Dispatch from Antibes

By Katherine Harvey

The summer of 2016 on the Cote d’Azur was like no other.  It was not the brilliant sun which shone almost every day as it does every summer attracting vacationers from every walk of life, nor the mega-yachts with rock stars, movie stars and billionaires that were in all the important vacation ports: Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, Villefranche and Antibes to name a few.  It was the attack in Nice the night of the annual July 14 fireworks, a family event celebrating freedom just as the Fourth of July celebrates freedom in the Unites States, attracting and uniting people from every socioeconomic level, religion and ethnic group and numerous nationalities.  The shock of this attack on families celebrating freedom will not go away easily if ever.

The attack took place along the Promenade des Anglais, or Walkway of the English, the seven kilometer stretch that is the main road dividing the sea from the many houses, apartment and office buildings, restaurants and hotels which line it stretching from the airport east to the Quai des Etats Unis, so named after the Second World War in gratitude for the American armed forces who fought with the French in Nice.  The Quai is near the Cours Saleya, the famous market street in the Old Town where, depending on the time of day and day of the week, you can buy just about anything you can think of from fruits and vegetables to antiques or simply enjoy a meal or espresso in one of the numerous restaurants and cafes.  Public and private beaches dot the Prom’ giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the sea and sun.

Every year on the 14th of July virtually every town in France has a special celebration and along the Mediterranian fireworks are a central part of the celebration, often followed by a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.  In Antibes we have fireworks on the 13th and our sister town of Juan les Pins has them on the 14th, although this year our fireworks on the 13th were cancelled due to strong winds and we assumed that they would be rescheduled for later in the summer as had been the case the two other times this had happened in the last 35 years.  Little did we know that this was not to be.

France is not unfamiliar with terrorist attacks.  In November 2015 a Paris theatre full of young people enjoying entertainment on a Friday night was attacked by terrorists killing 130, injuring 368, many seriously; in January of that year the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was attacked; 12 were killed and 11 injured.  Shortly thereafter hostages were taken in a kosher supermarket resulting in four hostages killed and many injured.  The life of one policeman was lost. France is reeling from these attacks and is still under a state of emergency.

Just as the fireworks were over in Nice on July 14, 2016, a man drove a large refrigerator truck up the Promenade des Anglais, plowing down anyone in his path as they crossed the Prom’, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds.  Later two more would die of injuries.  The world was in shock.

The Promenade des Anglais received its name from the many English aristocrats who lived in Nice in the 19th century who proposed a project to build a walkway along the sea, employing the many homeless who had come to Nice because of a very severe winter in the north.  Originally called “Camin dies Angles” in the native Nissart which can still be heard in the streets of Nice, it was changed to Promenade des Anglais in 1860 when Nice was annexed to France.  Everyone enjoys the beautiful walk along the sea: bicyclists, skateboarders, in line skaters, joggers and mothers (and fathers) with strollers and many retired who come to Nice for the mild climate.  The famous blue chairs recently redesigned by the important French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte are still there and yes, you have to pay the woman when she comes along asking for rental of the chair.

It is not clear how the attacker was able to drive a truck along the Prom’ when all traffic had been stopped for hours and barriers were set up attended by police to divert any vehicular traffic for blocks around the Prom’.  Probably one of two things happened: either the truck was parked on a side street prior to the closing of access to the area or, as has also been reported, the driver told police he was delivering ice cream and they let him through.

The shock waves of this horrendous event were felt throughout the Cote d’Azur and around the world.  Soon after July 14, 40 people were injured in Juan les Pins when two young men decided to hold a drag race near the center of town late in the evening when the bars and night clubs are in full swing making such a racquet with their cars backfiring and throwing flames out of their exhaust pipes that everyone thought there was another attack.  Chairs and tables were overturned, glass flew everywhere and people crawled along the floor to what they hoped was safety in the area behind bars and overturned tables.  A few days before that a false alarm had sped through the social media which may have contributed to the instant panic.  Everyone is on edge.

In Antibes there are now 88 military billeted in the Fort Carré which was redesigned by the brilliant military architect Vauban in the 17th century.  They patrol the streets of Antibes and Juan les Pins, usually in groups of four but sometimes only two, dressed in camouflage with AK-47’s and Uzis, finger on the trigger.  It is an impressive sight.  Originally they were to stay through August but that has been extended through at least September.

Antibes is very proud of the Fort Carré which dominates the port and the town itself which is called the “Ville des Ramparts”, or Town of the Ramparts in homage to the ramparts which once surrounded the entire town and defined it; a portion of the ramparts were removed in the 19th century to make way for expansion resulting in the old/modern town that it is today.

Sebastien Le Presort de Vauban, Seigneur de Vauban, later Marquis de Vauban, marshal of France and honorary member of the French Academy of Sciences was “indispensable to Louis XIV”.  During his illustrious career he upgraded the fortifications of almost 300 cities including Antibes and directed the building of 37 new fortresses.  12 of his fortifications are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Vauban’s heart is deposited in the church of Les Invalides in Paris; he is a national hero.

The July 14 attack had incalculable impact on the economy of the Cote d’Azur.  There were hundreds of cancellations including a single reservation for 70 at the Carlton in Cannes.  The hotel reservation cancellations impact the restaurants, cafes, luxury boutiques and souvenir shops along the entire coast, fulfilling one of the goals of the terrorists.

As for fireworks, they were banned for all private events until further notice.  Many towns cancelled concerts and outdoor performances and celebrations that would attract crowds.  Some public firework displays look place as scheduled including the annual fireworks competition in Cannes but all of these were poorly attended.  Everyone is skittish.

For the rest of July and all of August the prefecture or highest police authority of PACA which includes the departments of Provence, Alps and Cote d’Azur closed many streets that run through town centers on Friday and Saturday from noon till one in the morning.

In spite of all this there were many tourists crowding the streets of Antibes;  perhaps people were more friendly.  It is an uneasy time yet the French are determined to rise above all of this and prevail.

Apparently Igloo has been partially grounded which I am certain was non- negotiable.  It could be because he is delighted to accept attention from anyone which seems to be just about everyone who comes within his range of sight.  He is hard to resist and why would one wish otherwise?  He also has has been seen slipping through open windows all along his street.  A few months ago there was a very large drama with Igloo at the center.  The gregarious and ever curious Igloo wandered into a house where the door had been left open; the family locked up when they left for their native Netherlands, not realizing that Igloo had decided to pay them a farewell visit leaving our intrepid feline trapped inside.  It took numerous international telephone calls and the participation of many neighbors to find someone local with the key to the house to liberate the white coated prisoner.  One would think that our favorite cat would have learned his lesson but I do not hold out much hope.


"Igloo" the cat