I love the food in Antibes! French baguettes, crepes, croissants, cheese and south-of-France ravioli!

Ravioli

Since the French Riviera has historic ties to Italy, food in Antibes has an Italian flair (ravioli and potato gnocchi were invented in Nice, only 10 miles from here) and the many, many restaurants offer an abundance of pasta selections.  And very reasonably priced- $10-15 Euro for a dinner including Antibes 9.15 025tax and tip. Today I got caught in the rain just outside the Old Town and dashed into a busy little restaurant, La Stozia, next to the movie rental store I discovered yesterday.  I would have preferred to have waited the rain out in the movie store because I had just sat out the previous burst of rain in a little place La Galerie Aubernon, near my house eating (of all things!) a sucre and beurre crepe and café American which I learned today does not go by the Starbucks name, but instead is called “un café allonge”.  But the movie store didn’t open till 3pm.  What could I possibly order to allow me to sit at this guy’s table while I waited for the rain to stop and the store to open?  Crème brulee?  Not on top of the crepe.  A glass of wine?  Everyone else was eating and drinking heartily but I just finished breakfast.  I decided on one of the 10 types of ravioli, the bolognaise, a meat-filled ravioli with tomato sauce.  Oh my god!  What a find!  This was by far, the very best tomato sauce I have ever tasted!  It was rich, sweet, and had a hearty, plump consistency.   And the pasta was paper thin with a fabulous tender shredded beef on the inside.  I was so glad I just happened upon this place.  Turns out the guy who I was waiting to open his movie shop next door came in with a friend and was seated right next to me.  No wonder he prioritized eating over opening.  Take a look at it to the right- can’t you just taste it?

Salad

Antibes 9.12 064Another one of my great finds… the tomatoes at the grocery store in the Old Town.  Oh my goodness!  I’m not a real tomato fan… I like tomato sauces and dried tomatoes, but usually push them aside in my salads.  Yesterday for some crazy reason, I was in the mood for bitter greens topped with tomato and mozzarella cheese and fresh basil and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil.  I saw these tomatoes in the little grocery store and bought one. 

Antibes 9.12 080Then I went to the fromagerie (cheese store) to choose a mozzarella.  The shopkeeper, who started off very friendly, insisted I buy the $11 mozzarella, because it was far superior to the $3 ball I thought I’d buy.  He became quite cranky when I stood my ground on the $3 choice (under intense pressure I might add) which made me wonder why if the $3 cheese is of such inferior quality, does he offer it for sale in his shop?  But I wasn’t about to go there.  Mr. Cheesy had already gotten himself in a mild hissy.

Turns out the salad was fabulous!  Even with the cheap cheese.  The tomatoes were the best I’ve ever tasted.  They had a delicious sweetness to them and now I finally know why they’re sometimes considered a fruit.Antibes 9.16 003

Wonder if I could have tasted the difference between the $3 and the $11 cheese?  Maybe next week when my $3 ball is gone I’ll go in his shop and ask him if he knows where I can purchase some mozzarella of higher quality. 

Baguettes, croissants and pastries

How good can they get?  There’s a boulangerie on just about every corner.  where I bought my raisin bisquit this morningEvery day… fresh baguettes, fresh croissants, fresh everything!  And if it’s not in the boulangerie (bakery) then I’m sure to find some wonderful sweet treat in the patisserie (pastry shop).  Antibes has one of those on every block too.  The picture to the left was taken in a shop just around the corner from my place.  Her baguettes are maybe 80 cents or something.  What you can’t tell from Antibes 9.8 003the picture of me holding the baguette is that it’s still warm in my hand.  When I got home, I cut it and put a slice of soft camembert on top and poured myself a glass of red wine.  Now, that’s relaxing.    

I don’t know what these almond bars are called.  All the boulangeries have them.  They’re made with honey I think, and almonds on top of a flaky crust.  I usually buy four squares a day and pop them in my mouth one after the other… I just can’t help it. Antibes 9.17 058  

And just take a look at the picture of the croissant… nuff said!  Except that I Antibes 9.14 001have no idea how they bake these to come out so airy and buttery delicious.  If I’m not having a crepe for breakfast in a restaurant, I put one of these in a hot buttered skillet just to make it warm (with a dash of salt since their butter is unsalted), and have it with honey.  Yum, yum, yum. 

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Crepes

Crepes are super popular here.  Almost every casual restaurant sells them and they have maybe 10 different choices including ones with cheese and The Chef's Crepe special of the daymeat, like a sandwich.  I like the sucre and beurre (sugar and butter) crepe, but take a look at the Chef’s Crepe special at one of my favorite places, Cesar Cafe, the other day!  I didn’t get it, but it had goat cheese, tomatoes, eggplant and basil and the two people that I saw that did order it ate every bite.

Chocolate

Another one of my favorite things… Kinder chocolate!  Although it’s German and not French, it’s plentiful here.  This chocolate far surpasses Godiva and it’s priced like Hershey!  It is by far my favorite chocolate in the world.  Those little German ‘ice-cubes’, the chocolate squares that truly melt in your mouth do come in a close second. 

A friend of mine who had been stationed in Germany first introduced me to Kinder-egg chocolates.  They were egg-shaped with an adorable little wooden toy inside that after assembled, could move, jump or entertain.  You can imagine my delight when I was in France for the first time fifteen years ago and discovered that Kinder made little chocolate bars!  No toy to mess with!  All heavenly chocolate! 

For some reason, Kinder chocolate isn’t common in the states.  It’s in Spain (my kids used to bring it back for me from their exchange programs), Mexico (last January I bought boxes and boxes from the Mexican Wal-mart) and in France, it’s everywhere!  In the Tabac shops, grocery stores, drug Antibes 9.13 009stores, vending machines at the train station and even in some bakeries!  I keep a stash of it in my apartment.  One of my favorites is the kind that has what tastes like puffed wheat mixed in with it.  I bought this box the day before yesterday, and then last night noticed that only two of these bars (at 130 calories each) were left!  Who ate all of my chocolate???  Je ne sais pas!  Moi?  No wonder those French clothes don’t hang right.

Hungry, anyone?  Lots of pictures, I know, but a picture’s worth a thousand words, and I just couldn’t do this food justice with my words. 

I wanted to leave you with one last picture.  This morning when I walked by the sea I realized that I could see the snow-capped Alps behind Nice.  As usual, the beauty of this scene mesmerizes me.  But this morning it was just breath-taking.

Antibes 9.17 010

Ou est Brigitte Bardot?

Bust, bust, bust!  I took a train for a half hour to St. Raphael, and then a bus for an hour and a half to St. Tropez to see Brigitte Bardot.  She was supposed to be sitting on a bench outside of the tourist information office from 3-5:30 Antibes 9.17 033today, Thursday.  But she wasn’t there.  A two hour one-way trip for me, four hours round-trip and Brigitte was a no-show.  That bitch.  That’s me, not Brigitte, in the picture to the right sitting in St. Tropez.  No one, not one person in all of St. Tropez that I inquired about Brigitte had any knowledge of her ever signing autographs outside of the TI (tourist information) office.  Never.  I kept showing them the excerpt in my Rick Steves’ travel guide to PROVE that she did do just that, but one after another just shook their heads with a disdainful roll of the eyes.  The sweet girl in the TI office told me Brigitte Bardot lived in Paris and had no reason to be here, i.e (unspoken) especially to sit outside on a dumb-ass bench and sign autographs.  When I asked the lady at the ticket booth who sold tickets for a boat tour that was supposed to go by her house, about Brigitte’s appearance schedule, she informed me that Ms. Bardot retired 37 years ago, and with the short tone of her voice clearly implied the same as the TI girl. 

Oh, well, I wanted to see the other French Riviera resorts anyway, and I did.  St. Tropez which I have been pronouncing “saint” as it should be and Tro(troe) – Pez (pez) as in candy dispenser, is apparently pronounced differently in its homeland.  It is pronounced Sahn – chroll – pay.  And an Antibes 9.17 042unsettling place Sahn-Chroll-Pay is.  There’s a feeling of contrived, forced elegance that gives it a thin, worn coating of glamour with a core of emptiness. It didn’t feel comforting or cozy.  It all sort of fell flat.  The best part was the Old Town that sports shades of pretty pastel colors, that glow in the warm energy of this amazing south-of-France sunlight. 

Since I had no hope of seeing yesteryear’s sex-goddess legend, I decided to just sit and have a nice lunch and glass of wine in front of the Mediterranean.  Except that the big yachts are the attraction, not the sea, Antibes 9.17 034and no matter in which café you choose to sit on the town’s street bordering the water, the view is blocked by yachts, each one of greater magnitude than the other.  I’m not too interested in seeing the yachts unless I can get on one, and if invited I’d gladly drop my shoes on the sidewalk before stepping on the gangplank as I’ve come to realize is required etiquette.  But no one invited me, so I decided to have a Caesar salad instead.  By the way, dining in St. Tropez in unbelievably expensive!  It makes Antibes’ dinner costs seem like the blue plate special.  I wanted the steak sandwich I saw on the outside menu, but I didn’t see it offered on the fan-shaped menu located on the table.  With the waiter beside me, I jumped out of my seat to try and show him (I didn’t know how to say steak or sandwich) the item on the menu on the entrance post.   That’s all I remember for the next few minutes or so.  I somehow didn’t see the metal frame housing the menu that was bolted on the post right next to me and rammed full force into it with my forehead.  I wouldn’t Antibes 9.17 036have even noticed if Brigitte Bardot came over to help me.  I have a bump on my forehead that I can feel, but I haven’t seen it yet.  Because there are NO BATHROOMS ANYWHERE!  More on that in a second.  But I had already ordered my glass of wine, so I had to decide whether to drink it at 3pm on a fairly empty stomach and feel a little buzz or to monitor the bump and make sure I was alright.  I chose the first.  

