Friday, September 18, 2015

The weather has been SO BEAUTIFUL of late that I feel I must take a quick minute to note that there are still six days of Summer left!  And this seems like a good moment to highlight a company that (unintentionally) celebrates Summer all year round, Les Toiles du Soleil.  Les Toiles was founded more than 150 years ago in Saint Laurent de Cerdans, a small town in the far south of Mediterranean France near the Spanish border.  This part of France is now known as the Languedoc-Roussillon, but it is sometimes referred to as "Northern Catalonia" as the Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, granted France this part of Catalan territory on its side of the mountain range.  Catalan is still spoken and understood here, and the city of Perpignan is the largest Catalan city after Barcelona. 

The photos above were taken a few years ago in one of only two boutiques in the U.S., in New York City at 261 West 19th Street / (212) 229.4730 (the other store is in East Hampton at 78 Park Place / (631) 907.2872).  

I first learned of Les Toiles in an issue of Martha Stewart Living some years ago, and since that time I stop in to the store a few times a year (Les Toiles also has an active online business).  In addition to the bright and sunny bolts of 'Linge Catalan' available there are pillows, espadrilles, aprons, iPad covers, table linens, makeup bags, Ottomans, notebooks (I have a ton of these), and fantastic tote bags in two sizes.  These bags are unique not only because of the sturdy fabrics and color combinations but because there is a thin piece of wood at the bottom of each bag which is brilliant - the bags hold their shape and items fit better inside because the bottom is flat.

The bags also have great Wanderlust names, like Rue du Bac Gris, Acapulco, Plein Soleil, Ceret Cerise, etc.  I bought one because it was named Collioure Rouge, Collioure being one of my most favorite places on the planet (in case you don't know it, Collioure is a pretty coastal village in Languedoc-Roussillon known for its anchovies (Maison Roque has been dealing in anchovies since 1870) and for the artists who spent time here (notably Matisse, Andre Derain, and Raoul Dufy).  So I was particularly happy to see that in the recent 25th anniversary edition of one of favorite magazines, Maisons Coté Sud, the noted milestone for the year 2000 was this very same Collioure Rouge fabric from Les Toiles du Soleil.  I've been toting around my bag all summer long and I will continue carrying it through Wednesday.....

Enjoy these final days of Summer!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Finalement, I am returning to the Cote d'Azur.  It seems so beside the point to apologize for such a delay so I won't.  We're all too busy, and for me there are simply entire stretches of days and weeks when I cannot turn to this blog.  'Nuff said!

The photo to the right was taken just outside the entrance to the village of St. Paul-de-Vence, and the sculpture, 'Venus,' is a work by Theo Tobiasse and was a gift to the village by the artist.  Tobiasse was born in Israel to Lithuanian parents, and in the 1930s they moved to Paris, where they hid in a tiny apartment from 1942 to 1944, never going outside until Liberation.  In 1976, Tobiasse moved to Saint Paul-de-Vence where he created a large body of work in drawings, pastels, paintings, pottery, stained glass, and sculpture (click on those mediums for access to the very good website devoted to the artist; on this site, I learned that he used to write personal messages in Yiddish that he glued onto his canvases and then painted over them, so that one couldn't read the messages without destroying the paintings).   He also began splitting his time between Saint Paul and New York before his passing in 2012.  

I took the photo of 'Venus' not only because I like it -- to me it seems to represent an exuberance about life and about the village of Saint Paul and the south of France in general -- but also because it reminded me of a similar sculpture I saw (and took a picture of) years ago in Venice.  But unlike the one in Venice, which was only on display temporarily, this one is, happily, a permanent fixture. 

Saint Paul-de-Vence is not necessarily any more charming or beautiful than any number of villages on the Côte d'Azur or in Provence, but it has three attributes that separate it from others: Marc Chagall's tombstone (pictured below, even though the inscription can't be read); the Fondation Maeght; and the inn/restaurant La Colombe d'Or.

During my visit last spring, I was seeking out Chagall's tomb because I had not seen it before, nor had I visited the cemetery, which is on the plateau du Puy, the highest point of the village and which was the original core of the village between the year 1,000 and the beginning of the 12th century.  Aimé and Marguerite Maeght are also buried here, next to their son Bernard, who died at eleven years old from leukemia.  Even if these notables weren't buried here, the cemetery is worth the climb as it's in a lovely spot with good views.

It had been some years since I last visited la Fondation Maeght, and it remains one of my most favorite places on earth and is one of the most exceptional foundations in the world.  Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, it was founded in 1964 by Marguerite (Devaye) and Aimé Maeght -- the name is pronounced Mahg, and the family is from Hazebrouck, near Lille, in northern France.  The couple married in 1928, and by 1936 Aimé was running his own gallery in Cannes where he sold paintings, decorative items, furniture, etc.  Throughout the war years, Bonnard and Matisse, who lived nearby, gave Maeght paintings to sell, and the Maeghts helped the two artists with supplies of food (Aimé, who had a background in printing and lithography, also prepared fake papers for members of the Resistance.  He caught the attention of the Gestapo, but thanks to a tip to Marguerite from the French police he was saved).  "Friendships and alliances evolved," notes Jan Birksted in Modernism and the Mediterranean: The Maeght Foundation (Ashgate, 2004), and after World War II it was Bonnard who suggested the Maeghts should open a gallery in Paris.  Matisse promised some of his most recent works, and Miró and Georges Braque joined the gallery.  In 1948 Louis-Gabriel Clayeux was named director of the Maeght Gallery, and he brought with him some new artists, namely Leger, Calder, Giacometti, Raoul Ubac, and Jean René Bazaine.       
The Maeghts had bought a property in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1950, and in 1953, when Bernard died, Aimé was left "without a taste for anything.  For the first time in my life, I began to let myself slide.  I must say, the painters were once again those who suggested what course I should take.  Georges Braque urged me to an undertaking that would help me overcome my grief, a place devoted to modern art...And Fernand Leger said to me, "If you do it, I'll bring my daubings.  I'll even paint the rocks."  (This is quoted from an article in London's Financial Times by Jackie Wullschlager, the paper's chief visual arts critic and the author of Chagall: A Biography, Knopf, 2008.)  The Maeghts visited the Barnes Foundation, Phillips Collection, and the Guggenheim in the States for inspiration, and they also visited Miró's studio on the island of Mallorca that was designed for him by Catalan architect Josep Lluis Sert.  Aimé really admired the studio, and he asked Sert to design the foundation's buildings, on the hilltop location above St.-Paul-de-Vence, a place where art and nature so perfectly blend together.  It was utter serendipity that a ruined chapel, dedicated to Saint Bernard, was discovered in the woods surrounding the site.  The chapel was restored, and Ubac and Braque designed the stained-glass windows.

