 2013

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.


The port with Fort Carre in the background

antibes 1900's

antibes 2013

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


View of the old town from the rampart walls

antibes 1900's

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.


Rue Aubernon, Port gate



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.


Cours Massena/Marche Provencale


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.


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

antibes 1900


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.


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



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



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 I did during my winter depression

I know what you’re thinking…how dare I be depressed in the South of France?    But honestly, winter depression is like my annual birthday stiff neck; it’s a tradition I can take with me anywhere.    Then there’s the little fact that I never got around to getting a French prescription for Prozac and have been anti-depressant-free for months, but that’s a whole other post.

The point is, while I did spend a good deal of time lying in the fetal position, weeping and watching “Real Housewives” reruns (thus exacerbating my self-loathing, but at least not to Kardashian levels) I did manage to unfurl myself on occassion, and go some places and try new things.   I just didn’t have the energy to write much about them.   The fog of woe dimmed both my experiences and consequently, my memories of them.

Now that I’m starting to feel better, I’ve gone back over my photos, my research and the scant notes I scribbled at the time to reconstruct the experiences in order to provide the following brief travelogue.


aigues morte


Facts:   An ancient fortified village on the coastal salt marches in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.  The foundation of Aigues-Mortes was said be built in 102BC, but the first known mention of the place was in the 10th century AD.   Was a safe haven to protestants in the 1600’s.   Today it’s a charming walled village with boutique hotels, shops and many cafes and restaurants.

My notes:   This place would be really romantic if I was with somebody who loved me.   Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.


pont du gard 1

Facts:  A Roman Aqueduct in the Languedoc Roussillon region.   Built approximately 2000 years ago to transport water to the Roman city of Nimes from a lake about 25 kilometers north.  The UNESCO World Heritage Foundation calls it a feat of engineering and artistic genius.

My notes:  Okay..so this thing is thousands of years older than me and it looks sooooo much better than I do.



uzes square

Facts:  Uzes was what they call an admistrative village back when the Pont du Gard was being built.  10 minutes from the Pont du Gard, it’s charming with tiny medieval streets and a beautiful square.   As an added attraction, the Haribo factory and museum is nearby.

My notes:   See that homeless person by the bakery?   That’ll be me in a couple of years.


vienna xmas market



Vienna is a beautiful city in Austria, filled with amazing art, architecture, history, palaces and pastry.   I went for the Christmas markets.   Nobody does Christmas markets better than people with harsh Germanic accents.

My notes:   This wurst is probably the closest thing to sex I’ll have for the rest of my life.



flamant rose camargue

Facts:  The Camargue is basically a huge wetlands in the South of France between Marseille and Montpelier.   It’s preserved, untamed and a little like the wild, wild west.    Due to the location, climate and salt deposits,  It’s home to a lot of rare species like white horses, a certain breed of black bull (Taurau, which is also a dining staple) and flamant rose (pink flamingos).

My notes:    Even the flamingos hate me.




220px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_015Facts:   Technically Arles is a part of Provence, but it’s also considered the capital of the Camargue.   It served as a Roman Center and port for centuries, but is perhaps best known as the city where Van Gogh lived from 1888 – 1889.   In Arles he created over 300 works of art.   This is also where he cut off his ear and sent it to the prostitute he was in love with (as some legends have it).

My notes:  Nobody will ever love me enough to cut off their ear for me.


palais des papes/cafe-Avignon

avignon bridge

Facts:   Built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Rhone, Avignon is a walled city in the Vaucluse department of Provence.   Its main claim to fame is its history as the home of the papacy during the short time in the 1300’s when they weren’t in Rome (the Palais des Papes).   Avignon is combination of medieval spendor, Provencal charm and all the modern ammenities a spoiled American could want.

My notes:   I’m pretty sure that bridge is a metaphor for my life.



Facts:  Two charming villages in Les Alpilles, a small but dramatic Provencal mountain range.  Les Baux is perched atop a rocky spur and signs of habitation from 6,000BC have been unearthed here!   St. Remy lies on the flatlands just north of the Alpilles and was both Van Gogh’s home when he was institutionalized in 1889, as well as the birthplace of Nostradamus.




venice san marco

IMG_8349Facts:  Arguably one of the most romantic cities in the world.   A gulag of 118 islands separated by canals and connected by bridges and boats.   It’s like stepping back into the middle ages with remarkable architecture palaces many with a hint of eastern influence.   Venice was once a major trading port, but now it’s mostly a tourist trap.   A beautiful, picturesque tourist trap.

My notes:   I’ll probably catch some hideous pigeon related disease, die a slow wasting death and nobody will care.



view from gourdon

Facts:  A tiny inland feudal village perched above the cliffs overlooking the Cote d’Azur.   Named one of the most beautiful villages in France.

My notes: If I were to drive off the edge of a cliff on my way back and die a fiery death mangled in that ravine, nobody would give a shit.  Except the car rental company.




Facts:   A village just a few kilometers inland from Antibes.   I guess you could say it’s an ancient suburb of France’s Silicon Valley, Sophia Antiopolis, which despite its antique moniker, is a tech center in France

My notes:   I’m archaic and uselss in the modern world.   I’m going to die alone and forgotten.


Tourrettes sur loup

Facts:   Another ancient hilltop village a few kilometers North of the Cote d’Azur.   Home to lots of small artisan shops and is often preferred to nearby, more heavily touristed St. Paul de Vence.

My notes:   Another place I can scratch off my bucket list.   I guess that means I took a significant step towards death today.



Facts:  An osteopath is a medical professional that deals with issues of alignment, musculature and joints.   Sadly, as I learned when I got there, osteopaths do not prescribe.

My notes:   These needles in my back are probably the closest thing I’ll have to sex for the rest of my life.

That’s about it.    Looking back, I’ve gotta say, this has been one of the best winter depressions I’ve ever had!

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

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