Now, my bathroom gripe with St. Tropez and St. Raphael.  I had to change from the train to the bus in St. Raphael for the 1.5 hour bus ride.  There was a WC (water closet) at the area where the busses loaded, but it was one small room with three stalls.  It was one of those unisex numbers.  I saw an older man, who looked to need some cleaning up, go into one of the stalls.  The other two were locked or occupied, I never figured out which.  I waited, getting more hesitant by the minute if I wanted to go in after him.  I finally left and walked around to find another bathroom.  Finally I saw a McDonalds!  Perfect.  Their door marked WC was right next to the cash register with a keypad next to it.  And everyone seemed to have a secret code.  But there was only one toilet for the entire restaurant.  I ordered a coke and asked her how to use the toilette (twal–lette) and she told me there was a code number on my receipt.  Lots of bathroom control in St. Raphael.  I went into the room where there was a sink, but the room with the toilette was occupied.   For as long as I stood there.  My bus departure was getting too close.  I left and went back to the three toilets at the bus stop.  I made the best of it.  They were those toilettes with no seat, in wee-tiny stalls like so many in France.  What ARE people to do when they need to sit?  And as a special surprise, no toilet paper, not even a PLACE for toilet paper.  It wasn’t that it was empty, this was a place where they saw no need for paper.    

The road from St. Raphael to St. Tropez is beautifully picturesque.  The Antibes 9.17 020Esterel Massif Antibes 9.17 045mountains come right next to the sea, making for areas of rocky cliffs along the shoreline.  The Mediterranean is it’s normal beautifully jeweled-tone blue and turquoise colors.  There are marinas everywhere and often are right beside the beaches.  The beaches, however leave something to be desired.  We’re spoiled with our huge expanses of white, sandy Antibes 9.17 047beaches on the mid-Atlantic coastline.  I’ve always thought that they are some of the most beautiful in the world, and the more I travel, the more sure I am of it.  The beaches here, that all of Europe flocks to in the summer have a Sandy Point State Park appearance, except smaller.  Brownish sand and bay-like waters. 

St. Raphael, bathroom issues aside, has a junky, over-stressed feeling about it.  My theory is that the number of shops that sell the blaring t-shirts “I LOVE (THIS PLACE)” is directly in inverse proportion to how much I love it.  St. Raphael was loaded. was loaded.  Shop after shop, more souvenir-style stuff.  And interestingly enough, one shop with round displays of sunglasses outside advertised Prada, Gucci, Ray Ban.  I walked over to see the knock-offs, and the sunglasses were attached so they couldn’t come off.  And priced in the $200 range!  Obviously, they were the real thing, but even they couldn’t help becoming mistaken in their cheap surroundings. 

After my wine and before leaving St. Tropez on the hour and a half bus ride I had searched for a bathroom.  None to be found.  Imagine that.  By the time I arrived back in St. Raphael to get on the train I was getting pretty desperate.  There was a pay bathroom at the train station for .30 Euros (45 cents).  These pay bathrooms are quite expensive.  I was put off by having to pay .50 Euros (75 cents) to a gentleman attendant to use the bathroom in the Nice train station a couple days ago, but at least it was nice and clean and supplied with toilet paper.  I shoved my coins in the slot and opened the bathroom door.  What the???  How the???  Yuck!  It smelled disgusting and look at this!  WHERE IS THE TOILETTE???Antibes 9.17 057The entire floor had a thin coat of wetness and the “bathroom area” was even wetter.  No matter how I maneuvered myself- and I had a huge purse with my computer inside and a bag with a gift in it, there was no way for the water to not splash up on my feet and ankles.  I was wearing my favorite sandals.  And that splashing had to be not only mine, but everyone else’s pee that was in the trough.  Double yuck!  What a mess.  And obviously no paper… not in this place.  I finished and stood in front of what is the sink, the area with a thin stream of cold water continually running.  I balanced myself on one foot and without touching ANYTHING and holding all of my posessions, placed one foot under the stream.  I rinsed off all the way up to the top of my ankle, then the other.  And of course nothing to dry with.  So I walked out of bathroom with wet feet and wet shoes.  People must have thought I had really bad aim. 

If I told you that when I got home I rinsed my shoes off with Clorox and washed my feet and bottom of my legs with hot soapy water, would you think I was lying? 

End of an exhausting day and with a bump on my head.  I walked home from the train station, got freshened up and then went out to have a glass of wine and some little tid-bits to eat from the Lebanese restaurant.  And I used their Wi-Fi as usual.  It felt good to be home- back in comfortable, unpretentious Antibes.  A bientot, Brigitte!Antibes 9.7 029

Not Nice shoes

I’ve learned a lot of things travelling by myself.  One thing is that traveling can be spelled with one “L” or two.  My spell check doesn’t correct either one!  But the most important thing I’ve learned is to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go to explore a new city using public transportation wearing new heels.  Oh my god, my feet are so sore, with lots of blisters. 

I decided to go to Nice and check out the Matisse museum.  I like Tarkay alot Antibes 9.20 Nice 008and he was strongly influenced by Matisse and I wanted to see the master’s work.   I took the train to Nice, easy enough… the shoes didn’t hurt walking the 15 minute walk from my house to the train station and then I walked from Nice’s train station to catch the tram.  By the way, Nice’s train station is magnificent.  This picture is taken from the platform area.  Clomp, clomp, clomp in my new heel clogs fresh from a U.S. Ross “Dress for Less”.  They looked great in Salisbury, MD, but somehow look dull and out of style over here.  Maybe because I have not seen one person wearing black leather clogs with a heel since I’ve been here and suddenly I feel like I am wearing truly out-of-fashion footwear.  In fact, when I realized what a dud I looked like was when the shoes started to hurt.  Maybe a connection there. 

I got off the tram to find the bus at Massena Place, a huge wonderful Antibes 9.20 Nice 013surprise.  Nice has more parkland and beautiful public areas than any other city know!  But I’m not what you would call a seasoned traveler, so I’m speaking in terms of in the south of France or cities I’ve been to in the US.  Beautiful parks with palms, blooming flowers, fountains, trellis walk-Antibes 9.16 009ways, carousels.  The buildings in Nice are huge with an Italian flair and touched with pastel colors.   Nice had been under Italian Savoy till 1860 and the Italian influence is all around.  But those beaches… the beaches are actually little round rocks instead of sand.  Take a look at the close-up of the rocks.  And surprise!  The men really do wear those European-style speedos!  Why do Americans pleasantly smirk at that?  It takes a lot of balls to wear those suits.  Hmmm.Beach

 Antibes 9.16 005 A

I walked around 10 blocks or more just taking in the beauty of the city and the sidewalk cafes and of course stopping to have a crepe with sucre et du beurre and that’s when the shoes started to pinch a little.  By the way, this melted butter is something some cafes just don’t get.  I was presented a crepe with just sugar… a little dry, wouldn’t you think?  The garcon took forever to notice my finger popping up like a flying finger puppet, trying to get his attention.  I told him I would “Je voudrais du beurre pour moi crepe”– I would like some butter for my crepe…. hello!  And I thought that since he might not understand and bring the cold butter patties over I’d better be more specific.  Du beurre chaud.  Hot butter, I don’t know the word for melted.  (Last night I almost ordered a hot salad… salade chevre.  Yum, something sautéed in olive oil and garlic maybe?  Oops… chevre is goat cheese which I hate, chard is hot.  How could I mess that up?  There are just way too many things to learn).   Anyway, guess what the nice crepe garcon brought me?  A bowl of hot water with one of those dainty silver spoons and two pats of cold butter.  Non, non, non!  This will never do!  But then he said Non, non, non as in that was the best they could do.  Somebody was reducing their tip, and fast.  I put the foil- wrapped butter pattie in the hot water and held it down with the silver spoon, and it actually did get soft.  At least soft enough to take the dryness out of the crepe.  By now my shoes were beginning to feel really tight. 

I walked another 10 blocks or so to find the bus that would take me up hill to the Matisse museum.  The shoes were getting into the “hurt” category.  I finally found the correct bus stop and got on bus 17.  I asked the driver (in French) if this bus stopped at the musee Matisse.  He hesitated a second.  I don’t say arret (stop) very well because those r’s are made with a sound we don’t have in English… that back of the throat getting ready to hock a loogie sound.  “Oui”.  Bonne, (good) because sitting now felt wonderful… anything to take a load off those shoes!  But… a few minutes later the older lady near me who looked like she would never want to be sweet said something to an elderly grim-faced gentleman.  He brightened up and said something to her and they chatted and chatted, and I could hear them saying Matisse.  Then another very rough-looking guy joined in the conversation, and when he spoke his eyes widened past the half-open position they’d been in and he became nice and lively.  They all chattered away about… I was getting the idea… they were discussing why the bus driver told me Oui, the bus did stop at the Matisse musee, when clearly these regular riders knew otherwise.  Two other people joined the conversation.  Now I knew I was in deep shit trouble and would be dropped off nowhere near my destination.  They got the driver involved and as he drove through Nice’s tiny winding streets up the hill his hands did all sorts of turning, circular gestures.  Which apparently meant I’d be walking in circles when I got there.

Someone had an idea!  There was a young guy riding, and since most young people here understand English, they asked him if he spoke it.  Yes, he did!  So, I said, “Oh, good.  Can you tell me if this bus stops at the Matisse museum?”  He listened to my friendly crowd’s explanation to him in French, everyone offering additional facts and when he gathered all the information, he turned to me and said…  I don’t know what he said because it definitely wasn’t English.  It sounded like French to me.  And then the crowd agreed, looking satisfied and end of discussion.  What???  Where the fuck was I going to get dropped off?  The only thing I understood was that the driver was planning on announcing “musee Matisse” into his speaker when it was my time to get off the bus, something I’m sure the regulars on this line had never heard him say before.  Great.

