Villefranche sur Mer

Villefranche sur Mer
it all starts with a beach

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cloudy with a chance of Biot

Sunday I get up, ready for a beach day, but alas - clouds! First I've seen in quite I decide to train/bus to Biot, a little hilltown recommended by friends. Since I'm doing a story on Le Villages Perché, it was a no brainer.

The train goes on time and without a hitch. At the bus stop in Biot sur Mer, I meet Kenza, a chef from Paris (on vacation). She sorts out the directions to the vielle ville then invites me for a fabulous meal next time I'm in Paris. (She speaks French for 'dix minutes', and I understand everything :-) One of the best things about travel is the people you meet along the way!

Before long I am waiting with 6 fun-loving Britts, and we share and laugh for 30 minutes til the bus comes (Sunday schedule), taking us uphill to Biot, known for its glass blowing, ceramics, and the Museum of Ferdnand Leger (a giant in the modern movement).

By serendipity I find my way down a little side street and am warmly welcomed by Eric at Le Jarrier, where I enjoy a lovely view,  sweet breeze, nice jazz, excellent food, and impeccable service.
An amuse bouche of watermelon pieces, bruschetta with tepanade et aoli. Asparagus salad with petite mozzarella, olives, tomatoes, greens and fennel. Lightly dressed. Bon! Lamb with wild mushrooms, veggie flan (light as a pillow), frites. Yum! A great local red (2 glasses included with menu). Cafe et après - white rum avec 3 raisins. Wow! If you're ever in Biot, treat yourself!!

I run into the Britts again at a lookout. And again on the last bus. We're still laughing. Lifted my spirits on this long and overcast day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

TRIP DIARY: Vernazza to Vence to Cannes


31 June - Travel day: Up the Italian coast and back to France. Vernazza to Monterosso to Genoa to Ventimiglia to Nice to Cagnes sur Mer to Vence (8 am to 7 pm). I finally connect with other residents, Tony & Jane, after 5 (late) trains from Italy and a slow bus from Cagnes sur Mer, 25 cl of wine with moules et frites (while waiting at la Victoire in the square right outside Vence's old town). As it darkens (9-10 pm), waiter Paschal finally gives me a map of the historic city, drawing a line to my street, and I haul my suitcase and backpack through the cobbled streets, finding my way. I knock, and no one responds. At last Tony arrives, guiding me to my room two floors up. I sleep, exhausted.

1 July - 8 am, I'm on the square with a cappuccino and pain chocolate. I drop in the Poste to add minutes to my French tele. The market is filled with bountiful fruits, veggies. I take things home then head back out for a walk. Flneur. Then nap from 1 to 3, finishing my photo editing by seven. Dinner at Le Clemenceau (Tony mentions it has the best/fastest wifi). Filet mignon in noisette sauce. Veggie flan. Pommes. A nice red. Bon! Too much/take home (NOT French). Meet and photo Sissi and Julie, waitresses.

2 July - Catch a ride to St. Paul de Vence with Tony and Jane, sharing coffee and conversation - delightful Britts! I buy a fresh green juice from Sylvie on the square then proceed to walk the city on the hill. At the first art gallery I get into a lovely discussion with Julien, who reminds me not to miss the Luberon and his favorite town, Les Baux de Provence. I decide to add it to my study of Les Villes Perché (medieval hill towns). Wander. Shoot photos.

Wait for bus home at 15:20. Salad greens & left over filet mignon for early supper with the rosé Tony & Jane left for me.
There are dogs everywhere (on leashes), yet I've seen only 1 poop in 7 weeks! (in Nice). Is it the free bag dispensaries? Habit? Just good French politeness?

3 July - Quiet day photo editing, writing, catching up Italy and Vernazza for blog and FB.
After saying aloha to Tony n Jane, I get to the top floor to do some laundry and enjoy killer views...and a fabulous sunset on the deck.

To Do:
Send FR n IT notes
Edit photos and upload 3 slide shows.
Write and post blog
Translate Mathieu - write bk.
Write Susan n Phil - Poyols, Luc, Die
Write Vernazza story: Gianni, Belforte, Vernazza wine experience. Etc.
Text Callum re connecting with stuff  he's storing
FB to blog - 3 vignettes

I take a little walk about. Wifi @ Clemenceau.

