A French Interlude, Part 3

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May 23 – June 5, Haut de Cagnes

This most recent trip to France was the first time I’ve returned to Europe in 50 years. I was last there in the summer of 1968. We travelled for a couple of months, driving from London to Rome and back up to Denmark and Sweden. I still remember key moments from that trip. But the one that’s haunted me ever since was my experience at the Foundation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence. I was twenty years old with no sense of who or what I was. But walking through the sculpture gardens there I felt a profound sense of self-recognition. It was years before I fully understood this experience. Which was an awakening of my artist mystic self. It was so powerful however, I never forgot the place or the way it felt inside me.

And this is the memory — what we’ve taken to calling my “through the stones” moment, that was the inspiration for this most recent journey. If you’re wondering if I felt the same mystical sense of aesthetic rapture in 2018, the answer is “Yes and perhaps even more.” If you’re wondering why it took so long to return, well, that’s a question for another time…

We decided to spend our first week in Paris because really, how can one go to France for the first time in half a century and not go to la Ville Lumière — and to then head south and spend two weeks in Provence. Ideally in a medieval village halfway between St. Paul and the Côte d’Azur. Which is how we ended up in Haut de Cagnes, a place neither of us had ever heard of. And hats off again to Coby, my amazing daughter who discovered this place so many artists call home, it’s been nicknamed the Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur. Talk about perfection…

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There is something exquisite about living in a medieval village. I think this has partly to do with the abundance of stones. One has the sense they’ve seen everything. Not just seen it. Sheltered it. Supported it. Protected it. Haut de Cagnes dates back to 1340. So  those stones have some stories to tell…

IMG_3691.JPGIMG_3686.JPGOne of my favorite activities was wandering around the village. I loved walking down to the market in the morning. Even loved walking back up the hill. Which was so steep that  depending on how full my basket was, required two or three rest stops. How great though, to sit for a moment to catch my breath and gaze at the Mediterranean. And then come home for le petit dejeuner and feast on warm croissants with butter and jam, apricots, peaches, and comte, the ubiquitous cheese of Provence. OMG. I never eat this way in the States. I’m allergic to wheat and have lactose intolerance… In France, we ate croissants in the morning, cheese and baguettes in the afternoon and evening. And I always felt great. Vive la France...IMG_3792

The doors in Paris blew me away. They are stunningly majestic. Clearly I am not the only person to think so. Check out Raquel Puig’s book, Doorways of Paris. She also has an Instagram account.

The doors in Haut de Cagnes are built on more of a human scale. Which makes them very welcoming. Even when they’re closed.

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On one of my first walks down to the market I discovered Modigliani’s house and garden. Just a few doors down from where we were staying. It’s not clear in this photo but if you peek through the arch and over the trees, that’s the Mediterranean off in the distance. I loved walking by this dreamscape every day and breathing in the creative magic still alive there…IMG_3632.JPG

Another thing about living in a medieval village is the sense of timelessness. There’ such a strong connection to the past. I mean really, it’s right there. Right here. Ancient past and immediate present have merged into one. Which has a very softening effect I think on that ego-driven sense of our own importance. Life comes into a much truer perspective I think in a place like this. I can only speak for myself but for me, there was such a comforting sense of my infinitesimal place in the great matrix of time and space.

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A French Interlude, Part 2.

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May 23, Paris – Nice – Haut de Cagnes

People talk about the haughty French, especially Parisians. This was so not our experience. Even Olivier, the meet and greet guy at our apartment warmed up after his initial disdain. My cousin Lorin (who manages this apartment for his in-laws) had warned us — Olivier is very punctual and has a very French way of being (this is a way of saying that he behaves somewhat like he’s annoyed all the time). Nevertheless, he will meet you at the apartment at a pre-established time, give you the keys, show you around, and reluctantly answer your questions — so we were appropriately zipped up and met his Parisian attitude with our own 😉

That first day in Paris we were in an “I simply cannot believe I am here” state.” Coby’s sixteen years of studying French 2nd grade through college came back within moments of landing at CDG. I’m in awe of her facility with this language. When I don’t understand someone or can’t communicate what I want or need, I just point to ma fille and she takes over.

Once Olivier had departed and we were all settled into the apartment, we went down to the street in search of le petit dejeuner. And right downstairs, among a plethora of boulangerie, was one with a line snaking into the street. Baguette and croissant perfection. A designed in heaven pear pistachio tarte. And a smoked salmon, creme fraiche, and cucumber sandwich to die for.

Although I have a great appreciation for food, I’m nowhere near foodie status. And  have realized on this trip that I am not an adventurous eater. In other words, I pass on organ meats, sweetbreads, rabbit, lamb, foie gras, and pigeon; am not a huge fan of goat cheese, even when it’s really really fresh; or truffles; or for that matter, caviar or cassoulet. That still leaves an abundance of plenty and walking through the markets here (les marchés) is like entering heaven.

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Every French market we visited was a feast for the senses and medicine for the soul.  So satisfying to walk through stalls laden with fruits and veggies, eggs, fish, cheeses, breads, meats, desserts, spices, dried fruits, nuts, flowers, on and on it goes. And to buy directly from another human being so there’s that moment of exchange between two people. It’s quite intimate really. Very different than shopping in the supermarket. There’s that sense of community, of camaraderie. Of we’re all in this together.