Further and further uphill we went.  And then, out of nowhere a lady from the back of the bus came up to me- these busses by the way have seats in the front facing front and some facing each other and a large area in the middle for standing and then seats in the back on different levels.  So this lady had had an upper deck view of all the commotion.  She said, “Do you want to go to the Matisse museum?”  Perfect English!  Why yes, as a matter of fact, I did!  She proceeded to tell me (and now her English was becoming broken) that she would show me, to follow her because the bus driver would be dropping me off… and this is the part that I couldn’t understand what she was saying at all.  I shook my head yes… D’accord, d’accorrd, (ok, ok).  I just understood to follow her and she was going to show me.  How nice- for her to walk out of her way to show me the direction I needed to go.  I was aligning myself with her instead of the other helpful people on the bus who had figured out what I was supposed to do.  So when she got up to get off several stops later, I said, “I follow you, right?”  “Non, non, non!” she smiled.   And she did all the turning hand motions the driver had done.  What the?  And the doors opened and she was gone.  By now, nine people had discussed in deep detail how I was supposed to get to the museum, with the rest of the bus attentively involved and I was still at a loss.  And I could feel my shoes really hurting.  Fuck.  I hate public transportation… you’re at an agency’s mercy.  And it is so limiting and frustrating to not speak the language. 

Ok, around a few more hairpin curves and we’re at the top of a hill (mini-mountain) and everyone is watching me and the driver says “Musee Matisse” into the loud speaker.  And I see a pleasant look on everyone’s face like they know something that I don’t as the doors open and I’m the only person to get off.  The doors close and the bus drives away.  Where am I?  Antibes 9.20 Nice 024There are no signs that say anything about Matisse.  And I do what they had motioned for me to do… walk around in circles.  I’m at a park, a huge park or maybe it’s an olive grove.  I took this picture to the left facing one direction.  Behind me  there was a carousel, some type of a little kid’s party with balloons at a picnic table and interestingly champagne (kid must’ve done something right) and then I see Roman ruins and a bust statue of Louis Armstrong.  Very interesting.   I like him too, but never figured out the Antibes 9.20 Nice 022relevance.  I wanted to get closer to the ruins but the area was separated from the park with a netting material.  Later I realized I just hadn’t located the entrance, but my feet hurt too much to walk any extra distance to discover what was going on.  Too bad, I would’ve really liked to have seen the ruins better- they were part of the ancient city of Cemenelum.

And guess what… there near the back of the park was a large dark pink building… the Matisse museum!  My shoes hurt soooo badly.  I had trouble walking around the museum, my feet hurt so much.  The museum had many of his interesting early works, but none of the brightly-colored paintings with the colorful wallpaper in the background.  Not one.  He didn’t begin painting that style till later in his life and this collection was mainly work before that.  But they did have some of his personal furniture throughout that was fun to see. 

Leaving the museum… lots of trouble finding the right bus to take me back to town.  As in lots of walking.   I decided to get off at a stop I thought would be closer to the train station instead of going all the way downtown and having to walk to the tram and then tram it back to the train station.  I got off on what turned out to be a horribly inconvenient stop, some sort of a beautiful road with limited access that ran on a higher level compared to the roads I needed to get to so I had to walk an extra ¾ of a mile down hill and then back to the direction where I needed to go.  I could feel the blisters, but there was nothing I could do but make my way by foot to the train station.

And of course, after I arrived back at the Antibes train station I had to walk almost a mile back to my place.  Never, never again will I make that mistake.  When I got home I gently took off my high-heeled clogs, washed my feet and looked at my blisters.  What was I thinking?  I sat down and had a couple slices of a baguette with soft cheese.  Yum.  I needed a rest.  Then I slipped on my sandal flats,  walked out into cozy Old Antibes and chose one of the many old thick-walled, adorable restaurants to nestle myself into for a nice, relaxing dinner.   It’s always good to be back in Antibes.Antibes 9.10 (36)

I downloaded a 2 min. video of the winding little crooks and crannies to my apartment.  You can see it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlUEoXY9evg  Somehow the sound is behind the video but my commentation isn’t all that neccesary anyway.  :-)

Personal services in a foreign land

I love Sean.  He lets me be the person I am at my most unattractive.  He patiently listens to me when I whine, he pays close attention when I express my concerns in excruciating detail, and he assures me everything will be fine as soon as he sees I’m about to freak out.  What a guy.  Sean is my hairdresser in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  He’s beside me every step of the way during my coloring process.  And besides all of that, he’s like a therapist- he’s willing to listen, analyze, gently criticize and generally help with whatever problem we open for discussion during the processing time.  What a guy.  His partner of twenty-six years is a very lucky man. 

So he understood my panic when I realized my roots would be beginning to show around my third week in France.  He painstakingly went over my exact color combination plus the percentage of peroxide and the time to process Antibes 9.22 014so I could give the information to a stylist here.  I’ve texted him about it seven times since I’ve been here.  And through his return texts he has assured me that the salon, Dessange,  is reputable, the color will be ok and just whatever else is necessary for me to hear to keep me from being “a pain in the ass”. 

See, that phrase has come up before.  I used to go to a fabulous shop in Rehoboth Beach, Bad Hair Day.  That shop keeps itself on the cutting edge of everything that makes a salon be a fun experience.  One day, as I was asking my former stylist Jeffrey when the last time was that I was in, he gave me my printed history that he had on his tray.  Apparently they print it out prior to an appointment  and give it to the hairdresser showing the exact formulas, processing times, comments etc, so there is never a question or mistake.  What a place!  Mine was pretty thick because I had been going there for awhile.  I’d never held mine is my hands before, and I leafed back through my pages and started reading from the beginning.  I had originally been seeing a different stylist, but we just didn’t quite hit it off and she didn’t seem to understand or appreciate my concerns the way I felt was necessary.  I mean… having your hair colored, cut and styled isn’t cheap, and since I was paying a lot of money for the service I wanted it done to my exact specifications.  I saw nothing wrong with that.  Hmmm… apparently someone didn’t agree… because there in the comments from my first few visits, it said this customer “is a royal P I T A!”  Well, well, well… what could that mean?   And then suddenly it hit me!  A ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS!   How dare them to have labeled me that in their records to have it follow me around in their shop for years!  I went over to Dwight, the sweet receptionist and DEMANDED that that be scratched from my record!  He squealed when he read it and apologized profusely, but he hadn’t been the one to pen it anyway.  And I’m sure the owner, whom I highly respect, would’ve taken it out had he seen it.

I’m not sure what happened with Jeffrey, I think his schedule didn’t coordinate with mine a few times and I found myself in the salon across the street, having a coloring process done by a brand new person.  I was truly then a pain in the ass.  If something goes wrong with your hair, it’s bad news from the top all the way down and it changes your entire appearance.  I am so specific, requiring any new stylist to detail exactly what they’re doing and why; analyzing and requiring justification for every decision they make every little step of the way.  Luckily, for me, maybe not for him, I landed in Sean’s chair.  And we’ve had smooth sailing ever since.  Which is why I followed him to the new, super spazzified, so, so current salon when he decided to transfer.  Even though it was opened and owned by the hairdresser who had labeled me the royal P.I.T.A. from Bad Hair Day! Imagine the irony in that.  Well, no hard feelings for sure… I just want to follow Sean. 

In Antibes, I have been in maybe eight different shops asking them if they can match my color based on the name and number of the color product and its mixture.  There apparently is some computer software that correlates one brand of color to another.  That’s a pretty difficult question with the language barrier.  So usually the french receptionist has looked real confused, and finds someone who speaks better English, who listens and nods yes.  BUT then…  I ask a question to test them… you see, I don’t want any mess-up with my hair… and they have no idea of the answer because they DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!   They were tricking me!  I swear, I think it’s routine to have a token “English-speaking” person that they bring to the front counter who pretends to understand and then say “oui, yes, oui” and you THINK THEY UNDERSTAND!  But I know better because I trick the tricker with my trick question!  Something like… “How would you be sure it wouldn’t look too ash blonde?”  and they nod and say again, “oui, yes, oui”.  Then I know they haven’t understood a damn thing I’ve said.  So I smile and shake my head in agreement like they answered correctly and move on. 

I stopped by a very nice salon close to my house and they got everything right.  I asked the price.  $35 for a color.  Hey!  Not bad!  It is just a root color, I would never do a highlight and lowlight in a foreign country.  But… wait a minute… what was he saying?  Plus $25 for a shampoo?  No shit!  Of course you have to have a shampoo or you wouldn’t get the color rinsed out after the processing time elapsed.  And $35 for a blow dry?  Sean lets me leave his shop with wet hair to save money.  They don’t like it, but he’s ok with it so I do.  How do they feel about that in France?  Turns out it seems to be an odd request, but grantable.  Hello!  $35 for me with my exchange rate is $52 US dollars.  I sure don’t want a style that I may not like anyway, when that plus another $35 will buy me the scrunched-top, just-above-the-ankle leather boots I’ve been eyeing for the last week. 

Ok, I’ll cut to the chase.  I made the appointment yesterday and went in today.  Christian was my stylist.  He didn’t know that today was going to be his lucky day to have me as a client!  He was very Sean-like in assuring me that everything would be fine, easy to match the colors and for some reason even though he spoke almost no English, I felt like I was in good hands.  He seemed to be the sort of person that wanted to be a perfectionist and as he happily pranced around getting my smock, fixing it, mixing the colors I became more and more relaxed.  When he gave me the $25 shampoo I melted into the chair.  He gave me a scalp massage like I’ve never experienced before!  It was so incredibly soothing, everything in my body just turned to warm taffy.  It lasted a good five minutes, maybe longer.  Everything was working out well.Antibes 9.22 010  The color was more ash than I would’ve preferred, but I think I and Sean would be the only ones to notice that.  You see, when Sean does my color it looks perfect every time.  But also every time after the shampoo, I get back in his chair and the red color scares me.   I gasp, “It looks too red!”  And he smiles and says, “You say that every time.  It’s the lighting in here”. 