4 July - my French boyfriend comes ce soir from Nice. I shop for food, etc. Prep la maison et le lit. It rains midday. I try to nap, knowing it will be a long night :-)

5 July  - Wake @ 7. M sleeps til 9:30. We take a quiet bus together to Cagnes sur Mer, where he catches the tren to Nice, and I visit the Chateau/Museum Grimaldi - panoramic views from top deck. Disturbing images (modern art show) of torture, etc. Still I enjoy dejeuner at le Village Brasserie: Poulet roti avec salade et frites. Take home nearly half a chicken! Tarte de pomme avec chantilly et berries. Yum! Excellent & friendly service by Cindy. Hike uphill (hot sun) to Renoir's home, now an amazing museum property! I am transported. Inspired. Hang out a couple of hours. Bus home. Stop at Clemenceau, where I've discovered Pastis! Actually Tony introduced me to it on their last night here. Oh dear. It's perfect for a sore throat, following too much enjoyment at recent World Cup games. When you don't want a beer or wine, when you want to save $1 euro over a Perrier - $2.50 et tout l'eau you can drink. Sleep really well. 

6 July - Home. M texts, asks if I liked the watermelon. I think of Pablo Neruda and his ode...and painting. I would write poetry for M if I thought he'd understand. He brings me food, cooks for me, uncracks a shell, toughened over time. Texts sweet...and dirty. Has no idea of my value, yet values me anyway. I like his strangeness, his sweetness, the language difficulties. His mystery. His transparency.

7 July - Still troubled by not being able to unlock my iPhone (apple!!$@&%#*!), so using 2 phones - the French one for local calls & texts, the  iPhone for email, FB, surfing, google translate, etc., but I have no wifi in the house, so I hang at Le Clemenceau & La Victoire - where Paschal and the owner have fun with me...and rock American music!
Code: zephirienne241269
Garçon Giovanni refuses to serve me lunch. Been working for about 2 hours then decide to order lunch. When he looks sideways at me, I suggest he set up the place next to me, and I'll jump over to eat. "Why don't you finish your work, madame, and I'll set you up a nice table on the terrace?" How American to work right through lunch! How French to stop and actually enjoy the meal - salmon cooked to perfection, cauliflower flan, zucchini, rice. Côte white. Café.
Take ordinateur home, 1 hour nap, then take my camera for a walk around the old city in the late afternoon, meeting Ali Bouchareb with his great hair and tee shirt...and fast fingers!! (he takes my iPhone to type in his name, after I stumble a couple times).

8 July - Café and wifi at Clemenceau. Meet Luca. Bank machine refuses both cards. Mon dieu!! - my bank has frozen my account without notice.
People sweep the streets (jobs AND less noise/pollution).  Actually people work all over we rarely see back home, where so much is done by machine.
Check lady on my block to pick up sewing.  Head via bus back to St. Paul to visit the Muséé Fondation Maecht. Beautiful! Awesome!! Stop at the Soeur's Hermitage back down hill. Makes me want to be a nun :-) Another WCup game tonight. Brazil - Germany!!

9 July - Buy big fancy heirloom tomate et fresh basilica at street market. Stop in little patisserie for "croissant ou pain?" Lady remembers me from buratta/Italian shop yesterday, suggests a half  loaf (.45)  Go home and make the best salade ever!

with a crusty French bread and fleurs de basilica...and the buratta, purchased from Francesco. Eat on the top deck, looking over the mountains - a picture perfect day, filled with sunshine. 78 degrees. More laundry, house cleaning. Not nuf $$ now to leave for Andrea. Will have to send. Tonight BIG GAME: Netherlands/Argentina!! Gibbous moon over Le Clemenceau. Pastis. Happy.

10 July - 

To do:
Ck currencies $1.35/.73
E Nice expats piece to Jason
E to peter. Might have to come visit. Save $$. Ck cheap Greek room somewhere near beach, P&D
Yes to Cannes $1300/cash. (call bank)
Trip advisor - La Victoire, Rosarie, etc.
Ck subscribers blog
Upload Grimaldi n Renoir n St. Paul slide shows
E Pics to Tony n Jane
Upload fr vignettes
Write CsM blog
St Paul photos
Finalize French Culture piece and pick a few photos - St of lib. Culture. Tram
FB pics/blog - new pic
Text M. - wish a good Ramadan
Call David, back from UK?

