In a Galaxy amfAR, Far Away

The day after my last day with The Exchange is the amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Gala at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in nearby Antibes, and the AIFS students have the opportunity to help out with the gala!

As I was walking back from lunch at the beach with Brian, the CEO of The Exchange, on my last day, I mentioned to him that I’d get to work at the gala, and his eyes got big and he told me about how anybody who’s anybody is there, and it’s pretty much *the* party of the western world. I am not exactly a party person, but the prospect of being able to see the venue and the attendees of such a well-known and important event made me super excited!

Not to mention the fact that amfAR does really significant work in the fight against AIDS and in raising awareness, and I was thrilled to be able to participate in such a huge fundraiser for such a wonderful organization.

In lieu of having an internship directly related to the film festival, my roommate Kailyn and a few other AIFS students at the collège worked with amfAR the week leading up to the gala to help with compiling and delivering invitations and the like.

For the day of the event, we were given a choice of two buses to catch heading to the Hôtel du Cap – one in the morning, which would allow people to help set up a bit for the gala, and one in the afternoon, which would bring people just in time to do the main bit of volunteering, standing along the carpet acting as a greeter.

Since I didn’t have my internship going on anymore, I decided to go ahead and sign up for the first slot, joining a group of fellow AIFSers who, I soon realized, had all gone to the hôtel the day before, too, to help set up and carry things. They already knew some of what was going on and some of the people there, so I felt a bit like an imposter or a double agent or something!

We all meet up at the reception area of the collège to walk to the bus stop together, where Sandrine, the AIFS resident director, said a bus would be waiting for us. As we walk up from the school, one guy who had apparently (presumably) been appointed as a team captain of some sort starts calling roll even though there are only maybe 8 of us and he had seen and even talked to all of us at reception.

Then when we arrive at the bus stop and see that there’s no bus there, he literally starts pacing around and thinking aloud to himself about how maybe he should call Sandrine to make sure that she remembered to order a bus. He takes the whole thing very seriously. Very very seriously. Even though it seems pretty obvious to me that the bus has simply gotten caught in traffic – it’s prime commute time, and the roads in and around Cannes are even more hectic than usual with the festival. But he finally delegates another girl to run back down to reception to see if they can contact Sandrine to ask for advice, and I just stand there thinking about how I wish I had had some coffee and hoping that this guy will calm down a bit by the time we arrive.

Sure enough, Sandrine had indeed called the bus, and when it pulls up a touch later, the driver apologizes to all of us because the traffic had been pretty bad.

We arrive at the Hôtel du Cap maybe 45 minutes later, and after picking up wristbands and lunch and dinner tickets, we’re shown to two private bungalows (one for the guys – or, at the moment, guy – and one for the girls) where we can leave our stuff and later change into our black dresses, the required greeter uniform. Yup – this is the kind of hotel that has private bungalows with ridiculously gorgeous views of the Mediterranean. They’re not huge, but they have comfortable chairs and a mirror and the most stunning views. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have more ornate ones and we helpers got the “common” private bungalows! The Hôtel du Cap is crazy beautiful and crazy expensive – pretty much all of the celebrities there for the festival or gala that weren’t staying in Cannes were staying there!

So we girls drop off our bags and black dresses at our private bungalow and meet up with our fearless leader at his private guy bungalow and set off to find the guy they had been working with yesterday. We find the main behind the scenes tent full of lots of equipment and busy people, and somebody tells us that they’ll find him and send him our way, so we sit and wait.

And wait.

And wait a bit more.

Until finally somebody shows up – only it’s not the guy they had been working with but someone who has the same name! But he finds somebody who can give us a job, and we are brought to the gala tent.

The tent is gigantic – there are, I believe, 100 tables, a huge stage, a catwalk going down the middle of the room, and the walls are covered with photographs of different models, many of whom are stark naked. It’s pretty amazing just getting to take it all in, though I have to keep reminding myself not to lean against the walls of the tent!

We’re shown to some tables in the back corner of the tent and are given boxes filled with folded napkins. Two people become designated ribbon cutters, and they pass the cut ribbons and some napkins down to us so we can fold the ribbon around/in the napkins. All 1000 of them!

Wrapping ribbon around napkins shouldn’t be that hard, really – but we are struggling! I’m glad that it’s not just me and my clumsy tendency to accidentally mangle crafty/handmade things, as is often the case. One girl seems really excited, though, to be learning something that she can add to her wedding Pinterest board.

While we’re folding napkins, we get to listen to some of the bands doing their sound checks for their performances that night. We get to hear Mary J. Blige’s band for the majority of our time, and even get to hear Mary come out to sing a song or two and make some suggestions! When we finally finish the napkins and take to placing them on all the tables, Charli XCX’s band comes out and starts playing along to a recording of her singing (so we’re not sure if she ended up lip synching that night, or if she just wasn’t there yet for the sound check?). Imagine Dragons also played that night, but unfortunately we aren’t there to hear their sound check!

By this point Kailyn and the other people who had been volunteering with amfAR all week are in the tent too (they had left the collège even earlier than we did and had been running around the hotel all morning!), and we help them with numbering the tables and laying out auction booklets on each of the seats before retiring for a lunch break. I have to eat a lot of salad – yay for every main dish having fish in it! – and we return to our bungalows to change into our black dresses (or suit, in the guy’s case).

