It’s a warm summer night, and out among the diners on the hotel terrace is a beautiful and famous woman, sitting alone. At another table is an elegant man, also eating alone. André Sella, the hotel’s owner, knows them both. First he heads to the man’s table, and then the woman’s…
“Why are you guys eating on your own? Wouldn’t you like to dine together and enjoy such a beautiful evening?” he asks them both.
Both parties heed his suggestion, and the man draws a chair up at the woman’s table.
This move first fosters love and, ultimately, marriage.
This time, the young, beautiful and famous woman moves in with the wealthy man who joined her at her table. They start living together, with the woman feeding the man with honey pastries. In time, they tie the knot.
The woman was none other than the high-dosage sex bomb of the age, Rita Hayworth. The man, meanwhile, was none other than the richest of the rich, Aly Khan.
The place where they met was the famous Eden Roc hotel in Cap d’Antibes.
As in any Hollywood film, the meeting of the couple concluded with a happy ending. There was one person, however, who got the short end of the stick in this otherwise joyous case of affairs – an individual that just happens to be a friend of mine. (A note on age: It’s a friend that happens to be 10-15 years older than I.) He was studying dentistry at the Sorbonne and came to Antibes for his internship in the summer.
He also knew where the young and beautiful Rita was staying; occasionally, he would secretly climb the wall and watch her surreptitiously as she swam in the pool. One day, while standing as a sentinel in his duty, he was grabbed by the scruff of the neck by one of her bodyguards.
“Hey handsome, what do you think you’re doing here?”
Caught unprepared, my friend stammered: “I… I… I… what am I doing here?” as the bodyguards brought him down and laid into him, divesting him of two of his teeth for good measure.
The pursuit of Rita resulted in a honey pastry for one of her suitors and a pasting for the other…
The friend in dentistry got to welcome himself as his first customer for his first operation…
The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is a place that the planet’s finite number of rich people, Hollywood stars and famous artists absolutely love, and the same goes for me. If I knew I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb among all those famous people, I’d like to go there for a week for some R&R after seriously (and I mean seriously) saving up all my pennies.
Located in a magnificent garden, the place was converted from a traditional mansion into a hotel. The mansion was originally commissioned by Le Figaro’s owner, Auguste de Villemessant, and christened Villa Soleil at its inception. Assorted writers and painters found sanctuary here, and the villa was soon bursting at the gills with artists. In 1889, Antoine Sella bought the edifice and converted it into a hotel. From that date on, everyone who’s enjoyed some fame and wealth, from Bernard Shaw to Pablo Picasso and from Marc Chagall to the Duke of Windsor, has beaten a path to its door. The duke, in fact, even came and sequestered himself here after abdicating the British thrown for the sake of his lover (naturally, he shared his seclusion with her). And they say Chagall stayed without ever paying his bill, finally making and signing a drawing that he left at the reception.
After leaving the mansion and passing through the expansive and peaceful garden (while promenading through it, one would be forgiven for reckoning they are either in Versailles or at the Summer Palace in Saint Petersburg), one arrives at the seashore – that’s where the restaurant is. Because the “pavilion” was added subsequently, it doesn’t architecturally match the complex’s main building. And from your seat, you’re likely to feel as if you’re dining on the bridge of a vessel as its plies the deep-blue waters of the Mediterranean. Right below is the beach, while there’s also a small infinity pool. The sea, meanwhile, is set off with buoys that are preceded by netting to protect some of the more delicate customers from any ill intentions on the part of jellyfish. Naturally, the price of a hotel that extends such attention to its customers, along with its restaurant, is bound to be high. It is said that one day, when Picasso was dining there, he announced during an interlude of joy that he would “draw the menu.”
“But Monsieur, while it would be a great honor, but how would we ever recover, I mean, how much would that be?” they asked fearfully.
“Just give me a pen, paper and some ink; I don’t want any noise,” he responded, the Maître D’ related to us.
I felt compelled to jump in at this anecdote:
“Where do you get your fish from?” I asked; nothing else came to mind – especially as my expensive seabass could hardly be depicted as scrumptious.
“From there!” he exclaimed, indicating the sea with his hand.
“Really, instead of getting them from here, wouldn’t it just be better to import them from a fish farm in the Aegean?” I was about to say, only to recall my friend who was divested of his teeth just a few steps away. Instead, I kept mum.
“What’s for dessert?” I chose to ask instead.
The only damage incurred was to my wallet and sugar levels…