This morning’s view from my phone shows the easing of the torrential returning blue skies and – just out of shot – the first of the obscenely giant cruise ships to Cannes (average on-board age; 72). Like Berlin, Geneva, Venice, Taormina and er, Birmingham, Cannes is a trade show town; visit it in a different month and you would find yourself surrounded by dentists or antique dealers. Despite this cosmopolitanism, Cannes still manages to prove exasperating and impenetrable to the casual visitor; just ordering a coffee during peak events can become an obstacle course of ritual humiliation.
For many years there were hotels that only accepted cash. Menus still switch to higher figures at 1:00pm or on certain dates, there are arcane rules governing the availability of cabs, the entrance into bars and behaviour aboard yachts. There are buyers and sellers of all kinds who have been attending for decades, but who cannot afford to travel beyond the Bunker, the unlovely trade fair-dungeon wherein stuff is hawked.
But between trade fairs Cannes becomes just another seaside town, deserted at night, calm and graceful by day, and you get a sense of the impact that a few thousand trades folk can have on a formerly sedate coastal resort.
Cannes remains France at its foofiest – my dessert last night was a sphere of chocolate that, when broken into, reveal compartments of citrus fruits, lime foam and lemon cream, presented on a foot-long oblong plate with a diagonal smear of off-puttingly cloacal brown chocolate.
But behind the Fendi and Cartier shops is a railway line smothered in then worst graffiti imaginable. There are Algerians huddled in workmen’s cafes smoking and a staggering number of beggars. It’s the side of France Sarkosi seems happy to hide, and it’s the same all around the major cities. The tourists get the gorgeous parades; the workers get the rundown tenements.
And yet, it’s France, more a dream-state than a place for many overseas visitors, particularly US ones for some reason, who must have a visit preprogrammed into their DNA at an early age. The British have a rather different take on their neighbours, as the book ’2,000 Years Of Annoying The French’ reveals.
And the French are genetically annoying; last night the usually brilliant trains stopped running at 9:30pm without warning, necessitating an unplanned-for €100 cab ride. A shrug of the shoulders, a flick of the hands – Bof! – as the taxi driver said when I explained what had happened, ‘Vive La France’. I could have poked his eye out.
Today I’m packing a bag and hopping on the next passing train that works. Another report to follow.