A Return to Cannes

My eyes scan the crowded sidewalk café, searching for an open table.

Funny that it is much more crowded than yesterday, I think to myself, spotting an available table for two and maneuvering quickly to grab it before someone else does. As I sit down and face the bustling open air market in its covered building on the square, also far busier than yesterday, it clicks. Today is Saturday, le samedi, and everyone is out for their weekend shopping and requisite café time. Clearly I’m in holiday mode, losing track of what day it is.

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68th Cannes Festival

After traveling via the high speed, double-deck TGV train from central Paris, we alighted in Cannes a week ago, arriving on my birthday a few days before the beginning of the film festival. As with last year, my partner is here for business at the marché du film, arguably the most important film market in the world, making connections and securing films for the Hawaii International Film Festival, and I am privileged to tag along for the trip. Admittedly, it’s wonderful to be once again on the Côte d’Azur, which has greeted us with blue skies and temperatures between 24-27° C (75-81° F). The iconic Ingrid Bergman graces this year’s festival poster, and her smiling visage is everywhere around town from shop windows to the Palais itself.

Last year, my first trip to Cannes, I spent most of my time roaming the streets and markets, sightseeing, sitting at sidewalk cafés and watching the somewhat bemusing crowd on the French Riviera. I also penned a couple of lengthy SAJ posts, in one of which I wrote:

Living in the States, I often miss the Med—everything from its arid landscape and Old World architecture, to the dark-haired beauties and boldly flavored, rustic cuisine. Food that seduces unapologetically with olive oil, garlic and pungent herbs. Flavorful grilled fish, freshly hauled from the sea, cooked over a wood fire or charcoals. Gutsy, alcoholic wines that reflect the hot, dry earth, and the pale apricot-colored, aromatic rosé served well-chilled at every café. No matter the country or culture, the coastline of this ancient sea is a place where the food, people, and lifestyle all reflect and embody the intense sun.

With the crowds of tourists and luxury shopping, the glitz and glam, the palm trees and coiffed French women walking their little dogs down the boulevard, it all seems very far away from the charming Provence that I know. It’s pleasant enough being here in a holiday sort of way, but my soul longs for the Vaucluse and the Luberon—a region of silvery green olive groves, gorgeous fields of cultivated lavender, a green quilted patchwork of rocky vineyards, and rustic villages of stone houses with painted shutters and quiet cafés. That Provence is a landscape that somehow called to me long before I actually visited it—reaching out through cookbooks, stories and narratives, picture books, and travelogues—and has nourished my soul since I first set foot there. I long to return.

Here I am, contentedly once more in Cannes, seated opposite the bustling Marché Forville, one of the best markets on the Côte d’Azur, feeling very at home and watching the scene unfurl. A few days ago, from a table nearby, I recently wrote to a dear friend:

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Café at the marché

From eight in the morning until early afternoon, this square with its cafés is a hive of buzzing activity and has become my regular haunt. Our little rented apartment, nested on the top floor beneath the ancient, roughly hewn beams of an old building, is a stone’s throw away. I can nearly see it from where I sit. The warm late morning sings with a bright song of Mediterranean blue, while around me the sounds of animated French conversation, clinking dishes and cutlery, and the hum of the busy market fill the air. How I love—and have missed—European café culture: sitting leisurely for hours, writing in my small black notebook, and watching the sights go by. A precious little ringneck dove with feathers the colour of a soft, pale dawn struts near my feet, her dark eyes glistening, hoping for a morsel (naturally I oblige), while a fair breeze sets the spring foliage of the trees to dancing and napkins fluttering from tables.

In a dramatic improvement over last year’s accommodation—a wretched little studio barely larger than the bed, where I could only make a cup of tea—we have an entirely decent, small flat with a kitchen. Accessed by passing through an old, heavy, fortress-like door on the street and then climbing a spiraling set of ancient tiled stairs (each of varying height and width), l’appartement sits perched above a narrowly winding, cobblestone rue du pietons (pedestrian street) lined with quaint little bistros in the oldest part of the city. Admittedly, with the diners and revelers below us at night, it is less than tranquil when the windows are open (and terribly stuffy with them closed), and during the festival, every night is like a Saturday night. The result is that we finally shut the salon window around midnight and sleep with earplugs. C’est la vie.

