Remember the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, when all the helicopters appear in the sky to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries? That’s what came to mind this morning when I opened the shutters on our bedroom window. Seven huge helicopters were thundering over the hill opposite, coming in our direction at what felt like – as we are on a small hill – our height. I hung out the window for a second humming the Valkyries tune, but unfortunately it was too late when I thought of the camera.It’s the G20, in Cannes, half an hour’s drive away. That big scary bunch of choppers was probably coming back from depositing Barack himself, but we’ve had them around for a few days now. I didn’t go to the big manif, or demonstration, in the centre of Nice – it seemed a bit vague, as in “we’re unhappy with the situation but we don’t know what to do exactly”. My inveterate activist friend Nadia here believes such general expressions of dissatisfaction are good, as they offer groups with specific issues a supportive forum in which to express them. Having been on the NHS march during Major’s time and the anti-war march just before the invasion of Iraq, neither of which, despite the numbers of marchers in their millions, did a stick of good, I’m a cynic.
The fact that roads have been closed for the G20 makes me cynical, too. I can’t imagine why the route to my new gym was shut – it’s pretty out of the way, but that was the reason given. It meant that I arrived too late for a step class, and then had to stomp along on the treadmill while watching Barack and Nicolas Sarkozy smarming live on the gym TVs.
I’ve made some good friends at the gym in London. The friendships have usually started with a sort of an exhausted, commiserating smirk across a sweaty studio floor. I’ve got to the smirk stage here, but I’m wary. I can’t read people like I can at home. Everyone here tends to look the same on the gym floor, just regular people working out, but then…they get dressed. At home, at Virgin Active, people take showers, put on jeans or a dress, and wander off. Here, people who look perfectly normal heading for the shower wrapped in a towel suddenly reappear from behind their lockers dressed in the most extraordinary get-ups, and spend hours in front of the mirror slapping on make-up. They put on acres of gold and diamante-studded glasses. Women who look like an unassuming doctor’s receptionist in a spin class emerge as a Joan Collins lookalike, and totter off in leopard-print stilettos.
This woman wasn’t at the gym, but she could have been. I noticed her at the gas station, and watched her feet come out of the car first – baby blue cowboy boots, tanned legs, black leather skirt. She was wearing an animal-print jacket, and had long, bouffant jet black hair. She was notable even for Nice, but when she had fully unfolded herself from her little red car, I realised she was at least 80 years old. Once I got over my initial shock, I thought, good for you!
Joel and I joined a gym when we first arrived, and stuck with it for three months, but then summer hit us. Now I’ve joined another, and discovered that some of the instructors at the old gym also work at the new gym – the good ones. The thing is, when the music is pumping and the instructors are shouting into their microphones, I can’t understand a single thing they say. It was hard in English, but in French, well… I just have to guess. In spinning classes I often discover I’m still racing away when everyone else has slowed down for an active recovery, or that I’m climbing imaginary mountains when everyone else is descending at speed. In step classes, I can hear basic stuff, like ‘Tappez’ (tap on each side), but sometimes I get monstrously lost because I think the instructor says, jump over the step when he actually says, take a break. I’d like to wear a top that says, “I’m not stupid, I just speak English”.