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17 June 2008

In Search of Lost Irony

I made the mistake of singing "do you know the way to St Tropez" this morning, to the tune of "do you know the way to San Jose" and the song stuck in my head all day (and didn't have the original song on my iPod to get it out of my head). The parents had misled me somewhat about the boat trip to St Tropez - I had thought it would be a day of sailing with a brief stop for lunch in St Tropez rather than a sort of mini passenger ferry sailing along the Riviera to St Tropez. Never mind; the sun was shining and the captain was providing some hilarious - if not always comprehensible - bilingual commentary of the scenery we were passing ("that grey ouse was the ouse of the American comics, Laurelandardy").

St Tropez itself could be pretty were it not for the shops and the people. The shops are of two varieties: hideously expensive, designer stores and horrible, cheap, tacky clothes shops. The people are also of two varieties: loud, rich Yanks and old, rich French. We wandered around for a while and as it was market day, it was really busy. There wasn't a single thing I wanted to buy, not even in Longchamp.

We ate lunch at Le Girelier, which was on the harbour, overlooking the hundreds of really, really big, expensive boats. I thought the boats in Cannes were big but they were nothing compared to St Tropez's fleet. Most of the owners had created a sofa area at the back of their boats and were lounging casually with bottles of champagne while tourists gaped and took photos of the sheer decadence. The owners of the boat nearest to where we were sitting - two men wearing sharp suits even though it was almost 30 degrees - had two crew members helping them: one girl and one guy. The girl got let off hosing down duty probably on the understanding that she would go and sunbathe topless on the top deck, as is the tradition in St Tropez.

Lunch itself was really good - a perfectly cooked filet de boeuf followed by some strawberry and mint sorbet. The parents opted for the local speciality, Tarte Tropezienne, which are two conjoined brioche-like things, filled with custard. Apparently they are supposed to resemble the pert, round buttocks of Brigitte Bardot, St T's most famous resident, back in the day.

I couldn't have stayed for longer than an afternoon - the town just takes itself so seriously - even more so than Cannes - and yet parts of it just feel almost seedy. Still, the town is not entirely without irony. I found a nice stationery shop selling cards which had a 3D effect thanks to the cut out sails attached to the boats drawn on the front. "Beau marin disponible," said one, "cherche sirène milliardaire pour faire le tour du monde"(hot, eligible sailor seeks millionaire siren for world tour). Another had a black and white drawing of a CrackBerry taking a photo of a colourful ocean with three 3D ships. "On est au St Tropez - c'est super!" read the caption that the inevitable banker owner of the phone was texting.

The return voyage to Cannes was rather inclement but at least there were none of the storms the BBC weather site has been predicting for days. Docking in Cannes, though, the streets were soaked and we saw some very soggy Mad Men cursing that their perfect hair had been ruined by the downpour.

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