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Thursday, May 17, 2012

insights: what I learned the day I lost a yacht

The decadent, star-filled extravaganza that is the Cannes Film Festival has begun in France. I've been lucky enough to cover the festival several times but there was this one time that stands above the rest. It was the time I lost a yacht.

It wasn’t my fault really.

One moment the lovely yacht was there and the next moment, it was gone. Vanished somewhere in the French Riviera.

Let me start at the beginning.

It was late winter and it was decided that we would be covering the Cannes Film Festival in May. My role was to arrange for credentials and accommodations as well as hosting the video features we would be shooting in London and Cannes. There would be four to five of us going including a videographer/editor, executive producer and a writer, all guys at the top of their game and the best group of guys to be traveling with. I felt lucky to be covering the festival with such a talented team.

It is notoriously tough to get credential passes to cover the Cannes Film Festival but due in large part to the writer's (Dave's)  brilliant past content we were able to secure passes (Rose level passes--very good! This got us into most screenings). It was the accommodations, however, that were proving the hardest obstacle. By February most of the hotel rooms were gone, booked by studios and media outlets the previous spring. I started with our travel department and asked them to check the three big hotels on the La Croisette (the main street in Cannes) The Majestic, The Carlton and The Hotel Martinez. No vacancies.  They expanded the search to other hotels in the area. Nothing. Not one hotel room, not even the dodgy hotels. I tried the travel sites. I called the hotels directly. Nothing. I tried hotels in a five mile radius. Booked. All booked.

It was time to get creative. I had two options. That’s it.

One. A villa, an amazing villa in the countryside of Nice that looked like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly had just stepped away while shooting “To Catch a Thief.” The pictures were beautiful and it was big enough for our whole team plus several other folks who would be joining us from our European affiliates throughout the week. This however ended up not being an option since there was no way to get back and forth to the festival easily. Because the team would be covering press conferences, video interviews and other events starting from 7am and going through sometimes until 2am we needed to be close by our rooms so we could drop off tapes, change, edit and publish our segments. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a driver who would help us travel back and forth to the festival. It seems everyone was already booked.

Two. A yacht. I found a man online who owned an apartment and a yacht in Cannes. The apartment was rented but would we be open to the yacht? I said “Send me the details.” A few minutes later I received an email with pictures of the yacht that was docked in the Old Port adjacent to everywhere we needed to be. It had 5 bedrooms and plenty of space for us to work and sleep. It actually turned out to be significantly less expensive to rent the yacht rather than hotel rooms for 5 people for 11 days. I forwarded the email with our options and within seconds I received a “Book it!” email.

May. We touched down in London first as we shot the junket interviews for “The Da Vinci Code” on the high speed train from London to Cannes. As we made our way to the dock in Cannes we met the bon vivant man about town who rented us the yacht. While it wasn’t a huge yacht, it would serve our purpose for the next two weeks as we covered the festival just steps away. There was enough room for us to sleep, cook our meals and edit the segments.

Over the next weeks in a world lifted from a Bain de Soleil ad, we worked and lived on the water as the team storyboarded, shot and edited packages of interviews with stars attending the festival including the junket for “X-Men: The Last Stand" shot high in the hills at a rented mansion. We covered parties until early in the morning. One morning I walked back from a party to the yacht around 5am. It is one of my favorite moments from being on the road all these years. As I walked back to the boat along the Croisette the sun was just starting to rise, the sky pink. I saw couples in black tie and gowns strolling back from parties to their hotels on the beach hand in hand, she wearing his tuxedo jacket over her gown, holding her strappy shoes in hand while he walked with his tuxedo pants rolled up holding his shoes as well. The shop proprietors were sweeping the sidewalks in front of their shops. The little coffee shops were starting to brew and bake croissants, carts of fresh fruit and vegetables were being delivered to the shops from farmers. It was picturesque. The scent of the Mediterranean mixed with espresso in the air is something I’ll never forget.

