It is 6 p.m. on the first Monday in July. You've been in St.-Tropez only a week, but when you pull up to Le Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach for a last swim on your last afternoon, Christophe, the parking valet, welcomes you back.
Sure, you were there for lunch earlier (you've been there for lunch three times this week; 55 is one of the two most branché beach clubs on this renowned crescent of sand, six miles from the center of town). But next to the nabobs who come daily by yacht or helicopter or Bentley, you are a nobody. You've been given neither the best tables nor the best spots on the beach. You haven't cared a whit: you've been surrounded by folks so amusing, so distracting, so diabolically attractive that it's been hard to read your Herald Tribune.
Apparently, you have made a good impression. Christophe has decided to approve of you. He ignores another American—this one pleading, "Can't I find my own car?"—to direct your rental into a prestige spot near the door, normally occupied by a Ferrari or one of those Bentleys.
You step onto a boardwalk where 10-foot bamboo stalks form a canopy over your head. It leads to 55's outdoor dining room, on a terra-cotta terrace enclosed by tamarisk trees and shaded with woven reeds and white canvas. Misting pipes give the place a diaphanous veil, through which you spy Patrice de Colmont, 55's owner, sipping a coffee, dressed in white linen, his brown hair a wild mop. He's talking to a visitor about how St.-Tropez falls in and out of favor—and why it endures nonetheless.
"It's in fashion, it's not in fashion, it's in fashion," Colmont says, wryly pointing out that it's not new to claim that St.-Tropez is finished. "Colette already wrote it in 1932." He dashes into the single-story bungalow that holds 55's kitchen and office, returns with Colette's Prisons et Paradis, and reads a snatch of dialogue between two people talking about St.-Tropez: "Two hundred luxury cars driving toward the port at five in the afternoon. Cocktails, champagne on the yachts in the harbor, you know." "No, I don't know," is the rejoinder. "I really don't. I know the other Saint-Tropez, which still exists—and will always exist for those who wake up at dawn."
And for those who choose to swim in the sea at 6 p.m.