In Cannes, land of silver screens, someone has pressed pause. The town sleeps, stirring occasionally to prepare for things to come. Since November, the wind has carried visitors away.
The air holds a bitter chill. Even on sunny days, it lurks in shadows waiting to pounce.
The clink of cutlery and smell of frites at the beachside restaurants have been replaced by the violence of jackhammers. Dingy red carpets mark a safe pedestrian path through construction zones.
At the beach, bulldozers have scraped all that soft sand into small mountains. The beach chairs have disappeared. Scattered in their place are new bags of sand, tires, orange mesh fencing…detritus of a beach facelift.
Closed for congés annuels: the signs dot storefronts and windows.
I hide out at a café I like, quiet and good for writing. Shelter from the wind. The barista, Jérémie, tells me that in a few months, the place will be packed. In January, I often have it to myself.
On days when the sun peeks through the clouds, shining like hope, I scurry to follow it, sitting outside in a patch of light at one of the cafes near the Hôtel de Ville and the port. These are the people-watching cafes, inhabited by groups of men smoking, travelers toting body-sized backpacks, and stately older women in sunglasses, sharing a glass of wine with no one.
I like the camaraderie, the shared newspaper, the way newcomers greet everyone around them. I like the smoke less, but that comes with the territory.
Soon, the clouds close in again, impending doom. Shivering, I cross the street to wait for the daily hypnosis of the bus, stunning redundancy. There are people I’ve come to recognize from regular travel: the man with the hair. The woman with the perfume. The curly-haired little boy who busily eats his afternoon goûter, crumbs falling on his down jacket. His feet barely reach the edge of the seat.
We stare like zombies, the bus’s rocky turns and weak light a call to sleep. We are thinking, off in our individual worlds, or else not thinking at all, who can tell.
Soon the city blinks into darkness.
It is the off-season, no doubt about that. This is not the city that never sleeps, but one in hibernation.
It’s my off-season too. Winter does this to me, but I thought maybe I would escape it in the South of France. The listlessness, my mind like some caged animal. The cold fingers. Alas, winter has cast its frozen curse like always.
One day, late January, I am walking to school with the usual frozen toes and bleary eyes. I turn a corner and notice the mimosa trees have burst into bloom, the yellow blossoms a brilliant contrast against the cold blue sky. It’s not quite spring, but the sudden color is a cheerful preview: this season will pass.
Not just winter, and the way it shall inevitably surrender to spring, but my own personal winter. This year has contained much joy…and many disappointments. I’m not where I wanted to be, and I don’t know where I’m going. I am not happy. Lonely, yes. Disillusioned. Sick with the constant dull ache of a sinus infection. Challenged by my financial situation. And the worst thought: did I make a mistake by coming here? Did I force something that wasn’t meant to be? Am I wasting my time?
It’s easy for me to get lost here, staring out the bus window at gray clouds, eating canned soup alone and counting my problems. Forgetting that this, too, is a season.
I’m not happy. Not in the way I had come to count on, to expect, even.
But I am trying.
Teaching, to the best of my ability.
Learning, I think. I am just beginning to see that. One day, I expect, I will look back and count all this a victory. Much beauty comes from working through the off-season.