It would be hard to believe, if you didn't already know, that the Maeghts, "shell-shocked with misery" (again to quote Jackie Wullschlager) could create such a beautiful and peaceful place.  There are pine trees all around and a view of the Mediterranean looking out past Miró's 'Pitchfork' on the edge of his Labyrinth.  The inauguration of the Fondation itself, presided over by André Malraux, took place on 28 July, 1964, and among the guests were Ella Fitzgerald and Yves Montand, who both performed. (And I love the story later, in the summer of 1966, when Duke Ellington met Miró -- jazz impressario Norman Granz was producing a music festival at nearby Juan-les-Pins and he had the idea of arranging for Ellington and his trio to play in the garden at Fondation Maeght, where Miró just happened to be working!  A Google search turns up a number of interesting references to Ellington's 'Blues for Joan Miró'.)

In 2014 the Fondation celebrated its 50th anniversary, with special exhibits on site as well as at locations around France.  It seems fitting that one of the exhibits was devoted to the art and architecture of Sert, and I caught it on its final day.  Interestingly, I didn't realize that Sert had worked on two house-studios for both Braque and Chagall but neither was completed.  Happily however, Sert's plans for the Miró Foundation in Barcelona, the School of Fine Arts in Besancon, and the house-studio for artist Zao Wou-Ki on Ibiza were all realized.

Opening on the 27th of June at the Maeght is 'On the Way,' devoted to the works of Gérard Garouste. According to the Maeght website, a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratsla -- "Never ask directions from someone who knows the way, you risk not getting lost" -- sums up everything about Garouste's process, as he chooses figuration and the study of myths just as he uses the adventures of Don Quijote or of Tintin to better explore human identity today.

The Fondation Maeght is open every day of the year, without exception, from 10 to 6 October to June and from 10 to 7 July to September.  In Paris, the Galerie Maeght, 42 rue du Bac, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 to 7 and Monday 10 to 6.  There is a great selection of beautiful prints, cards, books, etc., and a print I bought and had framed is by Braque (pictured below) with the words, "Avec l'age, l'art et la vie ne fout qu'un," which roughly translates to with age, art and life become one.   All the Maeght publications (more than 12,000) and lithographs are printed at ARTE studios, south of Paris, which Adrien Maeght (Aimé and Marguerite's son) opened in 1964.  Adrien's children -- Isabelle, Florence, Jules, and Franҫoise -- are (mostly) still involved in the family business (Franҫoise reportedly resigned from the board of directors over differing opinions on managing the foundation). In November 2014, Jules Maeght opened the Jules Maeght Gallery in San Francsico, 149 Gough Street.

Enjoying a meal or drinks -- or better, a stay -- at La Colombe d'Or is positively the thing to do before or after a visit to La Fondation Maeght.  Or even if you (inexplicably) have no interest in going to the Maeght, stopping in at La Colombe d'Or to have a look around is not to be missed, as this inn is far more than a place to stay or a place to eat: it's more of a museum, of both 20th century art and the history of a Provenҫal village.

The very brief history of this truly noteworthy place is that Paul Roux, a Provenҫal farmer, opened the restaurant and small inn in 1920, after returning from World War I.  His hostelry appealed to artists in the area -- including Léger, Braque, Picasso, Miró, Chagall, and Alexander Calder -- and he began exchanging room and board for artworks.  Paul's son, Francis, began to oversee the running of the hotel with his wife, Yvonne, in 1953, and Paul's grandson, Franҫois, took over in 2000 with his wife, Danièle.  (For a very good history, I refer you to 'The Artful Lodgers' by James McAuley, The New York Times Magazine, 10 May, 2015)

'Remarkable' is just one word that comes to mind when you walk through the public rooms of the inn and take note of what's hanging on the walls.  There are no plaques or signs of any kind identifying the works, so in this regard the place feels much more like a private home than a museum, which is of course what makes it unique (it reminds me most of the Hotel Restaurant Les Templiers in Collioure).  While I do wish there was some kind of published brochure, I suppose that would be beside the point, and anyway there is the spectacular La Colombe d'Or, the book that launched a publishing house -- Assouline, in 1993.   As James McAuley explains in his piece for the Times, Martine and Prosper Assouline spent a long time trying to convince Franҫois Roux to agree to the book's publication, and it was at La Colombe where Martine once discovered her son, Alexandre, who is now fully grown, serving a bottle of Champagne.  The bartender had stepped away, and as the job needed to be done, Alexandre filled in.  Martine and Prosper made Alexandre return his generous tip but they all now have this wonderful memory.  

