Sunday, November 20, 2016

Books = Hope

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,
and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. 
Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things
cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
-- Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

I have often referred to Twain's excellent quote in my books, as have many other writers, and I was reminded of its significance when I read this article, 'Travel is Love, Travel is Hope' in a Condé Nast Traveler update, which is among the best pieces I've read since the election.  
Another good passage I read appeared in a trade publication called Bookselling This Week, in which American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher wrote, "As this bitterly contested election comes to a close -- regardless of which candidate you supported -- it's clear that we live in a terribly divided country.  The role bookstores play in healing division has never been more important.  As citizens, attempting to comprehend what has occurred, all of us in the bookselling community have a special obligation -- and opportunity -- to foster communication and to help reconcile our communities.  President-elect Trump, Secretary Clinton, and President Obama have all indicated that the time to unite our country is now, and there is no better place than within the walls of a bookstore for that process to begin." 

And reading this made me think of something I wrote in the Introduction to En Route: A Journal and Touring Companion for Inspired Travelers, in which I mentioned a book that really did change my life to a degree: a little-known James Michener novel, The Fires of Spring.  Early on in the book, one of the characters, Daniel, says to the young boy, "Reading and travel are the two best things besides people.  Travel is best, but some books are very great.  You should read all the books you can get before you're twenty.  If you don't need glasses by the time you're thirty, you can consider your life wasted.  Maybe books are best, because you don't have to have money to read.  And there's this difference, too.  A man can travel all over the world and come back the same kind of fool he was when he started.  You can't do that with books."      

Books = hope 

Sunday, September 11, 2016


In the Old Town, Aix-en-Provence

As I relate in my Provence, Cote d'Azur, and Monaco book, the first time I went to Aix (which is pronounced like x in extra), I was a college student living in Paris.  I had bought a cheap bus ticket to Nice about a month before spring break, which was in April.  I couldn't wait to leave Paris, where it had been raining for what seemed like forty days and forty nights (never mind 'April in Paris' and all that; the weather can be nice in April but most of the time it isn't), and I arrived a little early at the appointed address on the night of departure.  The "bus" turned out to be a guy's car -- apparently not enough people bought tickets to warrant a bus -- and I ended up sitting in the front with the driver, who didn't speak any English and chain-smoked.  The rain continued through the night and by the time we reached Lyon I had a massive headache.  But not long after that, it was daylight, and the sun was shining, and the driver announced we would be stopping in the town of Aix for breakfast.  He took us to Les Deux Garҫons on the Cours Mirabeau.  Anyone who's walked along the Cours Mirabeau will understand when I say I thought I'd died and landed in le septième ciel (seventh heaven).  It is one of the world's most beautiful thoroughfares, described lovingly by M. F. K. Fisher in Two Towns in Provence: "It is probable that almost every traveler who has ever passed through Aix has been moved in some positive way by the view from one end of the Cours or the other, by the sounds of its fountains in the early hours, by the melodious play of the pure clear sunlight of Provence through its summer cave of leaves.  Some of them have tried to tell of their bemused rapture, on canvas and sketch pads and on scratch-pads and even postcards, but they have never been satisfied.  It is a man-made miracle, perhaps indescribable, compounded of stone and water and trees, and to the fortunate it is one of the world's chosen spots for their own sentient growth."  (Restored, warm, and happy, we drove on to Nice, and when I returned to Paris three weeks later it was still raining.)
 The "summer cave of leaves" that Fisher mentions refers to the two rows of plane trees that line the Cours.  In the summer months, the tree branches meet in the middle of the street and form a sort of canopy.  But even in the winter, the street is impressive.  In my book I feature an article by Gully Wells entitled 'The Boulevard: Live the Dream' (Condé Nast Traveler, February 1998), in which she relates that in Aix, the town planners of long ago took Leonardo da Vinci's remark, "Let the streets be as wide as the height of the houses" to heart, and they remembered that "perfect proportion, like great bone structure in a face, is the secret of lasting beauty."  The Cours is 440 meters long and 42 wide, and none of the houses are more than four stories high. Again to quote Wells, "not only did the architects do their math right, but they also knew that nature had to be included in the construct -- and they understood that there is something organically satisfying about the combination of stone, water, and trees." 