Hike up to Chapelle Rosarie (Matisse's chapelle). Ferme. Walk home. Stop for lunch from Samuel @ Bistro du Peyra by the fountain. Moules a la Gorgonzola et frites. Vin rosé. Café.
Rain. Go Down - slip rounding corner from main square (3x a charm - ouch/knee (again). Smash iPhone (yea screen protectors!!). Need shoes with grip. No tread left on flips.
Recharge then head back, hoping for a bus to the Chapelle. No luck.  Stop at Orange shop - no screen protectors. Removes mine. Protectors are worth every penny!

Quel Disappointment!! (Rosarie Chapelle) After feeling welcomed throughout the south of France at over 25 museums, many free (and ALL churches), I thought $6 for this experience was a rip! No handouts or information. No phototogaphy. A 10-minute talk in the Chapelle (en française), a walk through a hallway filled with posters of other Matisse exhibits, and a small postcard/bookstore. 'Goodbye.' No views. No gardens. (From the outside they looked enticing). Several attendants reminded me that this is "privéé", so not run for the benefit of guests, but for profits only. I felt it. I don't mind paying for a good experience, but even E$6 is too much for a bad one. Matisse's work saved this from being a zero, but even he would hate what it's become.
Stop on the way home at old stone water works and Chapelle des Penitents Blancs - my favorite local church.

Events every night in the square. Plays. Songs. Judo exhibits... Big music setting up at main square - for 1 month of music. Might make it back for Pink Martini.
We need a commons back home. It's a community builder!
David (hooked me up with Vence pad) meets me for a rosé and catch up. Later some pasta at little Italian spot outside the west gate.

11 July - All week I've been very conscious of how much I NEED SUN AND SUNLIGHT!! Here in the old town, the home is sandwiched on 4 levels between other homes, so there's light on the top floor (and deck), but it's progressively darker down to my room (2nd), living/kitchen (1st), and basement apartment. Still, with all the travel, I love settling, dancing, nesting. I'm off today to Cannes. Stop in La Victoire to bid adieu to Paschal et al, steeling myself with a great espresso for the moving day ahead. I hope my new place is sweet...with lots of light and a sea view.
Walking to bus, the tomato lady at the market recognizes me, gives me a lovely apricot as an aloha gift...wishes me 'bon voyages'.
Note: lots of children here. Everywhere. Not so much in Ashland.
Bus drops me off within a block of  La Gare. I buy my own ticket at the French machine, remember when I couldn't. Assenseurs, yea!! 60 minute wait....2 late/missed trens. Talked w old worker dix minutes en francaise. Cool breeze. I'm a patient traveler.

Corrine meets my train, picks me up in her Mercedes, takes me to the tiny studio in Le Suquet...with great view of port, mer. Share some of the chilled rosé they left for me. Unpack. Walk hill. Church on top - so much reverence for the mother. Muséé. Views!!!!!
LA Farigoule - fried zucchini Fleurs, great spicy aoli. fresh filet of dorade in evoo w basilica. Zucchini. Late lunch/early dinner @4:30 - Long travel day. Orange wine: Blood oranges with rosé, canelle. Delicious!

I stand at my open french doors, loving the sea breeze. As the beach across the bay turns golden, another full moon rises over Cannes, and I am filled with joy. The more I follow my bliss, the more it seems to follow me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Three Treasures

A stunning collection, a force of nature, the mighty Maeght Foundation Musee celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer.
Whether you love modern art or not, do not miss this French treasure! Tucked away on the hills above the Côte d'Azur near St Paul de Vence, you will find works by Miro, Chagall, Braque, Kandinsky, Giacometti, Calder, Klee, Leger, Bonnard, Kelly, Matisse, and all the big names of the modern movement. Sculptures hang out in gardens and waterfalls, then grace the studios where famous art hangs. The architectural structure is a work of modern art itself. Unique and lovely, with views (beyond the art) of the mountains and the sea, this place inspires.

Built in 1300 as a fort, transformed in 1620 into a palace, acquired by the city of Cagnes sur Mer in 1937 and made into a museum and in 1948 a historic monument. today it houses contemporary art exhibits. The top deck has 360 degree panoramic views from the mountains to the sea. The images in the show were intense and disturbing.

