I took a carefree August-time stroll down the La Croisette promenade of Cannes. These are two kilometres of pure laid-back stupor. A dense assortment of casinos, beach-side restaurants, yachts, every kind of chair, with a sumptuous array of plants and flowers. Cannes feels impermanent, as if it were built in 1920, and my first surprise is that of it’s heritage. It is much older than I had imagined. But if there is a self-consciousness in this city, it is one that mirrors the validation of tourists. This was a city built for visitors, and has evolved to meet their needs.
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Whereas Dublin emerged as a Viking port in the mid 9th century, Cannes had already been in existence since at least the 2nd century BC when the Ligurian Oxybii created a port here known as Aegitna. Cannes grew due to its proximity to the Lerins Islands with its large monastic centre. These are four islands close to Cannes of which the second largest the Île de Saint-Honorat carries the name of the founder of the monastery of Lérins, Saint Honoratus. It was founded around the year 410. And here there is a tempting Irish connection – it is said that St Patrick studied there in the fifth century. There is still a monastery though; this one was built in the Middle-Ages. Around 1530, Cannes became independent from the monks who had controlled the city for hundreds of years.
By the early 1800’s Cannes was little more than a little fishing village. Perhaps somewhat like what Clontarf had been in the same era in Dublin.
It was Henry Brougham, from Edinburgh, a one time Lord Chancellor of Britain who inspired the rise of Cannes. He stumbled upon Cannes in 1835 and bought land. The south of France had always attracted the English looking for better weather to relieve ailments, but the investment and enthusiasm of Brougham made Cannes the sanitarium of Europe. He was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Review and wrote prolifically on everything from science, politics, colonial policy, literature, poetry, surgery, mathematics and the fine arts. He was also one of the leading politicians in the drive against slavery. I was unable to find anything to suggest a contribution by Brougham to the improvement of the then impoverished souls living in Ireland. He died 7th May 1868 in Cannes (aged 89).
Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.
Speech to the House of Commons (Brougham, January 29, 1828).
In the 1850s, the Promenade la Croisette was built to accommodate the many wealthy people who both visited and lived in the city.
In the 1860’s the Hôtel Gonnet, the Grand Hôtel, the Cercle nautique and more than fifteen large villas were constructed. The Cercle nautique was replaced by the famous Palace des Festivals in 1949.
Most of the buildings along the promenade were built after World War Two. In the 1960’s a lot more work was carried out to improve the layout of the beach area, and to increase the amount of sand.
The Promenade itself is lushly adorned with flowers and trees. There are also an abundance of different types of seating including the blue chairs – famous here and in Nice. In Dublin, places to sit have become associated with anti-social behaviour and also a last port of call for a homeless person. Cannes is not a place for rushing around desperately looking for something to do. You leave your task-list at home and sit on the beach or a blue chair – and look at other people doing the same.
Cannes gave me the feeling of being in a posh Aunt’s sitting room full of lush plants collected over many decades.
Memorial to Edward VII
Other than in the National Wax Museum, I cannot imagine that there is a statue of a British Monarch in Dublin. In 1988, an unwanted statue of Queen Victoria even emigrated to Australia after forty years of storage in Dublin. My Grandmother was born in Monaghan in 1899. By the time she had died in 1993, she had not lost her deep interest in the British Monarchy (and that is despite her father being sent to Frongoch prison camp after the 1916 rebellion). For most Irish people, any monarchy is something that belongs to another age, or to fairy-tales. However in 1912, two years after the death of Edward VII, Cannes felt it necessary to install a sculpture of the king. The sculptor Denys Puech created a marble version of king in a yachtsman’s costume. Below the king was a laughing young girl throws flowers symbolising the city of Cannes.
Inauguration of memorial to Edward VII 1912 Cannes
At the end of 1941, Vichy supporters awaiting the arrival of Germany troops knocked the statue over. However many of the pieces were then stored away. After the of World War 2, the local government in Cannes chose sculptor Emile Patras to repair Edward VII and reinstall him. The people of Cannes were happy. Some years later the restored statue was knocked down by the wind. It was decided this time not to repair the badly broken statue, but instead to replace it with a new less imposing memorial. In 1951, the new memorial was unveiled. Gilles Teulié writes about the destruction and reconstruction of memorials in the French Riviera. He focuses on this memorial to Edward, and also two for Queen Victoria in Nice and Menton.