The Cours was established by Archbishop Michel Mazarin, who Louis XIV charged with enlarging Aix, and it was requested by wealthy homeowners who wanted a grand thoroughfare that could accommodate carriages and pedestrians. It links the chic Mazarin district with the old market town, and it's named after Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791), who was a politician with a bit of a scandalous personal life. In reading about him, it's unclear to me if he had any ties with Aix, though at the time of his death he was very popular and had a magnificent funeral -- it was for him that the new church of Sainte-Geneviève in Paris was converted to the Panthéon for the burial of great men (but in 1792, papers were found proving his hostility to the Assembly, and in 1794 his remains were removed from the Pantheon).  But Good King René, whose statue is in the middle of the fountain at the top of the Cours, definitely had associations: he and his second wife, Jeanne de Laval, lived in the area for some years; he died in Aix; and he introduced Muscat grapes to Provence (the statue depicts him holding a bunch of these, along with a scepter; he's also donning the crown of the Counts of Provence, and the books at his feet are meant to indicate his strong patronage of the arts and of learning). 

Even off the Cours Mirabeau, Aix (derived from Aquae Sextiae, the Roman name for waters of Sextius, referring to the natural baths the Romans found there) is easy to love, even if you're a churl like my husband sometimes is (when I visited with him in the late '90s he initially cursed the town for not having sufficient parking, but once our car was safely ensconced and he'd had a properly flaky croissant and a café crème, he was able to see past the parking flaw; note that Aix addressed this parking issue a few years later, along with some other urban plans that better accommodate visitors).  Aix is known as the city of a thousand fountains, and while that number is probably off by about 900, there is seemingly a fountain every time you turn around, and some are used for very practical purposes like chilling rosé:    

Among my favorite sights  and belles choses in Aix are the Saint Sauveur Cathedral (don't miss the painting of St. Mistral holding his severed head); the outdoor markets (the website for the produce market held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is in French only, but no matter, all you need to know is that the market is picturesque and great for putting together a picnic; and there are also markets specializing in clothing, crafts and used books on particular days of the week); the Musee du Palais de l’Archevêché / Musée des Tapisseries; Musée Granetthe Pavillon de Vendome; the vertical garden at the bus station, which is claimed to be the largest public green wall in France; the shop Expressions [1 rue Cardinale] for a wonderful selection of fine artisanal ceramics (I bought my sister-in-law a beautiful ivory-colored bowl with a light brown ribbon woven through holes around the rim), essential oils, notecards and postcards, etc., all great for gifts and souvenirs; the previously mentioned Les Deux Garҫons  (and note that somewhat confusingly there is another café called Les 2G, also on the Cours, but it is positively not the same); the hotels Hotel Le Mozart; Hotel des Quatre Dauphins; and, for a splurge, the Villa Gallici; and the local culinary sweet, calissons d'Aix -  according to a piece in my book ('Provence's Almond Calissons') that originally appeared in The New York Times by Kathleen Beckett, calissons have "been compared, with typical French eloquence, to the paintings of Cezanne and the music of Mozart."  Though the confection may be found in some specialty stores in North America, calissons are never as good as when they're bought fresh in Aix, and one of the best places to find them is Patisserie Béchard, at #12 Cours Mirabeau.  In her article, Beckett explains that a calisson has three ingredients (almonds, sugar, and fruit confits, usually of Cavaillon melon) and also three layers: icing, paste, and rice paper.  Aix was founded in the year 123 by Caius Sextius Calvimus (three names) and originally called Aquae Sextiae Saluvium (also three names).  This was later changed to Aix-en-Provence (yep, three words again) which is typically referred to as simply Aix (three letters).  Calissons are served three times a year, on September 1st, Christmas Day, and Easter Sunday -- at Notre Dame de la Seds to commemorate the end of the great plague of 1630.  During this service, the priest offers calissons from his chalice, repeating three times, "venite ad calicem" (come to the chalice) and the congregation replies, three times, with the Provenҫal phrase, "venes toui i calissoun" (we are coming).  With such rich lore behind it, it's no wonder that calissons have a marc deposée
-- similar to an appellation controllée -- assuring that the sweetmeat can only be made in Aix.