People generally thought I was British, not American. At the Bastille Market the day after Harry and Meghan’s wedding, every shopkeeper I spoke offered congratulations on the joyous event…

Here I am at the flower market in Nice. In all my years of buying and arranging flowers, these were possibly the freshest and most aromatic roses I’ve ever encountered. We walked all around Nice carrying that huge bouquet. Stopped for lunch, then a 40-minute bus ride back to Cagnes-sur-Mer, 15 minute shuttle up the hill in Haut de Cagnes, and the final walk from the shuttle stop to our house. I was concerned that so much walking and riding in the afternoon sun would take a toll on our roses. That they’d be wilted and sad when we finally got them home. Au contraire. These were, after all, French roses. They had attitude. They had joie de vivre. They had shakti!

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Late lunch in Nice and a glass of shimmering rosé.  I tried to drink a glass of rosé every day. Didn’t quite make it but came close. It really was like drinking sunlight. Then I came across this quote attributed to Galileo. Yes!!!

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
                                                            -Galileo 

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A French Interlude…

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2 June. 2018. Haut de Cagnes.

It’s Friday afternoon in Haut de Cagnes. I thought I’d take my laptop outside and finally do some blogging but the internet connection on the terrace is intermittent at best and it was impossible to motivate myself to stay indoors. Until I realized I could sit on the floor by the windows. Our house is called “La Grande Vue” and you can see from the above pic why…

We’ve been here for nearly two weeks. I sit on the terrace every morning, writing in my journal and gazing at the sea. More gazing, actually, than writing. More gazing actually, than just about anything. Including my intention to blog every day. The Mediterranean sings to me and her voice is so much more beautiful than my own, all I can do is imbibe it. I find myself unable to do much more than simply be…

I started a France Trip Blog when we were still in Paris and managed one post before the vortex of this journey swept me away.  Now that this journey is near its end, I’ve decided to bring that lonely post over here and create a French Interlude within the Monday Night Blog. And so, voila…

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19. May. 2018. Paris.

Four days in Paris and already the thought of leaving seems impossible. I knew this trip was important but thought my “through the stones” moment was more about Provence. Which may yet be the case. But for now, being in Paris has me in that same sense of wonder I experienced in St. Paul de Vence fifty years ago. That same sense of belonging. Why this is, je ne sais pas. And why it’s taken me fifty years to return is a question for another time. But here I am and what a joy it is.

In the months before leaving, everyone had suggestions of must-see must do’s in Paris. Being here though I have little interest in doing anything. Content to simply be here. Wandering the streets, soaking up l’esprit de Paris, stretching into the grace and light and beauty of this most magical city.

 

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20. May. 2018. Paris.

I can barely find words to express my experience of being in Paris. I walk around in awe, marveling at the beauty and grace of this icon of icons city. What has been most startling however is the deep sense of connection I feel.  The irony is, that when I look back at my life, I realize this city has been calling me forever.  And yet I never quite grasped what is now so startlingly clear.

When did I fall in love with the idea of Paris? Was it playing the music of Debussy, Ravel, and Satie, reading Stein and Toklas, Anderson, and Nin. Was it the magic of Cocteau, Picasso, Ionesco, and Duchamp. Or the philosophy of Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Gurdjieff. All of these and something else too. Some ineffable substance of soul. Way more mysterious I think than deja vue or past life impression. And it is a wonder and joy to rest in its embrace…

 

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21. May 2018. Paris.

We’re staying at an Air BnB in the 11th. Which was way off my radar in the planning stages of this trip. The word on the street was to stay in the Marais. Which is fabulous for sure. And I’ve loved every moment we spent there. But it’s quite nice in the 11th. Way more chill than the more interior parts of Paris. And I find I quite like it here. Always nice to get back to the relative calm of these streets…

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22. May. 2018. Paris.

I know people want to see photos. Alas, I’ve been very slow to shift into doing mode. Just can’t go for the phone when I’m walking around in a state of wonder. Fortunately we have Coby, my amazing daughter, who is the great documentarian of this journey. So it’s all there on Facebook.

Here’s a handful of Paris photos I do have…

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C’est moi sur le Pont Neuf (je crois)…

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Caron and Coby having a moment of joy at the Bastille Marche. I got separated from them and ended up at the honey man who tried to fix me up with his friend who was evidently a famous local actor who worked on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Midnight in Paris. Alas, never occurred to me to get a photo of the three of us ;(  For that matter, I didn’t even get his name. Between my French and his English, it was a lot of smiles and laughter with not too much comprehension on either side… As I keep saying, etre seulement; pas assez de faire!! C’est domage….

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One of the many things that strikes me about Paris is the myriad monuments of and to the Sacred Feminine. Such a relief from the ubiquitous male war monuments we’re so used to in the USA…

Most tourists in Paris go to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We did not. We did however go on an expedition in search of the sublime sandalwood perfume we kept smelling on the streets. Here’s Coby  hot on the trail at a parfumerie in the Marais…

We did go to to the Renoir Museum which is on la rive Gauche and has a sublime garden. Here’s Coby and Caron and the roses. Ooh la la. Speaking of flowers, France and flowers… OMG. The French really do know a few things about living the most beautiful life.