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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

the french love me! french mosquitoes, that is.

French mosquitoes clearly find me delicious which is strange because American mosquitoes just never seemed that interested in me.

When I was in Arles being eaten alive while my beautiful friend Christina remained untouched, I was a little thrilled.   At least the mosquitoes find me more attractive than Christina (nyah, nyah, nyah).

Inevitably,  I began to tire of their excessive attention and stimulated the French economy by buying every anti-moustique product I could find, from herbal to ones jam packed with horrifying chemicals.   I’m still not sure which ones work, since out of desperation, I use them all at once.   Hell, I’d wear a Shell No-Pest Strip too if they still had ’em.  I know at least one of them does the trick, I’m just not sure which one(s).   Like a depressed person who goes off their meds when the drugs work and they’re no longer depressed, I stop spraying, igniting, turning on and plugging in when the little suckers stop biting.  The next thing you know, I’m up at 3AM swatting the air with one hand, feverishly scratching like a dog with the other while searching my mind for someone to blame.

I don’t know, maybe after all the gorgeous Provencal food they get, they’re craving something a little less…fresh and healthy?   Perhaps they prefer American food?  I’m like a burger, fries and a coke to them.

Apparently, mosquitoes are a problem down here in the South of France.  There’s even some African dengue fever carrying mosquito which has moved up here seeking a better life.   Some people blame it on a law that prohibits using really dangerous pesticides to eradicate them.   They’re afraid of endangering the people and wildlife, apparently.   Silly, silly French people.   I’ll worry about being slowly poisoned by pesticides later, but now do something about this infernal itching!   I can imagine being slowly driven crazy by the constant sound of a mosquito buzzing around my ear.

Fortunately, about.com has provided hundreds of pages of advice from readers around the globe on how to stop the itching.   I’ve tried the most popular and have added my comments.

1)   Any kind of alcohol.   Yes, it works.   At least when applied in copious amounts internally.

2)  Etching an “x” into the bite with your fingernail.   I find this works if you do it repeatedly for hours on end.

3)   Salt and citrus.   They work very well when used in conjunction with #1.

4) Clear nail polish.  In theory this works.   I tried doing it with Opi Bogota Blackberry since I don’t have clear nail polish and the itching seems less.   Unfortunately, I look like I have some horrible contagious skin disease now.

5) Banana peel.   I’ll try this as soon as I can buy a banana.   But first I have to find my nail polish remover so I can get the Bogota Blackberry off my mosquito bites and go out in public again.

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.

the “oh my god” moment

When I moved to NYC from the west coast at age 19 without a job, money or clue, I had my first omg moment walking down Park Avenue towards the Pan Am building (which became the Met Life building and is now probably the Bank of China building).  It’s the moment you realize “oh my god, I’m here, now what am I gonna do?” and you get this crazy burst of adrenaline and your pulse starts pounding in your ears.

site of my first omg moment

site of my most recent omg moment

I’m walking down the street in Vidauban  and that same feeling hits me.  Back when I was 19, it felt empowering and exciting.   Now I feel like I have to go home and lie down.   I stagger up the hill.

When I get back to the apartment and collapse on the couch, I think:   “oh my god, what the hell am I doing here?   How will I survive?   What the hell was I thinking?   I’m too old for this shit.”

And then another revelation hits me upside the head, “oh my god, I’m old.”

My heart starts pounding, I sweat and suddenly my stomach doesn’t feel so good.   And I’m woozy.   I believe these are the symptoms for a heart attack that my mom sent me just the other day.

Oh my god, I’m having a heart attack.   Alone.   In France.   Where’s my cellphone?   Who do I call?  I don’t want to bother anyone.   Wouldn’t it just be easier to die quietly on the couch?

Ahhh, the irony.   I finally get back to France and promptly die because I didn’t know who to call when having a heart attack.  (note to self:  if not dead by tomorrow, remember to compile a list of emergency phone numbers.)

As I try to drape myself into an attractive death pose, I look out at the sun setting over Vidauban and the Provencal countryside (how symbolic).   My cat purrs on my stomach (or is that my stomach growling…or worse, the throws of death?).   I’m pretty sure my vision is blurred.   Am I fading like that willful but heroic Bette Davis character in Dark Victory, who goes blind right before she dies?   Is darkness setting in?    This is so tragic.   On the bright side, at least I died in Provence.

After about a half hour, it occurs to me that maybe it’s not a heart attack.   Maybe it’s some hideous “dove” related disease I picked up yesterday from venturing too close to the flock’s home.   But I kind of feel better.

Maybe it’s a faux heart attack like the one my dad had on his first trip to France, which turned out to some digestive problem from eating too much fois gras.   I have been eating a lot of cheese.

Or a stroke.   I feel my face and try to move it.    I’m a little disappointed to find iit’s still active (I was hoping for paralysis of the forehead and crows feet area around the eyes).

Maybe it’s just your run of the mill anxiety attack.

I test my theory by slowly sitting up (at least I think I’m sitting up, I could be imagining it in my delirium.)

Everything seems fine.   All body parts work.   My glasses are filthy, which could explain  the blurry vision.

It appears I’m not dying.  Oh my god, what am I going to do now?

the flock next door

I’ve mentioned the birds that swoop and circle the sky around here in some sort of formation, like the Blue Angels only not as loud or fossil fuel-consuming.

When they fly overhead, the sound is a soft fluttery, almost purring sound that practically engulfs you — you can feel it.   It’s soothing.   So soothing, I even forget to worry that they might poop on me.   These birds have  fascinated and frustrated me for weeks now (have you ever tried to get a flock of birds to pose for the camera?).

So, I’m waiting for them to perform their daily show and mention them to Gilli (my landlord) who is gardening nearby.

Turns out they’re some sort of wood doves who belong to a neighbor with a “dove court.”   Every day these doves go out and fly around the neighborhood, catching flies in the air (to me, that doesn’t sound like an optimum fly catching plan, but who am I to argue with a wood dove?).   When it starts to get dark, they all fly back to this house across the ravine that’s about 100 meters away from my terrace (as the dove flies). I don’t know why, but this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Gilli directs me to the dove’s house and I’m off with my video camera to investigate.

I climb the hill and inspect a few houses that seem dove-free.   But then I hear a low humming sound which I realize is a bunch of birds cooing.   I follow the sound.   Please join me…

Very cool.   Now the only problem is convincing myself that “dove” isn’t just a glorified name for “pigeon”.

french zen

This afternoon I found myself stressing out because I forgot to pick up croissants at the market.   Just as I was considering the many reasons that this was the most devastating state of affairs that could possibly befall me, I snorted derisively and said to myself “eh, what the hell, it’s not like after today, there aren’t going to be any more croissants.”.

Then I went back to stressing about everything else.

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