Knocking Around Antibes

It could have been some hours of a tourist being footloose in Berlin, Beijing or Beunos Aires – a time of loose impressions, Cairo, Cape Town, Khatmandu.  Yet, for me, there is the privilege of a greater familiarity, an affection, that the tourist cannot have.

Some hours in Antibes… from the bus ride to la centre ville you see ads, billboards, posters -Charlize Theron in White Snow, the Afrikaans girl from Benoni, probably South Africa’s greatest acting export; you see Alain Delon, a large close-up of the film actor who was sharply handsome, his features now flattened by time;  you see Charlize Theron (again), declaring archly to the world, J’adore Dior.  In the distance across the fringe of yacht masts in Port Vaubanis the familiar shape of Fort Carré, four-cornered, echoed distantly in the five-cornered Fort in Cape Town – can we claim one-up-manship? Admittedly, ours was erected more than a century later.

The Monument to the French Resistance

The centre ville is crowded; it is tourist season, the elderly and young couples with their kids.  I pass through the Place de la Resistance with its statue commemorating the struggle in World War Two.  He reminds me, this figure, of the Michaelangelo’s unfinished figures in the Galleria Academica in Florence, breaking, breaking from their rock.

Then, la vielle ville… distinctively different from the streets that we know now.  Narrow, three-storeys high, cobbled and caramel-textured.  And the French, like other Europeans, don’t lose an opportunity of honouring some achiever with a plaque, often in marble:  Here was born on 20th January 1858 the General VANDENBERG Commander of the Army during World War 1 Governor of the Greater Libanon Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur.  Or, more simply, Rue Paul Bourgarel Mathematicien 1866-1945.  Perhaps the most fascinating for me is the Roman tablet they found with the following inscription:

For the domestic gods 

of the 12-year-old dancer

who danced on the scene of the Roman theatre

in Antipolis for two days.

A memorable performance it must have been and it’s nice to know they didn’t just live for war.

The Cathedral, Antibes
And the alley-ways – that is what they would be to us – these places Celebrate Food, the No. 1 past-time of the French.  At least half of these little restaurants though, are foreign – Arabic, Indian, Thai, Sushi, and so on.  It would seem that either the French are tiring of their Provencal traditions in gourmandizing or the catering is mainly for tourists.  The young people, often with a pram, sit on the sidewalks and eat take-aways.  Not surprising when you see that the plat du jour (dish of the day) can be R200.

I went to the English bookshop, quite a thriving place, it seems.  Strange not to see a single French book there and hear the central London (?) accent of the woman behind the counter.  What intrigued me was the basement with all the secondhand books – being part of Les Remparts, the building is old and the low roof of the basement is gothic in shape with rough arches.  But a bookshop like this… it reminds one again that the population of this town as with so many other places in Provence has gathered the nations of the world.

A gallery in Antibes

Antibes is different from Nice, from Cannes and the other coastal cities.  The Antibois (Antibeans) are proud of the many artists and celebrities that have also found that difference and made this place their own… happy exiles all:  Guy de Maupassant; George Sand; Jacques Prévert; Picasso; Nicolas de Stael; Hans Hartung; Monet; Renoir; Colette; Kazantzakis; the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Perhaps it is the contained image of Les Remparts against the backdrop of the snow-capped Alpes Maritime.  Somehow that history is small and proud; you can see into the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries, into the medieval world, more easily. It is engaging and provincial in a way that the ostentation of Nice, Cannes and Monaco is not.

Graham Greene writes:

I have lived in Antibes for more than twenty years.  I have known each town that there is here for more than 40 years.  Of all the towns Antibes is the only one that has conserved her soul so well, and the only one that I feel at home in.

Will van der Walt ©

Mardi  26 Juin 2012

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Images Sources: Photographs by Will

Quotation by Graham Greene:  Editions Art. Paris 1991. 

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