The places and events mentioned below are real. The facts… well, it happened something like that I guess, as far as I remember, I think, though I didn’t have my medication with me at the time. Anyway…
Monday 12 May, 10:40 — I get an email from the WeLoveWords team telling me I’m one of the winners of the New Twingo competition. So I’m invited, along with the two other winners, to the Cannes Festival. Some kind of agricultural show? After all, you spell “canes”, with one ‘n’ instead of two and you’re talking about female ducks in French. Daddy canard and mummy cane. Let me assure you I do know what I’m talking about: my grandparents were farmers. A duck festival? Fantastic! Right up my street. And if they spell that with two ‘n’s it’s obviously because they’re showing some pretty amazing ducks.
Thursday 15 May, 19:00 — I appear to be booked into a five-star hotel. Mmmm…these guys take their poultry seriously. The place is superb, huge, luxurious. Nothing I could say in words would adequately describe just how sumptuous this establishment is. It’s so beautiful your everyday duck fancier could feel almost intimidated. Kind of out of place. To get back down to earth I scan through the notes in my copy of “Ducks through the ages: from post-Platonic thought to pre-Bergsonian dialectic”. Then I put my suit on, complete with bow tie (compulsory if you’re to be allowed onto that famous red carpet), and head out through the hotel lobby to find our chauffeur, Patrick, waiting at the wheel of the official Renault.
Thursday 15 May, 20:15 — We stop off for dinner at the Majestic (sounds good, hey), where we’re joined by Dominique, community manager with the Renault team, and our spiritual guide, as it were, for the next couple of days. Sauntering through into the restaurant I reckon my visual acuity must have dropped six points, owing to sheer aesthetic overload on the nervous system. The meal is unbelievable, and served up by a choreography of waiters, performing what must be some kind of sophisticated ballet steps as a prelude to daintily placing the plates on the table. If this is the meal, what does that say for the farming?
Thursday 15 May, 21:40 — Back in the car, destination Festival Palace. If the preliminaries are anything to go by, I’m expecting to see some exceptionally fine ducks. As the car rolls up to the stairway, golden bows appear sparkling in the sky, lighting up the way as if scattered generously by a giant invisible hand. A firework display: how better to open the festivities?
The car pulls up at the red carpet, and someone opens the door for us. (The problem with having a chauffeur is that you get to forget your own two feet.) Maybe it was the munificent meal, or just the stress of being here in such a prestigious venue, but my feet feel they’re sinking into the carpet. In fact I’m so nervous I could almost imagine the stairway being an escalator; the problem is the escalator’s moving downwards and I’m supposed to be climbing upwards. Thankfully, my bow tie comes to the rescue, flapping its wings to lift me up and put me down me gently at the top. That’s why it’s called a nœud papillon in French, and that’s why everyone has to wear one at Cannes! I breathe again, and meet up with colleagues, Dominique, Éric and Yacine. The view is fabulous. It’s a great moment. Bountiful. A little like a taxidermist running into a wild animal on a country road. Which reminds me… I’ve never seen farmers dressed so smartly as at this show. And their hands seem remarkably unscathed by the harsh work of the farmyard.
Friday 16 May, 00:30 — We walk out of the official competition showing of Timbuktu, a magnificent film, immensely moving, with a powerful political message untainted by any trace of syrupy sentimentalism. Cinema at its best! And when I think about it, the director’s so subtle that, even at this, the world’s greatest duck festival, there’s not a feather in sight.
Friday 16 May, 10:40 — We’re heading for La Croisette to meet up with the WeLoveWords team. Gregory, WeLoveWords founder, and Dominique, Renault community manager, are there for a master class on crowdsourcing. On the road, Dominique is kind enough to let me test-drive the Renault Captur: really cool! Such a shame I can’t take it back with me in the plane. Baggage allowance and all that. There’s a warm welcome from the WeLoveWords team, and the master class raises a number of interesting issues, including Renault’s partnership with WeLoveWords. After the master class, we make for Plage Nespresso for lunch.
Friday 16 May, 15:00 — After a brief liposuction, you can hardly notice the 32 kilos I’ve put on since I got here. That makes me feel a lot better about my appointment with Dominique Besnéhard, sponsor of the Write the Change competition, who’s waiting for us in the Plage Nespresso VIP lounge. He’s wonderfully approachable, genuinely interested in us, and eager to let us know how much he appreciated our scenarios. I soon find myself calling him “dad”, and craftily slip him the adoption papers under the table. He smiles paternally, but gently swaps the documents for copies of his book, which he autographs for each of us on the first page. We thank him and take a few photos.
Friday 16 May, 16:30 — Fabrice, of the Renault team, is there on La Croisette, to give us an enthusiast’s rundown on New Twingo, complete with details on design and innovations with respect to the previous model. I do my best cartoon cat-in-boots impersonation, dilated pupils and all, in an attempt to get him to let me behind the wheel, but Fabrice, unimpressed, explains that this is a prototype, so I’ll have to wait a while. He does, however, have some catfood if I would like some.
The journey is coming to an end. Thanks to all for what has been a truly unforgettable experience. No ducks in sight, but what a festival!