Under these conditions, acts of iconoclasm are a sort a retrospective war waged on the past and the dead. The destruction may be cathartic for the occupiers, but it is experienced by the occupied as a form of collective humiliation.
In Dublin, several monuments had untimely demises: King William of Orange, King George II and Viscount Gough in the Phoenix Park, Queen Victoria removed from Leinster House. And most famously Nelson’s Pillar. All of this happened without much widespread nostalgia. Yet for whatever number of Unionists that remained in Dublin these events may have been painful. Teulié recognises the complex emotional responses to the loss (or desecration) of monuments, and their refurbishment or replacement. On the inauguration of a new Victoria memorial, the Mayor of Menton put it: “Now that this monument is rebuilt, harmony is back”. This poses a question of how to we deal with the past, even when memorials force us to deal with truths that we wish to forget.
An interesting aside is that the quite prolific Denys Puech, who sculpted Edward VII, also created a bust of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1925. I could find no evidence of this bust still being in existence.
Memorial to René Goscinny (2007)
In places where self-reflection is about pleasing tourists, memorials are also built with power of attraction in mind. With regards to the replacement of the Queen Victoria memorial in Menton that had been destroyed by German soldiers, the Mayor of Menton Francis Palermo said that the prosperity of Menton was inextricably linked to its British residents and it was “unacceptable” for the English-speaking community in Menton not to see the monument replaced. No doubt the same applied to the memorial in Cannes to Edward VII. In 2003 when the Spire monument was erected in Dublin, city authorities looked to establish a Spire Trust, a committee which would oversee the funds raised from any souvenir tie-ins from the monument, such as postcards, fridge magnets, paper-weights or pens. Now, in the era of selfie photos, there is an even greater awareness of the the relationship between landmarks and tourism.
René Goscinny was the celebrated author of such comics as Axterix and Lucky Luke. You would imagine a memorial to Goscinny was unlikely to arouse much drama. Yet in 2013, in Cannes, the top section of a memorial to Goscinny was stolen presumably to be melted down for its metal.
It’s unlikely that this desecration triggered the kind of emotional pain written about by Teulié. The only rage evident in the comments section of the news website of Nice Matin was directed towards the municipality for the high costs and low efficiency of their CCTV system, and also towards “gypsies” tried in absentia by social media. But no mention of Goscinny.
But the memorial that really caught my attention was a stainless-steel chrome-finished Mickey Mouse head, decorated with the symbols of the flower-powered sixties, and balancing on a black marble base.
On the website of the artist Thierry Trivès (https://www.trivesthierry.com/) I discovered that the animal was instead a Panda – another symbol of peace and love. Thierry lives and works in Cannes and in 2016 the Mayor of Cannes David Lisnard chose to celebrate their talented resident by acquiring one of his works for the city sea front. It is beautifully constructed and full of high-spirited feel-goodness. I know it would be much admired by my three year old son.
I am really fascinated by the juxtapositions along the promenade. The 1912 memorial to Edward VII, celebrating the alliance between France and England, at a time of a increasing military aggression which led to war two years later. And here we have this outrageously fun panda head, shaped by the internationally recognised symbol for peace installed almost exactly a century later. I cannot imagine the city installing today a memorial to Queen Elizabeth 2nd. It would seem so dull in a place like Cannes. Tourism has expanded in those hundred years from those who were extremely wealthy to people like me. Tourism in Cannes is global, and not just the preserve of the English elite. And now Cannes is sensitive to all our needs so that they can no longer install memorials that might easily divide public opinion. These days, you are safe with Goscinny and Panda heads.
In Dublin it is hard to find a public toilet, but it is impossible to find a public water drinking outlet. Growing up in Cavan I can remember many public wells. But with social sensitivities around public disorder and hygiene, public drinking water in Dublin is unimaginable. In the not so distant past there were public toilets – they tended to be grotty places, identified with drug addicts and other anti-social activities. And yet Cannes, with a population of about 74, 000 people and millions of visitors, has a pleasant toilet and also drinking fountains. The fancy fountains, where spirited kids had fun on summer days, seem to have mostly disappeared from Dublin as well – again faced with the challenge of people doing naughty things.