The part of wanting to leave with my hair wet caused a stir of confusion.  Apparently that’s not a normal request and he had gotten a blow dryer plugged in and had begun drying by the time he finally understood what I was trying to say.  Did I catch a hint of his being mildly perturbed?  I couldn’t tell for sure.  But then…. when I was ready to pay, my $35 color plus $25 shampoo was totaled on the little hand-held register based on the information Christian had just entered into the computer, and then twisted around for me to see and $114 appeared!  What?  Christian… prance your skinny ass back up here!   I was shaking my head NO with that mildly crazed look in my eyes.  I know I must look a little unstable when I have that reaction because I’ve seen people get sort of nervous when I look like that.  Where was the person who told me yesterday it would be $60 total?  I looked around the shop, but all those dark-haired Frenchmen looked the same.  Finally someone came to my assistance and I was babbling in fast English in a higher and higher pitched voice, but he seemed to understand.  Punch, punch, punch numbers on the little hand-held register… voila!  Turn it around to me… and… $95!  NO!!!  No foil processing, no cut, not even a blow dry!  Can’t you see I’m standing here looking like a drowned fucking rat!   Lots of punch, punch, punching on the hand-held calculator again and now no one is willing to step forward and offer to speak English.  It gets flipped around to me and $60!  I assume that was $25 for the shampoo which is the only price that seemed to be a constant.  Which would make the color $45.  Ok.  Ten Euros more than expected but this shop is a place where I walk by easily eight to ten times each day, and I want to feel good karma when I walk past.   They had reduced the price from $114 to $60 and even though hair salons have sliding prices based on who knows what, (hair length or how irritating you are?) they usually are not negotiable.  All in all I’m happy with the new do.  At least there aren’t any gray (or as Sean says, “silver, never say gray”) roots and I’m sure Sean who’s 7000 miles away is also relieved.  Can you imagine if I insisted that he participate in a conference call with me and some unlucky French stylist to instruct the Monsieur how to specifically do my corrective coloring?  What a royal pain in the ass that would be.   

 

Note:  Hey, Chris… remember that time we were in Paris 10 years ago and I thought it would be fun to get my long hair cut in that cool Parisian salon?  And the guy did the entire haircut with a razor and no scissors and gave me short bangs too?  I think I cried.  I remember you telling me over the 3 hour train trip to Provence that it wasn’t “that” bad.

being friendly in France

Bob and Carole

Bob and Carole circa 1967?

Sept. 24

Carole and Bob are coming in 4 days!  Yipee!  (This is the only picture I have of them on my new computer- isn’t that a riot!)  Everyone in Antibes has their own little friendly group, happily chatting away and I’ve been the odd man out… sitting by myself, watching.  And trying to join in every now and then but usually just getting a cursory pleasant (be gone with you!) comment, and then my fickle friends turn back to their group and chatter away, not including me, in a language that isn’t familiar.  So finally!  I’ll have my own little click and I’ll be one of those people that someone else can bother… to be pulled away from all my Antibes 9.24 008fun and offer a poor loner a little bit of my valuable pleasantry if they happen to interrupt our private, lively discussion.  Sounds like someone’s being a sour-puss, but that has been the way it’s been!  People are just all wrapped up in their own little worlds and don’t easily bring in an outsider.  It’s different than the culture I’m used to- those smiling, out-going, goofy Americans!

But, I need to get to the store and buy a list of things before Carole and Bob get here.  The first thing is mouthwash.  Oh my god!  So many people in France have…  bad breath.  There, I said it.  It seems mean, but it’s true.  Oh, my is it true!  The few people that have talked to me I haven’t been able to get close enough to them to join in on the conversation.  I’ve had to back far away.  I’m not kidding.  An older neighbor came up to my outside window to chat.  Usually I’d welcome anyone who was willing to give me a little time for a friendly conversation, but this guy’s breath was SOOO bad that I had to back away from my window!  And as I backed away, he kept coming closer.  Thank goodness I have those metal bars on my windows- I couldn’t stand the smell.  When he left I opened the other window to get a cross breeze in here to air it out. I’m not kidding.  His breath hadn’t been like that last week when he chatted with me.  What could’ve happened in a week?  And how could one section of the world have such bad breath?  And the other thing that is actually sad is that people in this area haven’t had good dental care.   They have dark or missing teeth, sometimes the front two teeth.  Right there in the front… an attractive person, dressed nicely, pleasant, opens their mouth and smiles and there are those dark, unattractive teeth.  Even young people.  Why wouldn’t a nation put more emphasis on the aesthetic appearance of their teeth?  And then that breath…

But, I can’t be one to talk about breath… not today.  Last night I went to a restaurant that I’ve wanted to go to for some time. Le Brulot Pasta, a place that is supposed to have real Provencal cooking.  But I’m not sure what that means, because as far as I can tell all places here have real Provencal cuisine.  It’s like being in Ocean City, MD and getting good seafood- just pick a place.  I first noticed this restaurant one evening while I was walking down a dark, skinny street.  I walked by a window well and there was a whole world in the cellar!  Lively diners, bright white stone walls; it looked so inviting!  So

Dining room in Le Brulot Pasta

Dining room in Le Brulot Pasta

last night, I decided to go and it was totally up to my expectations.  I descended down a grand spiral staircase which decreased in width as it went deeper into what felt like would be a dungeon, that suddenly opened into a beautiful, white stone walled room, that opened through stone arches to another brightly-lit arched-ceiling stone room.  It was

the %#$ GARLIC *$# cream sauce ravioli

the %#$ GARLIC *$# cream sauce ravioli

absolutely breath-taking!  But not nearly as breath-taking as that garlic cream sauce ravioli I ordered!  Whew!  G-A-R-L-I-C being the key word.  Very, very good, but the main thing on my list of things to buy before Carole and Bob arrive is mouthwash.  I seriously don’t know if I can get rid of this garlic breath in the next four days!  I felt myself biting into large chunks of garlic last night, not the cooked soggy kind, but the pieces with a nice little crunch.  And every bite had a few garlic surprises.  Garlic is one of those foods that seems like you’re not really supposed to eat and then only in tinyAntibes 9.23 (11) pieces.  So it’s a real treat when you’re served it in a dish in a nice restaurant and feel like you have permission to eat bite after bite of big chunks of garlic.  Exciting and special.  Not even the wine could cut through that garlic bite last night.  Thank goodness I was by myself.  I brought half the pasta home- it was just too rich to finish.  But I think I’m just going to throw it out.  I can’t let myself go back to round 1 fighting this garlic breath.  I’m just going to have to start now, this morning, trying to get rid of it before Carole and Bob get here, or they’ll think I’m just like all the other Frenchmen.  Now I know where they get that horrible, nasty breath.   

I wanted to tell you about leaving the restaurant.  I asked for my l’addition (pronounced luh-dissee-uhn- it’s taken me three weeks to get the “sh” sound out of that tion and say it like an s.  I just couldn’t bring myself to drop the “sh”).  I put down the correct change plus a tip.  I know, tip is included, but I’m American and also can’t bring myself to get up from the table with no tip.  It makes me feel like such a schmuck.  I had been sitting across from a small spiral staircase going upstairs and noticed the green Sortie (exit) sign my entire dinner.  It just sort of stood there, out of place in that beautiful room.  Merci, c’est tres bonne (Thank-you, it was very good) I breathed on the waiter with my fire breath.  I needed to find a mint or ice cream or something!  I took one last drink of water and got up and started up the small stairs.  Cute, but not really practical.  They were really fairly small stairs.  And they got smaller and smaller as they got to the top.  And I had to step over a wooden wagon wheel, of all things on the top step.  It felt sort of like I was in a cartoon, and then at the very top, there was a small troll-like door, that I opened and stepped right out into the street.  That was odd, but really cute.  A short, fat door, I’m 5’2” and I almost hit my head.  And not the normal parade of Merci, au revoir, merci, au revoir (thank-you, good-bye) line-up of waiters, more gushing than leaving an airplane, that are usually present when you exit a meal.  Hmmm… I guess it’s all part of the atmosphere to exit this way, but sort of a cold send-off.   Odd.  I stood on the street by myself, near the kitchen of all places, away from the well-lit Antibes 9.23 (13)entrance and I thought… wonder what that other word means next to SortieSecours?  I pulled out my pocket-sized English/French dictionary, and looked it up… Guess what it means?  Emergency.  Imagine that…  emergency exit.  Now why wouldn’t I have known an important word like that?  Most descriptive or important French words have the same root word as in English… or something similar so you can figure it out.   Dangerous is dangereux, beautiful is beau, assist is aider.  So… secours?  What’s the root word of secours… ‘let’s fuck with the dumb- ass American’?   So the blonde-haired single woman, who was the only person in the entire restaurant dining by herself, having no one to happily chat with, gets up and makes a fast exit out the emergency exit.  Out the door that no one has probably used in years.  Well, well, well… now we all know it works.  Oh well, it’ll be better when Carole and Bob get here. 

It’s so inconvenient when you don’t understand the language.  Yesterday when I was checking out at Schlecker with my liter of coke, box of Kleenex and Kinder wheat chocolate bar (really, that’s what I was holding), I stepped up to the check-out lady right behind someone who had just finished paying.  The check-out lady smiled and said something I didn’t understand.  I thought she was being nice, but a little chattier than required.  So I smiled and sort of shook my head yes like I usually do, just trying to look friendly and stepped up.  No one asked for a non-french speaking person to come visit their country so I think it’s my duty to be polite and go with the flow.  She repeated herself, I guess, who knows, and I smiled and gently nodded my head.  And then she lifted her hands and shoo-ed me away!  Like I was a stray cat.  Shoo-shoo!  Hmmm…  that wasn’t very nice… How did I know she was saying her register was closed? 

But the sales people are getting to recognize me now.  I’m the only single person “on holiday” as they say here who doesn’t appear to be leaving.  They just see me walking around a lot, trying to be friendly.  Thank goodness I was pleasant to the crew in Dessange and didn’t put up a fuss with paying the extra 10 Euros for my hair color.  I walked past their shop several times yesterday and smiled and waved.  I even walked in once and scared the dainty daylights out of Christian.  I said “J’aime moi cheveux”  (I like my hair).  Which by the way sounds almost exactly like J’aime moi cheval (I like my horse, and he wouldn’t give a damn about my horse.)  He didn’t understand me and I repeated “J’aime, J’aime” as I pointed to my hair.  Then he let out a little squeal and put his hand on his chest and let out an exaggerated sigh.  He was so relieved I was happy!  He’s so sweet.

