Cannes has, for decades, been synonymous with celebrities, expensive villas and super-yachts, but is there a more sinister undertone to the glitz and glamour of the chic Mediterranean retreat?
Earlier on this year, I was fortunate enough to spend a matter of months in the Cannes region of the glamorous Cote d’Azur, working for a wealthy American family. When describing the resort, glamorous is the only adjective one can use: the palm trees on the grand boulevard quite literally glitter (see picture) as the darkness of night veils the town, every other car is ostentatious enough to make Lady Gaga’s quirkiest outfit look dull, and the vast array of luxury yachts, which line the lengths of the old port and bob majestically on the rippling water, belie the wealth of the town’s inhabitants.
My trip propitiously coincided with the arrival of the internationally acclaimed film festival, which transforms the entire town on an annual basis. Pavements everywhere were dressed in red carpets; floor length gowns and bow ties were donned by all; and an unending fleet of blacked out cars transported the rich and famous from one decadent party to the next. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, nor am I likely to. Nevertheless, the festivities of the film festival succeeded in masking certain social injustices, which usually manifest themselves as day turned to night in the port of Cannes. Swarms of tourists and paparazzi expel beggars from their usual haunts; policemen move on Mothers who rest in the doorways of designer stores, often with babies and infants; and the street drinkers, who normally occupy the boule courts in the town centre, are replaced by slimfit suits and night-time sunglasses.
Great poverty exists in Cannes – it is ostensible throughout the year. However, with the invasion of Hollywood, the destitution is suppressed and hidden from the world’s gaze. To me, this exemplifies the unjust privilege of the rich, often at the expense of the poor – a tenet of the social order which is most poignantly embodied by the multifaceted town of Cannes. There was recently a news article in most national tabloids, which described the closure of a beach in Cannes, and the pandemonium which ensued (click here to read). The residents of Cannes, in addition to the swarm of holidaymakers who frequent the beach, felt a strong sense of indignation. What strikes me most is the hypocrisy of the story. A startling 0.1 million people (yes, 100,000!) signed a petition against the closure of the beach, yet greater injustices occur on the streets of Cannes every day. There seems to be an outrage when people are denied their luxuries, yet basic living amenities do not warrant any such reaction.
While my time in Cannes was unforgettable, so too was my experience of the social hierarchy. Never in my life have I witness the poles of wealth so poignantly as I did on the streets of La Croisette.
Intrigued by the allure of the Cote d’Azur? Read my post about Monte-Carlo on a shoestring.