For my visit last year, I tried to make a reservation to stay for a night, but the auberge was fully booked (there are fewer than 30 rooms) so I had to make do with a lunch reservation.  It was the second time I'd eaten there, but this time I requested a table in front of the hotel's namesake Léger mural, and when my friends Amy and Denise and I arrived, our waiter made a point of noting that our table was, indeed, facing the mural.

The restaurant's menu is fairly extensive, but I recommend choosing the classic Provenҫal dishes -- these are what the kitchen turns out best.  The food is not as memorable as the setting, and diners who are looking for more of a culinary high will be far more satisfied at Le Tilleul or at Les Bacchanales in nearby Vence, under the direction of Michelin-starred chef Christophe Dufau.

The wait staff at La Colombe are jollier, however, and it is them who I have chosen to share photos of here, rather than the same photos that everyone else takes.  They really made our meal, and deserve to be acknowledged!  

 To again quote from James McAuley, the Fondation Maeght "would not likely exist in its current form without its smaller, older sister," and La Colombe d'Or "remains the classic maison paysanne of French folklore, the mountain hut, the mythic escape -- in this case, to the looking glass between life and art, as if the two were never distinct."  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

 Statue of Alfred Dreyfus holding his broken sword in the entry courtyard of the 
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, 71 rue du Temple, 3rd arrondissement, Paris

It’s true that I’ve been away from my blog for quite some time because I’ve been working on a special issue of Dream of Italy devoted to Lago di Como and Expo Milano; but the other reason is that I have been thinking about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hypercacher store in Paris (which just reopened two days ago) and I have wanted to write something but didn’t know exactly what.  So I continued to think, and at one point I thought that perhaps, over two months after the horrific attack, I didn’t need to post any thoughts.  But then I concluded that it didn’t feel right at all to say nothing, and the passage of time is not a reason to ignore it.  As a writer I feel compelled to acknowledge the attacks, but I also feel compelled as a traveler to say something. 

I can’t express my sorrow for all the victims and their families better or more deeply than others who wrote and posted in the days and weeks immediately following the tragedy, nor do I have some moving remarks expressing my support for the staff of Charlie Hebdo (and by the way, since it seems at least some people do not know, Hebdo is short for the word hebdomadaire, meaning weekly).  But what I can do is remind travelers about some facts of terrorism, and share some thoughts worth pondering by writers far wiser and more eloquent than me.  

I referenced an enlightening article in Condé Nast Traveler, “Terrorism: Weighing the True Risks” (July 1996) in my book on Venice, the Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  For this piece, reporters prepared a ‘Targets of Terror’ timeline from 1972 through April 1996.  Some of the attacks featured on the timeline included the following: Palestinian terrorists kidnap and murder eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games (September 5, 1972); two IRA bombs explode in London’s Hyde Park and Regent’s Park (July 20, 1982); Palestinian gunmen hijack the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean (October 7, 1985); explosion at the World Trade Center in New York (February 26, 1993); Palestinian terrorists bomb La Belle nightclub in West Berlin (April 5, 1986); Arab terrorists throw a bomb from a passing car into a crowd at the Paris department store Tati (September 17, 1986); Shining Path guerrillas detonate a car bomb in front of a Lima, Peru hotel (May 24, 1995); and Algerian Armed Islamic Group bombs the St.-Michel Metro station in Paris (July 25, 1995).  As is clear from these highlighted examples, terrorist attacks happen not only on airplanes but on cruise ships, in department stores, in parks, in nightclubs, and on public transportation – in short, anywhere, to anyone, for reasons as random as wearing purple socks (yet another attack was one on April 18, 1996, when Islamic Group terrorists killed eighteen and wounded another fifteen Greek tourists in Cairo, mistaking them for Israelis).   If terrorist attacks are always within the realm of possibility, then so are the mundane activities of our daily existence, such as walking out the front door and picking up the morning newspaper, standing on a ladder and cleaning the leaves out of the gutter, or carrying clothes a few blocks away to the dry cleaner – each of which carries the risk of falling down and hitting our head on the sidewalk or the stone steps or the fire hydrant, not to mention drunk driving accidents, street crimes, hate crimes, heart attacks, rape, or murder.  If we never leave our homes, we are effectively living in fear; if we travel with fear, we are victims of that fear, real or imagined, even if not a single incident occurs while we’re away. 

One of my favorite writers, Francine Prose, wrote an essay in the travel section of The New York Times on September 8, 2002, and in it she reminded us that “Travel alters and expands our perspective.  By showing us that life really is different in other places, it provides a reality check against which we can measure the misperceptions and even prejudices we may have developed at home.”  She concluded that “The events of September 11 have – or should have – turned us not just into patriotic Americans, but into citizens of the world.  And we owe it to ourselves, and to our fellow citizens, to go out and see for ourselves this fragile, damaged and brave new world that, like it or not, we’ve come to inhabit.”  Like a Condé Nast Traveler reader who, after September 11th, wrote a letter to the editor to say she believed that “Every American who travels abroad is a bridge for peace,” I believe we are all, in a small way, promoting international understanding by reading about other places and traveling to them. 

I remember how surprised I was when, just after September 11th, a friend said she wasn’t making any travel plans “until all this blows over.”  It seemed so obvious to me that the world had changed, that we were in this situation for the foreseeable future, and that nothing was going to blow over (and my husband and I left for northern Spain two weeks later).  Certainly there have been more incidents, enough for a new timeline, and I believe that Charlie Hebdo was not the last. 

