Crazy Vacation in Cannes, France
My French adventure started in Italy working on a painting while working remotely for that big software company. Previously, at the America’s Cup, I met a woman and architect who invited me to do a painting for their historic estate in Tuscany.
My friend Jean-Francoise (J-F) heard I was a train ride away. He asked me to visit his home, which once was a Grande Hotel. His home was given to his father by Charles de Gaulle and the French people for his outstanding medical service during WWII. His father’s role would be the equivalent of Surgeon General in the USA.
How I Ended Up in Cannes, France
While I was a photojournalist at the America’s Cup, I met a lot of interesting people and especially men. Now, not all men should be boyfriends or were. And sometimes I learn this the hard way. But, if you don’t try you will never know. Although this friendship with J-F wasn’t a love connection, it was an admiration relationship with an incredible photographer.
Friends without Benefits
I don’t know if he understood from the beginning, we were friends without benefits, but, shortly I knew why I felt this way.
He had many women around the world from his photography and travels, and he obsessed over all of them. He called them late into the night. With the little French, I spoke I understood, the context, and indeed the tone, and groans.
Each day, after a night of phone chatter, we would have breakfast as if nothing happened. Then we would plan the day. Most of the time we went out and took photos of the hillsides, the countryside and the ports of Nice, St Tropez, and Cannes’ Casino, banks, shops and topless beaches. (Never photography anyone at a topless beach.)
We were never short of laughter, interesting conversations and remarkably, he always stopped for the photo moments, unlike a lot of men who just want to get to the final destination.
A Good Match
All in all, we were a good match. We had a rhythm. More importantly, because of him, I meet my dearest friend in the world, Isabella. Isabella and I chatted Franco-Italiano, a mix of Italian and French. I taught her English, but it was easier to speak Franco-Italiano even if all I used was the present tense of some verbs. She just got me.
Learning from the Best
Jean-Francoise and I would waste away our time taking photos in the morning. By 8:00 am eEach morning, we went to St Tropez for our coffee. Early morning voyeurs, we were people watching, as guests moved back to their yachts after spending the night on another yacht. We went to Antibes, Côte d’Azur, Nice, and Monaco. He would use my little Canon; I would use my Nikon. He would take a picture and show it to me. I would use my camera and try to copy it and we would compare. Then we would switch cameras. It was a fun exercise, and I learned a lot about photography by shooting with him.
Cars, Beers, and Russians Arrive
One day when we went to Monte Carlo Casino, we realized Super Cup Football (which is worth going to even if you don’t get tickets for the match) was in Cannes. This meant that more cars and Russians arrived and made their entrance. They had a lot of money and beautiful women hanging on them with long legs and minimal clothing. We decided we needed to stop for a beer next to the Monte Carlo Casino and to do our favorite past-time.
We checked the surroundings and found the best place to watch from – a table in the shade but with a great view of the cars, people and money being thrown around as tips.
We looked for a table that would keep my camera safe. A place of honor, out of sight and away from beer and champagne. The food arrived, and the beer immediately spilled into my new handbag on the camera inside of it. As if it was in slow motion it just kept flowing into my new expensive handbag. I had just purchased it – how could this be happening. I went for the bag, Jean-Francois took my camera as I handed it to him. He immediately knew what to do. I had no idea how to clean my camera covered in beer. I was very appreciative he was there. Cleverly, he knew what to do and babied my camera back to shape. Meanwhile, I worked on cleaning up the new handbag.
About two days later, Jean-Francoise had a doctor appointment and was going to lunch with our friend Marwan. I asked if I could join. He said, no because he wanted to go to the physicians office on his motorcycle, alone.
He wasn’t in the mood and would have none of it. I stayed home. It was about 9:30 or 10:00 when he left. I went to the garden and hunted for his tortoises and fed them when I found them. At around 1:00 Isabella comes flying into my room from the garden doors. She was speaking fast, fast French.
I heard her in disbelief and asked her to say it in Italian. Yes, I heard what heard. I listened for a second time; I was still stunned. Marwan was dead. He died on the spot; the medics didn’t come for over 30 minutes. He was pronounced dead. I am not sure how Isabella knew this, I think Jean-Francoise called her. She went down she checked it out, and yes it was true. She then ran back to the house to tell me. I was in shock.
That morning before the lunch while J-F was at the doctor Marwan had come to the garden and my room. He was complaining of a bad stomach ache.
“Katherine, you are right no more coffee, coke and cigarettes – I am giving them all up today. You keep telling me – today I will do it, I promise you.” He said.
He never got to keep that promise.
On this day, celebrating his 35th birthday. Just as he met Jean-Francoise, they said bonjour, walked a bit towards the seafood restaurant where they were going to celebrate. Marwan fell and had a massive heart attack. He died on the street, in Cannes that day. Without medical attention, he didn’t have a chance. All I felt was guilt, because, I knew CPR. Probably I couldn’t have saved him. However, still today, I feel the guilt and loss of Marwan. When I got home, I did a painting to capture his spirit and its one of my favorites – full of layers of color and complexity.
Family from Algeria
His family arrived from Algeria in less than 24 hours. The asked for his cell phone. We all saw that someone from Paris had called many times. It was Marwan’s boyfriend. We asked his sister if we could call the number in Paris? She said, NO. She was taking Marwan back to Algeria. Immediately he would be buried because he was Muslim – time was imperative.
“He will be buried in the desert very soon, as early as possible.” His sister said. “He will be buried without a tombstone or marker.”
She didn’t reply.
So the ending of my time in Cannes wasn’t what I expected. That night I decided to go on to Turkey where I was living at the time. The completed Painting in Italy didn’t give me a reason to go back to Italy. I need to change a few things. For some reason, maybe out of loneliness that night Jean-Francoise decided I too should be one of his girlfriends. Luckily, for both of us, I wasn’t in the mood.
Today, we are all still friends and terrific friends, probably because of this situation. Isabella and I stay close, and I hope to see her later this year. What started as an America’s Cup – French adventure ended as a life long friendship. Isabella moved to San Francisco. She is happily married to an Artist. J-F is still blowing kisses but – You have to love him, that he loves and cares so much for his friends.
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