I can’t believe I’m even typing that name.
Antibes, France. It had been far too long since I have been in France (over 2 years), and I finally got to do something about that last weekend. Yes, weekend- I only had really two full days to be there, but it was what I had and I made the best of it. And I assure you, making the best of Antibes is no difficult thing. Located right by the sea itself with its impossible blue color, with French culture blending into Mediterranean culture, good food and wine, narrow pedestrian streets surrounding an outdoor covered market filled with treasures- what’s not to love about this town?
I could probably fall in love with most of the cities along the Mediterranean in France, but Antibes is unique in that it is less of a tourist city than it is a residential city. And when I travel, I always like to pretend that I am one of those people just living there, so Antibes is a great place for me, since folks actually do just live there. I love to people watch, and I love to take long, somewhat aimless walks around a city just to see what I come across. I especially love to shop for groceries at a market and cook for my family using the local ingredients, though this was not a trip where I was able to do that. On this trip, I traveled alone and stayed in a hotel in order to visit a dear friend who is fortunate enough to be one of those people living in Antibes.
I booked a hotel not far from her apartment called the Mas Djoliba Hotel, a charming spot where I intend to stay again. As it turned out, I was even closer to her apartment than I had even anticipated- serendipitous indeed! The hotel was at the top of a hill, up a winding, narrow street that was somehow a two-way street for cars, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how they make that work. And at the bottom of the hill, on one of the main streets in Antibes, sits Jacqueline’s apartment building. It’s her second home, a retirement retreat perhaps- her main residence is in Burgundy, which is how I know her. She was my neighbor, you see, and is the person responsible for the fact that I was able to even find the house that I had rented when I showed up, alone with my kids, for our 3 month stay in Burgundy back in 2012. She is extraordinary, and I could write so much just about her. But for now, suffice it to say, she is who I want to be when I grow up. She is older than I am- I was astonished to find out that she is in her 7th decade of life- and recently lost her husband, who was older than her at nearly 90 and was equally extraordinary. She is so full of life and joy and fun! She laughs and jokes and takes long walks and she… well, she lives.
I went thinking I was going to lift her spirits and help her in her grieving process, but in truth, I think she helped me far more than I did her.
And how wonderful it was to see her part-time home through her eyes! We walked for miles around town- from my hotel and her apartment it’s a short walk to Old Antibes, which is where the streets turn into cobbled pedestrian streets and grow impossibly narrow. It’s also where the Marche Provencal is located, which is something you must visit if ever in Antibes. It’s a covered outdoor market that happens every day, unlike the outdoor markets in most towns which are a weekly event. It’s never not jam-packed with people making their way past the different vendors, past the cheeses, traditional saucissons, flowers in profusion, seasonal vegetables in abundance, and of course olives and olive oils. And lavender. And soaps- those little brightly colored ones that are always a temptation for me because they come in such delicious fragrances- violet and sweet almond are my favorites. The entire place is a feast for the senses- from the pungent odors of the cheese seller’s stand to the vivid colors of wild strawberries and raspberries. We spent a little time perusing this market after having stopped for our morning coffee- another of my favorite rituals while in France. Is there anything better than a tiny little coffee cup, served at a table under the clear blue Mediterranean sky, with the morning just unfolding and promising you a beautiful day? And oh, the people (and dog!) watching!
After our time in the market, where I purchased my obligatory soaps and lavender sachets, we continued our walk, past the harbor with its collection of unbelievably enormous yachts. We meandered through the narrow stone streets with the brightly painted houses on each side, back out into the sunshine, following a path that ran along the sea. The blue of the sky above was rivaled only by the blue of the water, the ocean calm, with just enough wind to lift the scent of salt. We sat for a while in the sunshine, and then we got down to the all-important task of choosing where to dine for lunch. And then we indulged in that quintessential French custom: the long, leisurely lunch complete with wine and dessert. And then we did it again for dinner.
Even after such a brief time in France, my soul feels filled. Filled with friendship, filled with the beauty of such a place, by the scents of salt air and perfumed soaps and smelly cheese, by good food, but most importantly, with friendship and laughter and good conversation.
And this is why I travel. To remember how to live.