On days when the newspaper headlines make the world seem like a particularly nasty place, I recall that my friend Lindsay M. sent me the following lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest on the morning of September 11, 2001, a year after the World Trade Center attack:

How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world
That has such people in’it!


Friday, November 14, 2014

Photos of the monastery garden and the Franciscan Church, up the hill from Nice in Cimiez.  The church's exterior is beautiful and inside there are three works by painter Ludovico Brea (1450-1523), who was born in Nice and whose paintings may also be found in various towns along the coast from Nice to Genoa. 

In my first year of college, I took a British Literature course, and part of this course delved into the works of the poets who lived in the Lake District of England and who were also part of the Romantic movement (Wordsworth and Coleridge are the two best known).  On one particularly gray and blustery day, the professor asked us if we thought the Romantic poets would have preferred an overcast day or a sunny day.  I was among the majority in choosing a sunny day, but the professor said that it would have been far more in keeping with the poets' personalities and devotion to the subject to prefer an overcast day.  When I thought about it this seemed to make sense:  a gray day gives you the opportunity to pine for a sunny day, and you can probably even describe the pleasures of that sunny day much better than if the sun were high in the sky.

I recall this as an introduction to my report on Nice and the Côte d'Azur.  Here in the New York City area, the colder side of Fall has officialy arrived, quite a contrast to the hot and brilliantly sunny time I spent in southern France in June.  So even though this is five months later, it seems apropos to take a look back.  Besides, the city of Nice (France's 5th largest city) enjoys a unique microclimate, and it is not uncommon to sit at an outdoor cafe in the winter months wearing a T-shirt or light sweater.  So if you are planning an off-season visit, you have a very good chance for lots of sunshine and mild temperatures.   

The day I left Paris it was a bit chilly and overcast, but I was meeting my friends Amy and Denise at the Gare de Lyon's Big Ben Bar in Le Train Bleu, where it always feels sunny due to the fanciful frescoes depicting southern France and Italian destinations (Paris train stations are named for the destinations they serve, and the Gare de Lyon trains head south).  Readers of my Paris book know that Le Train Bleu is one of my favorite restaurants, and I have long wanted to rendez-vous there and walk downstairs to the tracks and board a train.  Finally, a dream satisfied!

After a change in Marseille, we were in Nice about six hours later.  Lou Souleou, a small B&B at No. 26 rue des Ponchettes, was our home for four days.  For those of you who know Nice, the rue des Ponchettes runs parallel to the Quai des Etats Unis (the eastern continuation of the Promenade des Anglais) and is a short distance from the steps that lead up to the Tour Bellanda.  So yes, you can hear the street noise when you are sitting outside on the terrace that the Zen and Swazi rooms share (we had these two rooms plus the Nimis single upstairs, which faced the rue des Ponchettes) but when you close the glass doors and turn on the ceiling fans or a/c the street sounds are quite muffled.  Maxime and his staff at Lou Souleou are extremely helpful, kind, resourceful, and patient (I had a few unusual requests!).  Rates are approximately 50 to 130 euros and the breakfast is especially nice with good coffee, fresh baguettes and other breads, a selection of great jams, yogurt, cereals, fruit, and specials like crepes or muffins.  Lou Souleou is also just across from Castel Plage, one of the beach clubs on the shore, right at the point where the road curves around toward the port of Nice.  Rates for a full day are 18 euros and 15 for a half-day, which is quite reasonable as you have your own sun chair, an umbrella, a table, towel, and access to the bathroom facilities.  There is also a restaurant, making it really easy to stay all day long. If you haven't been to Nice yet, you might not think a chair on the beach is anything special; but much of the coastline on the Côte d'Azur is rocky, so a chair is actually valuable if not essential.  Not that I haven't enjoyed arranging those rocks just so, to accommodate me and my towel -- I spent two weeks in Nice on spring break the year I lived in Paris, and I was at the rocky beach every day -- and believe it or not I was fairly comfortable.  The rocks are approximately five inches in diameter and are flat, not sharp, which is why it's possible to achieve a level of comfort.  I am looking at one of these rocks as I type this because years ago I brought a rock home as a souvenir and a friend painted a pretty scene on one side of it.

Many visitors don't round the corner past Castel Plage, which I think is a shame because the road winds past a beautiful war memorial (pictured below) and on to the Place Île de Beauté (also pictured below), appropriately named as it faces the the boats departing for Corsica, often referred to as the Île de Beauté

 Lou Souleou is a few minutes' walk from the Cours Saleya, a large pedestrian area that is parallel to the Quai des Etats Unis and bordered by rue Saint-Francois-de-Paule at one end and rue Louis Gassin at the other.  Most of the pretty buildings that are on the Cours date from the early 18th century, and it was only in the 1980s (when it was repaved over an underground parking garage) that it became a pedestrian zone.  It is still home to one of the best outdoor marchés in France.  On several visits several years apart, my husband and I were regulars at the stall of Thérésa, who made socca, a thin sort of crepe (but crisp, not soft) made of chickpea flour, salt, water, and olive oil (cumin also appears in some recipes I've seen).  Actually, Theresa didn't really have a stall - it was more like a large steel drum with a flat griddle on top -- and she was set up at the edge of the market proper.  She would scrape pieces into a paper cone and we would devour the hot pieces of yumminess as we walked around the market.  Then we would go back for more, though we always had to wait on line as she had many devotees.  Readers of my book on Provence, the Côte d'Azur, and Monaco (2001) may recall the piece I included about socca written by Cara De Silva ('The Chickpea's Shining Moment').  She, too, is a big fan of socca, especially Thérésa's.  De Silva bought a postcard in Nice that featured a photograph taken about a century ago of a socca seller standing in almost exactly the same spot where Thérésa had set up shop.  I thought about this in June when I looked for Thérésa and didn't see her in her usual spot.  Happily, there is now an actual market stall selling Thérésa's socca.  I could be wrong, but I don't believe Thérésa herself is still at the stall, or at least, she wasn't on the days I visited in June.  I have tried to find out if she is still around, but an Internet search didn't turn up any clues.  No matter, I suppose: the socca is still delicious, and still popular with both tourists and locals.  As a restaurateur told Cara De Silva, "People from Nice eat socca all the time."

