BY KATHERINE HARVEY
No one likes to party like the French, and this summer has been no exception. Summer officially starts June 21, called mid-summer in some parts of Europe for reasons only they understand. In the early 1980s, Jack Lang, then Minister of Culture, decided France needed another reason to celebrate and expanded on the June 21st music event that took place in the late 1970s in Toulouse; the “Fete de la Musique,” which is now celebrated in over 120 countries, was born.
There is a play on words as “Fete de la Musique” means “Festival of Music,” but it also sounds like “Faites de la Musique,” which translates as “Make Music.” We have Jack Lang to thank for World Music Day and Make Music!, just as we have Louis XIV for all that is French luxury.
The rules are simple: anyone can participate and all concerts/performances are free. The festivities start on the evening of June 21 and continue until morning, which can be a problem if a performance is going on under your window and sleep was on your agenda that evening. Antibes organized many musical events for all tastes all over town that went on till the wee hours.
The Bastille Day celebrations on July 14th were dramatically curtailed this year as all of France, and much of the world, remembered the 86 killed and over 450 wounded last year when a truck drove through the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice while families were enjoying the fireworks. President Macron participated in the ceremony in Nice honoring the dead and wounded and met with victims and their families. Jazz is part of French culture, and there are jazz festivals all over France, the rest of Europe, and Asia. This year marked the 57th edition of “Jazz a Juan” in Juan les Pins, part of the Antibes-Cap d’Antibes-Juan les Pins political entity. As always, top stars participated and, as always, not all are jazz musicians. Names such as Tom Jones, Sting, Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Anoushka Shankar, and Chicago’s own Buddy Guy were among the performers playing to sold-out audiences 23,000 people strong over ten nights.
There have been changes in Antibes, some due to the July 14 attack in Nice last summer. One major change is that the Old Town is now pedestrian. There had been a plan to do this over time, but that plan was accelerated, and as of the magical date of June 21, the Old Town is pedestrian (with two exceptions) and deliveries must be made between 6:00 am and 10:00 am. Now, instead of cars parked along the street, restaurants have expanded terraces to the delight of patrons and restaurateurs alike, and pedestrians are no longer afraid of getting run over by a speeding car or motorcycle.
Another change is the “Kiosque pour la Musique” (we would call it a gazebo) in the half of the Place National that used to be a parking lot; how nice it is to see the beautiful Kiosque and not cars as you cross the square to do errands! The music Kiosque is a time-honored tradition in French towns, and Antibes is proud to return to that tradition.
We enjoyed six nights of music from the jazz festival in Juan (le Off) at the new Kiosque and look forward to concerts, theatre pieces, and other performances, which take place every Friday evening through the summer. We attended the morning inauguration of the Kiosque (again, that most special date of June 21), following the mayor and a Dixieland band through the streets till we reached the Kiosque. There were the obligatory speeches, and the mayor announced that the Kiosque was his happiest achievement, having remembered the concerts in the one that had been on the other side of the same square when he was a boy and his father was mayor.
A saxophone quartet played a few pieces ending with “Dans les Rues d’Antibes” (In the Streets of Antibes) written by French clarinetist and saxophonist Claude Luter and the late, great American saxophonist Sidney Bechet, who adopted Antibes as his home. Bechet was married in Antibes, and there is a square in Juan les Pins named for him with a bust of the gifted musician front and center.
Another summer tradition in Antibes is the invitation to a sculptor to display works around town. This year, Davide Rivalta is the honored artist, and we are delighted to have a wonderful bear in the square out our back door and two leopards strolling down a street around the corner. Scattered around town one can find a mule, a pack of wolves, a small herd of water buffalo, an eagle, a horse, and a rhinoceros.
In early July, we went to Aix-en-Provence to attend a world premiere performance of Philippe Boesmans’s PINOCCHIO at the Grand Theatre de Provence, built in 2007. This was no bowdlerized Walt Disney version but the original dark story as Carlo Collodi wrote it in 1883. We had been invited by the board of directors of the Lyric Opera to join them for the performance and dinner afterward, as the festival in Aix was part of their annual trip, and Antibes is only an hour and a half from Aix.
We stayed with the group at the contemporary, elegant Hotel Les Lodges Sainte-Victoire in the countryside of Aix looking out at Mont Sainte-Victoire, captured so many times by Cezanne. We arrived in time for a swim in the infinity pool overlooking the famous vineyards of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, changed for the performance, and joined the group for the short ride to the theatre. After the performance, we enjoyed dinner and a discussion between Lyric’s Anthony Freud and the director of the Aix Festival, then back to the hotel.
The next morning we bid the group goodbye as they went off for an art tour, went for another lovely swim, and enjoyed a glass of wine in the garden, joined by none other than Cezanne, the resident black and white cat. After lunch in the Michelin-starred restaurant at the hotel, we returned to Antibes. It was a magical 24 hours.
Today the Mistral is blowing, which means a flat sea for us but whitecaps on the other side of the peninsula. For others, the quickly shifting winds mean that the fires, which have displaced over 12,000 people to date and counting, and burned many thousands of acres, will spread more quickly. There are often fires in the south of France in the summer because of dry conditions, and many are of a suspicious origin.
This year it is particularly frightening as the fires have spread so rapidly and are so close to populated areas. The Var, where Saint Tropez is located, has been most unlucky this year, and fire brigades have been requested from Italy to help the French fight these destructive fires; unfortunately the situation seems to be going from bad to worse.
Igloo, I am told, is spending his summer away from Antibes. Those who know the gregarious feline miss him and look forward to his return in the fall.