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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Cannes Cannes

For the record, it is indeed pronounced “can,” as in “can of beer” or “can of Coke,” at least when a North American, well, a west coast North American, is talking about beverages. With the possible exception of the burning issue of how wretched the Lifetime cable TV channel’s movies are, the pronunciation of this city on France’s Mediterranean coast has sparked more intense discussion than any other on my Reader Feedback Page page. Other movie web sites have high-minded intellectual discussions about whether Citizen Kane is really the best movie of all time or whether or not the auteur theory of cinema is valid, but mine gets caught up in how to pronounce the name of foreign cities.

To be precise, since it is southern France, there is heavy emphasis on the “n” sound with a hint of an “uh” at the end, like an almost-second syllable. So the people who said “can” as in “can of beer” can congratulate themselves with a can of beer, and the person who insisted that it was “kahn,” as in “wrath of Kahn” was apparently trying to con us. And the numerous people out there who say “cans” are simply hearing double. I actually knew this all along. After all, I lived in France for a whole year. I know I wrote three years ago that it was pronounced “con,” but that was a typo, and by the time I realized it, I was having so much fun over how people were arguing over it that I never bothered to correct myself. Until now. Anyway, my main problem was always confusing Cannes with Caen, the city in Normandy, which is pronounced like “cau” but with a nasal sound, making it homonym for quand, the French word for “when.”

Cannes centre
Yachts from all over the world line up in Cannes’s Old Port, next to the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, where the film festival is held.

Now, I wasn’t content to trust my wretched memory to make sure that I was correct as to how to pronounce Cannes. In my never-ending effort to research each and every important issue raised on this web site (at least when it suits me and when there is serious fun involved), I made a special trip to Cannes just to listen to the locals pronounce it and make sure of the pronunciation. Am I a diligent and self-sacrificing webmaster or what? Given that I did this entirely for the benefit of you, my readers, please feel free to drop a check in the mail to help defray my costs. I think that is only fair.

Cannes mural
A mural on the side of a building in Cannes pays tribute to the world of cinema.

Okay, what really happened was that after six years of marriage, the Missus finally started getting impatient about that honeymoon I had always promised her. We had actually planned to go to Cannes soon after our third wedding reception (the one in Ireland), but things conspired to keep us from going. One thing led to another, and suddenly we hit our sixth anniversary and still no honeymoon in Cannes. Now, longtime faithful readers (I think there might be one) know that it has been my dream for a long time to go to Cannes, and the Missus decided that it was high time we go. So she arranged to free up her busy schedule so that we could go at the beginning of April. I was so touched by this gesture that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that all those times that I had said that I wanted to “go to Cannes,” I was referring to the Cannes film festival. I know I should have been more specific. I guess that will teach me. But while there is a down side of going to Cannes and not seeing any movies (kind of like going to Las Vegas and not gambling), there is also an up side. The place is much less crowded, and it is way easier to get a hotel room.

Cannes stair steps
Winners of the Palme d’Or are immortalized on the stair steps to one of the glamorous hotels on Cannes’s La Croisette.

Anyway, at least from now on when I don’t go to the Cannes film festival, I’ll be able to read about it or watch reports about it on television and be able to picture in my head exactly where the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès is and how lovely the walk is to there from the fabulous hotels along La Croisette. Perhaps my overriding impression from wandering around the place was how at home the denizens of Hollywood must feel there. Going there from Ireland was exactly like going from Seattle to Los Angeles, at least in terms of climate. In fact, at times I could actually forget where I was and think that I was in L.A. Similarly, it has the beaches and the palm trees, the mild weather, the houses perched on hills, and the people walking the streets with their dogs dressed to the nines (the people, not so much the dogs). Indeed, the slavery to fashion in Cannes actually puts Beverly Hills to shame. Also creating an L.A.-like atmosphere was the fact that most people there were speaking a language other than in English (although in this case it is French instead of Spanish).

Cannes billboard
Billboards along La Croisette hype a new American television series.

All in all, there were plenty of good reasons to leave Ireland for the south of France. And not just because the weather is better. The food is so much better. The coffee is so much better (making me homesick for Seattle). And, since that draconian smoking ban finally went into effect in Ireland at the end of March, I think I was actually starting to suffer from second-hand smoke withdrawal. No problem with that in France. While the places where you can smoke in France have been cut back quite a bit since I lived there 30 years ago (I remember people smoking in cinemas!), there is still plenty of public smoking going on.

Lynch handprints
Director David Lynch is one of numerous film personalities who has had his handprints immortalized in the pavement outside the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.

So, I finally realized my dream of going to Cannes, although it was sort of like a devout Catholic finally going to Rome but not being able to get communion. But the good news is that Missus liked it too. Now I just need to start preparing her for the fact that on our next visit, she and the Little Munchkin will be more or less on their own—while I am at the movies.

-S.L., 15 April 2004

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