The Good Life France Magazine

The Good Life France Magazine brings you the best of France - inspirational and exclusive features, fabulous photos, mouth-watering recipes, tips, guides, ideas and much more...

Published by the award winning team at The Good Life France

1 year ago

Issue No. 15

Discover the Drome, Nyons - the last Provencal frontier, Charente-Maritime, Burgundy, Paris gastronomy, Nice, secret Provence, recipes, a whole lot more. It's the next best thing to being in France...

By Jemma Hélène

By Jemma Hélène Finally I did something I’d wanted to do all summer. There’s a lone bench at the end of l’Ilette peninsula, a stub of land that juts into the Mediterranean near Antibes’ rampart walls. The bench faces the bay, looking onto the old town, or if you peer over your right shoulder when seated there, the Cap d’Antibes. Smack in the centre of that view lies our summertime home, Bellevue. Below the bench the sea rolls onto the rocks. Next door is an upscale beach restaurant – but this, you could say, is a new addition. The bench itself is unremarkable, an unforgiving union of two cement slabs. Behind it stands a tall shard of limestone with a copper plaque that has gone green with age. What I wanted to do that summer was quite simple: to read a particular book sitting on that bench near that monument. So there I sat, water bottle beside me, book in my lap. Being the height of the Côte d’Azur’s season, the sun scorched in its late morning sky. As I tried to enjoy the experience I’d longed to savour, I only wanted to dive into the neighbouring restaurant and continue reading under an umbrella, cold drink in hand. But I couldn’t do that. They’d suffered here on l’Ilette peninsula. I should, too. I squinted through sunglasses as the sun bounced off the pages. Duel of Wits by Peter Churchill. I’d found a beaten-up copy through a community college in Indiana. When the book arrived in Toronto, I packed it away for our summer in Antibes. Flipping the pages brought forth the familiar, musty-paper smell of my youth. It beckoned me into a bygone world. Churchill dedicated his work to Arnaud – code name for Captain Alec Rabinowitch, a radio operator who died in his pursuits. These writings, the author explained, covered four secret missions into wartime France. He’d entered twice by submarine and twice by parachute between July 1941 and April 1943.

I skipped to the biographical index at the back – anything to avoid the hard work of the inside pages in that blazing light. I recognized some names from my research: Julien (Captain I Newman) – captured and executed. Louis of Antibes – Did I recognize this name? Or was it “Antibes” that sprang from the page? – captured and died on an evacuation march from a concentration camp. Matthieu (Captain Edward Zeff) – captured and survived. Taylor, Lt-Cdr “Buck” – commanded his own submarine. Survived. Vigerie, Baron d’Astier de la – never captured. They were characters in a story I’d found online, translated into French. Across a wide ocean, with Toronto’s thermometer lingering well below freezing, it had read like a thriller. A British submarine, the H.M. S. Unbroken, had entered the Baie de la Salis – the very bay beneath me – one night in April 1942. In charge of the operation was the book’s author, a member of the British Special Operations Executive. Churchill rowed ashore in the pitch night and climbed steps that led up l’Ilette peninsula – landing there, right there, on the ground beneath my bench. If someone had lingered that night on the terrace of our Bellevue, they would’ve witnessed the landing in its moving shadows. Churchill’s mission was to deliver two radio sets and two radio operators (Matthieu and Julien) to the home of Dr Elie Lévy, a kingpin of Antibes’ Résistance movement who lived three blocks inland on Avenue Foch. Under the cover of night, Churchill navigated the streets alone, locating Lévy’s house before returning for his colleagues and supplies. Then, already clutched by adrenaline, the secret agent ran into Lévy himself on l’Ilette peninsula. With him was Baron d’Astier de la Vigerie, a diplomat who became a last-minute addition to Churchill’s passenger roster as the submarine departed the bay beneath Bellevue.

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