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Marché Forville, Cannes

To be less than two minutes walk from the fabulous Marché Forville is heaven (blessedly the opposite of last year with no kitchen, which was just short of torture). The weekly markets have always been the heart of France for me, transporting me back to my Paris days of attending Le Cordon Bleu and living in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank. Each day here finds me at the marché, contentedly browsing the long aisles of fresh produce—aussi les viandes et les charcuteries, les fleurs jolies, les poissons fraises, les poulets, les champignons, les escargots, les confitures, le miel, les olives et le huile d’olive, et les spécialités gourmandises—to find some gorgeous, tasty bits for my lunch or supper. For a cook and Soul Artist, this is bliss. Now that the festival has kicked off, my mate is in full-on work mode, busy all day and into the night with meetings, attending films, and rubbing shoulders with the glitterati. Thus I am mostly on my own and at leisure, happy to fashion myself a modest lunch and supper from whatever I’ve gathered. Often it is a whole fish like a daurade, one that I cook simply with olive oil, lemon, and a few fresh herbs. Faites simple. This morning I’ve purchased a plump duck breast to sear and serve medium-rare over a salad of crisp, wild rocket. Oh la la… j’amuse.

Can I possibly eat more cheese than I have? Why yes, actually.

If I could live again in France, somewhere in the south in a rustic little stone cottage with a garden, fragrant scents of the garrigue (“scrubland”) and lavande sauvage drifting through the open windows, I would. It would be inland a bit, in or near some picturesque village, not the glitzy and crowded Côte d’Azur. Who knows. Perhaps one day I will find a way to be here for at least part of the year… what an alluring dream to carry and cling to.

When we open to possibility, possibility opens.

As reported in last week’s SAJ post from Paris, my foot continues to trouble. Fortunately, the marché is close at hand. If I walk slowly and not too far, I manage fine, but how tedious. Given that I covered most of Cannes last year à pied, apart from returning to a couple of shops that I liked, there is little that I need to see, do, or buy. (My main splurge has been some salmon coloured trousers and a pair of mustard yellow suede loafers, so very Mediterranean, and yes I will wear them back in the States.) In case you read the post from a couple weeks ago (“L’olivier”), yesterday, quite by chance or fate, I stumbled across a little Provençal shop where I found the hoped-for soup ladle carved from bois d’olivier (olive wood) which had so far eluded me. It cost 17 euros and is utterly perfect.

Not far from our lodging, just three minutes up a series of old stone steps, atop the hill of the old town, Cannes_view2sits a fort/ church/ tower/ museum with a tranquil, tree-shaded courtyard that offers a stunning view over the city and coastline. Though a few tourists are milling about, it feels a world away from the crowds and madness of the festival in the town below. I trekked up there twice last year—mostly to get away from it all—and I have been spending some time ensconced there each day. It is a lovely little respite from l’appartement… a bit of oh-so-welcome nature, too. Afternoons find me in the shade of the noble old pines, my trusty fountain pen and battered notebook in hand, writing a bit—or simply gazing out at the azure sea, listening to the breeze in the swaying boughs, and watching the seagulls on the red tiled roofs below. C’est un petit bonheur immense.

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View of Cannes

In a few days we will depart for Paris, leaving Cannes before the actual end of the 10-day festival so that my partner can attend a cousin’s wedding back in the States. Until our train departs, however, you will likely find me seated at a small, round café table near the marché, sipping a strong noisette or glass of Provençal rose as I scribble notes in my little black journal, my heart and senses ajar, savoring the Mediterranean experience and feeling grateful for the opportunity to be here, a Soul Artist at large. Eventually, I’ll stand up from the table and make my way through the bustling market once more, never tiring of its multisensory delight, and I will choose something(s) for my next meal. Quel beauté, quel joie. La vie c’est bonne, n’est-ce pas?

Beauty exists everywhere. I wonder, what will you choose to savor today to nourish your soul?

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