So today, I’ll go back into Schlecker and buy some mouthwash from the lady who shooed me away yesterday and smile and say Bonjour! in that sing-song voice.  And she’ll know I don’t harbor any hard feelings from her yesterday’s agitated behavior.  I might even get real close and give her a real long, breath-y, garlic-y Booonnn jjjoooouuuuurrrrrr.  Whew-wee!

 

 As a quick follow-up… I texted Sean about my hair. “My hair looks ok.  A little ash.  thanks for all your help”.   He texted back, “it will wash out and the ash will leave… it will be ok… still having fun?”  Isn’t he nice?  So calming.

Let’s talk dirty…

France, I need to tell you something.  Lean a little closer, so you can hear me.  I’m not going to shout this and embarrass you the way the sales lady did in the Carrefour store yesterday when my credit card didn’t go through.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but there’s a problem that’s got to be taken care of.  It’s gotten out of hand.  Ready?  Ok, I’m sorry but you have to do something about your bathroom situation.  Did you hear that?  This toilette (toilet) thing has GOT TO GO!  Even the name, for god’s sake!  You have people in stores, restaurants, out and about ask “Ou sont les TOILETTES?”  (Where is the toilet?)  Now that doesn’t sound very nice does it?  In America we cover up that word.  It brings disgusting images to mind.  We say something like, “Can you tell me if you happen to have a restroom, please?”  See… we don’t say toilet… that even brings ugly smells to mind!  Yuck!  We pretend that we just need to take a little rest.  Maybe we do actually sit on the commode to rest, and hey something may or may not happen.., but that’s not the point of the question.  We just hint around at all of that with a “can you tell me” even if you would happen to have a room that one could rest in?  Get it?  You are so refined in all other aspects of life.  You’ve got to get a grip on this whole bathroom thing.  And I haven’t even gotten to the real problem yet. 

My god!!!  Clean those freaking things up!  I have never seen such dirty,

Ladies Room in train station

Ladies Room in train station

filthy places in all my life!  What the hell is the matter with you?  Didn’t your mother teach you better than this?  Your bathrooms are downright DIRTY.  Disgustingly dirty.  And I know this is going to really hurt your feelings, but you can smell them from a mile away!   Yes!  That’s right!  I don’t even have to ASK where the stinkin’ TOILETTES are… I just follow my nose! 

Maybe it’s not your fault.  Maybe it has something to do with the mechanics of your toilets compared to our “American Standard” style.  See… we even American logocall the company “American Standard”.  Now, I’m a respectful tourist and I would never try to flaunt our way around as being better than your way in anything… except, and it’s even a brand name… American Standardour American standard for a toilet.  We’ve got it right and you don’t.  I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.  We have a lever on the SIDE of the toilet that flushes the thing.  Not a button on the top that you need to push down into a cylinder with your finger and HOLD for god’s sake.  How in the world can a lady lift her foot up to flush THAT?  Maybe that has something to do with those pointy-toed shoes that France invented.  But it’s impossible.  I’ve tried and it can’t be done.  See, we’re used to being able to do the whole routine in our bathroom stalls WITHOUT TOUCHING ANYTHING!   It’s quite a trick, but we practice it from the time we’re small.  We hear our Moms in public bathrooms, authoritatively telling the kids “Don’t touch anything!”  It’s a feat, done with mostly our feet that our Moms teach us from the time we can barely even talk.  When all other conversation to us is in baby talk, in public bathrooms our Moms bellow “Don’t Touch Anything!” so we know it’s very important.  And we watch and learn how to do it. 

So when we have been trained a certain way, what in the world are we supposed to do with a BUTTON on top of the back of the toilet that has to be pushed with a finger or a crazy rope  hanging from the ceiling that we have to pull in order to flush a toilet?  Not to hurt your feelings… but… crazy!  And flush buttonI’m a smart person… but I can’t even figure out the button thing!   It’s two halves of a circle and one or both can be depressed into the shallow cylinder.  I can put my finger covering both sections and push and all hell breaks loose.  WATCH OUT!  SHE’S GONNA BLOW!  Water gushes in and swirls like the white water rapids and flushes with such gumption it jumps out of the toilet.  I know as soon as I do that ‘push’ to STAND BACK, or I’ll get sprayed.  I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating one bit.  Or I can push the right side of the circle into the cylinder and nothing happens.  Well, it pretends to flush and water churns around but nothing leaves the toilet.  It’s a faux flush.  Nothing accomplished.  So why is the right side of the button there anyway?  Why not just go for it and do the big flush each and every time?  It’s the same with every toilet I’ve encountered in France (except the ones with those goofy ropes you pull from the ceiling, but they’re not even worth addressing). 

What the hell is this about??? The choice is yours!

What the hell is this about??? The choice is yours!

I think it’s because of the French way of thinking.  It’s a known fact that French scientists approach things differently than American scientists.  The French come up with an idea, we’ll call it a theory for lack of a better word.  And they analyze, think about it, hold it up to the light and turn it around, analyze some more and generally just beat the damn thing to death before they even get started on DOING anything.  But once it’s built, that thing WORKS!  Perfectly as intended.  The Americans on the other hand, come up with an idea, and hey… they slap it together lickity-split and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t but at least then they’ve made progress!   And Americans are all about progress!  And if it doesn’t work quite right which it may not, they can go back and do it again and again and again till they get it right.  You ever hear the word “recall”?  As in a product, a toy, an appliance, a CAR?  That’s because someone slapped it together a little too hastily just to get it up and running and to generally just GET ‘ER DONE!  Hey, we may have had five or six recalls by the time the French are finally ready to put pen to paper.

So I KNOW that the toilet button was well thought out and perhaps even a little over-analyzed and it’s supposed to work.  And it does perform the exact same way every time, but somehow the functionality got lost in the mechanics of it all.  And I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it’s just a STUPID idea someone had.  Yes, it works just like it was intended to, but man, is it DUMB!!!

Wheel on Carrefour shopping cart

Wheel on Carrefour shopping cart

You guys did the same thing with the wheels on your shopping carts.  A wheel’s a wheel, for god’s sake!  It was invented a long time ago, and haven’t you ever heard the phrase… you can’t re-invent the wheel???  Then WHY did you try!  The shopping carts at Carrefour which is the largest Target-style store I have ever seen in my life have wheels that can go any which way!   The carts can turn on a dime… backwards, sideways, to the right at a 45 degree angle, to the left … boomp, butta, boomp, butta boomp… like they’re dancing… every which way but FORWARDS!  Yep that’s right, try to go straight and it Antibes 9.24 021can’t be done!  I fought with my basket for an hour in that store, trying to get it to go straight ahead.  I finally had to walk in front and pull the damn thing instead of push the handle from behind the way every basket in America operates.  Another thing that was over-analyzed too much.  Take a look at these wheels- they’re amazing and whoever came up with this idea deserves a prize.  But it’s just too complicated- it’s overkill like the choice of two buttons on the toilet for one flush and in the end it just doesn’t compare to the American way.

And I don’t want to beat a dead horse to death, even though it smells like one, but who’s fucking idea was it to build a toilet with that deep, skinny bowl and just a smidgen of water in the bottom?  Don’t you realize that that

Water level in French toilets.  This is the one in my flat.

Water level in French toilets. This is the one in my flat.

big pond of water we Americans have in our American Standard-way-of-bathroom toilets is there for a purpose?  That ‘plunk’ sound means whatever deposit was made now has its odor contained.  Covered up.  There is not enough water in your toilets to do an efficient cover-up.  Some things are meant to slide into oblivion.  Not hang around on the sidelines for repeat appearances.  I personally keep a toilet brush AND a bottle of Clorox right next to the toilet in my flat.  The toilet brush gets used practically every day!  It has to.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.    

Finally, and I know France that I’m really loading on you and you’ve had just about all that you can take, but this is important.  GET SOME SEATS FOR YOUR TOILETS!  If you ever want to have as nice as toilets as we have, you have to make it a place to rest (i.e. restrooms?).  Either someone has forgotten to put the seats on to begin with, or they’ve all been stolen.  I know, in America we have some crazy people Antibes 9.25 Italy 008that steel hubcaps and then decorate their front yard, even the trunks of trees and their porches with them.  Is it the same here?  Do you have people that have the front of their flats covered with toilet seats?  If not, I don’t know where they’re hiding them.  But you’ve got to get some toilet seats and get them installed.  I mean, it’s just ridiculous.  MOST public toilets, and even those in the nice hotel public bathrooms don’t have seats.   What’s a woman supposed to do?  I know, we never use them unless… you know.  Usually we just squat OVER them, because as you know we NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING not even with our butts, but it’s nice to know they’re there… just in case. 

Alright, I know I’ve ragged enough about the bathroom situation and I’m sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings, because I love your country, but someone had to tell it to you straight.  And I’m not going to discuss the lady’s brash behavior in the Carrefour store, because I’ve said enough things that are hard to hear… other than that it doesn’t matter that I stood in two- not one but two- ridiculously long Wal-mart style Christmas lines to pay for my things only to be told after my purchases were rung that these were Credit Card Only lines.  A sign that important should be written in French AND English no matter what part of the world it’s in and then people stacked 15 deep wouldn’t have to wait for everything to go through the tedious process of having to have each item canceled from the register.  So in a last ditch effort to try and keep everyone happy I pulled out my credit card.  I knew it wouldn’t work- I knew I had taken all my money out for this trip, but thought maybe somehow there would be a miracle and funds would suddenly appear and my card would be approved!  But no, there was no miracle on 34th Street, or Route D-35 or wherever I was.  I saw the saleslady give that blank, surprised stare into the message window on the credit card box.  I knew what was coming.  Shouldn’t she have just leaned forward and whispered that there was a slight problem?  We could both see the impatience and irritation in the faces of everyone in line.  And just to make sure they all knew the delay had absolutely nothing to do with her competence level, she felt it necessary to broadcast in a ridiculously, loud voice,  “CE N’EST PAS MARCHE” (It doesn’t work).  Ok, ok, there are other ways to call for manager assistance.  I didn’t have the opportunity to yell “I HAVE FRENCH MONEY IN MY PURSE, AND I CAN PAY”, did I?  No.  Antibes 9.12 007Luckily, the same manager who cleared my purchases from the first “credit card only” line came over to this line and as the saleslady was babbling away about my terrible autrocities, made  a very, very special exception and allowed me to give her actual money which she took to the manager’s office to make change. 

