“You really look like a tourist”, my cousin giggles.
She would say that. Standing behind the counter of her little pastry shop in the heart of Cannes, France, she is completely at one with her surroundings. She flaunts the heat, her shoulders bare in her flowing strapless dress, and her hair up in a loose bun. As for me, on my first visit to my hometown in over a year, I have opted for a sleeved t-shirt, a pair of daisy dukes, and a hat.This is tourist attire.
It’s logical: the sleeves are for protection against sunburns, the hat saves you from sunstrokes, and the shorts cool you down. You know, because your legs can’t burn. And they sweat so much more than your armpits.
Why in the world am I dressed like this? Tourists are the butts of jokes the world over, but in Cannes, a town too small to accommodate its massive tourism industry, many –myself included- come to consider them as a nuisance. No, seriously. They steal my spot at the beach and create endless lines at my favourite ice cream parlour. And they don’t rub their sunscreen all the way in. I mean, what’s with that?
I’m all for building bridges, but I have no interest in seeing how that other half lives. I grew up defining myself in opposition to these guys, I can’t be one of them.
I have only been mistaken for a vacationer by association so far- as I was showing American friends around, for example. The confusion had never reflected on my own ability to fit in. If anything, I found these instances enlightening, as they allowed me a glimpse into the tourist experience in my own country. How the other half lives, observed though a glass window.
Well, it would seem like I leaned against said window a bit too heavily, forced it open and tumbled onto the other side. I don’t remember the name of the streets. I can’t find familiar shops, but look for others that are long gone. When my cousin says her husband now works in Fréjus, I explain to my boyfriend that it’s a 2-hour commute, only to be instantly corrected- it’s a mere 30 minutes. “You were born here, you sure?”, my cousin now smirks.
And to say, I had hoped this trip would cure my homesickness. London had started feeling like a strange city again, where I would always be inadequate and different. Remembering my experience of culture shock in Tarrytown, I figured that going home would help me reboot. Only I had taken “home” for granted. Absence makes the gal a foreigner.
“Take me to a cool place tonight”, Erik requests, lounging in his chair in a bar of the old town.
“There are no cool places in Cannes, it’s all show-off rubbish”, I snap back.
I pause. If Cannes is no longer home, my opinion of the Cannes nightlife (which made me use a term a lot stronger than “rubbish” by the way, if only because I still can’t say “rubbish” without feeling like a fraud) is not worth much. A gem of a little edgy bar might have popped up on the commercial street for all I know. And my new tourist status means that I might now be in a position to enjoy the show-off rubbish.
Erik nips to the bathroom. The two waitresses, all bare shoulders and trendy clothes, are wiping glasses and having a gossip behind the bar.
I wonder if the Golden Square is still the place to be. This concentration of bars and restaurants, spread on no more than two blocks, used to represent everything I hated about my hometown: the posing, the perpetual partying, and, yes, the tourism.
I sigh. I walk over to the bar.
“Hey, we’d like to go out tonight, and I…I haven’t lived in Cannes for a while. Can you recommend a place?”
The two girls ponder. Do I want to eat or dance? If it’s live music I’m looking for, or exotic food, I’m going to be disappointed.
“What about the Golden Square?”, I suggest.
They nod. Of course, why hadn’t they thought about it.
“People still go to the Golden Square?, I ask in disbelief.
A bitter smile appears on the barmaid’s face.
“Nothing really changes around here.”
I grin back.
I may still have a home, after all. Cannes and I will have to re-negotiate the terms of our relationship, but I can never be a tourist there, not really. Not so long as I refuse to wear closed footwear in the dead of summer, anyway. Seriously guys, sneakers on the beach? Socks in sandals? You’re asking for it.