Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Orange Crush

Greetings from Menton on the French Riviera, where the 78eme Fête du Citron is winding down. A wild and wacky yearly event, this outdoor exhibition fills the jardin Biovès with huge constructions on a chosen theme, all made of oranges and lemons. The festival runs from mid-February thru early March and always has a parade, fireworks and special cultural events. This year’s theme, les Grandes Civilisations, features everything imaginable from Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Sphinxes, Stonehenge, a Viking tableau, Aztec and Egyptian pyramids, Trojan Horses, and Theseus going mano a mano with a Minotaur outside a labyrinth. Over the weekends the event is packed, with droves of tourists mobbing the city, crowding the palm-lined promenade which faces the Palais de L’Europe just off the coastal highway which leads to the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, perhaps 20 minutes away. The big beneficiaries seem to be school children, whole classes of them, who eagerly plop down in front of the orange mastodon, their sketchbooks open on their laps. Local merchants have booths selling orange essences, fragrances, every possible iteration of marmalade imaginable, sweets, postcards, memorabilia. It’s citrus madness with a French twist, and everybody gets into the spirit. Menton’s not as glam as nearby Monaco or Cannes or Nice. Like Seville, there are orange trees on every block, and like Seville you are advised not to eat them. It’s a lovely little city populated by retirees who stroll the oceanfront arm in arm, taking in the exhilarating Mediterranean breezes. There are lots of good typical brasseries, wonderful bakeries, views of rugged coast and the Alpes Maritimes, and things still on sale. A fashion capital it’s not, but a great place to chill out, sample some fresh seafood and give thanks you’re not in Miami.