Before the 1920s, the French Riviera was a winter resort where those of means from the north would come for the mellow weather of the south. I guess it is a little like going to Queensland. And you can see why. At least you can this year. We have been reliably informed that this time last year, the weather was so bad, there was talk of cancelling jaunty caps and cafes with terraces. Happily, this year, we don't have to worry about such things. The sky tingles with sun, and there is action, and food, and wine flowing through every terrace you could imagine. And jaunty hats at every corner.
I thought I knew nothing about Antibes - I had booked the place in a vague panic sometime between Paris and Bacelona when we realised we had no where to stay for these dates. It had been surprisingly difficult to find somewhere to rent (well, perhaps not; we are running to a budget after all, and there is five of us, one of whom is eight. So ...), and this place, in Antibes, came up for the right price and with the right space. Originally we had wanted to stay in Cassis but it had fallen through not once, but twice. So, I thought I was flying blind. But as we walked around the town today, some things began to click for me. Firstly, there is a Picasso Museum, and along the mini cliff walk, there are reproductions of paintings and snappy little descriptions. Hmmm. Could this be the place that the Murphys enticed luminaries like the Fitzgeralds and Hemingways to come and stay and, in fact, where Fitzgerald wrote (actually WROTE) The Great Gatsby? Turns out, YES! Nice play for the Thomas Hardy coincidence of the year. More about this tomorrow when we make a pilgrimage to said sites.
For today, we were still getting our bearings. The town, last night when Myles and I had driven around looking for an open shop from which to purchase vital supplies for terrifyingly hungry children, did not look like much. In fact, we thought we had seen most of it as we streaked past the Christmas lights and the depressingly closed shops. 'Small town,' Myles had said. 'We'll have to get our jollies in Cannes or Nice or Monte Carlo.'
Regardless, we felt we should give the town its due on foot. So we took the kids down to the foreshore, or as close as we could get, which wasn't very, and then across to the town. It was a revelation. After you pass under the Christmas lights, red carpets begin to appear (not making this up) and then you are plunged into a township that is part crazy Barcelona, and part elegant French, and all soft colours and pretty shutters and little alley ways you duck under archways to go down. There are not one, but two markets; one is a clothing thing and the other a food market (which we were too late to see, but plan to visit as soon as possible; I bet the food is great.) On the side of this market however, which is a covered market and is called Marche Provincale, is an olive oil shop with about dozens of urns filled with oil and you can buy it by the quarter, half or whole litre. How great. A few pieces of coin and I have my supply for the time we are here. Very civilized.
We went down to the public beach; very small (I guess there is another one around, but we couldn't find it), full of sticks and wood (why? West coast American beaches are the same; full up to pussy's bow with wood. On one memorable outing with Paris down to Santa Cruz, we arrived to find that ruddy great tree trunks had washed up on the beach. And all-American teenagers continued their games of beach volley ball around them - mad). The children who were on the beach, and there was a decent amount as the weather is glorious, were not making sandcastles, but weird stick castles that involved plunging a series of sticks in a fence-like structure and then building on that. I thought that sandcastles were a universal concept; turns out - non.
Lots of loving couples, all nut brown from skiing no doubt, were cuddled up on the sand, or by the breakwater. Across the way, there were people fishing with huge lines, and all around us the Mediterranean danced and laughed and made us thirsty for a swim. In June.
Paris got into his head that he wanted a ice cream (it was that kind of weather - we were in tee shirts), but we wanted to walk around a bit more. So he decided on an experiment - he would behave like a princess and see how long it took us to cave. Turns out, no time at all. 'I wanna ice cream! I wanna ice cream! Strawberry ice cream! Why won't you get me one?! Why is Dad wearing an orange raincoat? It's crap, so ugly! Why do you have to be so mean to me?!' Wow. I'm grateful that he isn't really like that. He would be long dead. He did get his ice cream, and was smug about his experiment.
We met a dog. I patted it.
In the deepening afternoon sun, we found ourselves in an open space, right on the water, where older blokes and one woman, were playing bocce like demons. There was a kind of system here; one bloke was set up in front of the public toilets with a chair and table and he, apparently, was taking the money from those who wished to play. I'm not sure if there was a gambling component to this, but it was very watchable.
There is a whole knee, swivel and then UP and THROW the silver ball. And then the exclamations. 'Ah. Non. Bon soir.' Older people playing games and not in a twilight homes; now that is great. And all chatting and catching up. I'm sure there is less depression here than at home, just because of this - and generally people making proper time to see others, to spend time talking (take the lunch hour for example); in bars, at home, walking, or playing bocce.
When the sun was at our backs and ripping through the sea, the air was warm. But as the sun disappeared, the air chilled immediately. It was time to go home. Just as the sun was slipping away, we slipped into our front door, turned on the heaters and settled in. There is no TV here (well, there is, but it is in French and the only thing that the kids have found to watch is a French version of Funniest Home Videos which they love), so Zelda went off to read Dracula, Niccolo knitted and Paris watched some maths thing on Youtube. I read. Myles did something else (Youtube too?). Two hours of quiet and peace.
Then it was 'OMG, we're hungry!' So it was cooking like mad (made much easier by the ready to eat stuff in the shops, excellent salads ready to go, cooked beetroot all cut and dressed, grated carrot dressed - who knew that would be good, but it is - steak, and fabulous bread).
Chess for some after dinner. Bubble bath for me (my bones still ache from skiing and that damned ROD).
All in all, sign me up.