A girl and her father at the door of Notre Dame du Puy Cathedral in Grasse.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Mas de Clairefontaine, Le Tignet, France

Having located the blue Honda, we decided to try driving it more than two blocks. So we reserved a room for tonight in a B&B 10 kilometers southwest of Grasse, which is only a 15-minute drive from Mougins, where the car was parked. Mars de Clairefontaine is an old stone house on a hillside with a little swimming pool. We found it in Michelin Charming Places to Stay: 1000 hotels and guesthouses in France for less than €80, a highly recommended guide, based on our first use of it.

We explored the oldest part of Grasse this afternoon. The cathedral, where a wedding was taking place, dates back 800 years, and the streets are narrow and ancient but filled with the usual opportunities for tourists to leave money behind. Darlene and I agreed over a dessert of bananas, ice cream and hot chocolate that watching the other people takes up about 80 percent of our attention on one of these strolling explorations of a place we’ve never been.

I like the photo, because it captures my sense of wonder at the age of the buildings in a city like Grasse, and also the fact that, even in the face of centuries of history, what I’m most drawn to are the lives of the people who are still here.

Peaches at this morning's open-air Forville market in Cannes.

Friday, September 10, 2004


Finally, after a week of cooing how cool Cannes can be
if one is a sensitive poet/reviewer/observer of life,
we get real with a foul mood, sulk through the fresh fruit,
refuse to choose among twenty frigging different kinds of olives,
mope up the steps to La Place du 18 Juin, decline
to parler with Agnès when she brings the coffee,
bark at Poopsie for stopping to admire a pair of pink shoes,
glower at the clerk who takes his sweet-ass time
ringing up my copy of Le Monde,
and wish I were someplace more exciting
than this scooter-crazed cul-de-sac
of topless Euro-tans and yachts.

I can’t wait to kiss someone goodbye
on the wrong cheek and go back home—
where my smart, dark mood knows the local language
and always keeps his portmonteau packed for the next place
where I will dream I've given him the slip.

Darlene doing a lunge with her trainer, Etienne, looking on.

Meanwhile, back at the health club named Soft, two blocks from the apartment, Darlene was having a great day. She is getting ready for an 11k road race on September 19th, and today is the first day she began to believe she will be able to finish the race, much of it uphill. She ran 8.3 kilometers on the treadmill and didn’t die. Her trainer, Etienne, was assigned to her because his English is the best of anyone’s on the staff. They each understand half of what the other is saying, and it’s working out fine. Despite the workouts and aerobics, Darlene regrets to report that, thanks to raspberry tarts and baguettes, she is still gaining weight.

Three pastry chefs in Mougins.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

In what turned out to be an excess of confidence, I assured Francoise’s friends Claude and Regine that, since they had taken us to the bus stop and shown us which bus to take, we would have no trouble finding Francoise’s blue Honda at the other end, in the town of Mougins, just north of Cannes. “You swear you can do it?” Regine asked in French, looking worried. Absolutely, I assured her. Darlene and Claude looked worried, too. But perhaps because I had finished the first draft of my latest book review this morning, I felt all-seeing, able to find a blue Honda in a French haystack.

After leaving the bus in Mougins, we spotted Les 4 Saisons patisserie across the street and decided to take some refreshment before the easy walk to Francoise’s car. The three chefs happily posed for a photo, and the one on the right corrected my French when I tried to ask what they were making. When he answered the question he had corrected, I had no idea what he was saying, but they looked good. After fresh squeezed orange juice, a tart and an éclair, we waved goodbye to the three chefs and started walking.

Well, we walked a long way. Somehow we had gotten off one stop too soon, and somehow I misunderstood the directions to Residence Les Hauts du Golfe provided by a realtor whose office I stepped into for help. We took a wrong turn at a rotary and found ourselves trying to stay alive on a nine-inch strip of sidewalk beside a busy highway, in 80-degree heat. “I can’t believe Francoise would put up with this every time she gets her car,” Darlene snapped over her shoulder. “We must be really lost.” I knew she was right when people we pestered did not even recognize the name of the place we were trying to find. Finally, two policewomen in a tiny squad car made it clear we had walked a long way in the wrong direction. Knowing how perilous the return was going to be, I asked if they could possibly give us a lift, but they said no, it was against regulations. “You could arrest us,” I offered.