Then it’s back up to the main behind the scenes tent to wait for the bus with the rest of the already-black-dressified AIFS people to arrive so we can get our placement around the white carpet that the guests will walk down on their way to the gala tent. When we are all reunited once again, we are broken up into groups and pile into golf carts (at least I am not the only one to bump my head climbing into ours!) and are taken up to the actual hotel area.

Some people are given spots inside the lobby or on the stairs leading out from the lobby, but the majority of us are placed going down the carpet. I’m towards the end, by the food and champagne, so I get to watch the waiters and waitresses being placed and taught how to offer food.

We are shown how to properly stand – right foot slightly forward and out, hands behind our back, shoulders back, smile! – and are left in our positions to wait while the plastic covering the carpet is peeled off and employees run around everywhere making sure everything is perfect.

I’m not entirely sure why we get placed so early – we stand around with nothing to do and no one to greet for what must be an hour and a half. We can’t even leave – one girl asks if she can go to the bathroom, and she is told that she has to stay in her place despite there being no reason for us to currently be standing there.

On the plus side, I do get smiled at by a ginger photographer as he walks by on the other side of the carpet. Gingers unite!

Finally people start to trickle in! We have a purpose! I adopt the pose and try to look as pleasant as possible at people as they walk on by. Since I’m towards the end, I get to watch people as they come and try to figure out if it’s someone that I recognize. For the first main bit, I can’t place anybody – the rich but not particularly famous crowd. I guess it’s not fashionably late enough for the big celebrities to arrive!

But as more time goes by, the more people I recognize:

Eva Longoria and a group of models that I don’t really recognize pose for a bunch of photos right in front of me and even sing some Spice Girls songs. When I look up amfAR stuff later, I realize that I definitely recognize the models’ names, mostly because they all seem to be part of Taylor Swift’s posse now that she’s all about having famous girl friends rather than famous boyfriends.

Jake Gyllenhaal and his mom make their way down the carpet mostly sticking to themselves; at one point he ends up maybe 5 feet away from me and we definitely make eye contact!

Dita Von Teese goes teetering by in impossibly high heels – how she manages to stay upright, I have no idea, but more power to her!

Adrien Brody and his girlfriend are stopped by a bunch of other attendees to take pictures with them, and though they look like they want to make their way off of the carpet and into the event, they stop and take every picture.

One of the Jenner girls arrives – I’m not entirely sure which one and, honestly, I can’t say that I exactly care enough to find out!

Paris Hilton makes her friend go down the stairs first so she can video Paris making a grand entrance.

Robin Thicke goes sauntering by with a girl and – well, let’s just say that he comes off exactly the same way in real life as he does in the media!

Marion Cotillard walks by right in front of me and smiles!

Mary J. Blige goes by telling her manager that there’s definitely no way she’s missing the after party that night!

Karolina Kurkova and her husband stand in front of me wondering what to do with a bottle of wine they’ve been given before noticing me. The husband approaches me with the bottle and asks if they can possibly leave it with me so I can return it to the front desk for them to pick up later. I agree, and they both look relieved and make a point of asking my name, making eye contact, shaking my hand, and thanking me by name! Very, very nice.

This all goes on for around 3 hours, and though it’s the middle of May, it still gets cold along the French Riviera in the evenings, especially when you’re right by the water (as this hotel is), and especially when all you’re wearing is a black dress and a light cardigan (as I am, along with all of the other female AIFS-ers, though most of them don’t even have cardis), and especially when it starts raining and you have to continue to stand there without an umbrella or anything! When we were first given our places, it was really hot, especially standing in the sun, but by the end of our time there I’m shivering and my pleasant look has, I’m sure, turned into a frozen blue grimace. Not to mention that standing in our specific pose for so long becomes painful! I eventually have to break my pose and move my hands to my front and scoot my left foot forward; I’m nervous about my Gadd blood getting me caught, but when I glance at our exhausted supervisor across the carpet, she’s let go of her previously rigidly held pose too. By the end, to combat both the pain and the temperature, I take to trying to subtly do little leg stretches or shoulder rolls when there aren’t celebrities right in front of me. One plus side to the rain is that it means that there aren’t as many guests lingering out on the carpet by the time the gala is about to start as there usually are, apparently, which means that we get to retire a little early!

Everybody is freezing and exhausted at this point, so we all eat a quick (free!) dinner and grab our stuff from our private bungalows and wait around for the bus to bring us back to the collège. We can hear little snippets of what’s going on in the tent (some auction item goes for over a million dollars!), and the evening’s final kicker is getting to hear Andrea Botticelli perform “Time to Say Goodbye” just before we leave! It’s seriously chill-inducing.

We finally make it back to the collège around 11:30 and I somehow manage to climb the three and a half flights of stairs to my room, mostly propelled by the prospect of putting on my pajamas and climbing into bed with my book before getting to sleep in the next morning. What an exhausting, painful, surreal, and one of a kind day!

(Sorry there aren’t any pictures – we couldn’t bring cameras and I left my phone in my room!)

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