Cannes: Finding a Grail

You may say that I won’t find a grail in Cannes, but I know it’s there.  I’ll get it.

I take the crowded ‘bus from Antibes to Cannes and a young man gives up his seat for me.  It turns out that he and his girlfriend with another couple are from Khazakstan.  And this figures – the French, I’m told, would not be so gracious as to give up a seat.  My day is blessed and my pilgrimage begins.  But as other pilgrims find from time to time, the going isn’t easy – you have to love the large, heat-struck, slightly confused tourist crowds, the traffic, the heat, and, at the Festival Hall complex, the extensive and noisy and dusty construction work and the heat.

Festival Hall, Cannes

Around the Festival Hall, a striking modern building of sloping glass and generous stairways, there are handprints of the famous in the pavement – some single hands with the name signed; some, double.  And the tourists bundle around – this will be the closest they come to those they have seen on the silver screen, admire and adore.

Le Suquet

Above the bubbling hub of the city, on a little rise, there is the stone watch tower and a rampart. This is the medieval quarter, Le Suquet, and if it were human, it would frown:  the hurry and tinsel and bustle below shows no respect for the medieval relic.

Beyond the long fringe of palms on the promenade named La Croisette, the hotels loom – The Splendid, Majestic Barriere, The Carlton International and the Martinez, to name a few.  Each of them is architecturally interesting and each, one can be sure, has its stories:  at the Carlton, Grace Kelly met Rainer III of Monaco in the 1950s; Alfred Hitchcock shot a scene here; the Nazis occupied the place in World War 2 and Hollywood has invaded those 343 rooms since the 1940s with each film festival.

I go into the cool colonnaded foyer of the Carlton.  Will this sumptuous palace yield the grail that I’m looking for?  I ask, May I take pictures?  They say, Non.  I leave.  The grail is not here.

In the noon heat that drums on the skin, I stroll along the promenade chewing my apple and my banana (for which I paid  three euros or R30),  thinking about Cannes.  This place, once occupied by the Saracens, now seeks desperately to keep the flow of tourists by any means.  Along the promenade there is a series of large reproductions of photographs by well-known photographers – Jeanloup Sieff; Heuer; Diego; Toll and so on.  The theme is beautiful models and some of the shots are really inventive.  There are posters for a Picasso exhibition, a retrospective on the films of Romy Schneider and a pyrotechnics festival.

Image by Diego

The beaches are crowded out with rows of neatly-placed blue canvas deckchairs and yellow umbrellas.  You can hardly see the sand, something which South Africans, used to endless stretches of empty beaches, would find mildly horrifying.   Through the day’s shimmer, sleek cruisers bob soporifically on a waveless Mediterranean.

Through the palms I see the Martinez, a hotel completed in 1929.  It is pure déco, named after the original owner, a man of Sicilian-Spanish origin.  My heart beats faster.  I approach.  Inside there are two officials behind the warm glow of the softly-lit reception counter.  I hesitate.  I take the law into my hands.  And there, before me, is the grail – a remarkable déco staircase that I saw in a book on Provence.  I won’t ask for permission.  The receptionists are busy with clients.  I take the picture.  It’s not quite as beautiful as I thought it would be.  I look back.  The receptionists are watching me.  I feign innocent interest.  They look away.  I walk to the staircase and look up the stairwell, four storeys… It is magnificent.  I take the picture and walked smartly out of the Martinez.  I have my grail.

The grail – the art déco stairwell, Hotel Martinez

Returning to the ‘bus terminus, I cross through a park area where there are pétanque courts.  Playing this game of bowls so characteristic of the south of France, groups of men cheer or bemoan their accuracy as they toss the grey steel boules.  Nearby is a statue of a fat, happy man overseeing the game:  he is clutching a boule to his heart and is perhaps the patron saint of pétanque.

At the pétanque courts

Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi  6 Juillet 2012

Image Sources:  Photographs by Will


One Response to Cannes: Finding a Grail

  1. Great! So interesting and beautiful.

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