Our ten day winter Marina visit was one quarter filled (don’t quote me on that, could’ve been a little over a third) with adventure, approximately one quarter misadventure and the rest filled with the usual predictable expectations. In week two, on a partly grey afternoon in Juan Le Pin, Lieve, I, Spikey and Pepie encountered, or more precisely were accosted by, a wind storm of bad intent. Getting out of the car to face that meteorological event was a test of upper arm strength or stupidity or both.
As palms swayed elastically, like in a cartoon, and violence besieged the slate-grey Mediterranean, we walked, as if up a steep hill, straight into the whistling abomination towards a lunch place on the boardwalk. The wind seemed determined to take anything that wasn’t nailed down (or bolted, glued, but not necessarily items affixed with Velcro tape) into a Wizard of Oz-like vortex of unknown destination. The slashing, metallic knife-like (OK, it could’ve been razor-like) waves danced crazily towards the beach and boardwalk, daring anyone fool enough to enter. The incongruous sun, seemingly observing all this, disdainfully laughed, and said “don’t look at me” while puffy, cuddly high up pinkish clouds yawned with indifference. This dichotomous meteorological joke was on all who ventured out into the tumult.
Marina Baie Des Anges was peopled by the usual suspects, both resident and gawking anorak clad Yankee-ball-capped visitor types. Philippe and Mark, the two gays who run Lieve’s favourite eatery, the smallish quirky and garish Victoria Restaurant, were gracious as usual. Mark, the rotund one, laughs at everything. It’s all a big joke to him, lucky guy. Geeze, if they could distribute some of his laughter around the world, what a wonderfully hilarious place it would be. Hardly any time for strenuous thinking at all. The ponderous but Teddy Bear affable Philippe creates great, simple dishes with the best and freshest ingredients, though for this New Year’s offering, the gastronomical compass curiously pointed towards Lunch Garden.
Their New Year’s party was attended by some forty characters, (squeezed in the small joint like so many sardines) disguised as regular people. The veritable Three Penny Opera cast enjoyed the attendant hoopla celebrating, for God knows why, the New Year. Noise makers, hats, loud music, cold potatoes and chewy steak all welcomed 2018 in. Some were ‘dressed to kill’, others ‘dressed to the nines’, still others were attired in the commonest clothing, as though work-bound and ready to board a creepy city bus or subway car. Lieve was stunningly beautiful and dressed appropriately for a much higher venue/extravaganza/soiree. Me? I was just sitting there not drinking, as usual, enjoying Lieve’s joy. That, and observing the benign madness that enveloped me.
Ventimiglia was a blustery, wintery experience, but fun as always. Lieve took many great photos there. Especially of the surfers on the Big Sur-like waves that appeared to be a few meters high. Scores of onlookers invariably messed up the best shots, though. We stayed one night at the ironically named Calypso Hotel. The manager/owner eyed us with suspicion as we registered. I suppose anyone talking with an American accent while his head is buried in his hood would warrant such wariness.
Of course we ate again at La Vecchia Napoli, (at the foot of the River Roya bridge) where Bruce Willis is the chef. At least that’s what Lieve calls the chef. Try to picture someone who never smiles nor blurts out three consecutive words, wears a white apron, has a bald pate that shines like a mirror, is built like a tree trunk with four thick limbs, has fingers like sausages, is usually carrying a large sharp knife while bearing a slight resemblance to the movie star and you got it.
While going to our car to exit the municipal parking lot near the police station, we witnessed an altercation between a thirty-something Frenchman of slight to medium frame and a fiftyish Moroccan who was taller and heavier by some twenty kilos. As the Frenchman was backing out, the Moroccan tapped his horn to avoid a rear/frontal collision. The former took offense to this perfect logic and harangued the latter with racial insults. Lieve was ready to step in between them. My feeling was let them settle it themselves. A shoving/pulling match then ensued, with the livid purple-faced Moroccan getting the better of it. This lurid entertainment only lasted a few seconds, as both Lieve and I stepped between. We now rightfully qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize. When one considers some of the charlatans who have been honoured with that dubious award, we’re on the short list.
Recovering from a spectacle laced with international implications, we headed towards ‘Catering’, the grocery store for restaurant owners, only a few kilometres away. Philippe (yes, that Philippe) had asked Lieve to pick up some ‘Jambon Cru’ (I love the sound. A rock band, perhaps?) He assured her that while she couldn’t use his membership card, she didn’t need one and would only be charged an extra euro to make purchases. I waited in the car while Lieve shopped. After about twenty minutes, she returned crying. “What happened?”, I asked, as I tried to calm her. Lieve replied that she was told by store personal that she did indeed need a membership card.
She immediately called Philippe to explain the situation. His curt response amounted to a very convincing impersonation of a jerk and an asshole “I’m very busy now. I haven’t got time, bye” “Don’t call me when I’m busy” A more wanton display of ingratitude we have never encountered. And from a friend. When we arrived back at the Marina we immediately confronted him. After several minutes, his apologies started to leak out and before long turned into a veritable waterfall of remorse. We didn’t accept his offer of a free dinner, but took him up on his whole-hearted and magnanimous offer of free drinks for the next five years.