Enough said… Ok, France, now let’s just go back to being friends.

Cannes! Can it really be this nice!

Hotel Carlton in Cannes

Hotel Carlton in Cannes

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

Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, site of the Cannes Film Festival

Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, site of the Cannes Film Festival

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. 

Antibes 9.18 Cannes 011The 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

Cannes beach front

Cannes beach front

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

Restaurant in Cannes

Restaurant in Cannes

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.

Antibes 9.18 Cannes 009

Cannes

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. 

Petite Poisson

petits poissons frits

Close up of Petite PoissonI 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.

Cannes

Cannes

Villefranche-sur-Mer… I love this ville!

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefrache-sur-Mer is a romantic little village perched on the hillside overlooking a crescent-shaped crystal blue and turquoise bay of the Mediterranean dotted with beautiful sailboats.  It’s the breath-taking scene that you see in artists paintings, but this is real.   The people came to live in this village in the late 1200’s when the Duke of Provence offered the olive farmers tax-free status if they would move down from the hillside and live near the sea, providing protection from the Saracen Turks.   Now days, people come to Villefrache-sur-Mer to stroll the streets, shop in the quaint boutiques or to relax in an outdoor café overlooking the sea.  I’ve come to do my laundry. 

And there’s a good reason for that.  I’ve been trying to find a laundry since I’ve arrived in Antibes.  I found one where the lady did your clothes for you, but it was way tres cher (too expensive, literal translation ‘very dear’) for moi.  Yes, it would be ‘very dear’ for me to have some clean clothes that don’t smell, but it was just way too expensive.  Ever since I’ve been using Tom’s Natural Deodorant without the aluminum chloride that may be linked to Alzheimer’s I’ve noticed something about myself that I was unaware of before.  Sometimes I have a subtle hint of body aroma.  Or… when I walk around in the hot sun in the south of France and happen to get a little stressed over something, it turns out I have intense body aroma!   Last week I did an entire load of laundry by hand in my kitchen sink and then dried them on hangers in my apartment.  Not going to do that again.  It took forever and my hands hurt from all that squeezing.  Plus I had clothes drying all over the place for the next few days.  I started looking for a laundry with diligence recently. And still couldn’t find anything.  One was closed for the week, another was closed yesterday and not open Sunday, another was closing and it was too late to begin washing and also closed Sunday.  So nothing before Carole and Bob came.  Darn it.  I wanted to have all of this done before they arrived.   

I woke up this morning and was thinking about what I’d do today.  I thought Antibes (140)I could hang around Antibes, maybe go to the Carrefour store to get some last minute things, but that didn’t excite me.  Then I remembered how much I liked Villefrache-sur-Mer when I had seen it from the train the other day.  I looked in my guide book and saw they had an antiques market today.  Perfect!  I could check that out to see if it was something Carole would like to go to when she’s here.  Then I saw they had a laundry!  And open on Sunday!  Great!  I gathered up the most important and most highly body-scented clothes, filled two market bags (the plastic bags with handles) and I was on my way! 

I stopped by the boulangerie (bakery) and got five- way too many- of the best little pastries I’ve had since I’ve been in France.  They’re a basket-woven moist, chewy pastry dipped in chocolate.  They’re not overly sweet and with a little bit of a coconut taste.  Then I went to my favorite place for coffee, Brasserie of San Marco, where their coffee tastes like Starbucks’ café Americana.  They were closed.  Bummer.  Lots of things are closed on Sunday in Antibes, which is one of the reasons I want to be out and about today.  Although they do have a nice market that’s always lively and fun.  I’d get some coffee at the train station.  When I got there I was surprised to see that the Antibes Gare (train station) doesn’t have a snack bar.  Most do.  But Antibes (90)they did have a coffee machine.  I got the only black coffee with sugar choice, an espresso.  Look what came out of the machine!  I little teensy bit of coffee in a thin plastic cup with a plastic spatula dunked into it!  No sleeve to keep your hand from burning.  Just this teeny little amount.  I sipped it and it was surprisingly good!  I poured a little water in it from my water bottle, but wouldn’t have needed to.  It wasn’t too strong to drink as it was.  Then I had a breakfast on the train fit for a queen!  My new favorite pastries and delicious coffee.   And on my way to a wonderful, little seaside town.  How very, very nice. 

I got on the train headed towards Villeneuve.  I thought that was the French spelling of Vetimiglia, but it turns out it’s a little town just north of Antibes.  Luckily for me, it wasn’t in the opposite direction.  The train stopped in Nice.  Villefrache-sur-Mer is a few stops past Nice and I really didn’t pay attention at the Nice stop because I assumed we were just stopping to let people get on and off.  I was typing away on my computer when suddenly I realized it was real quiet.  I looked up- all the lights were off and there was nobody on the train!  What the?  I didn’t realize that EVERYONE had gotten off!  And that no one else came on.  I gathered up my bags of dirty clothes, my computer, glasses and purse and scrambled myself off.  I don’t know what would’ve happened had I stayed on. 

I went into see what voie (platform) the train going to Villefrache-sur-Mer would be leaving from.  Voie  F.  Good enough.  I went out to voie F and there was an old rickety train.  I guess since it’s such a local stop we don’t get the fast, sleek new trains.   I got on.  Warm seat, someone had obviously just gotten off.  Again, I realized I was the ONLY one on the train?  How the?  I waited and finally a few stragglers meandered their way on board.  But they looked hesitant.  Then they got off.  Why were all the people just standing on the platform staring and the train, but no one was boarding?  Next I heard the conductor outside going down the train closing doors and yelling something.  Whoa, time to get off for sure.  Everyone was still standing on the platform looking at the empty train.  There was a TV-style screen blinking with a message.  “Interdire Monter”.  Hmmm… well, wonder what that could mean?  I got out my English/French dictionary.  Interdiere means PROHIBITED!  What???  And interdire means as far as I could tell, to climb or get on.   Ok, getting on this train is PROHIBITED!  Rather a strong word, don’t you think?  Who knows what they had been announcing on the loud speaker.  They only announce in French, never English.  If the hazmat guys came with their fumigation apparatus I was going to get real worried.  As it was, the workmen climbed on the side of the train and rode it to somewhere down the track.  Who knows?  I just hope I don’t get sick with something… some horrible viral agent that got loose on the train before its last stop. 

Eventually they changed Voie F to Voie G and a normal train came screeching in and away I went to Villefrache-sur-Mer.  What an absolutely amazing little place!  If you’re ever in the south of France, Villefranche is one

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer

of those places you have to stop and see.  Just charming.  I guess the Duke wanted to really entice those olive farmers to move down to the sea front, because someone built the most adorable Old Town village for these guys… charming narrow streets all winding down to the sea with tall straight homes in pastel colors.    If you ever wanted to see how a town could be built into a side of a mountain, you have to see Villefranche.  Take a look at the Antibes (92)photo to the right.  That orange house which is now a very prime piece of real estate overlooking the Mediterranean was once some poor guy’s house in 1295 who was right on the front line of defense.  Funny how property values change.  Today, the shops and cafes make it a place where you just feel lucky to be there and experience!

I found the laundry, a little shop with four washers and two driers.  The only problem I had in there was that the place where you put in your coins was on the opposite wall than the machines.  One box for all six appliances.  It took me a while to figure that out since it wasn’t on the machine itself.  I put in my wash, walked around the antique market awhile

Me coming out of the laundry with my clean clothes!

Me coming out of the laundry with my clean clothes!

(40 minute cycle) and then put the things in the dryer and they were finished in another 15-20 minutes.  Finis!  (Finished).  How lucky was that?  Now Bob and Carole won’t be looking all over my apartment for the dead animal they thought they could smell. 

Then I went to one of the cafes overlooking the sea, Le Cosmo and had what I think is the best lunch since I’ve been in the Riviera.  Maybe except for the fabulous pasta I had in Ventimiglia, Italy the other day.  It was white meat chicken pieces marinated with honey and ginger in a salad made mostly of endive and bean sprouts.   Yum, yum.  So, so good.  And a glass of red wine.  I wouldn’t have gotten the red wine except that the two wonderful gentlemen who asked me to join them at their table for lunch offered to buy me a drink as they were drinking their rose wine.  They ended up buying me my entire lunch- but that’s not what made it special.  They were so much fun to talk to!  They spoke English and laughed easily and heartily, something the oh-so-refined French just don’t do in first-time (or second or third-time) meetings as far as I can tell.  These guys lived in the fabulous Provincial town of Aix and have a large wooden sail boat that they sail around Europe.  Both had originally been from Amsterdam.  They had made a fortune it seems in several different businesses and they had a wonderfully refreshing view on life.  It just felt light and fun to be in their presence.  During the conversation I could see that they were a couple who really admired and appreciated each other and I’m not sure why they asked me to join them- not for the possibility of hooking up, for sure.  But they did ask me to join them in St. Tropez at the end of the week, during the famous classic wooden sailboat races.  But I have Bob and Carole coming and they really admire and appreciate each other too (and I’m not entirely kidding) and are equally as fun to be with, so I’ll take a rain check. 

the sea at Villefranche-sur-Mer

the sea at Villefranche-sur-Mer

By the way, look how clear the Mediterranean is here, like in most of the Riviera.  The water is about eight feet deep in this picture.  It’s so clear you can see not only the bottom but also little black fish swimming around. 

