On the public beach in front of the Cannes Film Festival Palace, men wearing towels as skirts are usually about to remove their wet swimsuits and switch to something more comfortable for the walk home. It?s a moon-risking maneuver that takes considerable practice.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

On this warm, breezy afternoon the Mediterranean is the clearest it’s been yet, so I can see more sand, rocks, and fish during my half-hour of Australian crawl. I enjoy slapping through the choppy water like a small boat. When I turn my head to breathe, I glimpse either yachts in the harbor or the Film Palace’s flags flapping above the sunbathers. Afterward, warming up on my towel beside Darlene, I close my eyes and settle into the wind-muffled, incomprehensible hum of foreign language all around me.

Just past the two-week mark, we are settling into this place and into each other’s presence with an ease which, today at least, made everything seem precious and new. At some point on a long trip, I have noticed, enough memories of home slip away that we seem to lighten up and dance together more freely, with fewer expectations and regrets.

Eros Leotta in the male version of a Mona Lisa smile after lunch today at Ristorante Hanbury in Ventimiglia, Italy.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Today we drove to Italy and back. The occasion was the arrival of Valerie Ellis, a Bennington classmate of mine, and her husband, Eros Leotta, who is on a temporary medical assignment in Monte Carlo. Eros lived in Italy until his early thirties. He and Valerie now live in Chicago. Eros suggested we visit Ventimiglia, because on Fridays it hosts one of the largest open-air markets in Europe. Darlene and I drove the blue Honda to Monaco, and from there Eros guided us across the Italian border into another world.

As we inched into town in heavy traffic, he warned us away from what looked like a prime parking area, because he saw that it was, in reality, a public space that had been turned into an ad hoc business by shady characters with no right to charge money for parking there. He helped Darlene bargain in Italian at the market, which stretched more than a mile between ancient buildings and a pebbled beach. And he taught me the basics of crossing the street in Italy. “There are no rules,” Eros said as he sauntered into traffic between two crosswalks. As I skittishly hurried to keep up with him, he calmly explained, “In Italy, we all have our own rules--if the authorities arrest you, that’s a random event, and you accept it.”

Two guys not obsessed with fashion visit on the Croisette in Cannes.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

It was actually too cool to swim today, and wind had whipped the waves up too high, as well. So I took a pass on my daily swim and accompanied Darlene downtown for one of our shopping/reading expeditions. As usual, I ended up tired of finding no good chairs to commandeer in the fashionable stores, so it was time to turn on the walkie-talkies. I camped out at a café with today’s Le Monde and a book of Coleridge’s poems I’d just purchased at the stuffy English Bookstore. Darlene headed off for some varsity shopping and by evening had scored two killer bathing suits and a top.

Later, along the Croisette, I saw so many wonderful characters that I wanted to take photos every 10 feet. On the seaside promenade at the end of the day in Cannes, everyone looks like as if they should be in a movie--even the obviously American tourist in khaki Bermuda shorts, an Ocean Park Maine t-shirt, baggy tan socks, and a Tilley’s canvass hat, the one pretending to photograph trees and clouds with his digital camera.

Darlene waits on the stairs for help.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Darlene this morning walked for an hour and fifteen minutes to a jogging store to register for the 11k race, then walked home in time for the hardest workout she’s had since arriving here—an hour of upper-body workout, followed by 11k on the treadmill, with the first 25 minutes set to replicate hills. Afterward she could barely get up the four flights of stairs to the apartment. But for some reason (she wanted cream for her coffee) she agreed to go out with me for a few errands and supper somewhere. I had e-mailed my Juniper Fuse piece to Bloomsbury Review earlier in the afternoon, then did my daily swim in the Med, so I was feeling tuned and foolproof as I grabbed a key from the key rack in the kitchen. It wasn’t until the heavy door to the apartment thumped shut behind us, locking automatically, that I realized I had taken the key to the blue Honda, not the house keys.

I knocked on the door of the second-floor apartment, which is a school of some kind, and a woman named Bridgette said the only thing to do was to call a locksmith, which she immediately did. While waiting in the stairs for the locksmith to call back with an estimate on when he would get there, I belatedly followed Darlene’s initial advice that we try to contact Leila, the woman who had cleaned the apartment on Monday, who works across the street at the Cavendish Hotel and has a key to the apartment. The front desk clerk at the Cavendish called Leila, who said she would drive right in with the key. Meanwhile, the locksmith showed up. I didn’t want Leila to make a special trip for nothing, so I explained to the locksmith that we were okay and didn’t need his services. I offered to pay him, but he said that wasn’t necessary. Leila arrived. We are back in the apartment. Darlene doesn’t know whether to kill me for locking us out or be grateful to me for getting us back in, so she’s simply reading a mystery. It’s titled Death of a Hollow Man.