No dossier of Aix is complete without the mention of painter Paul Cézanne, who was born there in 1839 and who reportedly wrote of Aix that 'When you are born there, it's hopeless, nothing else is good enough."  In the mid-1990s, some folks at the Aix Tourist Office created the 'Circuit Cézanne' or 'In the Steps of Cézanne,' a walking tour brochure indicating various sites that were a part of his life.  As there are very few works by Cézanne in Aix -- a curator at the Musée Granet, Auguste-Henri Pontier, supposedly swore that no Cézanne painting would hang on the walls of the museum in his lifetime, and even after Cézanne's death in 1906, decades passed before the first Cézanne painting entered the museum's collection; there are now a total of ten -- this may seem like nothing more than a marketing ploy; but I think there is nothing wrong with capitalizing on a local son in this way, and I am a big fan of good walking tours.  The circuit follows brass markers with the letter C that are embedded in the pavement, and while it's true that some of the markers are to references that are a bit of a stretch -- and on a few occasions there is no marker at a designated stop -- the route is still worthwhile.  And, like all good walks, the best part about it is that one is able to explore different neighborhoods around town, undoubtedly discovering places and details that might otherwise be missed, all while having some structure to keep one on track. It's also a big plus that Aix's city center is a gem of beautifully preserved 17th and 18th century architecture.  My friends Amy and Denise and I set out to follow the entire route, and we did, including the Cimetière Saint-Pierre, where Cézanne is buried (his tomb is near the Carré Israëlite, the Jewish section).  I regret that we did not take the time to find the spot where the ashes of art historian and Cézanne scholar John Rewald (1912-1994) are located as several of his books are among my favorites: The History of Impressionism (first published in 1946; published by MoMA in 1973); Post-Impressionism From Van Gogh to Gauguin (MoMA, 1978); and Cezanne: A Biography (Abrams, 1990).  In a review of Rewald's The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue  Raisonnée (published in two volumes by Abrams in 1996), art critic Michael Kimmelman noted that this work "is as much a monument to Rewald as it is to the artist he revered."  Of Rewald's two Impressionism books, Kimmelman said they "remain basic books on the subjects more or less half a century after they were published.  This is because he did the indispensable job: he got to know the people who knew the artists or were their closest relatives and wrote down everything he learned."  Kimmelman added that Rewald photographed sites around Aix that Cézanne painted "before time had changed them too much.  Thus Rewald himself became a crucial link to a vanished epoch."  So returning to the Cimetière Saint-Pierre 
will be at the top of my list on my next visit.

Rewald and the writer James Lord (whose works Giacometti: A Biography, Six Exceptional Women, and Some Remarkable Men are books I love) established the Cézanne Memorial Committee, and money raised in the U.S. enabled the Committee to purchase Cézanne's studio. The Atelier de Cézanne (also known as the Atelier des Lauves), located just outside the center of Aix,  presumably looks very similar as it did when Cézanne worked there.  It is very much worth visiting: tickets (6 euros) may be purchased at the Aix tourist office (300 avenue Giuseppe Verdi) and it's easy to take bus #5 to the studio (let the driver know you're getting off at the Cézanne stop).  The guided tour is about 30 minutes and does require a reservation as the studio only accommodates 18 people.  The Jas de Bouffan, Cézanne's family home and a national historical monument, is also worth visiting (again, visits are guided and require reservations; 6 euros, 25 people maximum).

