The question rang out like a cowbell through the French Alps: "Where did Darley go?"
The host of PBS's Travels With Darley was missing. She was last seen at the bottom of Isola 2000, a ski resort about 55 miles north of Nice. A member of the ski patrol released a stream of French into a walkie-talkie, his words punctuated by puffs of cold air. Darley's cameraman desperately scanned the lift lines for a pink helmet with a swishing blond ponytail. The other two members of her film crew weighed the wisdom of splitting up and searching for her. The possibility of a missed connection convinced them to stay put.
But they had to find her, and fast. Because without Darley, there was no Alpine skiing segment for the South of France episode set to air in the spring. No host, writer or producer. In short, no Darley Newman meant no Travels With Darley.
Travels With MIA wasn't nearly as appealing.
After several minutes of detective work, a resort employee finally located the instructor assigned to Darley. The pair were on a ski run; her film crew bolted for the lift. After several hours of shooting, they returned to the lodge and, beer glasses in hand, explained the confusion.
"I told him to go and then stop," Chip Ward, the show's executive producer and Darley's husband, said of his earlier exchange with the French ski instructor. "But he heard, 'Go to the top.' "
Pitch to Hollywood studio heads: It's like Lost in Translation for the pledge-drive-tote-bag set.
The 39-year-old Bethesda, Maryland, resident, who grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has been inviting viewers to tag along on her trips since 2007, when she debuted her first series, Equitrekking, a travel-by-horseback show. Two years ago, she curbed the horse and picked up a surfboard (Ireland), white-water rafting paddle (West Virginia) and glass of sake (Tokyo), among other adventurous gear, for her new show, Travels With Darley. Over 13 episodes per season, Darley spins the globe with a steady hand, seemingly immune to the afflictions of the common traveller: hunger, thirst, jet lag, crankiness, rumpled clothes and raccoon eyes. However, at every shoot, a separate dramedy plays out behind the camera. Darley and her three-person crew have contended with some extraordinary occupational hazards, such as a charging elephant in Botswana and Chagas's disease in Belize, as well as more pedestrian nuisances including flat tires, busted equipment and accidental photo bombs.
"Let's keep it real and let's do it," she said of her approach to her twin vocations, filming and travel.
To understand the rigours of a TV travel host, I joined Darley on a five-day shoot in the South of France in mid-December. We had planned to meet at the Nice airport, but after a flight delay, I ended up rendezvousing with them in Antibes.
The quartet had only been on the ground for a few hours and were already swatting away obstacles. The airline had misplaced the checked bag carrying the XLR cables, for one, and they had to improvise the audio. And then there was this . . .
"Oh, look, I just got a little bird doo on me."
The glamorous life of Darley, indeed.
Darley's short, black-heeled boots clicked on cobblestones once touched by the soles of Greeks and Romans. She walked down a narrow lane, then turned around and repeated her steps. Her predecessors would have surely scratched their heads in confusion at her U-turn.
"We're burning daylight," said Chip. "Walk and talk and keep it simple."
Piero Bruni, our Nice-based guide and driver, stood to her left, explaining the history of Old Antibes for a second time and take. Darley raised her chin and lifted her gaze toward the invincible medieval architecture, a portrait of thoughtful contemplation. A tree of chattering birds threatened to drown out their conversation.
The crew made its way to Chateau Grimaldi, where Pablo Picasso painted for about six months in 1946. The imposing 14th-century castle, which has a crumbly texture resembling Rice Krispies treats, became the Picasso Museum in 1966, the first institution devoted to the peripatetic painter. Picasso donated 23 paintings and 44 drawings to the city, a starter kit for a collection that has more than tripled in size.
Short on time, we dashed up to the second floor to a gallery that would give any Picasso pilgrim shivers.
"This is the room where he worked," said a museum guide.
During his time on the French Riviera, Picasso was fairly literal about his influences. His color palette evokes the baby blue blanket of the Mediterranean sea, and his subjects are familiar characters around town: birds, boats, sea urchins, fish and, depending on your absinthe intake, mythical creatures. Acting like an unsupervised child, he painted "Les Clés d'Antibes" directly on the wall. The trio of shapes with black dots for eyes and a straight line for their mouths look quite amused by his impertinence.
The unofficial tour ended with the sound of clapping hands, the signal that the camera was rolling and all nonessential personnel must hush up.
We hit a bump in the itinerary that night. We were supposed to visit Hotel Belles Rives, where F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, had lived (it up) in the 1920s. Chef Aurélien Véquaud and pastry chef Steve Moracchini were going to prepare a dish for us at the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant, La Passagere.
Visions of its pearl-in-blown-sugar-shell dessert danced across the Med. Unfortunately, a timing mix-up forced Darley to scotch the plan. Quickly rebounding, we ventured over to Mamo Le Michelangelo, an Italian restaurant that is studded with celebrities during the Cannes Film Festival. Photos covering the walls and framing the open kitchen showed chef-owner Mamo grinning alongside such high-voltage famers as Mick Jagger, Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood. Several fallen stars, including Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, were grouped together in a Column of Shame.
