As we’ve commented before, we have two ways back from church in Cannes. One is the fast motorway route that winds smoothly over the hills. The other is to take the spectacular, cliff-hugging road along the coast (the Corniche d’Or), which has dramatic views for passengers but forces wise drivers to keep their eyes on the road. The other Saturday, coming back from a church prayer breakfast, we decided to take the coast road and stopped off at one of the first towns/villages/conurbations, Théoule sur Mer (which may or may not be hyphenated: the Mairie seemingly can’t decide).
One of the challenges in the conurbations of the Côte d’Azur is trying to find the original village now buried under the almost universal sprawl of apartment blocks, shops and villas. (It’s an almost universal problem around the Mediterranean: the once beautiful Lebanese coast is now an almost solid strip of concrete, asphalt and brick).
Théoule was obviously once a pretty little fishing village and there are still, overshadowed by anonymous and uninspiring blocks of flats, isolated buildings of distinction that suggest that in the past it had an Italianate charm. Théoule is at the mouth of a narrow valley which has limited the main part of the town and from passing through it in summer, it’s definitely not the easiest of places to park. But in this curiously extended tail end of winter, we found it a pleasant little place to wander around in for an hour or so.
Yet there was one detail about Théoule that we should mention. We have a curious habit of paying French war memorials more attention that most visitors do. You see we were in Beirut on the 23 October 1983 and we heard the twin blasts – almost synchronous – that wreaked carnage on the American and French peacekeepers. There were 58 French deaths of soldiers who came from across France and their names occur as fresh, sad additions to those monuments in every town, village and hamlet with their staggering lists of First World War casualties and the lesser numbers of the Second World War.
In Théoule we found two names of men killed in Lebanon in 1983. One, Pierre Joseph Grilli, it turns out was killed in an accident at sea but the other, Thierry Di Masso, was killed in the blast we heard.
Almost no one alive remembers the First World War except as a child and there are only old men and women who recall fighting in the Second. The names of those killed in those conflicts are history. But we were there for these casualties from Lebanon and in some way, we find ourselves linked to them. Its an odd and perturbing thing to look at such names as Di Masso’s and hear yourself say “Friend, I heard you die”.