Other culinary highlights for traditional Niçoise specialties are Restaurant Acchiardo (38 rue Droite, Vieux Nice,; no website, closed Saturday and Sunday) and La Merenda (4 rue Raoul Bosio, also closed Saturday and Sunday).  Reservations at both restaurants are hard to secure, though confirming a table at Acchiardo is infinitely easier than at La Merenda, which does not have a telephone and has a "reservation sur place" policy.  There are also seats for only about 30 people.  If you want to eat at La Merenda (which means "a delicious morsel" in Nicois dialect), you must walk to the restaurant and reserve in person.  There will be a line of other people there doing the same thing.  I recommend going early on in your visit to Nice because there is a good chance your first choice will be fully booked, and you'll have to reserve for another day.  The chef at La Merenda is Dominique Le Stanc, who trained with a handful of noteworthy chefs and later earned 2 Michelin stars at the Chantecler restaurant in Nice's Hotel Negresco.  Le Stanc bought the restaurant from Jean Giusti, who'd had quite a successful run with it for a number of years, and he has stated that working in gastronomic establishments requires "more a gift for logistics than for cooking.  Here, in my tiny authentic restaurant, I can once again devote myself to what I care most about, the essence of cuisine: simple dishes made from fresh produce bought daily at the local markets."  La Voglia (at No. 2 rue Saint Francois de Paule, just steps from the Cours Saleya) is a reliably good and popular Italian restaurant with antipasti, pizza, and pasta dishes and a lively atmosphere.

Among the great treasures of the Côte d'Azur are its small museums, and in the hills above Nice are both the Musée National Marc Chagall and the Musée Matisse.  I'm happy to say that the Chagall museum is still the special gem it has been since it opened, and I do still love the Matisse Museum even though the collection isn't that strong -- other museums around the world have many more works than this one.  But the building itself is beautiful and the location is lovely, and there is also the red-and-ivory-striped chair!  Even those with a cursory knowledge of Matisse's paintings will recognize this chair.  It used to be located on one of the upper floors of the museum, very casually situated in a corner, but now it has a special place of honor near the museum exit, which it so deserves!

To my mind, a visit to Nice is not complete with a stop at Maison Auer (7 rue St.-Francois-de-Paule), a family business founded in 1820 and specializing in bursting-with-flavor pâte de fruits (the translation is something like 'fruit jellies' but these are nothing like the those awful jelly rings) and fruits confits (crystallized fruit).  Also found in Auer's beautiful boutique are confitures, olives, chocolates and chocolate covered nuts, etc., and everything is packaged perfectly for gifts.  I particularly love the crystallized grapefruit and orange peels.  Alziari, another family business at no. 14 rue St.-Francois de-Paule, is also an old favorite of mine -- founded in 1868, Alziari offers its own (good quality) olive oil, olive products, wines, spirits, vinegar, etc.  I didn't stop in on this visit -- Alziari oil is found in several New York stores, so it's less unique to me now -- but over the years I have bought many items here.   A store that that was new to me on this visit was Alexia Cenac (29 rue Benoit Bunico; no website). Great for home decor, gifts, and jewelry.

One of the images of Nice I carry around in my head is that of its colorful buildings.  I love how the colors of buildings in France changes from north to south -- when you are in the far north the colors of most buildings is slate and dark brown; when you are in Paris and the center of the country a lot of buildings are limestone or gray; when you reach Lyon the palette is pastel; and by the time you reach Nice you are surrounded by an explosion of bright, intense colors.

One episode did put a damper on this visit, and I share it here so that it doesn't happen to you: if you take a bus within Nice, do not ever forget to stamp your ticket in the validation machine.  This little machine is located in the vicinity of the driver's seat, usually a few steps away, further down the center aisle of the bus.  Stamping tickets for public transportation is a common custom in France and elsewhere in Europe.  Though I am well aware of this, I am also aware that plenty of (local) riders do not even bother to purchase a ticket, preferring to take their chances that there won't be a random check.  Spot checks are not unheard of, but neither are they common.  So, when my friends and I boarded the bus to go to the Chagall museum, we were chatting and not entirely paying close attention and we paid for our tickets at the front of the bus and walked to the back, where there was some standing room.  At the next few stops, a number of locals boarded at the back of the bus and stood next to us.  Just before we reached the museum, two officials (who I would describe as being the equivalent of traffic cops) boarded the bus and were checking tickets, and all the people standing beside us quickly hopped off the bus.  I assumed the officials were checking to make sure everyone had bought a ticket, but it turns out they were checking to see if everyone had stamped their tickets.  A group of us were forced off the bus, and it was quickly clear that everyone in our group of about a dozen people were foreigners. Still, I believed that all we had to do was explain that we were visitors, all would be forgiven, and we would be on our way.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  One official asked us for our passports, and yet again I (stupidly) believed that the passports would prove our case, and all would be well. With passports in hand, the officials then told us we owed 35 euros each for the crime of not stamping our bus tickets.  Much arguing and pleading ensued, to no avail.  In retrospect, I believe when we were asked for our passports we should have turned and walked away because I don't think the officials had the authority to arrest us.  The bottom line is that this is a scam aimed at tourists, and we saw it played out in other parts of the city.  Though the law may be somewhat valid, it truly is absurd that it's enforced, and only on tourists, and the behavior of the officers is despicable, and the bus drivers should remind tourists to stamp their tickets.  Most of all, the government officials of Nice should be ashamed that this is allowed to continue.       

