There are so many people here better at the film festival than I am. They see the right movies. They get in line at the right time. They have the right take on Twitter. They write up a review that is balanced and cautious. I stumble in at the last minute, sunglasses affixed to the top of my head, badge flying from around my neck, my body finding new places to sweat and blister, camera hoisted over my shoulder. I get in line too late. I always have to check my camera, which adds a few more minutes to the seating free-for-all. Inevitably I sit next to someone who is going to bother me for the next hour and a half. They talk. They snooze. They check their watches and cell phones. They sometimes leave early. This is true whether you’re upstairs or downstairs, yellow, blue, pink or white. You can’t really do anything about it. It’s a mixing of cultural norms here. You just have to roll with it. It always makes me realize how hermetically sealed my own life has become, how I just mostly avoid crowds anywhere, anytime I can.
My morning begins early. I wake up around 5 or 6am. I boil water in my tea kettle. I pour it through a filter I brought with a heaping mound of Starbucks French Roast (I know, the horror, the horror). I sometimes eat some baguette from the day before dipped in jam. If I eat scrambled eggs I won’t be hungry until dinner time. I sit down and work and by work I mean surf Reddit and Twitter. I write what I have to write before hitting the shower. My shower is an odd contraption that has a mind of its own. It took me a few tries to get it down but once the water starts to spray out of it the nozzle becomes a wild serpent, twisting and writhing in the shower, spraying water everywhere. I’ve tamed it by now, though. I no longer spray water on everything else in the bathroom when I take a shower.
I often have abstract thoughts about a plugged-in blow dryer, a medusa showerhead and this mortal coil. I’m at the half-point in life now so anything could take me, from pure chance to organ failure. Now there’s two words no one really likes to hear. A good friend of mine wrote to tell me that his father had gone into severe cardiac arrest and was put in the hospital. It was a tough time for him and somehow my goofy time schedule worked out so that I could make cyber contact at least.
My usual morning walk has me leaving around 8am for the fifteen minute trek to the Palais. This morning it was sprinkling a little. Then it felt like it was going to rain. I knew I had an umbrella back at the flat. The question was whether it would continue to rain or stop. I decided to double back to retrieve the umbrella, figuring it wouldn’t matter if I delayed my route by ten minutes. I hurried back upstairs and grabbed it. By the time I left it had stopped raining.
A day or so ago it was around 90 degrees, beach weather. I live a few steps from the beach where all of the locals were out frolicking in the waves. I thought about finding anything that would pass as a bathing suit and going for a swim. I knew it was one of those once in a lifetime things, what with possible electrocution by blow dryer awaiting me. I J. Alfred Prufrocked through the moment, wondering how nice it would be to feel the Mediterranean on my feet, or to submerge fully, seeing my own apartment from the water. I didn’t do it. I wish I had. Now the weather has turned and there will be no more beach days. The moment passes. It’s there for the taking or it’s there for the regretting.
I make my way down Rue du St. Georges Clemenceau, down a staircase that leads to the dock. I follow the dock all the way down to the Palais, dodging all manner of people who are never in the same kind of hurry and tend to just stand there until you dart around them and keep moving. I usually get there with a few minutes to spare. Once inside, the familiar sound of jazz, lots of people talking and the refrain, “Mesdames et Messieurs – ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. The screening is about to begin. Please do not use your mobile telephones during the performance.” I could be paraphrasing. I’ve only heard it at every screening for six years now.
Once the morning screening is over, a person who is good at the festival heads to the wi-fi room or their own hotel to write up the review. But instead I wade into the shopping area, finding myself continually drawn to the little shops that sell pretty things. The Farmer’s Market calls out my name and before long I am loaded with shopping bags headed up the hill into the Suquet and back down the hill towards my flat. Once inside, I unpack the goodies. Blackberries, strawberry jam, fleur de sel, souvenirs for back home.
A young woman in one of the bakeries has been making fun of me. Once I asked if the little orange cakes had been baked aujourd’hui? She laughed and said in a thick French accent, “no, they were baked four weeks ago and we’re only selling them now.” Of course it would be funny to a French person that they might sell something older than one day. But not to an American, baby. We rarely get same day freshness for anything, let alone bread and cakes.
I struggled through a conversation with a woman selling nougat and finally she just said “you speak English?” And I said, “yes.” “All right, let’s just speak English. I speak Spanish.” It’s funny that Europeans almost always know at least two languages but sometimes more than that. Most Americans, it goes without saying, do not. But at least I could say “muchas gracias.”
I usually can manage two screenings a day, 8:30am and 7pm. That gives me plenty of time in the middle to do other things, like sleep. Sometimes it’s a three movie day if there is an 11am showing of something. Today’s big event is the John Lasseter Pixar presentation. To attend the presentation I was to walk down to the Carlton hotel and pick up my ticket. Here in Cannes you are confronted with the very very rich and the very very poor. You might see someone illegally begging with a drugged up cat and dog lying on a blanket on the same block as the Carlton, where they have fresh flowers as statues in the foyer. Somehow movie studios have convinced them to allow garish ads to decorate their exterior. Beauty matters up to a point where money trumps it. Money trumps everything everywhere.
I have decided that it’s a bucket list thing to stay at the Hotel du Cap, where all of the famous people and oil-rich Middle-Easterners stay. It’s around 1k euro a night on the off-season. It’s where you see the celebrities swimming while here. It sits on the nose of a land mass, enveloped by the sea around it. It is every Gatsby’s dream of the good life.
Last night I caught Shan he gu ren (Mountains May Depart) a gentle film about three decades in a Chinese family’s life, specifically a young woman who goes from carefree teenager to divorced mother who loses custody of her son. The film then flashes forward to 2025, where she’s left back in a small town in China while her son has mostly abandoned his Chinese heritage. After the film, one of the best to screen here, I saw Manohla Dargis, Scott Foundas and Todd McCarthy all sitting together, aka all of what remains of film criticism anymore. Then I saw Anne Thompson in the lobby, her face still recovering from tears. I gave her a really awkward mommy hug right there in the lobby. She probably thought it was silly but you can’t really turn off the mommy impulse even if you tried. I wondered what it was about the movie that brought her to tears. The ending was bittersweet, which I won’t spoil here. That I didn’t cry made me wonder if I was broken inside. If so, the blowdryer might as well take me.
On my way back home I saw a booth selling crêpes. I hadn’t had one since Paris in 2009. My daughter and I had four days in Paris, which remains one of the greatest times of my life. I remember the orange syrup oozing down my wrist. I stared too long at this booth wondering if I should eat a crepe. Dare I eat one? I was J. Alfred Prufrocking the way I had with swimming in the ocean. Everything was wrong about eating a crepe at 9pm but I walked over there anyway and I ordered one for 4 Euros. It was so like tasting a cloud flavored with sugar cane. If our lives are about living them without regret, I was winning half the time.
My friend said his father had mostly stabilized. That was good news. The online world was churning with conflict. Too many controversies that would evaporate within minutes. A bunch of rednecks with guns shot each other in Texas. The internet outraged because no one called them thugs. Shut it off, I thought. Just shut it off.
My morning would begin anew once I closed my eyes. Two days left to close out another year. Our lives move in one direction. We have moments that pass, even if we preserve them in a photograph or with words. They become sweet memories of where we were once. There isn’t any better way to pay tribute to time other than to live through it. We are all part of things living and dying. The only thing we know for sure is that sooner or later time runs out.
So somewhere in the abstract I am swimming in the sea here, my body weightless, my eyes watching the sky for so much of this and every other thing that almost was.