I take a bus down from the chateau then walk uphill 'dix minutes' to Les Collettes, entering the property from the lower gardens. I am instantly transported to an earlier time and imbued with the soft light that launched the Impressionist movement.  Infusions of eucalyptus and pine, a jumble of fleurs, views of the chateau below across fields and sprawling trees. I lie in the shade, listening to cicadas. Smells. Colours. Birds and butterflies. Quiet.
At 2 pm, following the obligatory two-hour lunch break, I enter the house, filled with original Renoirs, photographs of his time here (with occasional friends Modigliani, Rodin, Bonnard, Matisse...) for the last twelve years of his life.
If I lived here, I'd paint too. Big, sensual splotches of color on canvas. Like Renoir.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Loving France :-)

I love the French culture, not just the beautiful old things - fabulous art, medieval towns, ancient churches - but the customs that prevail to this day. The little niceties, the generosity of spirit. It's a polite culture. Greeting each other with kisses and kind words slows things down from the rush I'm used to. The young and men offer seats on the bus and tram.  This never happens where I live. Men hug and kiss and not just on football teams. That doesn't happen back home either.

One day up at the main square in Villefranche sur Mer, I saunter into a small café (having practiced my French) and ask the Proprietor for three things: un toilette, un café, et wifi. In the nicest possible way he corrects me. "Quatre choses: bonjour monsieur, un toilette, un café, wifi." I haven't forgotten. Now from bus drivers to students in my class, I always stop and greet people first. When departing from someone, one always wishes them a bon journéé, bon soiréé...a good day, good evening. It's the French way.

the French are so genteel
a kiss with every meal
they greet with kisses and
leave with well wishes
as if intending you well

The wonderful city of Nice, thanks to an activist Mayor, is becoming more green (with the autobleus and velobleus, recycling), more beautiful (with the new central park, better realignments). It's "un ville qui bouge," a city on the move. a dynamic city! Me too...I've never moved more, averaging about seven to eight miles per day on foot. I know the secret to French womens' trim figures: Bread and café. Bread and lunch. Bread and dinner. Tartes. Croissants. Wine. More wine. Then they walk...everywhere!

The French are efficient. Trains and busses come and go on time, announce the next stop on the vehicles and departures and arrivals at each station, roll on and off at the same level...unlike Italy, where I clocked one over an hour late, hauled luggage up and down huge steps in and out of trains, could never figure out where I was or when I was leaving...or arriving. A week in Italy and you'll really appreciate French efficiency! And I already mentioned the water - delicious and drinkable, unlike back home...or in Italy. Even Italian food is better in France!

I'm becoming a flneur, a connoisseur of the street, getting the art of the stroll down. Whether meandering the streets of old town or along the promenade, I don't rush as is my custom. At a certain pace, thoughts vanish, and all that's left is the experience of the moment, le joie de vivre. 
I'm also learning how to nap. they do siestas here. Shops close midday for a couple of hours. I don't know if it's the Italian influence or the sun...or just human need, but it's a great tradition...along with all the little kindnesses: a lemoncello from a friendly cafe owner following a fun conversation, the waiter who tries to fix a single man up with me when offering him a table, the little old gent squeezing past me on the bus, 'a bit close' he says in French, smiling broadly. His flirt puts a smile on my face and makes the whole crowded trip go better.

I call Guillaume and his bike taxi to move me from one residence to another, across town. $10 is the quote, but then he goes out of his way, down the Promenade, stopping for photos, pointing out the dedication this year of a small Statue of Liberty - to commemorate the Americans who liberated France. Then he bikes a few blocks out of his way to show me the lamps on the Opera House, also designed by Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Tower of his name and the Statue of Liberty). Overall I get a forty-minute ride for a ten minute trip, full of information and friendship.