After ten days or so working from early morning to late night we finally had a day off. We all did different things that day. One of the guys rented a car and drove into the countryside. I took the train to Monaco and Italy, spending the day seeing Grace Kelly’s castle and shopping in the markets of Ventimiglia. Around 5pm I took the train back to Cannes. I walked from the train station to the dock. I was looking down answering email as I walked to our slip. I turned left at the lamp to step onto our gangway but there was just water. Our boat was gone. I stood staring at the empty space where our yacht was supposed to be. “Ah,” I figured it out. I was on the wrong queue. There were two parallel  queues and I must be on the wrong one. I wasn’t paying attention as I walked and focused on my phone. I looked right and left. I saw the Frenchman on his boat to the left of our slip. Since we arrived, this very tan 70ish year-old man had been spending each day on the upper deck of his boat in nothing more than swim trunks, sitting in the deckchair and reading Le Monde in the sun. He looked down at me over the glasses perched on his very brown nose. He seemed amused at the predicament.

I looked up at him and motioned to where the yacht once was. In French I said “The boat. It’s gone.” (Luckily those years of French classes taught by the nuns were being put to use.)

He looked over to the open space and agreed “Yes,” he said. “She’s gone.”

I was baffled. “I don’t understand. Where? Where is the boat? The boat that used to be here.” I pointed to the water. I looked up at him.

He waved to the open sea “She went,” he said. “She’s gone.”

I stood there thinking of everything on that boat, our laptops, video equipment, our passports, our clothes, everything we owned. It was all on the boat somewhere out there in the sea.

I wondered what to do now. Call the guys, tell them our things are gone, call corporate and ask them for help, wire money, help us get new passports. My mind was reeling with all that had to be done. I was kicking myself. How well, really, did I know the guy we rented the boat from? The guy who just took off into the open sea with all of our things?

The situation seemed incomprehensible.

“Come,” our French neighbor motioned me onboard his yacht. “Come and have some espresso, my girl. Yes? Espresso? You come and sit with me.”

What else was there to do? I boarded his yacht and sat with the man who peeked in on me as I showered every day. His upper deck had a good view into the skylight of my bathroom that had to remain open during a shower. I felt better seeing that his view really just went to shoulder level. He rose from his seat to make us espresso. He was bald, paunchy and brown as a saddle but he was confident in his body, covered only in a red Speedo. Monsieur Jean-Michele handed me a small ceramic cup of espresso and waved off to the sea “Eh, she’s gone, yes?”

My God, yes, she was gone. But then I wondered. Could the guys have taken the boat out? I called them.

“Hi, it’s Taylor. Yes, Italy was amazing. Do you by any chance have the boat?”

Yes, they said. They had the boat. They were out somewhere near an island and it was incredible. Apparently, when we had arrived the owner of the boat said that if we wanted to take the yacht out to sea to give him a call and he would send the captain over. That is just what they did on our free day.

When I hung up Jean-Michele looked at me expectantly “All OK?”

I nodded, yes all OK.

Here is what I learned: I borrow trouble. I think the worst. The boat was gone and I assumed someone stole it. A cough is pneumonia. I see a parking meter officer and I assume I’ve gotten a ticket. My husband is late coming home and I think something has happened to him. I seems to always think the worst, to go for the most awful result. I wondered when I had become so cynical. The guys had simply taken the boat out for a sail into the open sea. I didn’t get a ticket, my husband was late because he had stopped to buy me lilies. I panic for no reason. How much stress I put myself through because I immediately go to a bad place in my head. I vowed to stop this. My grandmother used to tell my mother “Jacqueline, don’t borrow trouble. When it comes you’ll know it. Until then assume the best.” I vowed to listen to this piece of advice. Lately I seem to have forgotten this. I need to remember to think positively, to assume the best. It’s not about being Pollyanna. It’s about not stressing about something until you absolutely have to because worry is pointless.

On that day after hanging up the phone with the guys, Jean-Michele and I relaxed and spoke of wine, history and women as we watched the gold sun lower over the old port and we waited for the boat to come home.

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