When we went to the south of France for a beach holiday vacation a while back, we did the usual tourist program: Visiting Nice, visiting Cannes, and enjoying the riviera’s beaches. Already arriving at the airport, I got this sense of conspiracy; when exiting the terminal, I saw a sign saying: “Helicopter taxi to Monaco.” And so this meant the whole trip’s baseline became investigating, observing, and hypothesizing: “Is this where the rich eat? Does this shop sell expensive clothes? Surely, in this tinted-glass limousine, a rich person is being driven to their villa!”
Indeed, when we strolled the shops in Cannes waterside, they were all there: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Venetia. We saw shirts and small bags offered in the window for an easy 5000€, so we were sure: This is it! It must be where the rich people go shopping! But then, on another day in the evening, we did a hike around Cap d’Antibes, towards a beach called “Bay of Antibes Billionaires.”
On our way to the trail, again, we saw big houses: What we considered villas. We were amazed how nice people had it here and that, slightly down from where they lived, they surely could have easy access to the water. We also came across a beach club, and here we also concluded that: truly, this must be it! Where all the rich hang out. After all, the food prices in that restaurant were really high, like double or triple what we’d be willing to pay! Until when we started hitting the trail around Chateau de la Garoupe and other properties, it dawned on us that the wall left to the path wasn’t a high-security military area. All these CCTV cameras didn’t protect a natural sanctuary of birds: They were part of the security apparatus of Roman Arkadjewitsch Abramowitsch’s now-seized residence on the Côte d’Azur.
And so, needing roughly 1-2 hours just to circle the entire property, we logically had a lot of time to reflect and discuss. I realized how foolish it had been to conspiratively look “for rich people” on the streets of Antibes and Cannes. In shops and restaurants. The sheer size of the facility proved: Those people aren’t among us mere mortals, and they are certainly not to be found ordering from a menu or buying Versace in a waterside shop. Hiking along the publicly-accessible trail, I felt embarrassed - but not only because I had been so foolish and naive. But also because it felt like I had trespassed into a territory and had seen things I wasn’t supposed to. Had I indulged too much in unreflected voyeurism?
I don’t know. But what I know is that this hike changed my perspective. It taught me that my peers desire to ascend and have a say in the world and that people who shop 5000€ handbags in the streets of Cannes aren’t really the problem. Instead, the problems accumulate among those who can afford to buy entire peninsulas that take two hours to encircle. Those who dominate and corrupt nation-states and those that live a lifestyle not even conceivable by mere mortals like me. Those that wage wars and finance their godlike island utopias on the backs of the people below them.