WHEN EDEN ROCKED

The sun rises on another perfect day in paradise, a day of doing nothing in particular — but doing it terribly elegantly… The golden age of the jet set might have been eclipsed by commercial flight, but if you’re romantic enough you can still see the ghosts of Aly Khan, Agnelli and Cole Porter leaving their glamorous mark on the Côte D’Azur. NICK FOULKES lies back and thinks of summer….

The summer of 1969 was not exactly dull. The moon landings, the Manson murders, Woodstock, the Vietnam war… The images of the time are etched into the collective consciousness: the grainy flickering frames of space-suited astronauts looking like Michelin men bouncing about the lunar surface; the wide-eyed stare of the murderous Manson; a sea of hippies stretching as far as the camera lens could see; and the nightly television installments of whirring helicopter blades, death and destruction from Indochina.

Such is the cultural payload of these images that they crowd out other, less celebrated, pictures from the summer of ’69, such as one taken by that Nadar of the jet set, Slim Aarons. While it bears his fingerprints in terms of style, subject and location, it has a spontaneity absent from some of Aarons’s more famous photographs: there are no famous Beautiful People posed around a pool or arranged in front of a sprawling villa.

In the foreground a waiter in the Riviera uniform of white trousers, striped matelot shirt and sunglasses crouches with a tray of drinks. In front of him are three people on mattresses. A woman sits up to receive a gin and tonic. A man in white shorts lies prone. A nut-brown woman in a psychedelic print bikini hoists her glass of something red (Campari? Negroni? Bloody Mary?); her hair wrapped in a towel, she faces away from the camera — we follow her gaze, and the symmetrical composition of which Aarons was so fond leads the eye down an avenue bordered by mattresses, deck chairs and sun umbrellas to the familiar red-tiled roof of the Eden Roc, where on the terrace, shaded by more sun umbrellas, lunch is underway and the legendary Eden Roc buffet is being plundered by those sun worshippers famished by the rigours of a morning spent absorbing vitamin D.

Men may be walking on distant planets, or dying in distant lands; mass murder may be being perpetrated by drug-addled adherents of a crazed cult leader; half a million hippies may be dancing in the mud of fields and farmland to ear-jarring music… but here, on the exclusive tip of the most exclusive isthmus of land in the world, it is business as usual. The sun has risen on another perfect day in paradise, a day of sunbathing, swimming, and the civilised pleasure of doing nothing — but doing it terribly elegantly. As the name suggests, there is an air of Eden-like calm, a sense of prelapsarian innocence, a palpable feeling that all the less agreeable and downright nasty things that life can bring are not welcome here, and that they are kept at bay beyond the high hedges and tall gates.

Published

July 2020

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