We spent that summer where the Queen of England once spent her winters. We stayed in a Wilhelminian style hotel overlooking the sea and drank martinis at the hotel bar. It was a beautiful bar with blue velvet and brass, the waiters wore cufflinks and handed out canapés. The bar was long and had cushions on which you could rest your elbows while talking, or just say nothing and sit silently looking out across the room at the sea. Everything shone white, green and blue, in the glow of its glorious history, for the hotel had survived world wars and visits from the Jenners.
The lobby had been designed by Gustav Eiffel and the hotel had no windows, only paintings pointing out to sea and sky. The sunbeds by the pool have always had the most beautiful crossed legs in the world. The hotel was perched on a cape that crumbled paradisiacally from the cliffs into the sea; villas nestled under the trees looking back at us and the cape like expensive postcards. When the tide was low in the evening, we walked along the beach past the legs to the end of the cape and the villas and back again.
We ordered 50 euro hamburgers to the room and only watched trailers because a whole film would have cost 15 euros. We were very poor and we were very rich and we were very happy. Wealth for us had always consisted of an idea and lots of emails. She looked for the hotels, I made it happen. Often we could barely afford the journey. Once we even had to hitchhike and the driver thought we were as poor as we looked, but happy. He asked, Where to? We said ‘La Chèvre D’Or’. He must have misheard it, better ask again. ‘La Chèvre D’Or’, we said. He let us out at the entrance gate, but he was not allowed to drive in, not even a centimetre. This hotel is sacred. Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly’s marriage contract was negotiated here, the French national football team stayed here during the 1998 World Cup, and we stayed here, 700 metres above sea level, in a 1000-year-old mountain village. It is not paradise, but it is the closest thing to it we have ever seen.
A Garden of Eden has been planted around the hotel. The statues are there, the pool is splashing, we are brought champagne and blueberries. We have to chew them ourselves. The minibar is a room and in the living room of our artist suite there is a large white grand piano, in front of an immense view. A view so beautiful that you wouldn’t want to spoil it with sunglasses. You can see all the way to Nice, and you sit on your expensive balcony and look down on even more expensive private islands and boats anchored on the ground down there. In the morning, the silence up there was so loud that you thought you were alone in the world with a maid. Not even the roar of the Lamborghinis made it up there.
We learned everything we knew about the coast from the barman at the Grand Hotel. He had a young face, untouched by the Mediterranean climate, and embodied that equilibrium that the bar of a big hotel could create in you. He was polite and flattered my girlfriend, and not just for the tip, because we didn’t have one.
From him we learned that the English aristocracy invented the Riviera lifestyle and that Stéphen Liégeard had captured it in his book La Côte d’Azur. Until the artists came in the summer, no one came in the summer and when Coco Chanel showed up for the first time with a brown complexion, the scandal was big and the summer season opened on the Riviera. A train connection was built and the coast became the first international holiday destination.
First and foremost St. Tropez, this little town torn apart by the jet set. ‘Oh St. Tropez’ said the barman, ‘that used to be pastis and palaver, short black swimming trunks and posters with Romy Schneider’. People came for the light and a landscape that sways musically into the distance from the Plaine des Maures to the bays of the south. It looks like postcards hanging in front of the horizon. Today people only come because of other people. The old people at the Place des Lices still play boules, but over the years they have dropped the run-up.