Lastly, some great changes are afoot in Nice: a pedestrian zone is being created to include an avenue from the National Theater and the Nice Acropolis Convention Center all the way to the sea, with strips of lawn and stone and all lined with water mirrors.  Additionally, Nice Stadium is being constructed and will have 35,000 seats and will be multipurpose: besides football and rugby, it will be home to seminars, concerts, large-scale events, and the National Sports Museum, and will be one of the world's very first Eco-Stadiums.  And city officials are considering reopening the Ponchettes roof terraces between Vieux Nice and the Mediterranean.  'Ponchettes' refers to the row of buildings between the Cours Saleya and the sea (the Lou Souleou B&B is located here), and the Terrasses des Ponchettes used to be a famous strolling area in the 19th century.  Two of the buildings in the Ponchettes are 19th century vaulted halls, which have been used as art galleries for contemporary art.  City officials now want the roof terrace to once again be used by the public, and this would allow unrestricted balcony views of the Baie des Anges.  A splendid idea, I say!

Up next: St.-Paul-de-Vence, St. Tropez, and Marseilles!



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Finalement, I'm back!  Sorry for the absence but I've been really working hard on two special issues of Dream of Italy that are devoted to cooking classes in Italy (that's a photo, above, from the August issue).  If you are an Italophile and don't already know about DOI, you should!

More about this below, but I first want to note that I was remiss, in my last post about Paris, in not mentioning XL Airways, the airline I chose for my trip.  XL is nearly 20 years old but is not that well known in North America -- in reading about the airline I learned it's been sold and acquired five times, most recently in 2012, when it was sold to X-Air Aviation, a subsidiary of Swiss-US investment group BeachSide Capital LLC.  Whatever its history, I had good experiences on both flights from New York to Paris and back.  I appreciated that I received an e-mail message and a telephone call two days before my departure, informing me that the flight time had changed.  (I also really appreciated being bumped up to the airline's Galaxy Class on the flight from New York to Paris, but even if this had not happened I would still be a fan of the airline.)  HQ for XL is Charles de Gaulle Airport, and it currently offers seasonal flights on Airbus 300 planes to Paris from the U.S. cities of New York, Miami, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.  Flights are also available from four other French airports -- Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes, and Toulouse -- to other destinations, and there are flights from Paris also to Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cancun, and the Dominican Republic.  When I was comparing prices in the spring, XL fares kept turning up as the most affordable -- the airline's slogan is 'l'avion plus malin' (the smarter aircraft, or sharp fares, smart you) -- and I just noticed the airline is offering some fares from $944 for some December dates and from $832.50 for dates in May 2015.  I highly recommend giving XL a try, and the in-flight meals were a cut above most others, believe it or not!

Now, back to Dream of Italy:  I'm enthusiastically endorsing the newsletter not because I've been writing for quite a number of issues over the years (though I am proud of my contributions, especially interviews with Faith Willinger and Frances Mayes and special reports on the Amalfi Coast and Florence) but because each issue is packed with useful information and subscribers have access to the entire DOI community.  The newsletter is by subscription only -- it's not found on newsstands --and it's published 10 times a year.   Currently a digital subscription is being offered for $62 and a print subscription is $72.  Travel expert Peter Greenberg says, "As I've traveled the world I've come to know -- and depend -- on local knowledge. It makes the difference between being a tourist blindly following a brochure and a streetwise traveler who benefits from great experiences. Dream of Italy and editor Kathy McCabe are great resources -- this is a must-carry item for me whenever I want cutting edge information about one of my favorite countries - Italy!"

Kathy McCabe was in Italy recently, and she posted the following note and photo on the Dream of Italy blog on the 4th of October:

Pizza School in Naples Italy

Even *I* learn something from the pages of Dream of Italy! Though many of the story ideas and articles are conceived and written by me, I also hire the best travel experts to help uncover more Italian gems.  

I first read about master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his Naples pizza school when guest editor Barrie Kerper handed in the first draft of the her list of best cooking schools in Italy. I had a trip to Napoli coming up and bingo, last week I had a once-in-a-lifetime lesson with Enzo (with the red scarf below) and his team!

As Kathy also noted, subscribers will receive immediate access to these special issues -- with the classes and schools listed alphabetically by region -- as well as 115 terrific back issues.  And, we're working on expanding these issues into an electronic book with even more culinary details...stay tuned!

And coming soon: my post-Paris, Côte d'Azur report, and the Canadian Rockies, and Milano and Lago di Como (these last two destinations I am also covering for Dream of Italy). 


Thursday, August 21, 2014

A final round-up of my Paris trip -- these notes are in no particular order; I am literally going through a pile of business cards, notes, brochures, and other paper ephemera stacked on my desk and writing as I pick each one up.  Sorry for the delay, but I've been working on a terrific (but time consuming) project on cooking classes in Italy for the wonderful Dream of Italy newsletter -- look for part one in the next issue! 

