In November of 2008, during the time of the last presidential election, work took me to southern France. Here’s a clip of my travel journal from my stay in very, very off-season St. Tropez:
And into gray windy skies I blew.
I arrived at Nice Cote de Azure Airport this morning at 8am this time after a sleepless night on a Delta flight. The food is only slightly more palatable on Delta than it is on American Airlines. Cleared Security in the elegant c. 1960s Delta terminal at JFK, but was basically vivisected by current cheap-out airline tactics and uber security screening.
The French customs officer questioned me not why I was visiting France, but “Obama ou McCain?” “Obama bien sur!” I replied. Others ahead of me had answered McCain. I told the officer to send them back to the Etats-Unis. I should have told him to keep them.
I was met by the man I thought to be M. M. I think had I spoken better French, this man still wouldn’t have had much to say. The extent of English for him was “Yes.” OK, so this is good for me. But he never once asked me a question, so that was that. I pried at him with all sorts of combien, habitez vous, and vous travaillez… type questions, in broken and bleeding francais. He dropped me at the Hotel Les Palmiers, a pleasant enough place from the mid 19th century. Le chambre ain’t much, but the bathroom is really nice. Like my last hotel in Paris. That and the walls are paper thin – I can hear every scratch from my neighbor moving in at this moment.
Hotel Les Palmiers has great coffee, and beautiful garden out front, and a folksy guy who tends desk. He tolerates my Americanishness, and smiles at me a lot. I am one of two women in St. Tropez who don’t live here who I saw walking alone today. Everyone else is clad with a rhinestone-laden jeans, boots, and fur jacket look from the 1980s.
Skinny streets gush with flowering vines, even on November 2. The sky and my face blended together in a steel gray pallor. My hair grew big and wild as the salted air ran its fingers through.
I cheered, exploring each street of pastel buildings, stacked with shuttered windows, remembering the French café life. I passed jewelry, clothes, housewares, butchers, fromageries, the fish market, and so on. The wind-urged salty waves smacking the quai was exciting. The boats lining the port were obscene with thumping music, grand names and locales, shining lights, and young men keeping the whole mess spotless.
It is not quite 5pm and I am letting myself fall asleep. I have never been so bad about letting jetlag take over. I cannot go to bed before 7pm. Maybe I’ll take a shower and get something from the grocery store. I wish my neighbor would stop slamming her door. I want to yell at her, how very New York. But once every 30 seconds is a bit much. Where do you find all those doors to slam in a rented room?
I headed up the hill to the fort, which was closed due to November, a contagious epidemic disease in this town. No museums are open, including the one I will work at tomorrow. I am left to skitter around the town with the dead leaves, and I’ve walked each street exactly three times. I am especially drawn to those niches into which the sea blows, directly up to the houses’ foundations. There was a car fair down at the wharf, mostly for vehicles for Ordonnez – kind of like off-roading, with more class (read: money). Money is in no short supply in this town. I pass basements of dwellings where families are sitting down to Sunday dinner.
Friends go drinking below my room, though the power has gone out in my hotel! That thunderstorm the wind promised all day long is finally here. The thunder coaxes sounds from the sky like I have never heard before. I have closed the shutters, but I’m so tempted to throw them open again to watch.
Due to a damned mosquete and les gens en chambre onze, je ne dors pas plus de trois heures hier soir. Or so I’ve repeated, as one of my more accomplished phrases today. I awoke to door slamming number 11 again at 9:30 and 10:30, and that was it. I was awake and hungry again until 2:30. I broke down and raided the mini bar for cacahuetes and a Heineken. It was the most valuable 7 Euros I had ever spent. I drifted finally into oblivion after plugging my ears with my Ipod to drown out the silence.
A poorly-framed picture fell off the wall around then, thud.