Friday, November 29, 2013

Some French Food

On the TGV returning from Nice to Avignon, an elderly French gentleman boarded the train at Cannes and took his reserved seat which was next to mine.  At some point he started to chat.  It didn't matter that my French is very basic and he speaks no English at all.  As is often the case when people want to communicate, we managed.

He learned that I am an American, divorced from a Spaniard, and living in Spain.  That I was going from Nice to Avignon before returning home, that I liked Nice, that I liked Avignon, that I liked France, and that my holiday was only one week because hotels are expensive.

I learned that he had a son who lived in Paris and taught English, that he lived in Cannes and that he also has an apartment in Paris, and that Paris was where he was headed now.  He also said that Cannes is much nicer than Nice and that I should visit it next time I come.  If I liked, he would give me his phone number so that I could call before my next visit and come and stay with him in his guest room.

I never did ask for his number.

So now, hey, how about that French food!

Some French produce comes from Spain


Friday, November 22, 2013

A Few French Dogs

At first I just tried to shoot pictures of the dogs when they were sitting or as they walked by.  But in general I like to take photos closer in.  I like portraits and I like details.  And people don't like when strangers seem to be photographing them on the street.  So I figured, OK, I'll go up and ask the owners if they don't mind my taking a photo of their dog.  But then there was the problem of my limited French and the known fact that the French are (1) not friendly, and (2) do not understand you unless you speak perfect French.  Oh, and then there's (3), I'm pretty shy with strangers and hate to embarass myself in public.

So wasn't I surprised when every person I asked said yes and was actually quite pleased.  Some waitied while I took several shots and then proudly viewed the results on my little camera.  I only wish I had started doing that sooner.





Friday, November 15, 2013

More Than Nice

When the war was over, my parents came to Nice to live for a few months until their visas to the United States came through.  My father worked for a relative, Soloman Pelix, who owned a small factory that made orange marmalade.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to trace that family.

I have a hand color tinted photo of my mother standing by the beach at Nice.  I could tell, reading my father’s memoir, that those were very happy days for them.  How could they not be?  Behind them were the years spent in Siberia.  Then the return home to find Warsaw a ruined city and all of their families exterminated in the Holocaust.  But there they were now, a good-looking couple, still young, stylishly dressed, enjoying the French Riviera.

During those happy six months I was conceived.  It was only when I was in my 40s that my mother told me that the “pension” they were living in, just off the Promenade des Anglais, was actually a brothel.

When I first visited Nice in 2005, it was a kind of pilgrimage.  I wanted to see the place where my parents had found a respite after the war, before they set off for their new life in the New World.  And I wanted to get a look at that pension.

Nice was prettier than I expected.  Why was I surprised?  Lots of artists came to paint there because it was so beautiful.  Many stayed.  Why didn’t my parents?  That was all I could think of during the few days that I was there, and the question keeps coming back on each subsequent visit.  It’s so beautiful.  Why didn’t they stay? 

Hotel Nesgresco on the Promenade des Anglais
Queen Victoria once stayed here

The Hotel Oasis, where I stayed.  Once a boarding house catering
to the many Russians who frequented Nice,
Anton Chekhov stayed for several months
while writing The Three Sisters.

Nice police on a pedestrian-only street

Cathedrale St-Nicolas
Nice was a favorite watering hole for
wealthy Russians in the 19th century

I found an antique market (I'm getting good at it)

The regular flower and fruit market

The Matisse Museum is housed in the villa
where he once lived

At the Chagall Museum.  Yes, he lived nearby too.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Best Laid Plans

In France, some plans got changed.  First, there was this bus ride.  I had gone from Avignon to Arles by train and intended to return the same way.  But somehow or other I had bought, from the vending machine, a ticket for a bus rather than the train, and that bus was just about to leave from in front of the train station.  It was a matter of going to wait in line to exchange the ticket and risk missing both the bus and the train, or getting on the bus, in spite of the fact that while the train does the journey in 20 minutes, with the bus it would take over an hour.  Then again, what was the hurry?  And as it was Saturday and the transportation system was running on the reduced weekend schedule, it might be wise to grab what was at hand.   

It was a pleasant journey accompanied by eclectic music from an oldies but goodies radio station that the driver had cleverly chosen.  Starting with Edith Piaf, we then heard the French Partisan song, some French rock and roll and some 1970s American pop.   To cap it off we arrived in Avignon earlier than scheduled.  There is no music on the train so overall I would say that I was happy with the switch.

Although I had the next day planned out, in bed that night, I couldn’t get to sleep.  Sunday is the big weekly antique fair at nearby Ile-Sur-La-Sorgue.  It’s one of the biggest antique markets in France and something I very much wanted to see.  But because it was Sunday, the public transportation would once again be limited.  And in this case, very limited.  My only morning option was a bus that left Avignon at 9 am.  Returning in the afternoon I would have the choice of a bus if I wanted to return a little earlier, and a train if I wanted to return a little later.

So why couldn’t I sleep?  I didn’t know.  But when, eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to go, that I could change my plan, that I could sleep as long as I liked and do whatever I wanted, and I decided that I wouldn’t go, I relaxed. 

I would walk to Villeneuve-Les-Avignon.  It’s about an hour’s walk, across the Rhone River.  I love the walk and I love being in the pretty village of Villeneuve.  I had planned to visit Villenueve on another day when they had their weekly market, but I could go twice.  Sunday I would visit the Carthusian monastery.  Et voilà.  I could turn off the alarm, relax, and go to sleep.

I didn’t get to see the famous antiques market, but I did stumble upon two unexpected flea markets.  What a surprise.  The first was right in town, along several blocks of one of my favorite streets.  It looked like a neighborhood affair.  It was amazing to see some very fashionable women rummaging through other people’s used clothing.  It doesn’t happen here.  For the most part, Spanish women find secondhand clothes disgusting.

Then, further along there was a big flea market on the Ile de la Barthelasse.  I made a small detour and went.  I didn’t buy anything at either flea market, but had a good time poking around under the huge plane trees.

So much for the Carthusian monastery.  Another plan out the window.  I had enough time to amble around a little and then have lunch.  A very good lunch, as it turned out, and not at the old favorite that I had intended to go to.  No, I decided that as everything else was new and unplanned, so should lunch be.  So I went to a place I had read about and it was lovely, even the bathroom. 

Entrance to the unvisited Carthusian monastery

Lunch was at Le Bistrot du Moulin, once an olive mill.
That round table is the dessert tray!

The final surprise was the bathroom