Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Across the South – Part 3: Decadence at Dawn (From Dawn to Decadence)

I am trying to get to Monaco, but am stranded in Marseilles. Bad omens abound. My connection to Nice that I need to make my way onwards to Monaco is already 2 hours late and a third hour has been tacked on. My friend and I wander around the train station, pursued by a truly creepy guy who spits repeatedly on the floor, drips cheap beer and keeps referring to me as “Sir Alex Ferguson” after overhearing my name. As much as I enjoy being likened to Manchester United’s longstanding, and seemingly Olympian manager, the pool of mucus, beer and piss forming at the gentleman’s feet is off putting. My friend produces a can of Faxe, which proves itself to be a thoroughly undrinkable concoction - a beer that sits at 10%, has a Viking on the label, and comes in one liter cans. One sip of the stuff and we toss the rest, only to have it found by our gentleman stalker, who only becomes slightly more frenzied after drinking it.

Eventually we make it to Nice, but its after midnight and any hope of making it to Monaco is long since eroded. The bureaucracy of the French train system at this point continues to intrude. They will not refund our ticket to Monaco, and will not help to book us a hotel in Nice because, despite not being able to go to Monaco, it is apparently our final destination. We eventually, as a result of stealing wifi from a nearby McDonalds (French McDonalds being ever so fancy and perpetually en vogue – and remarkably the only place in all of France that offer free wifi) and secure lodgment in Nice. We wander the immaculate Nice streets finding until we find an open bar at 3:00 AM.

The next day, we decide to scrap Monaco and are off to Cannes – for the film festival. We discover as we arrive at the Cannes station at 6 PM that we have taken the last train as a result of a strike that has magically sprung up as a result of someone in the French rail system feeling slighted by the offer of a new retirement package being offered by the Sarkozy government and the rest of the service calling a strike in solidarity. France: ever the land of petulant revolutionary ardor. As a result of already having a modestly priced hotel in Nice, and Cannes hotels costing somewhere in the range of what I would get for my left kidney, we elect to, following our movie (the 1967 version of Bonnie and Clyde, which is really quite good by the way – and Faye Dunaway certainly a respectable object of lust) to stay up all night and walk the totality of Cannes. Having spent the previous day exploring Nice before going to Cannes, while my friend took a nap, my feet ache and swell as we make our rounds. My estimate is that I walked about 40 kilometers over the course of the day, in dress shoes no less.

The film festival itself, (apart from the free repertoire showings of old movies – hence Bonnie and Clyde –put on for the general public, and actually projected onto a screen affixed to s stage erected on the sea, with the audience seated comfortable on the beach) is for all intensive purposes an opportunity for the film industry to give itself a collective hand job. Ugly ostentatious displays of wealth abound. Celebrities, and their slightly creepy stalkers abound. For two weeks, Cannes ceases to be a French speaking place, and the unreasonable demands being imposed in English, by crude American Hollywood types is evident in the ever more lined eyes of the cities always prompt and always pleasant wait staff. It speaks to a certain toughness in the French characters, or perhaps the potential of lucrative tips that keeps these poor wrecks alive and moving.

Eventually, blurry eyed, and prevented by overly attentive security guards from sleeping on the beach, we manage to catch a bus back to Nice at 8:30 the next morning and collapse into bed – only to find sleep elusive on the Cote D’Azure. It pours rain but clears in the evening. At this point, trains are running again and we decide to make the jaunt back to Cannes in order to see the 1937 Errol Flynn pirate epic Captain Blood – which is even better than I remember it. Then again, any film that stars Flynn as a doctor turned pirate named Peter Blood cannot possibly be bad. An inattentive Brit collides me with as we leave the film, who almost bowling me over, and then quite rudely acting as though this is somehow perfectly acceptable behavior. I tell him to slag off, only to my amusement realize as I walk off that I just called Eric Clapton and “incentive for birth control” – and to his face no less. Upon hitting upon this realization, I feel like throwing a few well-worded phrases explaining to the man how a poorly conceived and wasteful 3-minute piano bridge ruins a perfectly serviceable song in Layla, but decided to hold my ire.

The Cote D’Azure itself is nice – like the city of Nice – owing much to the high concentration of money in the region that results in gentrification – a little of which would go a long way in Marseilles, but I digress. The Cote D’Azur is in fact Azure in color. The public art veers away from the ancient and towards the modern, or more painfully, post-modern. (What are they going to call the emergent art movement following post-modernity I wonder, neo-post-modernism? Neoclassicalism? Post-deconstructionist with modernist overtones?) Of course there is nothing wrong with post-modernism per se, and what could be more French? (I have a friend who refers to all things post modern as “Getting Frenchy with it”) but one can only take so many giant colored triangles and at one point, an enormous arc segment looking like the St. Louis arc was cut in half and then left on its side.

The trip back to Montpellier coincidentally finds me running into a bizarre Czech who my friend at I met outward. He was going to make a pilgrimage, by foot to San Francisco (the religious site in Spain, not the American city) without speaking a word of French of Spanish – apparently as a means of wrestling with his existentialist angst. One day of hiking and a night of rain were enough to convince him to abandon his quest, return to his girlfriend in the Czech Republic, and blow the money he was brining for provisions on original pressings of Pink Floyd vinyl – which is apparently the key to enlightenment. I tell him about the old trick with Alice and Wonderland and Dark Side of the Moon and he decides this somehow gives life new meaning. He makes me promise to read his 40 page novella about relationships – of which he claims to be an expert and I agree to put him up for the evening as the friend he staid with on the way in has grown tired of his sudden unannounced appearances and his tendency to fulminate endlessly on how functional his dysfunctional human relationships really are. I’m well enough entertained, he affable enough I a sort of bizarre way, and his random non-sequitors break up the routine task of packing and cleaning before my jaunt back across the Atlantic.

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