Cannes! Can it really be this nice!
I love Cannes! It’s superb! Elegance permeates everything, and yet it feels relaxed and comfortable. It has substance. I can’t really tell how it can pull that off, but it does. And does a very nice job. The Hotel Carlton has the most expensive rooms on the Riviera, from $750 to $5300 Euros per night. It’s located in the middle of the two mile long beach promenade (La Croisette), not too far from the nondescript pink building where the Cannes Film Festival is held. Palm trees line the median strips of the streets- and give the area a nice California feeling. Like from the 60’s era. Or at least like I imagine California was like during that time.
Maybe because the auditorium where the festival is held, the Palais de Festivals et des Crongres, is not the most elegant building is a reason why
Cannes has the relaxed ambiance I feel there. It’s sort of like they save the best of the city for the common folk and the movies stars get the ordinary. Anyway, there was something about Cannes that made me feel like I was important and they appreciated my being there. It felt inviting.
The streets were lined with gold-toned store fronts housing Gucci, Longchamp, Cartier. Fendi and similar les magasin (boutique stores). But they weren’t pretentiously shouting their presence as much as appearing to be proudly settled in their spot. It was just nice. And the people followed suit- slightly exclusive, but with a quiet friendliness that made me feel more welcome than not.
Except that I made the mistake of wearing Gap jeans and a cotton shirt that I had worn as a pajama top for the week prior to washing it and a black wrap cover-up. Not really looking that pulled together. I did throw a scarf around my neck, but the whole outfit lacked pizzazz. It would’ve been
elegant for a trip to Wal-mart in Ocean City with the scarf and all, but for Cannes in the Riviera I felt dowdy. And when you feel dowdy, you look dowdy, no matter what you’re wearing. Your body posture changes and you lack that attractive confidence. Next time I go back I’m wearing my nice black silk skirt that I can dress either up or down and I’ll add a little more bling or leather. I just wasn’t ready for how polished Cannes is.
I strolled around The Carlton, and asked the bartender if I could sit at the bar and have a glass of wine. He told me I needed to sit at one of the low tables that looked more like tables in a grand lobby. The Riviera doesn’t have many bars… very, very few. Most places have what looks to be a bar area, but it’s more of a service bar for servers to pick up their drinks and food and then to hand over dirty dishes. Not really a gathering place for customers. For that people use tables. I looked around at the guests sitting at the tables- most had four people laughing and interacting. I just didn’t feel right sitting alone and I told him that was ok and left. And like I said, I wasn’t really dressed quite right. I asked the concierge on the way out where a fun little place would be to just have a glass of wine and he very politely offered a suggestion of an area a couple blocks away made up of cafés lining the street. I walked over there and it was sort of like Canton. Young and a little nitty-gritty. Not what I had in mind, but I would’ve been dressed perfectly for it. Smart concierge. I walked back to the beach
promenade to look for something else and chose a very nice restaurant, with inside/outside seating, under a front extension. A restaurant that reminded me of the rest of Cannes- elegant in a pleasant, comfortable way. The outside section had temporary-like flooring as it was partially in the elements but made of a rich wood. And straight lines in the chairs and tables with a soft glow of blue and turquoise lighting on the tables gave the place the perfect ambience for relaxing and enjoying Cannes.
The waiter, a middle-aged man as all the waiters there were (are they still called garcons, which literally means boy?) came over and presented me the menu. He seemed very proper. I wanted to save dinner for Antibes so I just wanted to order something small. One salad looked good until he told me it was with octopus. No thanks. I’m not a big calamari fan. Especially not the way they serve it here- mainly steamed. In the states I can stomach it when it has lots of frying around it- I eat the breading and leave the octopus.
I thought about a salad but with further questions I realized it was just a basic salad and I wanted something a little more interesting and that would go better with wine. My garcon wasn’t being overly helpful and seemed to maybe be getting a little perturbed with all my attempted French-speaking questions. Hmmm… let’s not forget what someone’s job is… They had a Petits Poissons Frits on the menu in two different sizes, as an appetizer or entrée. Which by the way, in France the entrée is actually the appetizer which is what the word describes. Entrée as in the first thing to enter- I’m not sure how we got that messed up in the states. I pointed to the selection and asked him if that was fried pieces of white fish. I wasn’t really in the mood for a chips and fish type of heavy appetizer but it seemed like the best choice without getting into the big bucks. “Oui”. Ok, then… hmmm… what to order… what to order… “D’accord”, (ok) Mr. Garcon, “I’ll get the fucking fried white fish chunks even though I think there might be something better suited for what I have in mind, if only you would be a little more helpful with translating the menu…” Actually what I said was, “Je voudrais (I would like) Petits Poissons Frits, s’il vous plait (please… literally ‘if you please’ and I’m sure he was very pleased I finally made up my mind) et un van rouge (and a red wine). “Oui, le Petite Poisson Friere”, said moi garcon (waiter/boy?) and there was some sort of almost barely detectable snicker. Hmmm… just because I’m wearing Gap jeans and an Old Navy basic cotton top doesn’t mean someone has to have a high and mighty attitude… or someone is going to have their customer take ‘service compris’ (tip included) as it states on the menu quite literally… garcon! So there! “Merci” I actually quietly said to him.
