Doing The Riviera
My brother said ‘You don’t have a normal life, you know.’ Being my brother, he says this without any jealousy or sarcasm, but with a vague sense of wonder and concern, as if he is commenting on a nature programme in which the animals regularly do odd things. He said this because I’m throwing my kit in a bag and am heading for dinner on the French Riviera tonight.
I’ve only ever been to Cannes during the film festival, so being there outside of the event will make a change. There are good reasons why Cannes is twin-towned with Beverly Hills; both cities are sun-dazzled and indefinably sinister. Both exist more in the imagination than the real world. Both are filled with wealthy, paranoid stars living in the hills under cyanic skies, both host high-profile movie events, both have given birth to parasite industries like the restaurant and hotel trades, and both have police forces that adopt uncompromising attitudes to outsiders. The Mayor of Cannes infamously bussed the homeless out of town for the duration of the film festival. Cannes is also like a film set; a façade of elegance propped up by a disgruntled, stressed-out workforce.
Everyone has horror stories about Cannes, the audacious thievery, the profligate waste, the staggering cost of a salad, the rubbernecking crowds, the rudeness of the police, the sheer blank-eyed effrontery of hotel staff. During the festival the town is filled with liars, thieves, mountebanks and charlatans. French and American distributors would come up to us in cafes, promise us all their business and swear to make us rich before promptly vanishing, leaving us with their lunch bills.
Restaurateurs charged us triple, stole from our bags and skimmed our credit cards. We watched money changing hands under tables, behind backs, tucked inside menus, under plates, smoothly palmed to Maitre D’s, bribes to secure tickets, seats, drinks, reservations, hookers, drugs. Goody bags of perfumes, pens, wallets and after-shaves vanished from under guests’ noses right off their tables in mid-meal, stolen by fleets of light-fingered waiters. The entire town was geared to thieving. I have never encountered corruption on such an endemic, shameless scale before. In twenty five years of attending, I had my credit cards ripped off maybe ten times, usually in the most reputable, expensive establishments. The only other place this has ever happened is in Los Angeles.
(Of course as it’s nearly Easter, the French baggage handlers have, with grim inevitability, gone on strike, cancelling my flight in the process. But I will find another way there, even though it means ditching dinner for supper. Expect blogs about Frogs.)