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A Meeting In Menton 1968

In January 1968, we were once more engaged in filming The Monte Carlo Rally for Nissan Motors of Japan after successfully covering the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally for them.  At the start of the second circuit, Vittorio Della Valle and I went off to Menton.

From there, the cars turned inland towards the mountains. We filmed the leading cars and the Datsuns leaving us at a roundabout in Menton.

With nothing more to do for the day, the cars being away from Monaco overnight, we decided to look for somewhere to have lunch.

Our new Vice-President, Kenneth Coyte, had told us to stop using the United Press International system of “per diem” whereby we were allowed $26 per day to cover the cost of a hotel and food (of all the departments within UPITN this Coyte initiated ‘adjustment’ only applied to mine, more of that in future articles).  Instead, we were obliged to provide actual receipts for both hotel and restaurants.  The $26 per day had been arrived at by careful calculation and, for us, there was little or no change at the end of each day. There was no reasonable economic reason for this decision, but it did serve to remind us as to who was in charge.

By now, we had decided that we would always eat in the best available restaurants.  Della Valle hailed a taxi and he asked the driver to take us to the best restaurant in town.  We got in the taxi, he did a left turn onto the seafront, La Promenade du Soleil,  and dropped us outside a restaurant only a hundred yards away from where he picked us up.  It would prove to be worth the ride.

We went inside and found a table-for-two deep inside.  The man who came to our table was short, a little overweight with a big moustache.  He was Italian, the restaurant was “Le Golfe de Naples”.  Somehow, Della Valle knew he was Italian and he spoke to him.  We were treated royally and had a first class lunch.  We had Brodo di Pollo or Chicken broth and “Abacchio al Forno” or Roast lamb with Rosemary.  It was just right for a cold day in January.

Della Valle told the “Patron”, for that is who our waiter was, that we were a large crew working on the rally and that we liked to eat well in the evenings.  Patron said “you will be very welcome” and he showed us a long table partly closed off from the rest of the restaurant.  We booked it for that evening.

When the whole crew were, once again, reassembled back in Monte Carlo, we told them that we had found the ideal restaurant, heaps better than those in Monte Carlo.

Our sizeable party consisted of Vittorio Della Valle, Paul Badin, Jacques Hubinet, Monsieur Corsi (I worked with him for five years and never knew his first name), Ken Watanabe, our man in Tokyo, Alan Wilson from Independent Television News, London, myself and two news cameramen who were friends of Hubinet, Monsieur Gaudin, Fox Movietonews Marseilles and Monsieur Bianci, Actualities Francais Marseilles.

We sat at the long table and had an aperitif, mine was Scotch and Soda. The Patron came to the table with a pad, with him came two waiters already holding plates of food.  One waiter laid down on the table, three large piping hot pizzas while the other laid down three plates of chipped potatoes.  These were no ordinary chips.  They were the size of fish fingers and were fried in oil laced with garlic.  So, we had a mini feast before we started.

Patron asked us whether we wanted meat or fish.  A quick discussion led to the verdict that we would eat fish, knowing this would be favourite with Watanabe and the four men from Marseilles.
The fish was, at least, two feet long and had been cooked in one piece. It was placed on the table and the waiter produced a thin knife from his belt.  He looked round at us all, just to ensure that each and every one of us was looking.

Holding the knife handle between his thumb, on one side, and all his fingers on the other, he held the knife up to demonstrate the tool he was about to use.  He then proceeded, with one swipe, to removed the skin from head to tail and from the middle to the side.  He then laid the skin back to reveal the white flesh.  He then took another look around to see if he still had our attention and then he reversed the blade so that it was now pointing towards himself, then, with one swipe of the knife, he removed the bottom half of the skin and he laid it back. He could have been a surgeon.  At this point we all applauded.

Dorade_ansata_2010_001He then doled out large chunks of succulent Dorade. (I have never seen a Dorade that size before or since)

We had a wonderful meal and when we had finished eating, a guitarist started to play in the background. As his piece reached a crescendo, waiters all around the restaurant came into the aisles and spun two plates each on the tiled floor.  They were in perfect synchronisation with the guitarist and the plates all collapsed at the same time. The noise of the spinning plates and their final collapse could be heard throughout the restaurant causing heads to turn. Such showmanship.

Patron appeared at the end of the table with a bottle of Cognac under his arm and a small brandy glass held on each of his fingers.  He poured us a glass and left the bottle on the table.

The table cloths were of parchment.  It resembled high class watercolour paper.  Patron sat down at the end of our table and proceeded to write up the bill on the table cloth.  When he finished, he tore it off and presented it to me.  I paid the bill and we left, but, you can imagine, over the next few nights, whenever we could we were there.  We would also be there for some years to come.

The bill was about eighteen inches long and about nine inches wide.  To me it would have been a treasured memento, but the miserable people in ITN accounts insisted on keeping it and would not let me have it.

When we left the restaurant, we walked past the open kitchen where, if one went to the right, it would lead to the seafront, La Promenade du Soleil, whereas a turn to the left would lead to the parallel internal road, Avenue Felix Faure.  We turned left and found ourselves out in the street where Della Valle and I had first got into the taxi to find the restaurant.

I stood between Badin and Della Valle on the kerb looking up and down the street when Della Valle said “I’ve been here before”.

Badin said “So have I”.

I said “When was that?

Della Valle said “June 1940”.

Badin said “June 1940”.

Della Valle pointed to a building about two hundred yards to the east and on the north side of the road and said that from there he was filming the Italian invasion of France.  Badin pointed to a building on the other side of the road and said that he was there shooting at the Italians. They had been less than three hundred yards apart. What a coincidence.

It had taken them twenty-eight years to find this out.

Italy had declared war on France on June 14th 1940.  The Italian forces were ill equipped, hardly battle-trained and unprepared for war.  There were 32 Divisions in 2 Armies, a total of 700,000 men, that invaded France from the Swiss border down to the Mediterranean.  The depleted French were outnumbered two to one.  The Italian forces made heavy weather of it and 2,000 of them suffered from frostbite in the Alps.

Historians tell us that they made little progress on the coast where they were stopped at Menton by a French contingent of an NCO and seven men.  Surely Badin must have been one of them.  In the whole invasion, the Italians lost 641 men killed while the French only lost 40.

On 20th June 1940, the Italians offered an armistice.  The French surrendered on June 22nd.

Della Valle and Badin were the best of friends.  Both had been cameramen with Fox Movietone.  At meal times, they ordered different items from the menu and then proceeded to eat from two plates during the meal.

The subject of the confrontation in Menton was never mentioned again.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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