By Katherine Harvey
Antibes in March means spring is making an effort. Scaffolding that made navigating narrow streets difficult and is only allowed during certain months of the year is coming down and shops which closed after Epiphany so the owners could rest up for the coming spring and summer seasons are beginning to reopen. Tourists and locals are enjoying the cloudless sky and warm sunshine, jackets and sweaters tied around the waist as it can get hot during a weekend stroll when the trucks and other construction equipment are absent along the soon to be pedestrian ramparts; no one is waiting for the project to be finished to take advantage on weekends of the now vehicle prohibited stretch along the sea. And this is now a problem. People in Antibes do not like being told they cannot walk somewhere and so, predictably, there are footprints on the freshly poured textured street covering even though there is a fence barring entry and large pieces of equipment doing the same. I shudder to think what it is going to be like over the weekend when the public will have two days to ruin the careful work done by the skilled laborers.
Phase two of the work to render the ramparts pedestrian that started the second week in January is supposed to be completed by mid-April although it does not look like the project could possibly be completed by then. During the week, huge trucks and backhoes pepper the road dumping eight foot piles of dirt and gravel in front of the restaurant not too far from us. The view from the restaurant has gone from parking lot to heavy machinery and dirt but the clients still came for the sea view and warm sun which seem to erase the construction scenery; now that the stretch of what will become an esplanade is being covered with cement, sprayed and who knows what else, the restaurant has temporarily closed only to open again for weekend dining.
Mustard is back on grocery shelves and shoppers have heaved a collective sigh of relief as they stock up for the next shortage. For some inexplicable reason the French do not use white wine vinegar, only red wine vinegar, so a trip to Geoffrey’s, the very British grocery store and decades long fixture was necessary if one wanted white wine vinegar and it was the go to place for Hellmann’s mayonnaise as the Brits like mayo, especially Hellmann’s, on their fries or “chips”, not ketchup. Never in my life have I seen so much mayonnaise in one place: cases of 24 jars stacked hip high and more on the groaning shelves. Then came Brexit.
Never did I think Brexit would have a direct impact on my life but boy, was I wrong. It seems that tariffs and red tape made it impossible for Geoffrey’s to continue importing everything that the large British population in the area demands so it closed, leaving a culinary hole that has yet to be filled. Marmite, the love it or leave it brown yeast extract spread, a byproduct from beer brewing, can be found on some French grocery shelves as can stand-alone displays of assorted beloved Tyrrell’s
potato chips but Hellmann’s mayonnaise and white wine vinegar are nowhere to be found on French grocery shelves. At the moment, we probably have the largest supply of Hellmann’s mayonnaise in France as my husband’s ham and cheese sandwiches would not be the same with out it and our suitcase was pretty empty leaving room for multiple jars that had to fit in the door of our French size refrigerator. In case you were wondering, we did a blind mayonnaise tasting using some of the most
popular French brands including Amora, Benedicta, Maille and Heinz American Style and not surprisingly Hellmann’s won out. Fenella Holt, the very British owner of the very popular Antibes Books, The English Bookshop, just down from the market in the rue Georges Clemenceau and mere steps from the currency exchange, swears by Benedicta but it just is not Hellmann’s.
Antibes considers itself a sports center (apart from it being the largest private yacht basin in the world) with a dynamic basketball team and a world class swim center which will be used for 2024 Olympic trials. Now two more sports have been added to the Olympic menu in Antibes: table tennis and the trampoline. At the end of March, elite French senior (by age senior) “pongists” will compete in singles and doubles tournaments with the winners becoming the French teams for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The matches are organized by the French Table Tennis Federation among other table tennis organizations. 48 male and 48 female competitors will participate during three days of high level competition. I suppose I never thought of seniors being table tennis olympians but the fact is I never gave it much thought until now.
Not to be outdone by a small white ball moving at almost warp speed across a table of specific dimensions, the trampoline is returning to Antibes with a six country competition uniting major competitors France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain and England putting the spotlight on the importance of the sport and promoting the Antibes trampoline team. This is a major event for French olympic hopefuls preparing for the Trampoline World Cup which kicks off in July followed by the World Games in November.
The market seems to be taking its time returning to its usual end to end stands and shoulder-to-shoulder clients. The fish shop across from the market, La Sirene, was to open the second week in March but for reasons unknown did not. Former La Sirene employee and now proud manager of his own fish shop opposite La Sirene on the other side of the market is set to open next Saturday but opened early because La Sirene did not open as scheduled. Clever Nico serves six Fines de Clair oysters and a glass of Chardonnay for 12 euros or a lovely plate of fish carpaccio for the same price; this has become so popular Nico hired a waitress for the summer last year and most likely will have to do the same this summer.
The new eight screen movie theatre that has been delayed due to Covid and some other mysterious reasons will probably open this summer the mayor promises; there is a question if the new movie theatre is even necessary but it is a bit late to question its existence at this stage. One hopes that the proposed outdoor restaurant on top of the movie theatre will be a success yet no operator has yet been named The movie theatre is part of a new complex that includes apartments, shops and underground parking which has been made possible by the demolition of old, unremarkable buildings and two parking lots which caused endless traffic problems and the ire of certain merchants and restaurateurs due to streets being closed and chocking dust for weeks on end that kept customers away. To date only a few shops have opened in the new complex (the bagel shop is regarded as a pioneer) and only a handful of apartments are occupied. The underground parking lot is flooded and there are no pumps strong enough to remove the water.
The central post office which sits next to the new complex will be turned into a hotel of at least four stars it has been reported. The building is landmarked for reasons hard to understand as it is most undistinguished architecturally. Because of its status, renovations of the old girl will be supervised by the same architect who supervises any work done at the Palais Garnier (opera house) in Paris and other architecturally significant buildings in France. A new hotel in the heart of Antibes will certainly be welcome but no definite word on where the central post office will move to or if it will be eliminated which will cause yet a different set of problems as the French post office is also a a bank for many. Rumor has it, however, that the central post office will be relocated to the new complex making up for the lack of boutiques.
As for Igloo, he is boycotting the pedestrianization of the ramparts and so remains in Lille for the time being. For him, the ramparts were a place to explore and perhaps find a tasty tidbit. Worse, the garden at the Place du Barri, Igloo’s hunting ground and favorite nap venue has been removed only to be replaced by a “belvedere” so the sea is visible, not hidden by large cacti and immense aloe plants. One can only hope that our feline friend will return when the project is finished and new foliage planted where he might be able to nap peacefully after all the commotion due to the construction but he will be sorely disappointed if the new Poets’
Garden at the end of the ramparts is any indication of what the future plantings will be as they are low and gravel is a major feature all of which will not be conducive to lazy naps of yore under dense succulents.