Retired in Rome Journal: Cannes a movie set for the rich and famous
AUG. 4 — CANNES, France
I had a dream last night. I was in the bathroom of the Carlton Cannes Hotel and Jack Nicholson came up next to me and took a pee.
You don’t have to dream that here. That can actually happen — in late May, of course. That’s when 30,000 people in the movie biz and 4,000 journalists descend on this Mediterranean beach town and give the world a preview of what they’ll see in the theaters that year. I never covered the Cannes Film Festival. I haven’t written a movie review since a movie lit class my junior year in high school. (I barbecued an awful French film called “Le Bucher,” a, believe it or not, “sympathetic” look at a French serial killer. I got a C-minus. The only good my last review did was show me ways to disembowel my obviously illiterate lit teacher and it gave me a voice for how I’d later cover sports for 40 years.)
I do know a journalist who whored their way into this festival where thousands of tourists crowd around the Palais des Festivals’ red carpet to grab some glam. I was actually in the Carlton last night. The opulent hotel, built in 1911, called me in as if filled with Sirens seducing Odysseus’ men. The Carlton is known for its massive gold facade and two distinguished domes that were allegedly designed to represent the breasts of Caroline Otero, the French Riviera’s most famous socialite from World War I. Sitting in the Carlton bar is a once-in-lifetime thing, mainly because you need more than one lifetime to afford it.
I sat in one of the comfy black and white chairs and perused the drink menu. A glass of gin is 25 euros. Hennessy cognac is 265. That falls in line with the room prices which are 645 euros for a standard room and 4,375 for the executive suite. I ordered about the cheapest thing on the menu, something for 12 euros called a Kir, famous along the French Riviera and made with a black currant liqueur called creme de cassis and topped with white wine. It sounds like what you’d drink while christening one of the multi-million-dollar yachts across the street in the harbor but it tastes closer to the boat fuel that makes them go. It’s a little bitter but its purple color and ice-cold presentation made it the perfect accompaniment for my view: The window perfectly framed palm trees that hovered over Mercedeses and Bentleys and yachts the size of small islands anchored off shore. I felt so inspired I wanted to start writing a screenplay on the cocktail napkin.
This view, however, was nothing compared to the one in my friend’s apartment I’m staying at. It’s in a 16th century palace built by a prince as an engagement present to his princess. (Now, you know why the French Revolution occurred.) The palace now rents out rooms as apartments and stands atop the hill directly overlooking the more famous Palais, harbor and the medieval church atop the old town. The views from my windows would make Marie Antoinette swoon. Palm trees line up directly outside the window. Behind them is the massive white, angular Palais theater, the harbor choc-a-bloc with sailboats bobbing up and down on a cobalt sea. To my right up the hill is a medieval church that stands watch as a silent moral standard over the decadence below.
Cannes isn’t just the harbor, Palais and La Croisette, the famous boardwalk lined with Christian Dior and Chanel shops. Last night I went to a concert way up the hill at Villa Domergue. It was for an Albanian folk singer named Elina Duni. I’m not into music but I am into scenery. The villa looked like something out of Versailles. Behind the small stage for the quartet was a stone staircase that went up into a garden filled with giant palm ferns, juniper trees, fir trees and pink petunias. Behind my seat I could look down at the sun setting on the sea, back lighting the mountains that surrounded this spectacular setting. The villa’s one, glass-enclosed, 19th century lantern and lights flickering on the expensive houses up the hill were all the lighting the singer needed.
I lived with an Albanian woman for a year so I’m familiar with Albanian music a bit. She sang old traditional Albanian folks songs, some from the feuding hill tribes I once visited in the north Albanian mountains, in a jazz setting. She had a drummer, a piano player, a guy playing what looked like a string base and a piano player who put different objects inside the piano to make different sounds.
It was a little beyond my comprehension. So is Cannes. This place is as opulent as St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s as clean as a Swiss bank. And they have spreadable Roquefort with soft bread. Where does one go on vacation when one lives in Rome?