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On the way to Eze: the view from the Moyenne Corniche.
Guest Writer

Finding everything an artist might need
An American in France
by Eva Lake

hank 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.

The rhythm 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 stay.

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.

La Cagnotte: 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.

View from 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 the museum.

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 itself.

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?

The market 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.

Visit Eva's Web site at www.lovelake.org and see more of her writing in our archives.

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