Monday, June 1, 2015

An Invitation for a Kiss

Previous: From Nice to Cannes

Without a badge, you can only march around the periphery.

The Festival de Cannes is set up around the harbor on a strip called the Croisette, which makes me think of croissant, and indeed it’s sort of crescent shaped. During the festival, the Croisette is lined by a long row of pimped-out white tents. These are the International Pavilions where film commissions of various countries tout their Cannes contenders and try to entice filmmakers with promises of interesting locations and great tax breaks.

Smack dab in the middle is the huge Palais building, which houses the Marché du Film. This also happens to be the building where the gala screenings take place, so twice a day, the Croisette is an impenetrable clusterfuck of paparazzi and rubbernecking celebrity hounds.  Dozens of desperate people carry signs pleading for gala invitations. Most poignant to me are the 20-something year old girls, dolled up in cheap stretchy gowns and clunky heels. I passed a pretty girl with straw colored hair and glossy pink lipstick. She was carrying a sign marked with a heart that said, “Une invitation pour un baiser.” Our eyes met in amused cynical solidarity. Ah well, sister, we both know the score, this is how to make things happen, more power to you.  

It’s not like the Berlin Film Festival, where tickets are sometimes scarce but there's never a fever pitch of desperation. I texted the two or three people I knew in Cannes as I crawled down the fancy side of the Croisette with hordes of people in the intense sun, passing designer dress shops and sprawling hotels. At the end of the Croisette, I still hadn't gotten any response from my friends, so I crossed the street to the honky-tonk beach side of the Croisette. There were kiosks selling crêpes and glacé and club jambon. Next to a carousel. a French brass band wearing orange polo shirts was braying Cabaret Dixieland style, “Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome! ‘appy to see ju again!”

It was 3:00 by this time and I was famished. I turned inland, hoping to find eats for under €3. In New York City, I’ve gotten used to figuring out how to eat with an extremely pinched pocket. You can get a bagel with tomato and cream cheese for $1.80. Or you can get a falafel sandwich for $2.50. If you have a kitchen, well, you can have a really amazing meal for $3 with a bag of pasta, one zucchini, and a plum tomato or a handful of mushrooms. In Cannes, I couldn’t find anything close to a meal for less than €4 so I settled for the largest pastry I could find. It was called a diamant and had an apricot in the middle and it was €1.60. I was wondering where to eat it when I heard two ladies studying a map say something like, “Well that’s the train station across the street.”

Aha, I thought, the train station! There must be wifi and electricity there.  So I scuttled my tired feet and diamant pastry over to the Gare du Canne.

Sadly, the Gare did not have wifi and you couldn’t even get water for free since the bathroom cost 50 centimes. But there was a table with electrical sockets so I plunked myself down, plugged in the dying computer, and attacked my pastry. Maybe I was just starving, but it was incredibly good, the cream under the apricot was deliciously light with just the perfect amount of vanilla and sugar.

I did some writing and then one of my friends finally got back to me; an Irish writer who lives in Paris. He had a press badge and was on a marathon of four or five films each day. “Let’s do a walkabout,” he said, “And then I’ll buy you a coffee at a place where you can wifi. After that, I’ll have to be on my way to a film.”

He seemed to be in a rush so I didn’t tell him that I would far prefer food to caffeine. We went to a nearby hotel where he vacuumed up several movie magazines. Then we walked back down the Croisette until we saw a café called Br@sserie, which seemed it must have wifi but there was something wrong with the connection. The waitress insisted that wifi worked and indicated a British guy squinting at his computer. I went up to the British guy and asked him what the secret to wifi was, but he shrugged and said he couldn’t get online either.

My Irish friend got into conversation with a Chicano sitting next to us. We learned that he was whiling away the afternoon hours while his brother attempted to talk his way into some funding for his next film. Then after throwing two €2 coins on the table, my Irish friend split. I made a small attempt to talk to the Chicano, but there wasn’t much to say beyond something about the lack of transportation in California and how I once took a bus from Tijuana down to the Baja peninsula. Finally, another friend, who had scored a room on a yacht, texted me to meet up for dinner.

By then, I was pretty faint with eating nothing but bread and sugar all day. If I ever pass out on you or seem strangely sluggish, just feed me please.

Hunger is a terrible feeling. It’s impossible to think about anything else.  Your whole being shrinks into an empty little pebble shell of anxiety. And it’s more than just physical, there is something psychologically debilitating about hunger. It eats at your confidence and your feeling of self-worth, which I don’t have enough of anyway. Hunger is deeply degrading. Love, art, ambition, the sunshine and blue sky of a beautiful day, none of that matters when you are hungry. You are reduced to nothing but a physical function. And if you are hungry often enough, it’s difficult to recover, to come back to a belief in love and dreams and the importance of your ambitions.

Sometimes I think this is part of my confusion and lack of fight in the past several years. I mean, I was homeless and even more penniless as a teenager but I don’t remember really going hungry then. I’ve always had a troubled relationship with the money god, but lately, he’s been downright mean, waiting until I’m down to my last few dollars before he decides to reward my efforts with a chunk of change. It’s never been a goal of mine to make a pile of money, but now I would love to always have enough to eat whatever I want, whenever I want to.

Many years ago, while working at a Japanese restaurant, I looked up from putting in an order to see a brown-skinned Asian woman shoving sushi in her mouth with her hands. She was sitting with a much older white guy in sunglasses, who was smugly drinking a beer with one hand, while his other hand crawled up and down her skirt like an ugly spider covered with brown spots and fine hair. Not that this seemed to bother her. She was totally focused on the food in front of her. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in weeks. She looked like had never learned to use utensils. She was cramming fistfuls of food down her throat as fast as she could. Rice was stuck to her chin. Chunks of fish dribbled from her mouth. But she was dressed in a pink Madison Avenue silk suit and her hair was coiffed in a perfect dome. It looked like her sugar daddy had picked her up from a boat where everyone else had died of starvation, taken her shopping and then to a hairdresser, before thinking he ought to feed her.

I looked at her in disgust and pointed her out to my fellow waiter. At that moment, she noticed me and immediately dropped a handful of sushi that she had been about to stuff in her mouth. Her eyes popped open and she gawked at me, her mouth open and still full of food.  I suddenly realized that by some peculiar chance, I was the only Asian woman working at the restaurant that day. She gaped me like I was a vision, like I was someone she so very much wanted to be. Her eyes followed me hungrily around the room with a terrible desperation and longing. It was uncomfortable and unnerving and I shrank from the spotlight of her terrible gaze. I avoided her. I bustled around like she wasn't looking at me. But now I wish I could’ve made her some tea, given her a hug, let her talk and have a cry on my shoulder. Ah sister, you do what you have to do. Maybe after you’ve eaten regularly for a while, you’ll remember who you are again.

I met my yachtie friend at the square near MacDonald’s and he took me to the grocery store in Cannes, which is on the eastern side of town. We picked up pasta and sauce and cheese. While he wasn’t looking, I grabbed a few cherry tomatoes, stuffed them in my mouth and immediately wished I had more. Then we went to his boat and I devoured half a loaf of bread with some kind of olive tapenade while he boiled water for pasta. Two of his friends came on the boat as the sun set and we shared a rosé wine over a plate of penne.

For the first time that day, I felt sated enough to enjoy how beautiful Cannes is. A crazy quilt of apricot colored houses with terracotta roofs covered a hill topped by a tower. Seagulls shrieked and turned cartwheels as the sky turned pink and purple. The yacht bobbed in the water, as if it were nodding yes yes yes to the end of the day and the beginning of a gorgeous night.   

Next: A Poor Connoisseur in Cannes

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