*Atelier Brancusi: located on the plaza in front of the Pompidou Center, to me this is even better than the entire Pompidou museum.  Sculptor Constantin Brancusi was born in Romania but came to Paris in 1904, and he occupied a studio in the Impasse Ronsin near Montparnasse in the 15th arrondissement, first at number 8 (from 1916) and then at number 11 (from 1928).  Before his death, in 1957, he bequeathed his studio and its entire contents to the French State on the condition that it reconstruct his studio exactly as it was on the day of his death. Architect Renzo Piano's reconstruction is not intended to replicate the studio in every tiny detail, but rather, to quote from the brochure, "to communicate the  unity that Brancusi created between his sculptures inside that studio space."  I hadn't been here in a long time, and remarkably, admission is still free, but I would gladly paid an entrance fee.   And I was one of only about fifteen visitors.  I didn't take any photos and it appears that those I saw online are copyrighted, so I can't share any here; but if you haven't been, add this to your list!

*Vina Villa: I stopped into this tiny wine store at 85 rue Monge every other day, first because I saw a poster inside for Corsican wine (Corsica is one of my most favorite places on earth so I am always on the lookout for anything Corsican-related) and second because the owner is friendly and chatty.  He has a small selection of chilled whites (handy when your hotel room doesn't have a mini fridge) and he has a few corkscrews (handy when you forget yours; unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to use the one I bought until my trip was almost over).

Cards with sections of Paris from the Plan de Turgot from 1730 (like the one above, featuring the

Île de la Cité) can be found at Melodies Graphiques [10 rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 4th].  This is a lovely shop with a selection of papers, stationery, bound blank books, bookmarks, journals, cards, etc.  Very much worth a detour.    

*La Maison Ivre: readers of my Paris book may recall this shop in the 6th at 38 rue Jacob, lovingly presided over by Sylvine Nobécourt.  Fans of Rimbaud will recognize the pun on his poem "Le Bateau Ivre" (The Drunken Boat), which will also indicate that Sylvine has a wonderful sense of humor.  On this visit I stocked up on torchons (tea towels) imprinted with the store's name, and I bought a few birthday gifts for a friend: lavender wands made by a woman in Provence who is one of the few people making them at all anymore, and a sturdy Maison Ivre tote bag.  Somehow, I managed to walk out without buying any of the poterie artisanale -- there are a few pieces made in Corsica! -- but at least I left with the best gift of all: having a conversation with Sylvine.

This was mostly a budget trip, and the two hotels I stayed at were great budget choices that I highly recommend: Hôtel Maxim Latin Quarter [28 rue Censier, 5th] and the Grand Hôtel du Loiret [8 rue des Mauvais Garçons, 4th]. The staff at each was extremely helpful, friendly, and efficient, and both locations were very convenient.

Les Arènes du Lutèce [47-59 rue Monge] remains one of my most favorite places.  Positively nothing has been altered here since I last visited (not that I'm expecting anything to change), and it is a true pleasure to buy provisions for lunch in the rue Mouffetard, bring them back here, sit on one of stone steps, and watch Parisian schoolchildren on their lunch recess (and adults playing boules, reading books, and just enjoying the sunshine). 

Latitude Sud [48 boulevard Saint-Michel, 5th] is a good shop to buy items like T-shirts, tote bags, and cosmetic cases with La Vie est Belle imprinted across the front and keychains with an airplane, a globe, and a suitcase.

Willi's Wine Bar, now in its 34th year, [13 rue des Petits-Champs, 1st] feels like an old friend.  I still love sitting at the bar and chatting with the bartenders, and I always have a very good meal here (and the wine-by-the-glass selections are great).

La Tuile à Loup [35 rue Daubenton, 5th] has renovated its shop so there is more room for its innovative, high quality ceramics.

In addition to my Plan de Paris, my best companions were:

 (since I now see these are a little hard to read, the one to the left is Paris for Pleasure Seekers and the one below is It's Nice to Be Alone in Paris -- how perfect for me on this trip!  Both are fold-out booklets published by Herb Lester in London, a neat company that every traveler should know about.)

Bercy Village [at the Cour Saint-Emilion Métro station, 12th] is today a restored area with shops and restaurants, but my friend Lorraine and I went there (for the first time) because we were interested in the history of the area: the Cour Saint-Emilion Métro station is named after the Bordeaux wine because it was built at the old Bercy railroad station where wine from the south of France arrived in Paris.  Up until 1960, the original wine warehouses -- dating from the 19th century -- formed the largest center of wine and spirits trade in the world.  The reason is because the area at the time was not technically within the city limits, and therefore not required to pay taxes.  Bercy is a really pleasant place to walk around, and the white stone warehouses are beautiful -- and they are listed as an historic monument.

The chocolates by Patrick Roger [6 locations in Paris] are off-the-charts, but I hadn't visited a boutique until this trip.  Last year a good friend brought me back the most extraordinary box of chocolate eggs -- and when I use the word 'extraordinary' it's no exaggeration -- and I made a note to make certain I stopped by the next time I was in Paris.  Wow.  I bought an assortment of delights for the train ride to Nice as well as some cocoa powder to bring home.  It's probably a good thing there isn't an outpost in New York...yet.  !