The Croisette promenade in Cannes after a rare day of rain.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The weather changed today, and so, it seems, did our sense of confidence. After 11 days of unbroken sunshine, I woke up thinking I heard rain outside, but I didn’t have my glasses on yet, so I couldn’t actually see rain when I looked out a window. Yes, it was raining, and by afternoon it was raining hard enough for umbrellas to bloom all along the sidewalks of Cannes. Darlene and I had a long lunch at a café and tea later at the Hotel Carlton.

What advanced her confidence was her trainer, Etienne, praising the strength of her legs and the hard work she has done to prepare for her 11k road race this Sunday. She also finally felt at home at the Forville Market this morning, even though she speaks no French. She holds her hand out with coins in it, and the venders take the right amount. She says “Merci” and leaves with fresh vegetables and fruit. Meanwhile, I was able to find a store nearby that had a new ink cartridge for Francoise’s fax machine, which enabled us to receive a statement from Darlene’s doctor in Denver that she is in good enough health to register for the race. The same store also sold my favorite black Parker ink for my Lamy fountain pen. Knowing that I am not going to run out of ink while I’m here provided an odd, but undeniable, boost to my writing confidence. We also navigated several travel hurdles and ended the day with train reservations from Cannes to Toulouse and an Avis rental car booked for the drive to the cave at Niaux when Darlene’s sister Deborah arrives in a couple of weeks. And, ooh la la, I found the Michelin web site that tells you how to get from anywhere in France to anywhere else, and how long it will take.

I love the scene in “An Affair to Remember” when Cary Grant tells Deborah Kerr, “We changed our course today,” after their ocean liner moves through a storm and they realize they are falling in love. Likewise, it seems that whenever Darlene and I break through to new levels of confidence in a foreign land, our connection to each other is deepened and made fresh, like the scrubbed air after a hard rain.

Darlene and André Letullier, Francoise's cousin, on the terrace of the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology in Monte Carlo.

Monday, September 13, 2004

With André as our navigator and guide today, I drove from Mougins, where he and his wife Jacqueline live, to Nice and then into the Principality of Monaco, site of an eerie collection of human bones and artifacts, many of them discovered on the site of the museum. I was particularly fascinated in seeing bones of animals depicted in caves of the Dordogne region of western France, because the review I’m finishing up this week is of a potent, difficult book based on those cave images—Juniper Fuse, by Clayton Eshleman. Actual bones of wild ox, horses, and stags were displayed in Monte Carlo beneath reproductions of drawings based on the Dordogne images, made between 10,000 and 35,000 years ago.

Intrigued though we were by prehistory, what Darlene and I will most remember of today is André on the ride back to Mougin talking to us about World War II, which began when he was a 10-year-old boy living in a town in Normandy that was carpet bombed as part of the D-Day invasion. School friends of his died in the bombing, and his family retreated to a part of the town that was, by sheer luck, left standing. At the time of the bombing there were no German forces in the town. André learned recently that Eisenhower opposed the bombing of the town, but the British general Montgomery ordered it anyway. Andre related how British intelligence outfoxed the Germans into expecting the invasion in the wrong place, and how British ground forces were much slower and less effective than the Canadians and Americans. But what made the ride memorable was simply sitting next to a man who, as a boy, had lived through a war that I’ve only studied in history classes. He spoke of the lack of food for healthy diet in those years, and how it wasn’t clear until Stalingrad and the defeat of Rommel in North Africa that the Allies would be victorious. Perhaps it is the knowledge that he knew these things as a boy which made the stories have such impact. I’m not sure exactly, only that I’ll never forget the casual comment he made in answer to my first question, “Yes, I was 10 years old living in Normandy when the war started…”

Chateau Gourdon clings to a rock spur 600 feet above the River Loup and offers dizzying views all the way to the sea. Darlene started the day with an 11k run along the highway between Le Tignet and Grasse. We got lost a few times on our first road trip but easily regained our way, and the blue Honda prowled the switchbacks with catlike confidence.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

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