My awareness of Cannes began as a surreal stream of consciousness in my adolescent imagination, one which gradually evolved into a more focused curiosity about my father’s annual trip. His yearly pilgrimage was made under the legitimate guise of a classic film distributor, but there was always an air of suspicious alacrity and suppressed enthusiasm as he packed his Savile Row finery, bathing suits and sunglasses. That I was never invited fired my preoccupation still further. I drew on the only references I had, especially Fitzgerald’s pre-war France as seen in Tender Is the Night. I was infatuated, endlessly fantasising about Cannes until it became my private Oz, the land of yachts and miraculous fulfilment I might never reach. Somerset Maugham’s perception of the city as a “sunny place for shady people” did little to alter that vision.
Some years later, my curiosity was coupled with longing. An impecunious twenty-year-old living in a maid’s room belonging to François Truffaut while loosely apprenticed to Brassaï, I became the first Paris-based photo correspondent for the fledgling W magazine. Cold and damp in Paris, I was paid at a wretched exchange rate and never had the train fare to the warmer climes of the south. Although it seemed that half of Paris headed down every spring, I wasn’t invited.
Cannes haunted me. My subjects for W were largely drawn from the movies and, the best, including Louis Malle and Marthe Keller, were always associated with the Film Festival, either as awardees or jury members.
I never did get south in my Parisian year, but a decade later, back in the States and flush with magazine work, I was comparatively rich. Brassai invited me to visit Beaulieu and Eze. Enfin! I discovered Cap Ferrat, its cooing doves and sea air perfumed with eucalyptus, pine and jasmine. Paradisal! For the next twenty years, I returned every May to La Bastide, a pension’s honeymoon suite atop St. Jean overlooking the coast down to Monaco. Seventy dollars a night brought me petit dejeuner, juice of sweet, local oranges, fresh croissant with a huge cup of café au lait, and simple dinners of chicken from the backyard, fish from the port, vegetables from the garden, local rosé, and Marc de Provence. Channelling Les Enfants du Paradise, I even affected a touch of Provençale patois. My relationship with Cannes had evolved from distant longing to heavenly abundance, at least until Russians bought La Bastide for umpteen millions and demolished it forever.
Assignments for Vanity Fair and Vogue brought myriad movie subjects, even Marcel Carné himself. In the ‘90s and aughts, I found myself on annual trips to Cannes for festival dinners, frequenting the Eden Roc, the Belles Rives and staying at the Juana in Juan-les-Pins: the very epicentre of Fitzgerald’s Cote d’Azur. Most importantly, I met Charles Finch, who soon sailed the literal yacht of my dreams.