We had started out deciding we’d show our children a bit of the ‘rich’ beach scene after they toughed it out with us on the ‘cheap travel’ beach for 10 days. We were going to go into Cannes for the evening. Five hours later we were two emotionally exhausted grown-ups, one head-shaking teenager and a 9-year-old in tears.
To start off, as we parked the car in Cannes, a woman came walking down the street. She was very tanned, the wrinkled skin on her legs hinting that she was probably around 70 years old. She was dressed in an armless black designer dress, shoulders jutting out like cicada wings, the hem high above her knees. Her legs were no bigger round than a baseball bat; arms half that. Her jet black hair was puffed back like Brigitte Bardot. She tottered along on high heels, ramrod straight, tiny steps drawing our appalled attention. Her eyes were glazed. She held what looked like a glass opium pipe between her folded hands as if it were a Eucharistic wafer. Smoke drifted upwards from the pipe.
I took one look and glanced away. My husband commented: ‘How aggressive to go out in public like that’! Our children stared. Our son said it was like seeing a zombie; the image was burned onto his brain and he would never be able to forget it. Our daughter kept asking ‘what is wrong with her!?’ It was spooky, casting a pall upon our sightseeing silliness.
For a little while, our kids were distracted by the waterfront boulevard scene: the huge yachts, the Ferraris and Porsches. Being American, I seem to have an inbuilt Hollywood thirst, letting my mind inhabit the fantasy of being somewhere surrounded by ´the rich and beautiful.´ Could I live here? What would it be like? How wonderful to have all that money. And I was happy to share my enthusiasm with our children. My husband is more reticent, being European. He isn’t easily seduced by glitz. (Sometimes it takes the fun out of everything, even if it is more mature.)
Later, as we sat in a street cafe, drinking soft drinks and Campari, another sinister specter passed us. My eyes were drawn to this man, as to a squished bug on a windshield. He looked a bit like a young Ghaddafi, handsome, well-dressed, but walking slowly, hunched over, eyes glazed. Perhaps he was a former gigolo. He could have been 35 or 60. As he passed by us on his return trip, I saw with a shiver that he had an even scar trailing the entire right side of his face, as if his skin had been pulled tight from his temples to his jaw. A facelift, I guess. Should I point him out to the children, or let them gawk at the others showing themselves off on the street who were still intact?
We saw many women in heels so high they could only walk on the arm of a man. My daughter´s eyes glistened. ‘Mama, look at her shoes! Wow. Have you ever worn heels that high?’ Uhoh, where was she going with this? ‘No, I am tall, so never saw the need. Even when I was a model. … Let me tell you this: If you wear heels that high, you cannot run. And it is always important to be able to take care of yourself, especially in this kind of scene. That was what my mama always told me, and it has served me well.’ My daughter’s answer: ‘Well, I’d just take off my shoes if I had to run.”
We had dinner in a crowded little street. Fancy cars drove by. ‘Hey, haven’t we seen that one before?’ Street musicians played. It grew louder. There were more and more high-heeled women on the arms of their men. Glittery 65-year-olds in sleeveless shifts. Imagine how much work that takes at that age.
How am I going to protect my daughter from a society that views this as success? When even I appear to view it as success, by my bright eyes as I walk past the yachts. It IS fun to watch the cars and the fancy people. If we show our children a side of life of which we actually don’t approve, we have to accompany this fantasy trip with the right critical voice. I want to tell her: If you grow up and play in this kind of playground, which you could because you are beautiful, you have to be very careful to preserve your sense of dignity. It won’t be easy.
A friend just sent me a link about a controversial photo shoot showing a ‘plus’ model and a normal model together. This one particular shot on the right resonates this morning. When I look at this photo of the two models, really look at it, I don’t
see something erotic (though some might interpret it so). I see a woman and child. Look at the thin model’s fragile shoulder, the way her arm folds against her small body. She is almost as tall as her ‘mother’, but she definitely does not appear like a fully-grown female. Outside of this context, however, such runway model body types are often shown as glamorous, rich and successful. We saw many anorexic women in Cannes.
As the night street scene yesterday grew more crowded, I began to notice the toddlers screaming. I saw at least 5 tied to their strollers, being pushed by their parents. They were screaming at full throttle and red in the face. The parents seemed oblivious. Couldn’t they at least take their children out and carry them, I thought. Note about French time tables: There are often French babies and toddlers in restaurants at 10pm, and yes, they do get tired, and yes, they do get cranky.
By 10:30, I noticed my husband looking tired. I noticed I was feeling incredibly exhausted. And we hadn’t DONE anything. Our 14-year-old, normally delighted at 11pm to be out on the streets with his parents, said he had a headache and it was all too much. !! Wow, that was unusual. Our daughter held tight to my hand, scanning the crowds, asking questions. Cars, people, lights. She seemed frightened. ‘Mom, I want to go home,’ she said. Are our children showing their true selves? Are they country bumpkins, unfit for glamorous life? Or are they the sanest of all? Reacting as we all should to the overflow of images, made-up faces, glitter and revving of engines? That night, our daughter was overwrought, tears flowing. She crawled into bed between us in our 4-room family room in our hotel. I was glad the day was over, and glad we could escape somewhere quiet.