I was first introduced to Cannes by Roger’s book “Two Weeks in the Midday Sun,” with his hand-drawn illustrations of people and places in the south of France. That was back in 1990. All these years later when I return I still recognize some of the same places he wrote about and drew and inhabited. Of course some of the things have changed, but the French like tradition, and so the more things change the more they remain the same.
For instance, my room at the Hotel Splendid (pronounced Hotel Splawn-Deed) contains a plaque bearing Roger’s name in honor of the 40-plus years he stayed there. Checking in is as welcome as a warm hug for me. This beautiful little boutique hotel looks like a wedding cake on the outside, and it’s populated with journalists and film critics from America. The proprietor, Madame Cagnat, prides herself on having someone at the desk who can speak English at all times. She also serves a wonderful breakfast of croissants and eggs, chicken and porridge hearty enough to get you through a day’s worth of screenings.
If you need a quick bite to eat, one well-kept secret is the working man’s cafeteria hidden away in the bowels of the Palais. They serve a full hot lunch at reasonable prices. But they don’t advertise, so you have to ask around to find it. The food is delicious, and they change the menu daily. Other lunch options are a smorgasbord of snack stands where your baguettes are served to you through open windows. If you go to the one on rue Notre Dame, it also has an organic juice bar with freshly liquefied ginger to give you a kick so powerful it gets you through the afternoon movies without falling asleep. Or you can go to the American Pavilion to get sandwiches that are French in character but more like ones you would recognize in America.
For the past two years there has also been a pop-up Steak ’n Shake, one of Roger’s favorite restaurants from his hometown of Urbana, Ill. This is the equivalent of a fast-food place, but in the south of France it has a certain French flair. At night you are likely to find friendly faces at La Pizza, on the opposite end of the Croisette near the harbor. It’s a thin-crust French-style pizza served with a green salad, so that you can watch your nutrition and your waistline at the same time.
The best bars are on the terraces of the Hotel Majestic and the Carlton. But if you are watching your euros there is also Caffe Roma and the Byron for more casual drinks and people-watching. Take plenty of cash. Even a Coca-Cola is expensive.
For sight-seeing, I recommend a day in Monte Carlo, about an hour’s drive away. Roger and I got engaged there during the Grand Prix, so I make the trek back to Monaco occasionally. My marriage proposal was preceded by a drive to San Remo, Italy, to visit the grave of Edward Lear, the father of the limerick and an artist whose watercolors of Venice adorn my walls.
No trip to Cannes is complete without a lunch on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. It is about a half hour from Cannes and is so expensive that only the stars (and exotic pirates) stay there. One of my fondest memories is meeting Quentin Tarantino in Cannes on his first trip there with “Reservoir Dogs.” Roger and I bought him a plate of spaghetti. The next time we saw him was the year of “Pulp Fiction,” and he was holding court on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap with Harvey Weinstein, springing for plates heaped with clams and mussels and caviar and champagne for all. It is positively magical how one’s fortune can change at Cannes.
Chaz Ebert is the president of the Ebert Co. and co-founder of Ebertfest.