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Tales from a frog's armpit

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Lunch with Picasso

‘While you are here we must take you to La Columbe d’Or.’

That was in the car from Nice airport. And then I forgot about it as it swirled in a maelstrom of freshly baked croissants, gallons of very drinkable rose wine and sorties into the market at Antibes and the promenade at Juan les Pins. Quite as I had imagined it except for a strip of shops that could have been in any English seaside resort.

Our hosts were mortally offended when I answered their question, ‘what did I think of Juan les Pins?’ and I answered, ‘it’s a bit like Brighton.’ Hell they didn’t own the place, no need to get so worked up! The difference between Juan les Pins (as you stroll the prom) and Brighton is that the garishly painted stalls, in John of the Pines, sold crepes while Brighton sells ice-cream and whelks (or it used to).

Anyway it was all very nice and I had completely forgotten that we were to be taken to La Columbe d’Or until, that is, we were up in the hills above Nice and our host pointed to a medieval walled village crowning a sun baked hill. ‘That’s it.’ He said.

‘That’s what?’ said I. ‘Where we are going for lunch.’ We are meeting Charles (not his real name) you’ve heard of Charles Smyth haven’t you?’ My mind went into double speed as I silently recounted every Charles I had ever known and then every Smyth. ‘Er….’ I started.

‘The fashion photographer.’

‘Ohhh, THAT Charles Smyth.’

We parked the car in the shade of a very tall, very old, pink stone wall and strolled through the village to a small hotel with a small hanging sign swinging gently with the words La Columbe d’Or against a picture of a golden dove.

Of course!

Sitting on the terrace beneath the fig trees and surrounded by the ghosts of Marc Chagall, Picasso, Leger and modern Hollywood heroes Liz Taylor, Stallone, Sinatra, we were aware that for a couple of hours the mistral, which had prevented a promised day on the ‘Nell la Belle’, now moored in the marina at Port do Gofe Juan, had quietened out of due respect for this idyllic place.

The waiting staff don’t hover at this restaurant but they magically appear exactly when needed, to pour more wine, to adjust an umbrella to keep the sun out of Madame’s eyes, to hand the menus, to take the orders. The portions, we are advised, are ample, so it was suggested we share an enormous array of hors d’oevres and then, while the ladies discussed fashion with the photographer and he autographed copies of his book that he co-incidentally, had brought with him and they, wary of the danger to aging figures declined a main course, we men tucked in.

I had a beautiful piece of turbot. What the others had I cannot, nor do I care to, remember, but we finished with a forest full of chocolate sticks.

D, who was sort of in-charge of our party got up to get the bottle that had been placed on a nearby table, saying to an adjacent couple, ‘Is this yours… or ours?’ I quickly commented that they should be careful as D often played that trick and had been known to have purloined many a bottle from people too shy, or too slow, to object.

I was met by a laugh that I recognised and spent a couple of minutes trying to put sound to name. Yes, that’s who it is.’ And I turned and met the chuckle of Michael Winner and his new wife, Geraldine.

Well, if the Daily Tel. food scribe and one time Hollywood film director (Death Wish and Mechanic) dines here it must be good! And I did feel rather pleased with myself having made him laugh – even if it had been just good manners.

From my seat, next to a low stone wall, I could wonder at the chunky landscapes of Provence and reflect that I was unlikely to repeat this experience. It was, incidentally, the same seat and the same table (which I find quite hard to believe) from which Zelda Fitzgerald threw herself onto the road forty or fifty feet below after one of the couple’s regular rows. (I can find no substantiation of that on the internet, but I am sure it is true.) Clearly she didn’t die as she popped her slightly less than sane clogs in a hospital in the US several years later.

So, if you are ever on the Cote d’Azur and you build up the courage to have a lunch without an American accent, pop in to the Colombe d’Or’; after all, if it was good enough for F Scott Fitzgerald it is probably good enough for you.

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  1. christiefan915's Avatar
    Very nice. Love the part about the fashion photographer coincidentally (ha ha) bringing his books to the lunch. Please don't tell me the ladies had to pay for their copies!

    I read a lot about the Fitzgeralds, especially Zelda, back in the day and it's likely she did something of the sort. I vaguely remember her throwing herself down a staircase because she was jealous that Scott was paying attention to another woman. Mainly I remember being depressed that these people screwed up their lives so royally when they could have had whatever they wanted handed to them on a silver platter.