Flat Broke and Dressed All in Black on the Côte d’Azur

When you’re an acolyte of Oscar Wilde’s form of aestheticism, it’s never easy to abide by one’s “actual” finances. In fact, it’s rather impossible. For the pursuit of beauty–generally tending to relate to the finer things in life that have become synonymous with having wealth–cannot be limited by one’s means. That is, unless one wants to live the life ordinary, as opposed to less ordinary. The former classification is, of course, exactly what Francis Mondieu worked her whole life to evade. Some would say she didn’t work at all. But to evade conventions is a full-time job, and very exhausting–if not more so than succumbing to the “comfort” of the accepted traditions of going through the motions of what’s entailed by getting a job, meeting someone who shares the same ideals as you in terms of settling in all things and dying with enough money for your funeral.

Francis’ parents, who had divorced around the twenty-five year mark of their marriage, were of this persuasion, and had tried their best to impart within Francis a need for security and stability–a need to suppress all sentiments of dissatisfaction no matter the emotional costs. Because in America, emotional costs are always secondary to “tangible” ones. Gotta pay the bills–that’s what they say. And for a while, Francis did. Abided the system to the letter, paid her taxes, her assorted fees for breathing. But then came a day, after being jilted by her so-called partner in domesticity, that it hit Francis like a tab of ecstasy from the days of Michael Alig. There was no reward for enduring the horrors of being a “card-carrying” human. The only card Francis would be using now, was her credit. The last of which she would use to get to the promised land dubbed the Côte d’Azur by Stéphen Liégeard in 1887. And, at a time when white male writers were god, so it was that everyone started calling it that. It had a higher note of glamor than the more plebeian American term: French Riviera. And from the first time Francis could remember hearing about it, seeing pictures of it, knowing that Grace Kelly was a part of it–she filed it away in the back of her mind, knowing at some point that it would have to be, her and this mythical Côte d’Azur at some juncture.

With the remains of her failed relationship collected and put into a box–magnets, framed photos, kitchen appliances, the “etc.” trappings of trying to do the twentieth century thing and live as a monogamous couple–she made her way back to her mother’s vaguely large apartment in Boston. She had moved out of their suburban Massachusetts home well before the ink was fresh on the divorce papers. And was even so bold as to join OkCupid, which had long ago digressed into an appropriate platform for the middle-aged. It was one night when Agatha–“Atha” as she was going by now–brought home a fresh gentleman caller for a romp after their dinner out that, at thirty-three years of age, Francis knew it was time to take the plunge towards those clear azure waters of the riviera that had been latently beckoning to her for decades. The ones that promised her an existence free from drudgery and responsibility.

The problem was, and always went back to, prosaically, money. How to “afford things.” In Francis’ mind, parents would think a lot more carefully about birthing if they had to, as part of the stipulations for doing so, pay for their child’s whims and desires for their entire life–the life of the progeny, that is. Signing a contract agreeing not only to subsidize their child’s existence, but also leaving enough money behind to support it after their respective deaths. Oh yes, that would really put a stop to this whole population overflow issue. Because, as most are already well-aware, the number one complaint of parents is the expense of those always agape maws, like perpetual baby birds constantly demanding more, more, more. Well, Francis knew there was nothing to be had after a certain point–that she was supposed to learn “self-sufficiency.” But are any of us ever really self-sufficient–at our core? Aren’t we all harboring the secret belief that someone could and will come to our rescue just in the nick of time, when we’re about to fall off the cliff, so to speak? Or in Francis’ case, rather more literally then figuratively as she careened about the coastline aimlessly.

For upon her arrival at the Gare de Nice-Ville, dressed head to toe in black and oversized black sunglasses perhaps unwittingly as part of her “East Coast shtick,” she quickly realized just how out of context she was in such a milieu. Just how overtly destitute. She was a stark contrast to the three sects of people that lived in the town–real residents, grotesque tourists in horrendous resort wear and the uber rich that wouldn’t be caught dead walking along the streets with the proletarian ilk. And there she was, the broke bitch in black. But what did it matter? This was the town of Chagall, Matisse, Léger–she was at last in a place that didn’t feel so…absent of luster. Crisp white yachts atop shimmering blue water–was it enough to wallop you in the face with the realization of your true social standing? Sure. But don’t the impecunious deserve a taste of the good life too, lapping it up where they can get it? Francis certainly thought so. Which is why she set up shop on an isolated part of the plage in between the Ascenseur du Château and La Grande Chaise Bleue, where the weather was still mild enough not to warrant enough of a flock that would upset her peace. Using some of her remaining funds to purchase materials to pitch a hammock, still draped in her vêtements of darkness, Francis propped her body onto the net and posed for the sun. And there, amid the visitors and semi-permanent residents who truly possessed “the means” to muck about on the playground of the rich, she mused that at least the life she was faking at present was more aspirational than the one she was faking before. Because there is no better existence than one of aestheticism, and no worse one than the road you must carve out of nothing to reach it.



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