In Search of David Dodge

In Search of David Dodge

In August of 2010 I received an email from Jean Buchanan, a writer from England who had been commissioned to dramatize the novel “To Catch A Thief” for BBC Radio and to make an accompanying BBC Radio Arts feature about the writing of the book. American author David Dodge penned the thriller in 1950 while living in a rented villa (Villa Noel Fleuri) in the south of France with his wife and young daughter, Kendal. The idea for the story came to him after the luxurious villa next door was robbed by a daring “cat burglar” during a cocktail party. As guests dined on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, the thief climbed in at the back of the house and snatched items from the guest bedrooms. Dodge would later remark that after hearing about the brazen robbery, “To Catch A Thief practically wrote itself!”

Jean had stumbled upon my blog during her research for the BBC projects and asked if I could help locate Villa Noel Fleuri. I agreed to assist in any way possible and the search began, aided in no small part by another of Jean’s recruits, Randal S. Brandt in Berkeley, California. Randal is the creator of A David Dodge Companion, an outstanding website devoted to the works of David Dodge .

Several months prior to hearing from Jean I had actually been in touch with Dodge’s daughter (at that time she was still alive and living in Mexico) in an attempt to find the villa used as John Robie’s house in Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of the book. I asked her about the villa she lived in with her father and her only memory was of a long, winding driveway with lots of trees leading up to the house. She thought it had been somewhere near Juan les Pins.  Continue reading

An Evening in St Tropez…

A few years ago I had dinner with two female friends in St Tropez.

The restaurant was very stylish, one of those where you sit outside along a charming, pedestrian-only street, sip wine, watch the ultra-chic stroll by, and pretend you belong there.

It was a wonderful evening except for the fact that my friends kept rambling on about how incredibly handsome our waiter was.  I’m not usually the jealous type, but an entire meal spent talking about an attractive waiter is a bit much don’t you think?

Something else bothered me.

He was apparently so good-looking that they were rendered completely oblivious to his abysmal English.  I’m not just lashing out here.  My Italian was better than his English and I don’t speak Italian.  For the girls, though, the carnage discharged from his mouth that night sounded as smooth and silky as just-served foie gras.

“Oh my god, did you see his eyes?”

“An endless sea of blue!”

“I know!  I know!  And it’s so obvious he works out!”

“And his English is sooooo good!”

“I know!  I know!”

During the first course, thankfully, Mr. Marvelous remained pleasantly absent, resting comfortably, I assumed, in a secret mirrored room reserved exclusively for irritating handsome people.

Then, at just the right moment, he swept in on a cloud of pulchritude to collect our plates. Continue reading

First Class is where I belong…. really.

“The temperature is all right sir?  Too warm, a little too cold perhaps?”

The beautiful blonde flight attendant is clearly concerned with my well-being, and who am I to argue?

Thirty thousand feet below me, the green and brown Polish countryside is laid out in perfectly checkered summer patterns as far as I can see.  The day is clear and sunny and I am the only person in the first class section of LOT Polish Airlines flight 341, Warsaw to Nice.

“Maybe it’s a bit warm for you?”  her bottomless blue eyes yearn to please.

“Thank you no, really it’s perfect” I respond with, I hope, just the right amount of affected insouciance.

Smiling demurely, she disappears.

I lean back in my oversized chair, close jet-lagged eyes, and mentally applaud the decision to donate a substantial number of hard-earned frequent flyer miles to the rarefied, seldom breathed air of first class.  This is not how I usually travel (OK, I never travel this way), but it’s obvious to me now that first class is exactly where I belong.


The lightest touch on my shoulder.  “Sir, I was just wondering….

Something catches her attention and we both turn to see Continue reading

Benicio Del Toro at The Cannes Film Festival:


At this point in my life I guess there’s a fairly good chance I’ll never be famous, rich, content, liked-by-many, sober, smart, handy around the house, well-dressed, desirable, a doctor, the third member of WHAM!, asked to a party for any reason other than to serve drinks and help clean-up, comfortable, or witty.

But hey, who’s perfect?

I feel like now is the right time for me to take a profound step on my journey of personal growth and acknowledge a few negligible imperfections.