I got back to Antibes with no problems.  I was really tired though.  Lugging two bags of laundry all around a town that’s built on a hillside gets heavy, especially with my computer.  Why I thought I Antibes (141)should take my computer on a sight-seeing/laundry day is beyond me.  I was bushed!  It was all I could do to walk a couple blocks out of my way after getting off the train in Antibes to exchange a movie.  I had bought one there the other day- rentals are almost the same price as a purchase for the titles on sale, and got it home and voila!  All French, no English.  I entertain myself with movies here because I can actually understand what people are saying, so you can imagine my disappointment when I realized I had chosen to purchase a non-English speaking movie.  I exchanged it for some other shallow chick-flick which I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching. 

Antibes (162)I came home and finished getting everything ready for Bob and Carole.  They’re arriving Monday morning at 8:20 which means I have to get to the Antibes train station by 7:00 to allow myself enough time to get to Nice, then bus it over to the airport.  Wouldn’t it be awful if I overslept and left them standing in a foreign airport all by themselves with no idea where to go?  I’d never do that.

 

 

 

Antibes (94)

Getting sacked… and Vanna White francais style!

Would someone please tell me what it is with the French and their precious bags?  When did all of this stinginess begin?  My god, they’ll wrap a little insignificant purchase like an eclair in a cute little box, with paper folded, turned, folded, turned, folded, taped and tied with a bow!  But ask for a bag for an armful of purchases and you think you had just told them that they need to clean up where their dog shit on the carpet.  There is nothing that brings on more disdain in a Frenchman’s face than asking for a sac (bag). 

Antibes 9.30 080They already know me in Schleckers.  They’re almost to the point of being cordial and then they get to ringing the last item of my purchases and then… they know I always  need to buy the 2 cent bag… turn with a look of disgust and say “sac”?   And it took a month to get them to even ask!  Such a persnickety attitude!   And I say, “Oui! S’il vous plait.  Merci!”  (Yes.  Please.  Thank you!).  I can’t get anymore fucking friendlier than that.  But it doesn’t work.  They still look at me with disgust, and reach for their  stupid 2 cent bag and glare at me as they put my purchases in.  And that’s on a good day.  Usually they just throw the bag on top of my goods, and… transaction complete.  Totally ignore me.  I could stand there and literally melt and they would ignore me.  After my two cents for the sac changes hands they want nothing, absolutely nothing to do with me.  I don’t know what they expect me to do with the 15 items I purchase if I didn’t get a bag.  I suppose everyone else comes prepared with their mother’s (or grandmother’s before that) little straw shopping basket.

The other day I stopped in a French-country convenience shop in Old Town to get a liter of coke.  Owner was friendly, happy, glad I came in, and then I asked for a sac.  Eh, oh.  That glare of sac disgust as he pulled the flimsiest, smallest possible bag out from who knows where- they keep them hidden under the counter so no one could ever have the chance to steal one- and stuffed my coke into it.  The handles didn’t even come to half way the height of the bottle.  “Puix-je avoir un plus grand sac?”  (Can I have a bigger bag?).  Was I freaking crazy?  Did I really think he would just hand over a bigger bag?  See, I also need them to put in my little kitchen trash can because I have to carry my trash a block to one of the town’s tiny trash bags for pick up.  (That’s the way they do their trash pick-up here).  I NEED these normal size bags like we get so freely in the states when we buy groceries.  “Non, non, non” Mr. Hairy Bad-Breath said as his nostril hairs jumped in his nasal breeze.  But… I showed him how the flimsy plastic handles on the little bag coming 1/3 of the way up couldn’t hold the bottle- it was a worthless bag.  “Non, non, non”.  He wouldn’t budge.  “Mais je vais marcher loin d’ ici”.  (But I have a long way to walk).  Not totally perfect French but he got the idea.  “NON”.  I started whining in English and leaned across his miniature counter and pointed at the normal-sized plastic but still flimsy bags.  Je voudrais cette sac.  (I want this bag, asshole).    He glared at me as his bad breath hit me in the face.  And he slowly reached for the bigger bag and dropped it onto the counter under the thump of his heavy hand.  His eyes never left mine.  “Merci!  (Thank-you) And go buy yourself a nose hair trimmer!”  I actually just said merci.  I was afraid to say the other part. 

Then yesterday another run-in with the lanky guy who owns the boulangerie (bakery).  I bought a demi-baguette (half a baguette).  I had been saying baguette-demi before one faux (as in being a fake) nice shop owner from another store corrected me.  She told me I was saying one and a half baguettes and if I wanted only a half then get it straight.  Demi-baguette.  As in next time she was going to give me what the fuck I asked for and I’d have to pay for it.  Ok- got it.  So this guy gave me my half baguette, put the 5”x5” tissue paper under it, pulled up the sides and twisted the top and you have a little Kleenex-thin paper covering the baguette where you hold it if you were going to carry it like that and laid it on his dirty counter where everyone sets their goods and puts their change.  Voila!  Oh no, how about a little baguette paper bag?  They look like a sleeve that the bread just slides into.  They’re never long enough and half of it sticks out and gets dirty, but it’s better than nothing.   And with half a baguette the bag just about covers the whole thing.  “Non”.  What the?  A stupid paper skinny bag to put my bread in???  “Non”.  Give me the damn bag!  “Non”.  Fuck you, give me the bag!  The verbal communication from my side wasn’t quite that, it was more like Je VOUDRAIS un SAC!  (I WOULD LIKE a BAG!) but my eyes said it all.  This time I was the one glaring.  He told me I’d have to buy two halves in order to get a bag.  In the end, Mr. Lanky-pants won and I walked out of the boulangerie holding my baguette with a tissue wrapped around the middle, open to the air for all germs to set up housekeeping.  The funny thing was, I have no idea why I asked for a half a baguette to begin with.  Carole and Bob are here (yeah!) and we chomped through that little half in the blink of an eye.  I’m going to have to go back to Carrefour where the bags are at the self-checkout counter.  There I can buy as many as I want and no one will know. 

French Wheel-of-

French Wheel-of-Fortune

Oh my god!  You should see the Vanna White on the French style Wheel-of-Fortune!  I thought I was looking at a wind-up Barbie doll!  This lady is gorgeous in a not even real sort of way!  How could anyone have the bone structure from the long legs, long neck, thin rib cage and high forehead as a Barbie doll?  I had read somewhere that a Barbie shape is so anatomically disproportionate from a real body that in real life the person would look bizarre.  Well, let me tell you what abnormally weird looks like then.  Amazingly beautiful!  And she struts around- she actually really walks with those beautiful long

French version of Vanna

French version of Vanna

legs that look like they’ve been stretched as long as they can go- and touches the letters and I sit there mesmerized, watching the TV screen.  She gets more airtime than our Vanna White, but no wonder.  And let me first say that I think our Vanna White is one of the smartest TV personalities ever.  She has worked steadily for over 25 years- no problem with job security for her.  And when they digitalized the letters she even kept her job!  There was absolutely no reason for her to come to work, like in the automobile factories when they got robots to do

French Vanna

French Vanna

what the workmen had been doing, and the workers became non-essential.  But not Vanna White… she kept herself essential!  But our Vanna, compared to the French Vanna suddenly looks like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies.

And guess what the French Pat Sajak comes with… a dog!  Yep, every night Antibes 10.1 015he appears with his very own stupid la chien! (dog!).  That’s how important dogs are in France- they even go to work with the host of a game show!  Give me a break.  I would say the dog gets about the same amount of airtime as our Vanna White.

The game is played exactly the same here as in the states, and even though it’s in French, body language is universal.  You could turn off the sound and

hit "bankrupt"!

hit "bankrupt"!

not try to figure out the missing letters (since it’s in French), and you would think you were watching our Wheel-of-Fortune on a week when Pat and Vanna were both on vacation.  You know, like Regis or Kelly sometimes step away for a week to take a break.  And the audience makes the same sounds, for instance when the spinner has $10,000 Euros and hits the bankrupt slot and losses all their money… that long declining aawwwwww.  The only thing I saw that was different was… the prize cars!  Look at these cars they give away.  Instead of a quasi-luxury sedan,

Prize cars on French Wheel-of-Fortune

Prize cars on French Wheel-of-Fortune

look what your prize could be in Europe!  One of these little Playmobil cars.  But everyone cheered and ooh and aah-ed so I guess they’re desirable. 

As I mentioned, Carole and Bob are here!  I found them in the airport by some streak of luck.  Terminal 1 or Terminal 2.  I had to get on a bus from a train stop I had not departed from before, and then tell the bus driver at which stop to let me off – the stop for the shuttle to Terminal 2 or some other far away stop for the shuttle to Terminal 1.  I vaguely remember the girl sitting next to me in the plane last month when I arrived telling me we were coming into Terminal 2.  So I guessed that- 50% chance I was right.  The shuttle dropped me at Terminal 2 and sure enough there were other incoming international flights and I found theirs!  I could tell by the relief on their faces that they had had just a tinge of thinking that I would never find them.

The apartment is a little small for me by myself, 18’x18’.  That includes the bathroom, closets, kitchen, bedroom that turns into the wall and turns around into the dining table, everything.  But the location is fabulous- right in charming Old Town amongst the winding, cobblestone streets and I really wanted them to experience living here, where I’ve enjoyed so much over this last month.   For three people it’s somewhat tight.  When we want to move around, we all stand up, one right behind the other, get close together and shuffle together across the room.  And we’ve worked out the bathroom situation.  When one person feels the need to use the bathroom, the other two just have to get out of the apartment for a period of time and find something else to do.  Hey, it works!  And I’m just glad they came to visit.

Carole and Bob in front of Renoir's house (museum)

Carole and Bob in front of Renoir's house (museum)

Doing it all in the south of France!