A different waiter brought me my red wine. I think it was the best red wine I’ve ever had. Except for that time when Matt and I were in Tuscany and a wonderful Italian wine maker gave us a personal tour of his unbelievable winery and then gave us one of his $100 bottles. That was probably the best I’ve ever tasted. But this one, here in Cannes had that wonderful hearty, buttery flavor. It is Cuvee Bailley and was only $6 per glass but that is actually pretty high for this area. I usually pay about $3.50 in Antibes.
Then another waiter set down a basket of bread and some sort of a white chunky spread. Yum, that’s nice! Not even butter is served with bread in the south of France, so this is a real treat! So far this light dinner was exactly the ambience I was looking to find. The three garcons weren’t too busy- it was still early for Riviera dinner time and I noticed they were looking in my direction. Probably trying to figure out why a single woman was by herself- no one dines by themselves in these restaurants. But something didn’t feel totally comfortable… almost like there was a stifled snickering like when someone feels just a little too big for their britches… like they know something you don’t… I couldn’t tell. It must just be my imagination. I put the spread on the bread and took a bite. Yuck- tartar sauce. I like it on fish but not on bread. Ok… maybe that’s what the three garcons were tittering about. Ok, now everyone’s had their fun. I swallowed my tartar sauce-topped bread like I knew that’s what it was when I smeared it on. And took a big drink of that good wine and washed it down. Yuck.
I sat there, trying not to look conspicuously single. I’m not kidding- it’s just abnormal here for a woman to dine alone in a fairly nice restaurant. I looked out at the promenade- it’s just beautiful in Cannes… it feels so nice. Oh, good, here comes the waiter with my dish. He spun it onto my table and whisked himself away. Oh my God… are they kidding! They are actually going to serve THIS! Is this some sort of JOKE??? Look what they put down in front of me! A plate full of fried FUCKING minnows! Oh my God! It turns my stomach to just look at it! My stomach is actually bouncing. Yuck.
I tried not to look at the plate. I kept seeing eyes and eyes of minnows. Oooh, yuck. And suddenly there’s not a garcon to be found. Not one. No more customers keeping them busy, but interestingly they have just vanished. And the minnows just lay in front of me, staring up with all those eyes. And I waited and waited and waited. And didn’t touch one. Ugh- I couldn’t. It made me sick to even think of eating one. Finally my main garcon came out of hiding… I’m sure they had all three been stooped behind a counter waiting to see my reaction to the creepy minnow plate. And he saw that I hadn’t even moved them around. He walked over with that smug smile on his face, as if making himself available for some minor request I might have. “Yeah! I have a request! Get this fucking bait plate out of my sight!” No, of course I didn’t say that. I said “Je suis desolate” (I am sorry) and then the English came bubbling out with a whine I couldn’t hold in… “I didn’t know it would be little FISH, like minnows” I’m sure he didn’t know what minnows meant. “I thought it was pieces of white fish meat, fried, I never would have ordered this if I knew it was petite fish!”… whine, whine, whine. I couldn’t help it. $8.50 Euros, $13 US dollars for a plate of fried fucking minnows I couldn’t even look at!
“Oh?” and he had that irritating smug look on his face. He knew what he had been doing the entire time. “You don’t want these?” he asked in that fake innocent tone.
“No. I can’t eat these”. Now I was beginning to get irritated. But I said very nicely, “I’ll gladly pay for this since I ordered it, but I can’t eat this”. Now take it off my bill, Garcon! He took the untouched dish away. I ate some more bread. One of the other waiters came over. And in his tight, proper voice, feigning quiet surprise, “You did not like the Petits Poissons Frits?” with his lips pursed. NO, mother fucker… I DIDN’T LIKE YOUR FRIED FUCKING MINNOWS! “Non, desolate”. (No, I’m sorry). “Would you prefer to order something else?” Funny, how when I was trying to order, no one spoke a bit of English but after they got their little laugh, they seem to speak it fairly well. “No, thank you. Just my l’addition (check), s’il vous plait.” “Nothing else?” You heard me- give me my check! “No. Thank you.”
I saw the three waiters huddled together, trying to decide what to charge me, whether to take it off or not. I was sure they would. Over came the check, voila. $8.50 for the bait plate, $6 for the wine. Those rotten bastards. Together they decided to keep it on. Fuck you. There! $14.50 and NO TIP! Au revoir!
But I’m not going to let the plate of minnows and the three garcons ruin my opinion of Cannes. It’s still a great place. I’ll get dressed up in something nice and go back and maybe sit in the Hotel Carlton’s outside area and have an appetizer and drink. That sounds nice.