Snoring and shooting on the Côte-d'Azur

by Anthony.Peregrine

They think it’s all over. It is now – and thank the Lord for that. Monaco lost the French Cup Final at the Stade-de-France last Saturday night (May 1) in a match which left me in a light coma. It was like sticking one’s head underwater and watching coral grow, though a lot less pretty. Both sides performed as if they had only been introduced to the game of football that very afternoon.

In truth, I was out cold by the end of normal time, when the score stood at an enthralling nil to Monaco and nil to Paris-St-Germain. So I missed the only goal of the game, nodded in by some Parisian or other in extra time. I awoke just as Prince Albert was being terribly gracious in defeat to a TV interviewer. It must have been galling for him. His principality lives on superlatives – and yet has a soccer team which couldn’t live with Port Vale reserves. The only good thing about the club is that it has the prince to excuse it.

Meanwhile the Olympique de Marseille (OM) were edging closer to the French first division title. They can claim it on Wednesday, if they beat Rennes and if Auxerre, their nearest challengers, lose. Should you happen to be in Marseille that night, take cover. The OM is the only club in France which generates Liverpool, Chelsea or ManU-type hysteria. There will be mayhem.

Crime wave

As the Cup Final snore-a-thon droned on, Anglo-Lebanese superstar Mika was playing a sold-out concert in Nice. Between songs and inspired prancing, the French-speaking singer told 9000 fans of his connections with the Côte-d’Azur. As a teenager he had, apparently, spent much time in nearby Villeneuve-Loubet – where he specialised in stealing soft drinks from hotels. As ever, crime elicited further crime. During the show bad guys were battering and breaking into cars outside the concert hall. Thirty-one drivers came out of the show on a high, and then hit a very low low.

Stars and cars

May 16, Sunday-week, is a big day on the Côte-d’Azur. Fresh from boring the nation to a standstill at soccer, Monaco pursues its true sporting destiny – all turbo-roars, décolleté’d bling and zillionaires – with the Monaco Grand Prix. You’ll need serious money if you want to do the job properly, and quite serious money if you want to do it at all. Monaco is rarely a place for paupers. On GP weekend it’s barely a place for the middle classes

I’ve just noted that, if you fly down for the day, you can get yourself picked up at Nice airport, whisked back to a private apartment with terrace overlooking the track, have a buffet breakfast, buffet lunch, open bar and champers after the race – with hostesses to serve – for €850pp. Please note that that doesn’t include the air travel, dinner or any overnight accommodation. And you’ll only see live that bit of the race passing under your terrace. A snip, eh? Have a look at if you don’t believe me.

St Tropez, the man and his head

Frankly, I think you’d be better off in St-Tropez. Starting on May 16 and running through the following Monday and Tuesday, native Tropeziens hold their biggest thrash of the year. They forget that theirs is the most famous seaside resort in the world. They ignore the celebs, yachts, night-clubs and brand-name boutiques.

Instead, and for three days only, they celebrate themselves – or, more precisely, their own history. The event is Les Bravades and you’d better believe it’s damned serious. Everyone’s in period dress – men and boys in military uniforms, women and girls in appropriately flouncy items. Processions are pretty much constant, with pipes, drums and the firing of cannons, rifles and muskets along the way.

And, crucially, the bust of St Tropez himself is taken from its usual home in the church and paraded for adoration. You might not have realised that there was an actual chap called ‘Tropez’. Well, there was, though his real name was Torpetius. He was a Roman officer from Pisa who made the signal mistake of mentioning his conversion to Christianity to Nero, whom he served as a steward.

Nero had him beheaded. The headless corpse was placed in an open boat, alongside a live cockerel and a dog, and set adrift. It apparently fetched up on the Provençal coast where St Tropez now is. (Torpetius’ head, incidentally, stayed in Italy and is now in Pisa cathedral. Contemporary Pisans travel every year to play an honoured role in Les Bravades ceremonies.)

Torpetius’ name was mangled to ‘Torpes’, then ‘Tropez’. He’s been the village’s patron and guardian ever since landing. So casting doubt on the likelihood of a sail-less boat reaching Provence from Italy, or of a cockerel arriving intact when there was also a hungry dog on board, will not win you any friends.

Moonlit Moët & Chandon

St Tropez thus oversaw villagers through their greatest days, from the 15th to 17th centuries. The place had semi-independent, and tax-free, status, ran its own militia and protected its bit of coast from all manner of sea-borne marauders. … Barbary pirates, English, Spanish, etc. This, then, is the stirring history commemorated in Les Bravades starting Sunday-week. Our village, Tropeziens are telling us, has not always lived the soft life, drawn between Giorgio Armani and moonlit Moët & Chandon. We’ve had our moments, and we’re re-living them right now.

One word of advice: if you do show up for Les Bravades and no matter how fine the spectacle, do not applaud. It’s absolutely frowned upon, like clapping Holy Communion.