Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Researching the Riviera

Just over a year ago my husband, daughter, and I were sitting on a cliff-top terrace in brilliant sunshine, savouring a gourmet lunch - scant food, artistically prepared, and way too expensive - with the ever-changing blues of the Mediterranean lapping at the bleached rocks below. Considering itself the most luxurious in Europe, The Hotel du Cap - Eden Roc at the southern tip of Cap d’Antibes, boasts about the many celebrities that have stayed there. At the prices they charge, only the super-rich can afford to!

We hadn’t come to ogle stars - and didn’t recognize anyone famous, although the Cannes Film Festival was just a week away - but were watched suspiciously by staff, who wouldn’t let us film even though we explained that my daughter was doing a documentary and was not paparazzi. The manager gave me short shrift when I requested some historical information, since the hotel is mentioned in my novels, shoving a piece of paper into my hands and refusing to answer questions. Could we take photos? Absolutely not! Good thing we had before asking. The staff were self-important and quietly disdainful to “nobodies” like us, although they seemed to fawn over others. Noticing a good many of the planet’s most expensive cars in the parking lot, I’m certain the staff are forever mindful of who’s who. 

The reason for our visit was to see the place where some of my characters dine when staying nearby in their own villa, and because I had just read about how some Americans helped to make the hotel and the Riviera popular in the 1920s - something that will be explored in Book 3 of my Muskoka Novels.

In the early days, the French Riviera was a winter retreat for the wealthy, but shut down during the heat of the summer.  Americans Sara and Gerald Murphy convinced the hotel to remain open one summer, in essence renting it, and invited friends to stay there with them - Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Picasso among them. So beguiled were the Murphys with Cap d’ Antibes, that they bought and then built their own villa there.

So it was exciting to see the places I had read about, to stroll the small beach at La Garoupe, which Gerald Murphy had virtually created by cleaning out the seaweed and daily raking the sand, and thus feel a connection to the past that I will write about. 

I think it’s ironic that now the Hotel du Cap - Eden Roc closes for the winter!

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