We’ve decided to explore Europe while we can even if we have to break the kids’ college bank accounts. Ryan Air–the low-cost carrier on this continent–flies Seville, Spain to Marseille, France for 25 euros and since we have a friend in St. Tropez, we jumped on board, taking my two nieces along for their first glimpse of the jet set and leaving the boys with Aunt Steph.
Our first stop was lunch at Club 55, a blue-and-white seaside restaurant that serves platters of crudités, fish fresh from the Mediterranean, and Tarte Tropezienne–a cake so thick with cream there was no doubt we were now in France. Our host, a Southern Californian, and his two buddies, one South African and the other English, all looked quite rattily natty—or is it nattily ratty?—in the casually elegant style of St. Tropez. Over a glass of rosé, I took time to study the women, comfortable in their tanned, toned bodies with not a bad face lift among them (although possibly some good ones). Eating their 30-euro hamburgers sans bun and avec fried egg, the ladies here don’t seem to think wrinkles or a big butt are all that bad.
My nieces’ also studied the St. Tropez scene with the same wide-eyed intensity they would Martians or thoroughbred race horses . Since they haven’t yet learned that if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it, they had lots of questions. ”What’s more fancy, Aunt Suzi–Paris or St. Tropez?” I explained they were comparing apples to oranges. ”Do you think that villa cost 2 million dollars?” Try 20, I answered. We spotted Giorgio Armani’s big black yacht roaming darkly just off shore like something out of Star Wars and the talk turned to the haute couture stores we had browsed that morning. ”Aunt Suzi–would you really spend $4,000 on a pair of boots?” I thought about the furry, high-heeled Louis Vuittons I’d fallen for and felt a little pang. But the answer was no–even if I could afford them.
The connection between money and happiness–of lack of it–can be a tough concept, but my nieces already have a pretty good understanding. When I bought them bathing suits at St. Tropez’s open-air market for $10, they were as happy and thankful as if I’d spent $100. Watching the French women peruse and haggle, I pointed out that the best-dressed were not necessarily the richest but the most creative, pairing a vintage designer skirt with a t-shirt and a thrift store belt. And I assured them that in their inexpensive matching white dresses, they’d be absolutely perfect anywhere.
Despite the wealth that surrounds it, this four-hundred year old fishing village, where Brigitte Bardot filmed “When God Created Women” sixty years ago and where P. Diddy now parties at the discotheque, has managed to maintain its charm and sense of self quite well. It has its own unique style, one that feels quite authentic–a blend of old and young, refined and silly, traditional and wild. And that’s a description anyplace–or anyone–should covet.