I wasn’t able to find anything specific about Cannes and World War 2, but a Nice blogger wrote this about his city:
The summer of 1944 was a scorcher, in every sense. The beaches of Nice were peppered with mines and covered with barbed wire and anti-aircraft weapons: a German precaution in case the Allied forces had any ideas of debarking on the Promenade.
Even before the war, Cannes felt the impact of the emerging aggression. In the 1930s against a backdrop of rising fascism, artists and film critics pointed out that the propaganda of Mussolini and Hitler was impacting on the content of the Venice Film Festival. Philippe Erlanger suggested a “free and independent” festival to Jean Zay Minister of National Education and Fine Arts. In addition to seducing the French government, the proposal attracted the attention of the Americans and the British, who had just boycotted the Venice Festival. So then France decided to establish a festival of “the free world.” Many cities had an interest to host the event: Cannes, Vichy, Deauville, Biarritz and Le Touquet. Philippe Erlanger narrowed it down to Biarritz and Cannes – cities which already had large cinema venues suitable to host the event. They also had luxurious hotels, good weather and the financial clout.
On 9th May 1939 Biarritz was chosen as the venue for the festival due mostly to the promise of local government funding. But Cannes did not concede easily. Hotels used their networks in Government, and the city increased its funding and promised to open up all tourist facilities for the event. This cliffhanger ended with Cannes victorious.
On 1st September 1939, a few hours before the opening, German troops invaded Poland. At first, the organisers merely postponed the ten-day festival. On September 3rd, France and its allies declared war on the Nazi regime. The festival was cancelled. In the end the first festival of Cannes did not commence until 20th September 1946.
Operation Dragoon is less known compared to the famous landings on the same day in Normandy. On the 15th August 1944, on beaches between Cannes and St Tropez, 94,000 mostly American troops landed with 11,000 vehicles. Cannes was liberated on 24th August 1944. The arrivals included the 36th Texan Division landing on Dramont beach 29 km from Cannes as seen in this comparative photos:
Dramont Beach today
In 2018 Cannes plan to add 80,000 cubic metres of white sand in order to widen their beach. “We had a strip of sand which was about 20 meters wide, now we’ll get an extra 10 to 12 meters,” said Bruno Richard, manager of the privately owned Long Beach, where a sunlounger costs 25 euros for the day.
People in Cannes are worried that this will be a waste of money. That coastal erosion will deplete the volume of sand. A quite substantial breakwater suggests that the city authorities are also worried.
There are four Light Houses in Cannes. And yet, as it many cities including Dublin, most people on the promenade would be entirely disconnected from the the reality of a sea that might demand such structures. You are in Cannes to hide away from reality, and all four light houses have been installed in a discreet manner.
Môle de l’Ouest 1 – Another War casualty was one of the lighthouses of Cannes. It was destroyed by the Germans in August 1944. However, as is often desired, it was replaced by a harmony-delivering replica. These lighthouses past and present have foundations on a break-water built in 1843 located at what now is the old harbour of Cannes. After a steamer-boat full of oil nearly sank in 1848, a fire was mounted on a scaffolding placed at the end of the break-water. The first light house was built in 1854, but was moved in 1934 when the break-water was lengthened. After the German demolition. it was rebuilt again in 1950.
Môle de l’Ouest 2 – This is a more striking light-house at the very end of the breakwater. This seems to have been built in a collaboration between architects Eugène Lizero and Hans Barreth – but I cannot any information on the date of construction and its origins. It seems that it was probably built in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Port Canto – This is in the new harbour, once again at the end of a breakwater, and can be reached by walking.
Le Sécant – It is at the end of a submerged reef and can only be reached by boat.
Though the same applies to most coastal settlements, with regards light services and also coastal erosion, I think in Cannes there is a greater need to forget about the realities of the coastline. The port area of Dublin is a grotty and industrialised setting, but Cannes may never permitted to be anything other than a distraction.
