The first thing I notice about St Tropez is that fuel is at least 20c more expensive than anywhere else. The second thing I notice is the gigantic speedboats parked up in the port. It’s very tempting to climb on board and have a nose around, and I doubt anyone would actually stop me, but I’m not brave enough to try. The third thing I notice is the builders. There is work going on in every street, up every alley and even in the surrounding areas. All this leads me to believe that a lot of money is being spent in St Tropez.
As I’m not a millionaire, I have to settle for less expensive pleasures. I’m always happy just wandering the streets and taking in the scenery and atmosphere. In a way, I’m not unlike the first celebrity guests who visited this small fishing port more than a hundred years ago. The main difference is that I arrived by land while they arrived by sea.
In AD68, Torpes, a Christian officer of Nero, arrived in a small boat, minus his head, which is still in Pisa where he was killed for his religious beliefs. Legend has it that the town was renamed after this new Christian saint, having previously been called Athenopolis. Then in the 1892, the post-impressionist painter Paul Signac, who was sailing along the coast, put into the port during bad weather. He fell in love with the small town and bought a villa there, inviting his artistic friends, including Matisse. Thanks to very generous donations and the deep pockets of the Town of St Tropez, I am able to see some of the famous works of such artists in the Annonciade Museum. A former 17th century chapel, the whitewashed walls and curving arches are the perfect setting for the great works of art housed within.
I love the pointillist paintings Seurat and Signac, but I am also intrigued by two paintings that could be used in a magazine’s ‘spot the difference’ competition. They are both called ‘La Procession a St Tropez’, both painted in 1907 by Auguste Pegurier. The differences are subtle – a change in the shadows created by the sunlight, drapes across the shop fronts and minor details of the clothing. At first, I wonder if one is a fake. Then I think that perhaps he was unhappy with the realistic light and shadow of the first one and decided to create an improved, but impossible, second. I’ve yet to find any other suggestions for these two, almost identical, paintings.
Outside, in the afternoon sunlight, I wander down the same street where the St Tropez Procession took place all those years ago and try to imagine Pergurier sitting in a third storey window with his paints and palette. I also try to decide which painting illustrates the true shadows but it’s all too much for my brain and my stomach, which is screaming to be fed. On the Place des Lices the restaurants which are open are doing a brisk trade in salad and tapas – well the lovely young ladies have to stay in shape, even in the winter. But it’s hard to find a restaurant with a menu under €50 and even the individual dishes are well outside my budget. Instead I pop into the local Spar and pick up some camembert and nachos for an impromptu picnic in the park. From my sunny bench under the bare plane trees, I can watch the world go by and keep an eye out for the free local bus that will take me back to the Aire 3kms out of town.
The Aire is close to Canebiers Beach and I’m told that Bridget Bardot’s house is also nearby. I’m disappointed on both counts. The beach is a disgusting pile of dried out seaweed and unsavoury detritus from the floods (I guess they only bother to clean the beaches in the summer) and I have no idea what Bridgette Bardot’s house looks like, though there are some very nice houses along the beach path around the point. Would I like to live in St Tropez – playground of the rich and famous? Construction site in winter, and one long traffic jam in summer. I think I’ll leave it to Joan Collins, George Michael and Bridgette Bardot.