We eventually found the gated community where the blue Honda was resting in space number 60. By this time, our plan to visit the Matisse Chapel in Vence was scrapped, so I simply drove the Honda out the gate, around the block, and back to space 60. Taking the bus home was a snap, and we tumbled into a café at 6:30 p.m., starved and, as usual, the only people eating supper at such an ungodly early hour.

Darlene says the adventure shows how little things can become big because of the language barrier. But it was still a great adventure, capped off by the grail-like sight of that blue Honda in space number 60.

Self-portrait at my usual table, Brasserie Carnot.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I am a sedentary tourist. My idea of world travel is to go a considerable distance from home and then not see anything that everyone says I should see. In Cannes, I am happy to work on my writing for three mornings in a row at the same table at the same café two blocks from the apartment. The Brasserie Carnot is a combination bar-coffeeshop-café with a two-story ceiling, marble floor, cherry bar, no piped-in music, no to-go cups, no web site, few cellphone conversations, and no one else working on a lap-top computer except me. In fact, few people even read the paper over their coffee or beer. They mostly sit and watch the scooters, cars and trucks race through la Place du 18 Juin, or visit with friends.

My inertia drives Darlene bats, which means I will eventually venture further than two blocks from the apartment and see some sights. That’s why we bring walkie talkies, so she can roam widely while I sit, reading or writing, and we can still check in with each other. “Chopper One to Chopper Two,” I will hear on my Motorola. “Come in, Chopper One…”

Squeegee kids and the law.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Boulevard Carnot, Cannes

Yesterday at the intersection where Boulevard Carnot delivers its heavy traffic into Place du 18 Juin, I saw two squeegee kids, no more than 15 years old, washing windshields of stopped cars, whether the drivers wanted the service or not. One non-customer received a gratis swirl of soap on the windshield, un-squeegeed. Another cleverly avoided a cleaning by turning on his windshield wipers. I’d planned to take photos of the boys at work this morning, but instead captured them talking to a policeman who swooped up the sidewalk on his scooter and got out a pad to write on. The officer inspected their blue bottles of soap and found extras stashed in a planter. I couldn’t determine what penalty the boys faced, but soon after the encounter, traffic was flowing without their services.

Monday afternoon at The Feeling Cafe.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The Feeling Café, three blocks down Boulevard Carnot from the apartment, has a sign over the bar that reads, “AFIN DE GARDER LE BON FEELING, PAS DE CREDIT ENTRE NOUS,” which translates roughly, “In order to keep the good feeling, no credit between us.” The man in the photo appears to have lost the good feeling, at least for a moment.

I woke up amazed and delighted to be in Cannes this morning, but the day brought a full palette of feelings, including my usual first-draft writer’s willies as I wrestled with a new book review this morning at another café on the boulevard. Sometimes my high school French is surprisingly adequate, which makes me feel worldly, able to tune in reality on two separate frequencies. Other times my French stutters and stalls, and I feel like a tourist-barbarian who hasn’t even figured out which cheek to kiss first. Right cheek to right, then left to left? Or the other way around?

Darlene did figure out how to lift weights in kilograms today with the help of a health club trainer named Etienne. I figured out how to swim in the Mediterranean for a half-hour without paying Plage Royale rates. Welcome to the public beach, madames et monsieurs!

A day at the beach, Cannes style, at Plage Royale (if you click on the link you'll hear the sound of the surf on their web site.) The water must have been nearly 80 degrees, perfect for a long swim. About half the women (of all ages) were calmly topless on their chaises but most of them suited up when they approached the water. I assumed none of them would welcome photos for the blog, thus this tasteful scene of the royale rug.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?