Vers le sud

Sat in les Pick Clops on Saturday afternoon drinking coffee with friends, I said that while I love Paris it could do with becoming a bit edgier. No sooner had I said it than Paris became a bit edgier. We watched some Moodoïd at the FNAC Festival outside Hôtel de Ville, and as we traipsed away a platoon of armed police with riot shields dispersed pedestrians and pushed their way along the rue de Rivoli in anticipation of trouble. By this time it was searingly hot, with one hoping for thunder in order to cool things down a little, and it transpired when we got home that at Barbes Rochechouart there already had been trouble (which was ongoing).

An unsanctioned pro-Palestinian march against Israel’s shelling of Gaza had turned ugly between protesters and police, which is hardly a surprise given that in Paris you’re allowed to protest about anything you like usually, and whenever you like, but not this time. Banning such a demonstration seemed like a terrible idea to me, especially in 30c heat, and chances are if it’d been allowed to go ahead it might have been bad tempered but I suspect there would have been fewer firebombs. I guess we’ll never know.
The news was just dreadful this week (hardly a newsflash) although we felt rather disentangled from it all as we took a week’s break in the south of France. It’s an odd sensation when you’re getting WeChat friends telling you airliners have been shot down over Ukraine when you’re meant to be enjoying yourself walking around the Cubist garden at the delightful Villa Noailles. Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

We decided to escape from it all last week, and found a sleeper train south that left as the World Cup final kicked off (my interest only finally waned at the final this time), and we appeared as if by magic at Hyères – one of the lesser known but surely no less beautiful towns along the Côte d’Azur – on Monday morning. It was relatively quiet given that it’s pre-season (remember, all the gens de la ville descend on the south in August), and the plus point was that we only really came across two native English speakers the whole time, on l’île de Porquerolles.

Leaving the station with our baggage, we drank coffee with locals at a cafe where they seemed to be playing who can cough up their own lung butter the loudest, then we took a bus to the port where we were staying, which was located only metres from the beach with a massive hippodrome in the back garden (we watched horse-drawn chariots race around the mud track in the mornings). We discovered that people are really helpful and friendly in the south. I mean REALLY HELPFUL AND FRIENDLY. I mean, is this girl who keeps talking to us and telling us where to go going to eat our hearts and runaway with our baggage any minute now? No, she’s just REALLY HELPFUL AND FRIENDLY. I would go on, but hearing about someone else’s holiday is possibly the only thing more dull than having someone explain to you their last night’s dream.

However, here are some interesting facts about Hyères (you lucky things):

• Hyères is only about 20 miles away from Saint Tropez, but Saint Tropez is actually a right bugger to get to. Most people who go there probably fly in in their Learjets, the flash fucks.

• Hyères is pronounced ‘yeee-errrr’ – like ‘year’ but drawn out a bit. I don’t know why this is. I was hoping it would rhyme with ‘jeres’, because then I could have come up with a hilariously self-referential headline.

• There’s not much to do in Hyères other than eat and go to the beach (you’ll hammer around the Archaeological site there in 20 minutes flat), but there is a nice modernist residence (now a museum) at the top of the hill in the town – the aforementioned Villa Noailles, designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens in the 20’s, who often gets mentioned in the same breath as La Corbusier but isn’t anywhere near as famous.

• The Midi-Festival takes place at Villa Noailles – with some pretty interesting bands. It’s the reason I heard of Hyères in the first place (though I haven’t managed to go yet).

• Oh and finally, there’s a restaurant there called L’endroit near the Port, which French speakers will know means “the place”. Clearly it has designs on itself already with a moniker like that, and here’s a tip: don’t eat there. The food is pretty good but the waiter is an absolute twat.

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