30 November 2010

ST. REMY-DE-PROVENCE: On a rainy Wednesday

Monument to Nostradamus; born in St. Remy

FRANCE: Day 11 - St. Remy-de-Provence y Avignon

We’re on the A8 and driving toward Aix-en-Provence, and then soon on the A7 toward St. Remy-de-Provence.

The plan is to get a taste of the heart of Provence while anticipating a future trip when we’ll stay for a week or more in the Luberon-Vaucluse, taking time to thoroughly explore and appreciate all that’s offered. We want to come when the weather is more favorable, but try to avoid the peak season of July-August when the narrow roads and small villages are full to brimming with tourists and traffic.

29 November 2010

CAGNES-SUR-MER: Renoir - Les Collettes

From Les Collettes looking out over Haut Cagnes

FRANCE: Day 10 - Cagnes-sur-Mer

The rains have passed, and while England and Northern Europe are freezing and digging out from record-setting snows, here in the south of France wake to another sunny and mild morning. Ah-h-h.

We’re going back to Cagnes-sur-Mer today, but stop first for café crème and some Internet stuff at La Terrazza. After one cup of café, I surrender the laptop to CA and cross to the boulangerie for a baguette and two abricot tartes—just in case we stay in for dinner tonight. We’ve decided that for .90€ each, we’ll buy a baguette every morning and worry about our dinner plans later. It’s doubtful that CA and MP will ever waste a artisanal baguette.

It’s 11:30am before we’re done with emails and blogging. We drive the short distance to Cagnes-sur-Mer and decide to scout out the Renoir Museum (located at his farm-home, Les Collettes, a neighborhood near the town centre) before finding a café for lunch. We wind up and around the narrow Avenue des Collettes and easily locate the museum, noting that it will reopen from lunch at 2:00pm.

After parking near the bus station, we wander through the streets toward the market center and find a simply lovely café, L’Underground. CA orders something that roughly translates to “egg on a horse” with salad and frites, and I choose the “campagnarde quiche with salade.” I love quiche and salad at lunch, but have no idea what this one will contain since no one here speaks English and there’s no translation on the menu. Still you can’t go wrong with quiche. This one is wonderful—jam-packed with everything but the kitchen sink (ham, bacon, leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, lentils (!!)) all layered into a puff pastry crust. Yum.

We’ve still not learned to linger for the full-on French lunch—two hours—so we have a bit of time to kill and find a supermarche. I really do love food stores, whether they’re chain stores or small specialized markets. I’m always on the look-out for what’s new-to-me or unique. This time we end up with nothing too special--some rice for our planned stir-fry (vegetables from Cannes Sunday market) and some nutty muesili.

Within ten minutes we’ve parked and entered the museum at Les Collettes. There are few tourists today, and we’re both rather dazzled to be here. The views out over the Mediterranean and across Cagnes centre toward Haut Cagnes (where we visited the Danish Christmas Market on Saturday) are fantastic.

It’s a real kick wandering casually through Renoir’s home and amongst his groves of citrus and olives. By the time Renoir and a group of fellow artists and friends settled here in Les Collettes, he had extreme rheumatoid arthritis and survived just 12 years—from 1905 – 1917. There’s actually have a newsreel of him painting (from 1915)—shot by one of his sons—showing his mangled fingers with paint brush gingerly gripped as he makes precise and deliberate strokes on a canvas.

We get to walk into Renoir’s atelier and see his easel and some of the props and costumes that he used in his paintings. You can’t help but focus on the windows--the light streaming through would have been so important to an Impressionist. There’re quite a few paintings on display, but the things I love most are: touching his dining room table; admiring his breakfront, the chevel-patterned wood floors, his views from inside the maison, and most of all his atelier. I walk today through his gardens, look out his windows, and take in the views that graced his life. Renoir, the artist, is now Renoir the family man and friend. It’s apparent that his home was designed for hospitality, grace, and beauty.

We’d planned to visit the Escoffier Museum just a few minutes south and west in Villeneueve-Loubet, but when we arrive we discover it’s closed for the season. CA stops to watch a boules match--something we've observed in many of the towns and villages we've visited.

We make our typical stop at Carrefour in Mougins before returning to our villa for some pork tenderloin to add to our stir fry for dinner tonight.

No matter how hard we finagle, we never have enough change for all that’s required for tolls on the A8 (usually 2.80€ each way) and laundry (4€ wash and 2€ dry). The concierge has been almost pointless this visit—clueless about the horrific Internet service (8€ a day, optional, and slower than molasses in January) and change-less when we need coins for the laundry.

28 November 2010

FRANCE: Day 9 - Cannes y Mougins

We wake to a rainy Sunday in the South of France. We’ve planned a quiet day in Cannes and a trip to the Provençal Market, and after a bit of discussion we are on our way. CA has an umbrella, and I plan to buy one in Cannes. LG talked me out of my teal mini-brella before we left Bratislava.

We’re both half wet before long, but the market is covered and we wander about checking out all the vendors before buying Clementines and vegetables for stir fry—mushrooms, red pepper, and onions. Before leaving the market we buy a block of artisanal butter (demi-sel).

It’s still raining as we begin wandering the market streets and then along the Pantiero (marina). These boats are big, but there’re massive yachts across the harbor. I eventually buy a cheap pink umbrella in the 2€ shop and immediately appreciate the expenditure. Maybe not the umbrella I’d envisioned, but we’re both drier.

We decide to have lunch again this Sunday at La Piazza on Place Cornut Gentille, CA chooses the hot chevré salade and I get pricey with sole mernieure. My sole is mediocre, which is tragic for someone who’s not in love with fish on any day. I do enjoy the vegetables (all called légumes) and white rice that accompanies the sole. CA is very pleased with this salad.

We wander about a bit more after lunch--the rain has let up, but it is still a grey, cloudy day on the coast. When we enter the parking garage—P1 Palais—we find another brocante and spend a bit of time perusing the goods. Other than the silverware, I’ve found nothing of interest at any of the antique’s stalls this trip. And, the silverware is pricey—more than I’m willing to spend for something I really don’t need.

By the time we drive back to Club Mougins, the sun is out and we again get to appreciate the Maritime Alps on the horizon.

Some observation:
• Large cranes (the machinery variety) are ubiquitous. With all these steep terraced hillside neighborhoods, any renovation or construction necessitates the use of cranes. And, we remember our first visit to Paris and how platform cranes were used to move into and out of flats—through the large windows rather than up and around the narrow staircases.

• Sunday’s are not shopping days in France. Food markets and boulangerie-patisseries might be open until 12:00m, but everything closes in the afternoon. Sundays are family days.

• Based on our observations of the commercial areas in the cities and villages we’ve visited so far, clothes shopping is way down the ladder from food shopping. There are numerous culinary purveyors everywhere, and far fewer clothing or shoe stores. There is definitely an emphasis on food and a multitude of ways to procure it, while acquiring a great quantity of clothing doesn’t seem to be necessary. CA says the natives should be fatter. They aren’t. We are.