Carole and Bob went home.  It was fun and busy.  We had a week of whirlwind having lunch in Italyactivity- we did Monaco with all its glitz, Cagnes-sur-Mer and the Renoir museum, little Juan-les-Pins on the hokey petite train, and boisterous Nice.  We visited quaint, charming St. Paul de Vence and could feel the history even through the heavy layer of commercialism.  Somehow the little shops had a charm of their own.  I guess it’s fairly easy to pull off when you’re housed in a 400 year-old stone building with the right decorative lighting and beautiful 2 feet wide stone walls on a cobblestone street.  And we did Ventimiglia.  Wonderful, noisy, assertive, Italian, heart-warming Ventimiglia.  If you’ve ever been to this city just across the Italian border, you know what I mean.  There is a part of you that will always feel an attachment. 

We did so much when Carole and Bob were here.  We did take the time to lie on the beach, the first time in over a month I was on the beach.  I’m not sure why- it was pleasant enough.  I love it here which is why I wanted my sisters and family to come so badly.  I wanted them to experience all that I’ve seen and the things I appreciate and enjoy so much.  There are so many new and different sights and sensations here- I’m in awe.  And I’ve had time to feel the rhythms of the towns- as individual as its people.  It’s hard to let all of that soak in in one week, but I think Carole and Bob felt a touch of the same appreciation as I have.  I hope so.   

Wonderful food, good drinks, and fun things to do and see.  A very nice week that will always bring back pleasant memories. 

Monaco

Monaco

Monaco-

 An absolutely beautiful city… perched against a mountain.  The city runs lateral AND vertical which is very confusing.  We couldn’t get out of the train station to the water.  We knew we were underground, as we were on level -14.  So we did what was natural- we went to level 1 and stepped off.  We had panoramic views of the city, the Mediterranean and the mountains.  But we were obviously nowhere near the water where we wanted to have lunch.  Duh.  The train level empties out into various levels; it’s hard to have any idea where you are in relation to where you want to be.  Truly- a vertical city. 

But we did find our way to the port and the beach.  Or should I say what had been the natural waterfront.  Oh, my my… did someone impact that coastline.  Billions of tons of cement have been brought in and the beautiful coast is encased in cement.  Lined with various souvenir shops selling cheap things for very, very high prices.  A pair of rubber no-name flip-flops were $40 US dollars.  Hello.  Our lunch which we had sitting on a massive cement walkway next to the water cost $100 US dollars.  It was ok. 

Someone built a grand auditorium not just next to the water, but actually impeding over the water.  Where it clearly looks like it doesn’t belong.  Why try and cover up beautiful nature?  The “waterfront” walkway, which runs through the auditorium has cold, impersonal massive square pillars holding up more ugly weight with empty concrete on both sides.  Not nice.  An older local lady on the bus who was going to pick up her grandchildren from school commented that they’ve ruined the natural beauty of Monaco.  I imagine a lot of people agree with her.  The city can’t breathe- it’s smothered in concrete. 

The Old Town surrounding the palace where Prince Albert lives has a sweet charm.  It almost felt like you were in a living fairytale, except that all the souvenir shops just feet from the palace selling ridiculous little boys’ Grand Prix racing outfits snapped you back into reality.  Wonder why the Prince

Bob with the artillery on "The Rock" in Monaco

Bob with the artillery on "The Rock" in Monaco

would allow all of that nonsense to smudge the beautiful stone streets and ornate antique buildings that permeate original Old World character?  Who knows?  Maybe he figured even the subjects need to make a living. 

But sitting on the high cliff-like hilltop surrounded by the old cannons and metal balls it’s easy to be taken back in time when protection of the city was of primary importance.  That prime, high location, surrounded by the sea has allowed this little area to remain an independent country for almost 800 years.  Experiencing that sense of history and taking in the fabulous panoramic vertical and horizontal views of the city sweeping around the sea is truly breath-taking.  In spite of the overindulgence in cement and tacky souvenir shops.

Ventimiglia-

Bustling, easy Ventimiglia!  The waiters in restaurants are mostly older men

Ventimiglia

Ventimiglia

that are probably family or friends of the owners from years and years and are just as close.  There’s a caring in everything.  They care that you get a seat, the market people care that you get exactly what you want, the busy city cares that you feel at home.  When you go to Ventimiglia you feel that you’re having dinner at Uncle Vinnie’s house with all of his loving, mildly-annoying brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins.  They’re glad you’re there and you feel it, even though they’re involved in their own flurry of expressive activity.  Step inside the city and you know they think of you as family. 

We brought back lots of things from their huge Friday market- Italian shoes,

Ventimiglia's beach

Ventimiglia's beach

cashmere and silk scarves, shirts made in Italy, costume jewelry, but what ranks up there as one of the best is the bag of pasta we bought at a little wine and chocolate shop.  Carole made a fabulous dinner on their last night here with some sort of thinly sliced ham she bought from the Antibes market, and garlic, cream, pesto, parmesan cheese from the market (freshly-grated by Bob) and the Italian pasta.  We couldn’t stop eating it.  And along

my pasta dish I threw together

my pasta dish I threw together

with our wonderful $3.00 wine (for the bottle that is) it was a meal fit for royalty.  That pasta had the best flavor- it tasted liked freshly-made pasta and it brought Ventimiglia to dinner.  We had some of the dinner left, which I had the next day for lunch.  Yum!  Just as good as the night before.  And then I still had some of the plain pasta that she had cooked.  I made this little dish for dinner of broccoli sautéed in olive oil with garlic, tomatoes, crème sauce and that wonderful pasta.  Sprinkled with the fresh parmesan.  I had it with a glass of Perrier (it’s ridiculously inexpensive here) and a slice of lime.  What an amazing dinner!  And of course Kinder chocolates for dessert. 

 

Ventimiglea- on one of the commercial streets

Ventimiglia- on one of the commercial streets

Renoir museum and Cagnes-sur-Mer-

Every musee (museum) should be like the Renoir musee in Cagnes-sur-Mer! 

behind Renoir's house

in front of Renoir's house

This is actually Pierre’s very own house, where he spent his last 12 years.  He had this heavenly place built in the rolling hills between Antibes and Nice with a gentle view of the Mediterranean a few miles beyond.  Breath-taking.  His house is furnished with many of his own things- his bed, his wheelchair, his studio couches seen in his paintings, sofas, chairs, wardrobes, dressers.  And his to-die-for bathroom with original fixtures.  Very modern for the early 1900’s.  It almost feels like you’re visiting him and his wife Aline and they’re ready to walk in and apologize for being late.    His paintings hang on the walls all around, along with his close friends’ sculptures and paintings.  His hands were so crippled with arthritis in his later years that he had to have a friend manifest what he saw in his mind’s eye.  His studio looks like he just stepped out for lunch, and in fact he painted the morning of the day he died.  It’s all so personal and quite touching. 

I can’t figure out why Aline had her own house.  The main home sits surrounded by his pleasant gardens and olive trees and there, just a few steps down a path is a smaller home.  What really made this interesting is that she had the best room by far in the main house as her bedroom.  He had his bedroom and she had hers and what a room she had!   An expansive floor-to-ceiling eyebrow shaped glass window that opened to the unbelievably beautiful view of the rolling hills touching the sea.  His room had a smaller window.  Nice but not like hers.  The little bit of history given explaining some of the possessions portrayed a friendly marriage.  Maybe she was just a gal who knew what she wanted and made it happen.  Or maybe she got tired of all his friends traipsing in and out and coming to stay and told him to build her her own place if he knew what was good for him.  I can’t figure it out.  But she definitely had a husband that appeared to value her and three sons that admired their parents enough to protect the family’s belongings and give everything back so the rest of us could vicariously spend a day with the Renoirs.

Cagnes-sur-Mer

Cagnes-sur-Mer

Cagnes-sur-Mer is a town that feels made up of residents, not tourists- but I’m sure it’s crowded in the summer.   Look how clear the Mediterranean is!  Typical rocky beach, however. 

water in Cagnes-sur-Mer

water in Cagnes-sur-Mer

 

 

 

St Paul-de-Vence-

Carole loved it, to Bob and me it felt like we were in Disney World.  A perfectly portrayed Old World village sitting atop a picturesque hill makes this one of the most famous villages in France.  And everyone has found out about it and come to Antibes 10.4 017visit, including all the artists and store owners who have set up shop there.  Although I did find a wonderful little women’s shop that had beautiful blouses for $10 Euros, and incredibly low-priced, unique bracelets and necklaces.  I bought Christine and Erin a top (now the surprise is ruined!)

St. Paul-de-Vence

St. Paul-de-Vence

and myself a couple tops.  Carole bought a lot of things and went back and forth all day long on whether to buy Maude a $15 dress- she just wasn’t sure if she’d like it.  In the end she didn’t, but kept thinking about it, long after we were home.  So much so that I’m still expecting her call to have me get my fat ass back on the bus, go up the hill and into the old walled city to buy the dress.  We’ll see.  She’s going to be sorry she doesn’t have it at Christmas time. 

Nice-

We had to do Nice.  Nice is France’s 5th largest city and it feels like it.  It’s

Nice

Nice

big, bustling, busy, impersonal, but Nice!  Filled with all the character one would expect and a splendid Old Town.  As happens often in the south of France, we were surprised by an unexpected performance.  On the day we were there, in the middle of crowded Old Town’s Place Rossetti Square there was an Elvis Presley impersonator on stage singing and doing quite a nice job!  We had gelato standing next to the Cathedral of St. Reparate, a baroque-styled church from the 1500’s beautifully decorated inside and out with

Me in Nice- I love the doors in France!

Me in Nice- I love the doors in France!

fresh flowers which may have come from that day’s busy flower market.  While listening to Elvis singing “My Way”.  I love this place.

Well, thanks Carole and Bob!  It was a fun, active week!  And I’m glad we got to celebrate Bob’s birthday in the middle of it.  Happy Birthday, Bob!   By the way, it’s always nice to get back to Antibes. 

the street to my flat in Antibes

the street to my flat in Antibes

And… CONGRATULATIONS TO MATT for his incredible marathon run last Sunday!  He qualified for Boston!