For a Facebook Live segment, Darley plus a special guest (me) gabbed with the bartender over an Aperol spritz (Prosecco, seltzer and Aperol with an orange slice) and joined a chef behind the stove for a quick pasta-and-red-sauce lesson. At the bar, Darley took a dainty bite and described the dish as if she were channelling another PBS personality, Julia Child. Once the live session ended, the rest of the film crew grabbed forks and dug in. Because one person's food demo is another person's dinner.
To plan the show's fifth season, Darley had to make some weighty decisions. She had to choose the destinations and the activities, pairing telegenic images with kinetic experiences that could breach the fourth wall. On a sunny but chilly morning, she stepped outside the Hotel Royal Antibes to confront one of the more difficult choices on the France trip: Jaguar, Porsche or Rolls-Royce?
"I don't drive manual," she said, nixing a Porsche the color of heirloom silver.
Darley slid behind the wheel of a green Jaguar F-Type convertible and checked her pink lipstick in the rearview. Greg Barna, the director of photography, and Chip piled into the Rolls-Royce Corniche II and arranged their gear in the back seat - the luxury car working double duty as a camera dolly. I slummed it in the Porsche.
The Grace Kelly moment was marred by audio problems. The Jag and the Rolls stopped frequently to adjust the frequency on the microphones. My Rent a Classic Car driver pulled up to the curb and we waited. And waited. I rubbed my hands for warmth, and he handed me a wool blanket. Finally, we saw the caravan approaching, a clown carpool complete with red noses.
We drove in fits and starts along the Cote d'Azur before hooking west into the hills. We passed small villages that clung to the mountainside like climbers in crampons. My guide, who spoke limited English, pointed out an olive oil mill and the nearby trees whence the golden liquid comes.
The road trip ended in the parking lot of the Fragonard Parfumeur in Grasse, which has worn the sash of "Perfume Capital of the World" for more than two centuries. The town is within easy plucking distance of roses, jasmine, irises and tuberoses. The air smelled like a nosegay.
Much of the perfume industry is secretive. Out of more than 40 factories, only three offer public tours, including Fragonard, which opened in 1926 and honours the Grasse-born painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Perfume consultant Corinne Marie-Tosello led Darley to the all-white lab, where she would craft her own Eau de Darley. Each station came equipped with an apron, pipettes, paper fragrance testers, glass beakers, six essences in brown bottles and Evian water, because you can really work up a thirst sniffing.
"Perfume creation is personal," Corinne explained. "It's not only chemistry and molecules. It's an emotional journey."
Corinne kicked off a game of Feel the Essence.
"What does this remind you of?" she asked Darley, handing her a tester strip dipped in bergamots.
"This reminds me of summer. It's fresh, earthy and grassy," she responded.
"Would you wear only that smell?"
First lesson: Perfumistas, you need to blend.
Darley inhaled neroli, lavender and petit grain.
"I am getting a little perfume high," she admitted.
She added a drop of floral, a dash of citrus and a smidgen of tobacco scent.
"We have created a spicy perfume," Corinne said with the pride of a midwife.
Our group departed under a cloud of perfume. The smell of Grasse trailed us all the way to Cannes.
'Can you do it again?" Greg asked Darley, "but be less afraid of the stairs, and fix your hair."
"It's sticking out at the right," Chip added helpfully.
Darley has walked the red carpet at the Emmy Awards on several occasions, but this was her first time strutting the stairs at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, the main venue for the Cannes Film Festival in May. With delicate baby giraffe steps, she descended while delivering her opening lines.
"That was good," Greg said. "But there was a little bit of motorcycle."
Unfortunately, you can't enforce a "quiet on the set" rule or prevent random people from straying into the shot. Noise and oblivious tourists happen, as does Chad Davis, the show's consulting producer.
"FYI, Chad is in your shot," Darley told Greg on the dock of Sainte-Marguerite Island, a 15-minute ferry ride from Cannes.
The largest of the Lerins Islands is best known for the 17th-century prisoner whose face remained forever hidden behind an iron mask. The film crew dispersed among the Roman fortifications and Aleppo pine and eucalyptus forests. I followed the Cannes guide, Karin Osmuk, into the Fort Royal museum and even deeper into the bleak cell of the unknown inmate. And then we waited for Darley. And waited.
Karin offered to show me the nature trail that winds past a bird-speckled pond and leads to a beach with clear views of Saint-Honorat Island. Across the sea, Cistercian monks lived, prayed and produced wine from grapes grown on the fingernail of land.
I didn't see the group until we boarded the last ferry of the day. I am not sure how Darley spent her time on Sainte-Marguerite. But I, along with countless other viewers, will discover her whereabouts soon enough.