Crazy Habits

My grandfather was French and as a true Parisian he dreamed of a second home on the Cote d’Azur. And he achieved it. Roughly 40 years’ ago, he built a beautiful house which the whole family has used eagerly every year since. As a child I enjoyed spending most of my summer vacation there, so it’s not surprising I have a deep love for the Côte d’Azur. Of course, we went on holiday to other places every now and then, but usually my parents made sure that we could also enjoy a piece of the Côte d’Azur for a week. One of their crazy habits. Because well, a summer without the ‘Côte’ was like a summer without sun!

But when I became a teenager something started to gnaw. I’d “been there, done that” and I wanted to see different places!  My friends told me all about their holiday adventures on campsites in Spain, about the new friends they’ve made there, about their holiday loves and about the night life they were exploring. It sounded like everything I wanted! The house in the Côte d’Azur was slowly getting my back up and the thought of spending another holiday there was not that enticing. But my parents thought differently.

Naive as I was, I picked up several brochures from a travel agency, mostly of hotels and apartments on the Spanish Costa, because camping and campsites really was a bridge too far for my parents. They just didn’t have the ‘camping gene’. So, I knew that without a nice place to stay, I would have no chance at all convincing them to go there! However, the hotels & apartments I carefully selected quickly left them cold, with the result that the brochures soon ended up in the rubbish bin. I was furious, stupid France!

So after high school it was my time! I went with a friend to an apartment (because I found out that I was born without the camping gene too ;-)) in one of the popular holiday areas in Spain. I felt so cool and I was sure that it would be great. But nothing could be further from the truth. All the nightlife and drunken groups of revelers were not my thing, the environment was less beautiful than expected and a feeling of homesickness crept over me. As it turned out, I had idealized everything for years.

Luckily, I had arranged in advance that I would visit the Côte for the last week of the summer holiday. Apparently, I already took over this crazy habit from my parents. I brought a friend and from the moment we set foot on Nice Airport, I felt home again. I found out that I didn’t need a campsite or the Spanish Costa to find what I had wanted all these years. I just wanted to explore new experiences. And that could be here too!

So, we made up our own plan, rented a scooter and braved the coastal road together. We stopped at some beautiful bays every now and then, went out for a swim, had some drinks and snacks, strolled over the Croisette, went out for dinner and had a drink in the evening at some lively beach bar or to a cocktail bar in the harbor later on. That was more my thing. Hardcore partying, large groups, well I just don’t think that suited me. Better to be the person I was. On the Côte. 

And now that I’m grown up, with a husband and two small boys, we all love spending our holidays at the family home. Just like me, the boys have been coming since they were born and love it there. We’ve skipped some summers, because we wanted to discover other places, not because it’s not fun anymore. But just to make sure we don’t feel the feeling I had when a teenager. And no matter how great all those trips were, if we ask our little boys where they want to go in the summer holidays next year, the answer is invariably; “To the house in France.” Chips off the old block! But they are not teenagers yet.

One thing that has always stayed with me is that on holiday my parents always had nicknames for everything and everyone, another crazy (and annoying) habit! They called the boulangerie ‘the bakery upstairs’. Why did they do that? That baker was not even situated on a mountain! I don’t think I ever really asked them the reason, but it surprised me every time they said it. What was the point?

They called the hotel operator in the village ‘Frans’, so I always thought that this was really the man’s name, although it seems very weird. You live in France and your name is ‘Frans’? It’s not even a French name! Anyway, I’ve always left it that way. Only last year, when we had a nice chat with the shy man, I found out that he answers to the name ‘Jean’.

And I can go on and on. I was terribly irritated by this strange habit of my parents and I swore that I absolutely wouldn’t do this when I grew up. 

Last year, after a lovely morning at the beach, the four of us were having a drink in the garden, when suddenly the Italian neighbor across the street was standing in front of the garden gate. She adored our little blond boys and  showed that in scents, colors and mixed Italian / French terms. “Bonjour, bellissimo” followed by multiple hand kisses. Every time the boys looked at her indignantly. What did this lady say to them? Out of courtesy, the boys waved back with a smile on their faces and sometimes even shouted “bonjour” back. When she continued with her daily walk, she always called out; “Coucou, ciao, arriverderci!”  We soon called her ‘coucou arriverderci’!

Our favorite bakery, the simple but amazing French restaurant (with the best moules marinières!) and the lovely bookshop where we always stock up on the Côte Sud/Paris magazines and new marine and noir espadrilles (real classics!) are located in a lovely, typically French square. To get there, you have to take a little walk along the beautiful coastal road, which climbs a little bit. It feels like it’s a bit above the village, but nothing could be further from the truth as after the climb you descend just as fast. So every morning I take my basket and walk this road to buy some fresh groceries. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day. All by myself, morning sun on my face, the sound of the Mediterranean in  the background and the lovely smell of the Cyprès and Pin Parasol tree. 

Last summer, before I went out for my daily morning walk to buy some fresh baguettes and croissants, the boys asked me where I was going. “Oh, just to the bakery upstairs.” I heard myself say it. “Mom, why do you say you go to the bakery upstairs? You’re not walking up a mountain at all, are you?” I struggled to come up with a logical explanation, but of course I didn’t have one. Apparently, all those crazy habits of your parents are rooted deeper in you than you would really like.