way to Eze: the view from the Moyenne Corniche.
everything an artist might need
American in France
goodness Lufthansa found a home in PDX. One swift flight from Portland
and you're making connections to exotic European locales and beyond.
In our case, it was the Cote D'Azur.
The Riviera may be old hat to some and perhaps just
plain old a lot of aging Europeans make their final years
there. It's not particularly hip nor on the edge of anything. No
doubt Provence, just kilometers north, is much more chic.
of a village: a run of colors, shapes, smells and tastes.
Our visit to France coincided with the one from George
W. Bush the first time he had set foot on French soil in
about two years and a lot changed during that time. The anniversary
of D-Day and the death of Ronald Reagan also happened during our
But that didn't keep us from finding everything an
artist might need: the flora and fauna, the art and architecture,
the eccentric personalities. What was not native to the area has
been shipped in and all of it seems to have taken hold and flourished.
Not that you need to go out of your way to find most
of it. One could go to the Matisse Museum or the Renoir Museum.
Leger, Picasso and a cast of thousands also built homes and legacies
there. I went to none of these but still managed to come out of
the whole trip inspired, with a run of colors, shapes, smells and
tastes to drive me on.
No claustrophobic hotel room for us. After weeks of
Internet searching I found an old (will the 17th century do?) house
within an even older (14th century) village called Haut de Cagnes.
Situated between Nice and Antibes, with a view of both land and
sea from the rooftop terrace, we got to know the rhythm of a village.
home away from home.
Our hot little rented Citroen was small enough to
squeeze through the medieval towns but large enough to zoom with
confidence down the A8, a super highway charging by the kilometer
and one smooth ride.
We swam at Cap D'Antibes, shopped in Aix (highly recommended!)
and viewed the exotic garden in Eze, an ancient town which hugs
a cliff between Monaco and Nice.
While any view before your eyes is a work of art,
I did make homage to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in
Nice. This museum is known for its collection of Nouveaux Realists
and other post-war European artists. The accumulations of Arman
and the bulbous women of Niki de Saint Phalle had their own rooms.
the top: a rooftop terrace in Haut de Cagnes.
My absolute favorite room was of the Nicois homeboy,
Yves Klein, a conceptual artist and painter of immateriality and
infinity. Ultramarine blue paintings, sculptures, photos of models
bathed in the color, even blue lights and blue fire filled
What was probably best, however, was a whole bin filled
of his famous pigment, also known as IKB (International Klein Blue).
One wanted to have a private romp in the color the color
Klein said was of the sea and the sky; the color of the Riviera
Americans in general have kept their distance from
France in recent years. I, however, felt no animosity. Maybe they
think Americans don't speak French and therefore I must have been
British. Whatever the case, people were warm everywhere.
While there I read constantly in the papers of how
much our foreign policy is hated. But at the same time they obviously
feel a little at unease with the dread. Guilt, perhaps?
in Nice: what is not native to the area has been shipped in,
taken hold and flourished.
D-Day was still big news over there, 60 years later,
and I am of the generation still very much touched by it. My dad
was a prisoner of war and lived a life shadowed by the experience,
which then was transferred onto me. I know more about D-Day than
anything to do with Vietnam, which raged as I grew up.
This secondhand, although no doubt slightly skewed
knowledge accompanied me as I read the headlines and took in France
and the French.
I could speak French well enough to get around, but
probably never well enough to have the long, complicated conversations
on politics I'd have liked to have had.
Those, perhaps, I can look forward to in my next trip
to the South of France.