By Katherine Harvey
In an effort to save energy, France has recently decided that all air-conditioned retail establishments must keep their doors closed as leaving the doors open with the AC on leads to 20% more energy consumption, not to mention that leaving the door open negates the point of the AC, a fact that most French shop keepers fail to understand but more on that later. In case you were wondering, outdoor heaters for terraces have been banned for a few years. In cities with a population of fewer than 800,000 illuminated advertising must be turned off from 1 am to 6 am with the exception of railway stations and airports with no mention of buses which are a very important means of transportation in this French department although knowing how public transportation works here buses probably do not run during those hours. A hefty fine of 750 euros or about $760 is levied on all violators but how often the fine is levied is not clear although one would imagine daily. Restaurants and bars with terraces may keep their doors open and a smaller fine of up to 150 euros will be imposed for violators, presumably bars and restaurants without terraces, again how often is not clear. All this is well and good except for the fact that it is not going to work in Antibes or probably any French town that attracts tourists and has retailers that want to sell their wares. Some businesses such as the wine merchant NICOLAS which has shops all over Europe is complying by posting a sign on the door in nice big letters stating that it is open and air-conditioned thereby letting you know why the door is closed; it is comforting to assume that it is company policy to comply with the law. Other retailers say they would have no clients if they had to close their doors and simply turn off the AC, saying it really does not make a difference which, of course, it doesn’t if the door is open and others are willing to risk fines and leave the AC on and the door open. Some shops here don’t even have doors and are open to the street, putting down a metal grate when closed. Shops pay a fee to have merchandise or signs in the street which attract customers and having a closed door is interpreted as not welcoming. I throw up my hands on this one.
While produce is king in the market other stands are plentiful: spices, soap and creams, olives, cheese, flowers and plants and more. Nicole and her husband have the only butcher stand in the market making it one of the most popular stands where there is always a long line of eager customers waiting to choose which paté or terrine they want: quail, rabbit, tongue, poultry liver to name a few or perhaps it is a farm raised chicken, veal kidneys, beef filet or sausage which is front and center: merguez, chipolatas with or without herbs, perrugines and of course country blood sausage. There are at least four kinds of raw ham on offer sitting on top of the meat case including San Daniel and prosciutto.
Maison Hibert is the new cheese stand in the spot that has always been home to the major and largest cheese provider in the market. Jean Marie has had a small cheese and sausage stand in the market for years and when the family from the Var that had the major cheese stand retired after 32 years, the space was taken over by Jean Marie’s lucky son, Alexandre. In additional to the usual cow’s milk brie, camembert and reblochon there are more unusual cheeses such as sheep’s milk camembert and a creamy white goat/sheep mix. Various kinds of tomme, a hard cheese which is made from cow, sheep or goat’s milk or a combination of two of them are available, a favorite being tomme au fleurs (tomme with flowers) with its edible flower crust with a blue goat variety coming in a close second.
New in the market this year is representation of the post office. Caroline has set up under the bust of Championnet whose name is inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and was a prominent figure in the French Revolution, commander-in-chief of the Army of Rome to protect it from the Neapolitan court and British fleet and later commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy; he was much admired by Napoleon. His only connection to Antibes is that he died here and is buried at the Fort Carré. General Championnet’s bust sits on a plinth at the entrance of the market across from the Hotel de Ville (town hall) only steps from Michel’s produce stand. Caroline sells stamps, mailing cartons, pens, and scales for weighing letters plus lanyards with a retractable cord which are handy if you want to wear your key around your neck and simultaneously give the post office free publicity. I bought some stamps which I will probably never use but thought them charming as they had figures from the fairy tales of Grimm, Andersen and Perrault. Caroline gave me the choice of a free pen, letter scale or lanyard. I choose the lanyard which I also will probably never use.
The fish stand La Sirene (the mermaid) across from the market with its restaurant MerSea has been open for decades. Last summer in addition to their usual fare they were selling roasted chickens and Cornish hen but this summer have decided to stick with fish, crab claws, oysters (Belon, Fine de Claire and Gillardeau, a large family operation for over a century with farms in Normandy near Utah Beach and in Ireland’s County Cork), lobster (spiny or blue) and various kinds of shrimp including blue and giant gambas. Cheerful Nico who was second in charge has now left La Sirene
and has opened his own fish stand pretty much directly opposite La Sirene on the other side of the market where there was a butcher shop for a short time. Time will tell if this was a good idea but the fact that Nico will set you up at a little table and serve you six Fines de Claires and a glass of Chardonnay to get you through the morning is a definite plus. There is only one other fish shop and that is Marius at the bottom of the rue Sade across from the Place National. This is the second summer for Marius and his wife as the previous owners Thierry and his wife Magie retired.
A new trend seems to be carting your children around in a little wagon instead of a stroller which makes a trip to the beach much easier since you can throw all your gear, picnic and child or children into a roomy, safe and comfortable vehicle. These red canvas wonders often have a canopy which is protective of delicate skin unlike the usually useless awning and umbrella of a stroller when the only protection from the sun would be to cover the whole stroller so the poor child sees nothing but fabric. That is if the parent thinks of this.
In addition to the ubiquitous motorized scooter, another means of transportation for the past few summers is the Golfette. Dashing Alexandre Biscuit has a small fleet of golf carts that operate exclusively in Antibes, Cap d’Antibes and Juan les Pins. The parent company, Gingy Groupe also provides much appreciated valet parking service at the Garoupe beaches in the summer and Alex “winters” in Courchevel with his fleet which is an equally clever idea. It is great fun to ride in one of these vehicles, safely strapped in and certainly going too fast for conditions. The drivers are all young, probably college students with a summer job. The trip is not exactly conversation friendly, holding on can be a challenge but it is guaranteed to be an adventure though not for the faint of heart.
The beach holds many pleasures other than cooling off in the sea: stand up paddle, jet skis, kayaking, outrigger canoeing, but the water toy du jour is the Australian Fliteboard battery operated hydrofoil surfboard 2.2 that sends you skimming across the water as if by magic. And now it seems inflatable flotation devices have risen to a new level: large, round slices of watermelon complete with black seeds and green rind, doughnuts with pink icing and multicolored sprinkles with a bite taken out of it, vanilla ice cream cones also with sprinkles, rainbow colored unicorns and hippopotami, turtles with brightly colored flowers on their backs (a new kind of painted turtle I suppose), smiling snails, rays, crocodiles, sharks, red sea horses, flamingos of various sizes, an all too familiar red sleeve holding French fries and even a pineapple but no SpongeBob. A veritable menagerie, snacks included.
Thursday is the big market day and also the brocante or flea market with stands around the bandstand at the Place National which also is the terrace of numerous restaurants. Giant statues of Tintin and Milou his dog, second hand Hermes scarves in the original box, perfectly polished hotel silver, glistening crystal chandeliers does not even scratch the surface of what is available. Mme. Davidoff and 14 year old Miss Luna, a Jack Russel and Yorkie mix have the only linen stand. Mme. D who sells her pristine antique linen and cotton in numerous towns in France has been coming to Antibes for over 20 years. Cocktail napkins, table cloths, pillow cases, coasters, shifts, aprons and more, all hand embroidered, some with intricate lace, Mme. D has it and it is as immaculate as the day it was made. I always hope to find a linen top sheet with an H but so far no luck.
The other morning when I left to do errands it was not the much hoped for Igloo but a motorcycle outside the back door. I taped a note to the seat of the moto asking the owner to please not block the entrance to our house and when I returned the motorcycle was moved. The owner appeared, sweetly apologized and said he had no idea anyone lived here! Live here we do, and happily.