Because I’m competing for my wife’s affections, that’s why, and in order to improve my chances of winning I think I should first recognize one or two minor shortcomings so that I can move forward and become a better man.

With whom am I competing (you may be asking yourself in perfectly irritating proper English)?

Benicio del Toro.

Ever since my wife and I spotted Benicio del Toro (what does that mean anyway, Benicio of the Bull?) at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year I know she’s been thinking about him.

A lot.

She won’t acknowledge it but I know she knows I know.

I can feel it.

Of the Bull feels it too.

I’m certain.

That’s why I’m taking this bullfight public.

Check out the video I took outside the Hotel Martinez in Cannes. Continue reading

Monaco’s Hotel de Paris Invaded by Russians?

It seems the Russians have finally invaded – Monaco, that is.

I recently spent a very enjoyable morning in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco and let me tell you there may be no better spot on earth for people watching.

The Russians were in full force, the men in ill- fitting designer jeans and sweaters, greeting each other with big smiles, a quick hug and two firm slaps on the back.

The women were gorgeous, mostly demure, and decked out in the finest couture that money can buy.  The weekly allowance for hair, make-up, and clothing alone for just one of these beauties would probably pay my mortgage for a year.

I’d heard so much about the Russians, how rude, loud, and unsophisticated they were, but at least at the Hotel de Paris, I found them very appealing.  They seemed completely unaffected by how others perceived them, they were polite to the wait staff, and there was a gregariousness that seemed pleasantly out of place in the stuffy lobby of this Monaco institution.

So have the Russians really invaded?

If so, it may not be all that bad.

Christmas Eve in St Tropez

Brigitte Bardot on the beach in St Tropez

I‘ve only been to St Tropez once and let me tell you my expectations were not high.

It was Christmas Eve day several years ago and my wife and I, with our good friend Yamina, decided to hop in the car and take a leisurely ride.

A little under two hours later we were pulling into St Trop.

I had mixed emotions.

Images of Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson cavorting on a yacht with their drunken entourage were a bit hard to shake, and I didn’t really have any interest Continue reading

Alec Harvey Guest Post: Thoughts on France

Alec HarveyFeatures Editor for The Birmingham News, has been kind enough to submit Le Stuff”s very first Guest Post.  For those of you who are regular Le Stuff readers, you may remember I posted a story in July about the, um, transmission problems Alec encountered early on during a Spring 2007 trip to France.  I really do hate to mention it again, but honestly it’s just too difficult for me to let it go.

So thanks Alec for your contribution, and I very much look forward to our next adventure.  I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of The Birmingham News, one of the nation’s most respected newspapers, and to check out City Scene, found in the Entertainment section every Friday.  There’s no better way for hipsters like you and me to get a handle on the goings on in The Magic City.  Finally, “Alec Harvey’s blog and column” (does this guy ever sleep?) can be read at


Le Stuff


Two years ago, I fell in love with France .

I had visited Paris the summer after I graduated from college, and I probably fell in love then, too, but the nearly 25 years that had passed had dimmed that affection. What remained were memories of good food and a little too much good wine, but not much about the people and places I encountered.

This time, I don’t expect the love affair to end.  Visiting the countryside of France is much different from the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s greatest cities.  The villages have a quaintness that Paris can never duplicate, and their charm – and that of the people that inhabit them – is not likely to fade.

If you’re planning a trip to the South of France Continue reading

Shifting Gears


Something to remember when booking your rental car

A good friend of mine was kind enough to travel to the south of France a couple of years ago to witness the wondrous moment when my wife and I told each other “I do”.
All of the arrangements for his rental car had been made well ahead of time and he was, understandably, quite pleased at the reasonable rate he received.
On the day of his arrival I met him at the airport in Nice.

Let’s pick up the action as we walk out of the terminal toward the rental car lot:

Scene 1:
The morning is sunny and warm and there is a slight hint of lavender in the air.  Well dressed, attractive mothers push cute babies in stylish strollers.  In the distance, visible over the skyline of Nice, snow glistens on jagged alpine peaks.

Me: So you got a really good deal on your car didn’t you?
Friend: Yeah, I was kind of surprised I got such a good price.
Me: Excellent.
Booked economy?
Friend: Yep.

