There are two high seasons in Cannes: the first is the brief manic intensity of the late spring film festival. The second is the much more protracted, but only marginally less insane, summer period.
It seems that in the same way that swallows find themselves with an irresistible impulse to migrate south in September, for about six weeks from the middle of July onwards vast numbers of human beings from across the world acquire a similar incomprehensible urge to head to Cannes. The result is an extraordinary and frequently chaotic flock of cars, people and dogs.
Cannes, you see is more than a tourist destination. (In fact as a tourist destination it isn’t terribly wonderful: there are a lot better locations around the Mediterranean.) No, Cannes is more than that: it is a place of pilgrimage; a very secular version of Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca. You can see people standing on the seafront gazing around with a look of wide-eyed wonder at the palm trees, the yachts, the cars and the stores with names like Gucchi, Chanel, Cartier and Armani, and on their faces you can glimpse that expression of accomplishment that says “Yes, I’m here!”
Part of the almost mystical attraction of Cannes is that it holds out promises to those that make the pilgrimage. One promise is that here you can be who you ought to be. Here, the whispered offer goes, amid the sun, the palm trees and the yachts, your dream becomes the reality. You can too can be wealthy, famous and honoured. Not for nothing is Cannes twinned with its equal in fantasy, Beverly Hills. Here, the promise goes, you will walk with the stars. (Actually the stars are for the most part hidden away behind high walls and barbed wire in exclusive villas miles away; they want you to buy their music and watch their films but they just don’t want you too near to them.) To see your image reflected in the carbon-fibre bodywork of the latest Bugatti is to acquire second-hand something of the glamour that you know you really deserve.
Another promise is that here you can have what you ought to have. If you have the money Cannes is a consumerist heaven. Here you can hire a Lamborghini, rent a helicopter or charter a yacht the size of a frigate. You can buy handbags, shoes and or a jacket for a month’s salary. You can buy breakfast at the Carlton Hotel for the price of a good three-course meal in a fine UK restaurant. Thankfully however Cannes does not alienate those with lesser incomes. There are coffee stalls and sandwich places which even in these devalued days of the pound (yes Boris, we know who to blame) are no more expensive than those sold to those shivering on some rain-swept British beach. And there are very good free beaches, even if they get so crowded that you feel you need to apologise to your neighbour when you turn over.
The final promise Cannes makes is that here you can do what you want to do. It is a place characterised by self-indulgence. Here, mild-mannered, well-behaved citizens of impeccable morality throw restraint to the wind. Straightlaced clerks from dull offices in Paris take selfies of themselves with idiotic grins in front of some Saudi princeling’s Ferrari. Prim mothers from Belgium lie on the beach in front of passing thousands wearing a only a bikini bottom the size of a handkerchief. Sober German bankers wander around wearing lurid shirts and eating icecream. People flaunt tattoos of all sorts on all parts of the anatomy written in bad English. This encouragement of self-indulgence is so pervasive that many people feel that normal rules no longer apply and quite happily park straddling pedestrian crossings.
Of course all these promises are illusory. But briefly in August Cannes is full of those who dream dreams. Us? We just live in hope of finding a parking place when we go to church. As they might say in Swansea “There’s dull, we are.”