The Albanian waiter, the Senegalese Ambassador, the French chef and Thai proprietor, so many others - they each exhibit a patience with me, a certain warmth. These kindnesses are not lost on me. Gently I am learning to slow down, to be enriched by people and places - all so lovely. France speaks sweetly to me, and I learn to see what I don't yet know, to see as vibration (like the impressionists), rather than language or concept...or thought. It's a beautiful, rich culture. It's seductive and alive. And I am thoroughly enchanted by it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Vernazza & the Cinque Terre - 3 Vignettes:


I'm in room 2 at Gianni Franzi, with a balcony looking out to sea - up exactly 100 old, weathered stone steps from the piazza. I got lost yesterday, making my way back to my room with bags of fruit, water, wine. Lost for fifteen minutes on old stairways and back alleyways, climbing (and climbing), viewing a box of geraniums here, a Madonna on the wall there - just enough to think I'm in familiar territory, then I realize I AM LOST.
            I was mapless coming down from Nice and the (now familiar) French coast...into Italy. Sanremo, Savina...where am I? Am I close?? I come to rely on the kindness of strangers. At Portofino I jump to, Levante I jump off, into a waiting train to La Spezia, hopping off at Vernazza.
            So much of this trip has felt disjointed like this. Too much unknown, too little planned, a stretch of adventure, pure and true, as we adventure junkies like it. My life too now is mapless. Having left my last home, I am on the road, letting each day, each week, take me where it will. It is more than enough. I take my cameras for a walk around the village of Vernazza, one 'money shot' after another, the beauty felt to my core. Rumi reminds us to "live life as though everything is rigged in your favor." It is sweet to live with such grace.
            By 9 am the village comes alive. Delivery trucks bring goods via a tight street(open to certain vehicles only until 9:30), shopkeepers hang their wares out to entice tourists, fishermen head out on their boats or toss a line from the rocks, tour skiffs jockey for position, and everyone gathers for espresso. The bell tower chimes loud and long.
            Following the thunder of this morning's storm, I am reading Ruth Reichel's Delicious! when the bell tower rings at one o'clock, and I remember I have an unfinished pizza from the night before - artichokes, mozzarella, pesto...on a thin crust. Benissimo! I open a bottle of red, recommended by the shopkeeper in the Enoteca up from the piazza. It smells of the stairs leading to the bell tower but tastes like currants and blackberries - all rich and earthy and dark like a wine cellar in Calcinara. Re de Peiu - Golfo dei Poeti, Rosso 2010. It's  almost too good for lunch, but it's Italy so I indulge.

- - - 


By afternoon the dark skies have cleared, the sun is strong, and I decide to hike the hill that leads out of town along the path towards Monterosso al Mare. The Cinque Terre is a special landscape unique in the world, with a rich history in the region of Liguria, and declared a World Heritage Site in 1997 by UNESCO. In 1999 the National Park of the Cinque Terre and its Protected Marine Area (enlarged in 2004) were instituted, bonding the five towns of the area. Today tourists come to experience sustainable tourism, hiking the wine trails above the towns and staying to experience the rich cultures and gastronomy of Vernazza, Monterosso, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
            Ferries and trains transport tourists and locals from town to town. Spend some time here, and get on Cinque Terre time. It's been discovered, but if you stay awhile, you can make your own discoveries - get to know the people, the birds, stones, cloud formations...which focaccia you like the best, which prosecco. Gianni, Michela, Alessandro ... and the experiences that make the Cinque Terre come alive for you.

- - -  


            In the morning birds own the cliff. People gather on the terrace for breakfast and forget for awhile their cares of the day, lost in watching gulls soar and sweep, listening to waves crashing below, caught up in the magic of sea and sky and a horizon in deep contrast as far as the eyes travel.
            Last night, as fate would have it, I head up the main street to the Blue Marlin Bistro. I have skyped Emily to meet there, hoping she has wifi somewhere and gets my messages. As I arrive, before finding a table, I look up towards the train station...and see Kate lugging her suitcase down the stairs. We greet then find their place, up another back alleyway, and head out for a bite. I end up with a bad excuse for a caprèse salad, but am happy to be with friends, sharing travel English.
            Later, we're back at the Blue Marlin after finishing the bottle of wine on my terrace, for the France - Equador game with the two daughters from Georgia. During six weeks in France I met two North Americans. Here only one day along the Cinque Terre and they're everywhere! I begin to miss France.
            We girls need a beach day, so we head to Monterosso by train. It's late, the second never arrives, and we wait for over an hour then smash into an over-crowded train...for a 3-minute trip. It's worth the wait :-) We settle into beach chairs and order a walnut-stuffed pasta and beer. The sun plays peek-a-boo for an hour or two as beach vendors target us. We get used to saying "no, grazie, ciao." When the sun finally blasts, we swim and sun...and have another beer. At dusk we'll walk into the historic town for appel spritzers and dinner before taking the train home to Vernazza.