Alternative Happier History
Longstanding tourist centres like Cannes and Brighton, have recorded an alternative history via the art of postcards. Edward remains on his plinth. An interesting project would be to compare the photographic archives of Cannes with a different French city famed for it’s industry rather than its tourism. I presume that the subject material would be more alluring, more likely to look on the bright side of life, and more likely in the long run to provide a photographic record that is overly nostalgic.
Places to Sit
After all that I need a rest, and Cannes offers a great variety of seating. The first licence for the rental of mobile chairs to the public in Cannes came in 1881. The original blue chairs came to Nice, and then spread down the rivera. In 1966 French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte was commissioned to create a new blue chair. Nice ordered about 200 of these, of which it seems that only 700 are left. In Cannes in the 1930s it cost 25 cents to rent a chair. The rental only ended in the 1980s.
These chairs were also famous for being hurled in rebellion by anti-captalism demonstrators towards the Police in 2000 – when the EU Nice treaty was being signed.
Ultimately Cannes has an instinct not to be overbearing. Even their World War 2 memorial located in a garden, with lots of benches, is open and fully connected to the pathways along the beach. You can walk past this memorial without losing a beat to your Riviera day dream; coastal Cannes is where disbelief must be suspended.
Dublin’s Liffey boardwalk: ‘It could explode in a second’ – https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/dublin-s-liffey-boardwalk-it-could-explode-in-a-second-1.3189543
World War Two Iconoclasm: The Destruction and Reconstruction of memorials to Queen Victoria and Edward VII on the French Riviera – http://journals.openedition.org/erea/5809
Dublin Queen Vic Gets Sydney Home 1988 – http://www.rte.ie/archives/2018/0125/935986-queen-victoria-settles-in-sydney/
Municipal Archives of Cannes – http://www.cannes.com/fr/culture/archives-municipales.html
Histoire mouventee d’une statue – http://lamidesarchives.over-blog.fr/2015/10/billet-n-67-novembre-2015.html
Cannes: ils ont volé la sculpture hommage à René Goscinny – http://archives.nicematin.com/cannes/cannes-ils-ont-vole-la-sculpture-hommage-a-rene-goscinny.1145085.html
La sculpture du sétois Robert Combas dédiée à Goscinny dérobée à Cannes – http://www.midilibre.fr/2013/02/13/la-sculpture-du-setois-robert-combas-dediee-a-goscinny-derobee-a-cannes,643813.php
Why have so many of Dublin’s fountains run dry? – https://www.dublininquirer.com/2016/02/23/why-have-so-many-of-dublins-fountains-run-dry/
Lighthouses of France: Alpes-Maritimes (French Riviera) – https://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/lighthouse/riv.htm
Feux du port de Cannes – http://phares.du.monde.free.fr/lum20/phare/pag335.html
Eugène Lizero – https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eug%C3%A8ne_Lizero
Pourquoi Cannes accueille le festival du film – http://www.leparisien.fr/espace-premium/culture-loisirs/pourquoi-cannes-accueille-le-festival-du-film-09-05-2016-5779895.php
La plage du Dramont – http://www.materielsterrestres39-45.fr/fr/index.php/guerre-terrestre-france/276-provence-cote-d-azur/985-la-plage-du-dramont
Liberation of Cannes Anniversary – http://yesicannes.com/yesicannes/cannes_liberation.html
Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Brougham,_1st_Baron_Brougham_and_Vaux
Spire souvenirs could raise millions for city cultural events – https://www.irishtimes.com/news/spire-souvenirs-could-raise-millions-for-city-cultural-events-1.346516
Signatures Cote d’Azur Blue Chairs – http://www.ilovecannes.com/signatures-cote-dazur-blue-chairs/
The WWII Liberation of Nice: What really happened – http://www.bestofniceblog.com/2011/08/27/the-liberation-of-nice-wwii-1944/
Denys Puech – https://www.villamedici.it/en/directors/puech-denys/
Life’s a beach: Cannes ships in sand for film festival – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-film-festival-cannes-beach/lifes-a-beach-cannes-ships-in-sand-for-film-festival-idUSKBN1FJ1VX