Med And Buried



The Mediterranean gets a bad rap from the British these days; too expensive, too crowded, no longer the playground of the those rich young playthings about whom Noel Coward wrote ‘Mentally congealed lilies of the field, they lie in flock along the rocks because they have to get a tan.’

Before then, nobody tanned because a suntan meant you worked outside and were therefore working class. Into the roaring twenties came Coco Chanel, who popularised the idea of tanning. She sold us the idea that the sun represented pleasure and relaxation as well as health. And the only way to tan was on the coastline between Italy and Spain.

The Cote D’Azur had boomed in the late Victorian era largely because the upper classes could whore and gamble within easy access of restrictive London. The veneer of sophistication was there, but it was always about raking in cash from would-be lotus eaters, which is what Harold Wilson accused Britons of being in the late sixties, when they started retiring to Monte Carlo and Nice. What he feared was an exodus of high tax-payers, and of course that was another function of the Riviera – it was the perfect place to bury a nest-egg.

So, from rich Victorians (Arthur Sullivan was a huge fan) to Bright Young Things then affluent post-war retirees, we finally reach the era of cheap travel. But if Easyjet could get you there, it still couldn’t get you a good table at the Colombe D’Or (tip: go for a cocktail and check out all the art for free).

Now the crucial stretch of the Riviera has become a bolthole for Russia’s financial thugs, so much so that in Beaulieu some of the street signs are in Russian. In came security guards, pay-offs, bent property deals, hookers, money-laundering and the kind of skullduggery one usually only sees in films; I had a house there for a decade (I am unembarrassed to admit that the pool at the top was mine) and could tell you stories that would make your eyes fall out. I left when the corruption became so endemic that my neighbour was able to bribe the chief of police into allowing him to construct a rifle range in his back garden.

There’s another downside to the South of France – in the winter months it is culturally arid and brain-freezingly dull. Anyone who has suffered four hours of traffic getting into the deeply disappointing St Tropez will know how bad the Cote D’Azur can be. The secret truth about St Tropez is that if you have to drive into it, you shouldn’t be there at all. One arrives by yacht and moors in the town harbour, and not the nouveau riche one at Port Grimaud.

I left with a sigh of relief and no backward glance, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I went to visit friends in Marseille, this being the one stretch I did not know. What I found was something entirely unexpected.

To be continued

8 comments on “Med And Buried”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    I think I’m glad you made it to Marseilles. We’ll see.
    Tourists here ddon’t seem to realise that the Beijing appearance of our harbour (the mountains are invisible) is not smog but the smoke from the fires in the Interior. We’re told to avoid going out, especially if young, old or frail, to go to a mall or community centre for exercise, and to ideally stop breathing. Sleeping is becoming difficult. There are no clouds to seed so if anyone can precipitate rain on our province we’d appreciate the gift.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Lovely view from that pool. Somehow I don’t think the boat is yours – just parked in your front yard?

  3. Denise Treadwell says:

    Cote d’ Azure was known as the playground of the rich, and is it now? Unexpected? Hmm you either found something sinister or beautiful! I hope you found both Not so beautiful and perhaps sinister here, our air we breathe now is 71 , and it is to do with particles in the air from the fires. .I suspect I am smoking now although I never have .

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Denise – we have fire haze, too, so the light is all amber and many of us have difficulty breathing. It’s supposed to clear somewhat by the weekend. Hope for the best.

  5. Ian Luck says:

    I was recently doing my annual ‘Read all the Ian Fleming James Bond books in order’, and it’s obvious that Fleming was fond of Marseilles, although he does seem keen to state that everything there is run by the Corsican Mafia, the ‘Union Corse’. I wonder if that was true? Or was Fleming ‘gilding the lily’ to make the place more glamorous? My late parents went there in the late 1980’s, and enjoyed the place; my dad more than my mum, I suspect, as dad hired a Renault 5 Turbo, which he drove “Like a bloody maniac” as my mum later told me. He was so enamoured of this car, he nearly bought one, but mum talked him out of it. Pity.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I wonder how many people have authors whom they read regularly in a set order. Many of us do with Chris and I do as well with Laurie King but I wonder how many others and are there more reading now closed sets like Fleming or still accumulating like Admin and L. King.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    The original ‘James Bond’ books are sequential, and benefit from reading in the correct order. If you only know the movies, this is a revelation. For example, at the end of ‘From Russia With Love’, Bond’s .25 Beretta pistol jams, and Rosa Klebb is able to kick him with the poisoned spike in her shoe. The next book is ‘Doctor No’, and Bond’s first appearance is in a meeting with ‘M’, who has called The Armourer (‘Q’ in the movies) to assess Bond’s gun. The Armourer is not impressed, and suggests that Bond use the (at the time), new and rare Walther PPK automatic. In ‘Doctor No’, the movie, Bond loses his good friend, Quarrel, to a flame throwing buggy. Same as the book, but Quarrel first appears in the second book, ‘Live And Let Die’, where he trains Bond to reef dive. Moonraker, the novel is an oddity, but one I love. Bond goes no further than Dover, and doesn’t get the girl at the end. And no space station bollocks, either; just a madman with a missile. Things get odder, too – ‘Quantum Of Solace’ is a story told to Bond about the repercussions of infidelity; ‘Octopussy’ is a sordid tale of greed, and lost Nazi gold, and the murder of one of Bond’s childhood friends. I do prefer the books to the movies, and a part of me would definitely like to see an expensive TV series made of each book, set in the cold war 1950’s and 1960’s. The makers would have to follow the same parameters as the ‘Poirot’ TV show – they stick to the stories, show them in the right sort of order (in Bond’s case, it’s easy), and, most important of all, when you have exhausted the source material – that’s it, no more. (Although I would include the Kingsley Amis penned ‘Colonel Sun’, as it’s tone is so consistent with Fleming’s). I read the books at least once a year. It’s like meeting an old friend.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    There, now that is a reason for reading a specific order and one I wouldn’t have expected. I’ve only read a couple of the books and only seen the early movies, From Russia with Love was one I liked very much. That kick at the end is a vivid thing in my mind.
    Some authors have very definite ideas about the sequence of their books. I mentioned once that I was reading Laurie King’s sequence in time order and she was quite annoyed. No, no, read them in the published order, she said there are powerful psychological (my word) for them being in that order. So, okay, I do, but the ending of one definitely flows into the beginning of the next timewise, just as with the Bond ones.

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