19 December 2005

Christmas shopping in Menton

Menton Old Town
December 17

Impossible to park in Menton this morning. I’m aiming for the Christmas fair - between the sea and the old town, in front of the marché. The parking area is full so I drive around a couple of times, give up and decide to try in the port. Even then I don’t find a place till I get almost to the far end – only a few more yards and I’ll be in Italy. I don’t mind as I’ve several hours – Becky has come in to baby-sit the dogs and it’s bliss to walk past the bobbing boats, pretending I’m on holiday. Fat chance! This is my day for Christmas shopping and as usual I’ve left it too late. Every year I say I’ll shop earlier but never do.

I have a lot to do in a few hours so I walk quickly– the sky is the brightest blue, framing the beautiful church behind the old town. Focus! Stay focused. Concentrate, Jilly. Lots of gifts to buy.

The Christmas fair is set up between the sea and the old town. Nothing on sale is mass-produced - every stall is owned by an artisan. There are paintings, jewellery, pewter, carved olive wood from Provence, pots from Tunisia, hand-made wooden toys, soft toys. There are food stalls selling foie gras, wines, cheeses. One stand sells nothing but dates and Turkish delight. Another is offering an aperitif, made from honey and called Hyromel. From a medieval recipe, this was apparently the drink of the ancient Greeks when it was called Ambrosia and was the first fermented drink in the world.

I see a stall selling soap. Ropes of soaps, leaves of soap - mauve, yellow, green –vanille, vervaine, lavande, citron. Olive oil soap, cut with a knife and sold by weight. Special soaps for the complexion, the body, to repel mosquitos. I choose and buy.

An hour later and I'm done. Bags laden with soaps, olive wood carvings, wooden snowmen, aperitifs, dates, Turkish delight.

I cross the street and go into the Salon de Toilettage to say hello to my friend, Carla. She’s got a couple of bichons on the tables, one powder puff perfect, the other looking like a drowned rat whilst he undergoes his transformation. Carla was born in France. Her mother was English, her father German. They met in Toulon during the war. He’d been fighting for the French Foreign Legion and had lost an arm and she was a nurse in the hospital there.

I don’t stay long. I need to get some food supplies for Christmas so I drive to Latte in Italy. Latte is the village between Menton and Ventimiglia and there's a really good supermarket there. I load my trolley with courgettes, roquette, carrots, mandarins, sun dried tomatoes, olives, lots of fresh pasta, buffalo mozzarella – I’m set for Christmas. With so many dogs I won’t be able to get out much before January.

I walk back to the lift where a woman of ‘a certain age’ is standing waiting for it to arrive. She’s wearing tight pants, boots, a fur jacket and looking elegant as French women do. The lift arrives and she doesn’t move. I say ‘The lift has arrived, Madame.’ She’s miles away. She gets in and runs her hand thru her beautiful thick hair. ‘Look at my hair’ she says. She has a deep raspy sexy voice just like Jeanne Moreau. Perhaps she is Jeanne Moreau, but no, she’s not, but the voice is. ‘The coiffeur ruined it, she says. Il faut changer votre coiffeur tous les années,’ she says. ‘Regardez les mèches.’ (You need to change your hairdresser every year. Look at these highlights!)

I sympathise but tell her I think her hair looks just fine. I tell her I’d give anything for such wondrous thick hair. She smiles but she obviously doesn’t agree.

We arrive at the car park level. ‘I wish you a very Happy Christmas’ she says. And I wish you one too, I say.

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