In the middle of a fabulous French holiday – and just got back onto the internet after a break of a week and a half – privation!
During the first week we were in Nice and staying at the home of a lovely French couple while brushing up our French language at Ecole Azurlingua. Socially very interesting to see ‘school’ from the other side. Teaching was strong but we were really just visitors – only there for one week, some of the students are on a six month course, including, for example, two Iraqui professors in our class, who are among 1000 Iraqui University teachers being sponsored to learn another language abroad. During the course of a week we ‘revised’ the past historic, conditional and subjunctive (what I could have told you about these before would barely have filled the back of the proverbial envelope).
Nice must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world – the sun, the old city, the port, the mountains behind the city and the ‘Bay of Angels’ in front with that azure sea – a photo would never do it justice but ……
Every sense is stimulated here by the sun (it rained on our first day and not once since, the smells of lavender / garlic / parsley / fresh vegetables from the market, the colours and the fluid musical French language. A familiar gospel in the Cathedral de Sainte Reparate, Old Nice, took on a new meaning, the Musee Chagall blew colour deep into my grey brain.
It looks like it will be a holiday of painters. We are now in Aix-en-Provence. It is a self-consciously beautiful 2000+ year old city (much loved by Julius Caesar, who was supported by Aix in his struggles with Pompey) which is now one of the most Conservative – and richest – in France. That’s reflected in the prices in the trendy little boutiques which line the old town streets but also in the prices in the supermarché where the plebeians of the modern age seek their bargains. It’s also reflected in the voting patterns – a higher percentage of Aixeois (>60%) voted for Sarkosy, in the recent run-off for President, than in any other large French town. Aix’s most famous son is Paul Cézanne. We visited his workshop just out of town then walked up to the summit to the North of the city from which he painted and repainted Mont St Victoire, its limestone bulk dominating the surrounding plain.
After this, we’ll be visiting Arles, where Vincent and Gaugin shared a house, where Vincent cut off his ear and where the sun and light inspired him to some of his most wonderful art. In the meantime, we visited the Musee Granet today. It hosts a marvellous collection of French art from the XVth century onwards – some fantastic pieces, including a few 20th Century works.. and as you probably guessed a few Cezanne works as well.
Just to keep the cultural theme going, and since I am trying to (re)learn French while only a short distance from Aubagne, I have bought copies of two novels of Marcel Pagnol, with their beautiful descriptions of the area and its people, bringing to life his tale of self-interest, treachery and revenge: Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. I am on page 36 of Jean de Florette and the dictionary is well thumbed: loads of subjunctives and past historics.
Just to complete the cultural theme, this evening Joan and I attended a local cinema to watch a performance, streamed live from the Opera Bastille in Paris, of a balletic performance of Berlioz’ ‘Romeo et Juliet’. It was quite something.
Our landlady has only recently bought this apartment which overlooks one of the squares of old Aix, with a morning market and evening night club (loud bass to help you get to sleep), where we are her first guests. She is tremendously solicitous and has offered to take us on a tour of the rural area on Thursday, her day off. Tomorrow it’s Marseilles, a city founded by the Phoenicians around 500+ BC.
I am drenched with olive oil and wine. I guess this is what people call a holiday.