I'm off to Banff National Park in Canada - more in September!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Another quick post of my recent Paris visit:

*as readers of my Paris book already know, I am a big fan of the fresh mustard at the Maille boutique on place de la Madeleine [at number 6].  Though Maille is now owned by mega-conglomerate Unilever, the company was founded in 1747, and Antoine Maille was named official vinaigrier-distillateur for the royal court of France in 1769.  Maille mustards and condiments are of course reliably be found throughout North America, and at the Madeleine shop there are even more mustards and a few other culinary items, some packaged quite beautifully for gifts.  The reason to come here is for the fresh mustard pumps at the central counter.  Three different varieties are offered, all of which are more potent than the Maille mustards sold in the States.  The staff fills earthenware jars (like the one pictured above; you can choose small, medium, or large jars) with the mustard of your choice (I am most fond of the moutarde de Dijon au vin blanc).  The jars are sealed with lid made of coated paper and cork and the staff are quite adept at packing the jars for airplane flights.  If your mustard is a gift, they give you a sturdy, attractive black bag with gold foil (again, pictured above) with black cord handles, folded flat.  When I first began buying the fresh mustard, it was permissible to put the jars in carry-on bags, but nowadays they must be put in checked luggage.  Not a problem -- and on this visit I bought four jars and they fit perfectly fine in my small wheelie bag.  Note that the staff does recommend you try to keep the mustard refrigerated, so it's a good idea to plan a visit to the boutique on your last day in Paris.  As I was traveling on to the Côte d’Azur, I simply asked the hosts at my b&b and hotels to keep the mustard in the fridge for me and they were happy to do so.

I saw the Place de L’Apéro plaque displayed on a shelf in a cafe one morning, and I loved it (l’apéro  refers to the slang word for apéritif, and the phrase for cocktail hour is often referred to as l'heure de
l’apéro; it's also sometimes called cinq à sept, indicating the traditional five to seven time for pre-dinner drinks, and it's also a phrase that refers to a traditional time of day when men met their mistresses).  I thought I might find the plaque at the BHV department store -- there is a selection of the classic blue-and-white Paris street signs as well as those oval-shaped, black-and-white signs on the store's street level floor (52 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement).  I didn't find one there (though the store takes custom orders) but I did find one on a spinner rack of postcards and plaques in Nice.  It's now in my kitchen and it brings a smile to my face everyday.

Years ago, when Patricia Wells introduced her first edition of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, I learned about a wonderful shop called Le Furet-Tanrade (readers of my Paris book may recall the entry for this in the Paris Miscellany).  Initially, I went to the store (then on rue de Chabrol in the 10th) in search of confiture de poire passée, a smooth, somewhat runny pear concoction that Wells recommended for mixing with plain yogurt.  Ooh-la-la was it ever delicious! Later, I discovered pêche de vigne jam, and as I noted in my book, if you think you've had better peach jam anywhere in the world than this one, you are dead wrong.  Later still, I discovered the shop's orange-flower water made from the blossoms at the orangerie at Versailles, and the chocolates, which are of quite good quality.  Tanrade has, according to Naomi Barry in Paris Personal, "enjoyed the reputation of being the first house in Paris for fine jams, jellies, and fruit syrups" for nearly 250 years (her book was published in 1963).  So I was crestfallen when I learned a few years ago that Tanrade had closed.  Before my recent visit, I learned that it had reopened, still in the 10th but on rue des Messageries at #1.  The new space is not nearly as nice and welcoming as the old one -- not that the old space was ever a gem, but still, this new one seems rather depressing -- but coming here is still vaut le détour (worth a detour).  I tried to get the explanation for the move from Alain Furet -- something about a fire, and something about the arrondissement and the city not helping out the way they should -- but I couldn't quite follow it.  I gave up and steered our conversation to the goods at hand, and I walked out with confiture mi-figue mi-raisins (half fig, half grape), abricot, and speciale NKM: noisette, kiwi, and mangue, now all firm favorites.  (Note that all the confitures here are seasonal, so I was too early for both the poire passée and pêche de vigne.) 

Anyone reading this who may be going to Paris before the 31st of August is in luck: the absolutely fabulous Il Était Une Fois l’Orient Express exhibit at the l'Institut du Monde Arabe closes on that day - do not miss it!  I'd read about the exhibit before I arrived, but somehow I didn't really grasp that the actual train cars from the original Orient Express were there (set up opposite the south facade of the museum) and that visitors walked through them.   !!  This is one of the very best shows I've ever seen and it was one of the highlights of my entire trip.  Tickets are timed as only about a dozen people are permitted in each car at a time.  I tried to buy a ticket one afternoon but the times I wanted were all sold out, so I returned the next morning about a half hour before opening time and was able to buy a ticket with no trouble.  Truly, my head practically popped off when I was walking through these cars, and fans of train travel, wanderlust, quality craftsmanship, the Near East, European history, and Agatha Christie, James Bond, Mata Hari, Graham Greene, and Josephine Baker will positively love this. 

And, in enthusing so much about this exhibit, I don't want to take anything away from the wonderful l'Institut du Monde Arabe itself, which (again) readers of my Paris book already know is one of my most favorite museums in the city.  The Institut is not only a museum but also a cultural center, library, concert hall, bookstore, restaurant, and cafe (on the 9th floor, with a great view of Notre-Dame and beyond).  I won't repeat here what I noted in my book, but I will quote from a little book (Spirit of Place) about the building found in the museum's bookstore:  "Those who designed it were able to express an Arabic style without resorting to overly simplistic Oriental stereotypes.  Here, the Orient is neither copied nor parodied, neither reinvented nor even re-examined.  Instead, it is simply and brilliantly interpreted."

Lastly, since it seems apropos, an excellent article, "A Walk Through Historic Arab Paris," may be found in the July-August 2012 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine.   

D'accord: one more Paris post and then on to the Côte d’Azur.....