(short pause)

Friend: Hey, do any of these economy cars ever come with manual transmissions?
Me: Uh…. well, yeah, they all pretty much do.  Why?
Friend: Gosh, I hadn’t thought about it until now, but the last time I drove a stick shift was about twenty five years ago.

(long pause)

Friend: You don’t think that will be a problem do you?

(even longer pause)

Me: So how was your flight?

Scene 2:
The paper work is complete.  Friend and I chat amiably as the car is pulled around front.  I barely notice that Friend has been edging subtly toward the only tree, and shade, on the lot.  Small beads of sweat begin to appear on his forehead.
The car is delivered and Friend throws his custom-machine-crafted Sears luggage into the trunk and slides behind the wheel with admirable aplomb.  Only then do I notice that his shirt is inside-out.  I choose not to mention it.

Friend: Are you gonna stand there and watch me while I start the car?
Me: Well, yeah that was my plan.

(uncomfortable silence)

Friend: So am I supposed to push the clutch in before I turn the key?
Me: That’s probably a good idea, assuming of course, you want it to start.

Anything else you can think of that I might have forgotten?
Me: You mean in the twenty five years since you’ve driven a manual transmission?  Hmmm, other than actually how to drive it, I can’t think of anything you’ve missed.
Friend: Well, why don’t you go on and pull your car around and I’ll follow you to the hotel?
Me: Just for kicks I think I’ll stick around another minute or two.

15 increasingly uncomfortable minutes pass.  The car remains in the same location.  Not the same general location, but the same
exact location.

Scene 3:
You want me to hop in and move this baby real quick so the line of cars behind you can get out of the lot?
Friend: Nope, I got it now.  Just took me a second to get a good feel for this high strung little lady.
Me: Right….It’s a Toyota Yaris.
Friend: I think once I get her out on the open road I’ll feel a lot more comfortable with the shifter.
Me: That’s the hand brake.

Ten excruciatingly painful minutes pass.  It feels like a time frame within which Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” could easily be translated into Farsi …. by a German who doesn’t speak Farsi.

Friend now sits comfortably behind the wheel of a shiny BMW.

Scene 3:
So how do you like the Beemer?
Friend: Not bad.  I was actually kind of surprised they didn’t gouge me more than they did for the upgrade.
Me: You gonna be able to handle that automatic?
Friend: I think so…. you’re not gonna tell anybody about this are you?
Me: Not a chance.  Hey did I mention I was thinking about starting a blog?

Dolceacqua, Italy: Bar California


Have you ever found yourself in a foreign country, standing outside a crowded bar or restaurant that’s brimming with local flavor, and locals, and can’t quite find the courage to walk inside?
I have and I think several factors come into play:

1) A fear of the language barrier
2) A feeling that you won’t be welcome and will have to extricate yourself from an uncomfortable situation
3) A general discomfort at not being, well, comfortable

At times like these there are two options to consider:

1) Acknowledge that you’re being silly, suck it up and walk inside
2) Move on to a more “agreeable” establishment

My wife and I found ourselves facing this dilemma a while back in Liguria Continue reading

Three days to kill on the Cote d’Azur?


For most of us, the Cote d’Azur evokes images of pure, unadulterated decadence, a place where the beautiful, multilingual, and staggeringly rich live the good life.  We imagine scenes right out of Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous, with endlessly flowing champagne and a nonstop array of rock stars and topless beauties, their perfect bodies glistening in the Mediterranean sun.  In some areas along the coast that fantasy may still exist, but travel a few miles inland and you’ll discover a charming, affordable region with beautiful medieval villages, friendly people and world class cuisine.
The next time you find yourself with a long weekend in the south of France, let the tourists have their rocky beaches and crowded motor ways, the real fun is due north, just beyond the French Riviera.

Tourrettes sur Loup, located a few miles west of the town of Vence, and only thirty minutes from the Nice airport, is the perfect place to call home base.  Literally hanging off the side of a cliff, this stunning village is known for its arts and crafts, and for producing more violets than anywhere else in France.  Check into one of the six splendid rooms at the newly renovated Auberge de Tourettes at the edge of town.  The tastefully decorated  hotel is simple and comfortable with large, modern bathrooms and spectacular views.  Steps away, the town center is Continue reading