Before my visit I discovered a writer with whom I was completely unfamiliar: M. L. Longworth, who is originally Canadian but who now lives in Aix via Santa Cruz, California.   When she, her husband, and daughter first moved to Provence almost twenty years ago they rented a guardian's house on the Route de Cézanne, just outside of Aix, but for some years now they've been happily ensconced in the center of Aix.  By browsing Longworth's website you can find her blog -- "on food, writing and life in the south of France" -- where she explains that she started out writing non-fiction but then she realized "that if I wrote fiction then my characters could live in, and experience Provence as I do...above all, I really want the reader to experience Aix-en-Provence the way I do, as if they were beside me."  Longworth's mysteries, which feature a judge, Antoine Verlaque, and his girlfriend, Marine Bonnet, are perfect companion reading for a southern France sojourn, and include The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne, Murder on the Île Sordou, Murder in the Rue DumasDeath in the Vines, and Death at the Château Bremont (all published by Penguin).  I encourage readers to subscribe to her blog as she often writes about Aix (and elsewhere) and her posts are well written and interesting.  I learned all about the newly renovated Hôtel Caumont, a former mansion which had previously been Aix's conservatoire de la musique, from one such post. Now, after over four years of work, the building has reopened as a large exhibition space under the direction of a French organization called Culturespaces.  The interior looks beautiful from the photos Longworth included, and there is an outdoor café on a terrace, a pretty garden,  two indoor dining rooms, and a 30-minute film about Cézanne that runs on a permanent loop in the auditorium.   

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Pictured at right: a quiet side street in Saint-Tropez.

A quiet street, anytime of year except during the winter months, is hard to find in this beautiful but very popular and select Côte d'Azur village.  I had only been to St.-Trop, as it is sometimes referred to, once before, and only for a few days, and I've wanted to return ever since.  There is no doubt that the village is too crowded in high season, and that the people gawking at the world's 1% on the yachts docked along the quai Suffren is a strange pastime (yet it's almost impossible not to take a few glances yourself).  But to dwell on the wealth here is to state the obvious and miss the point at the same time.

The quotation that opens In the Spirit of St. Tropez (Henry-Jean Servat, Assouline, 2003) is stated to be from a travel guide published in the 19th century: "The long-lost little port of St. Tropez, perched at the end of its bay, and separated from our lines of communication by a range of mountains, is doomed to inevitable ruination.  It is more or less certain that the village will be forgotten about." I was intrigued by this, so I looked in my files to see if I had any references, and I found an article by my friend Lorraine Alexander, who wrote for Gourmet for many years.  In 'Gourmet Holidays: The Saint-Tropez Peninsula,' she begins her piece with a similar-sounding quotation by a maritime historian named Charles Lenthéric from 1880.  More browsing on the Internet revealed a lengthier quote:  "Saint-Tropez is at present the sole survivor of the three ports which existed in Greek and Roman times.  Its decay is very real, and becomes more marked every day...Commerce and civilization, and all the developments of modern life, tend, however, more and more to concentrate themselves within a district served by railways, and hence the port of Saint-Tropez, out of the way at the further end of its gulf, and cut off by a chain of mountains from the great lines of communications, seems destined to irretrievable ruin."  Lenthéric would surely be surprised at what happened to this little village after Roger Vadim filmed 'And God Created Woman' there in the mid-1950s.  The movie's star, Brigitte Bardot, wrote in her Foreword to the Assouline book that St. Tropez before the film was peaceful and quiet.  Silkworms were raised there, vineyards thrived, sheep grazed, farmers raised poultry, and fishermen fished.  Bardot says the film "thrust us onto the international stage, taking us all aback, for neither St. Tropez nor I were ready for it."  (Somehow, I never saw the film until I came back from this trip -- it's easy to see how Bardot became a star but less obvious to me how the movie inspired the jet-set to descend as the film is in black-and-white, so there are no breathtaking coastal scenes in color like in 'To Catch a Thief,' for example; but I suppose even in black-and-white the appealing qualities of the village were not lost on viewers.)  St.-Tropez may no longer be a fishing village, but it still retains a few features -- not least a building code that prevents the construction of high-rise buildings -- that emphasize its former, more modest past.

Years before the film, specifically in 1887, writer Guy de Maupassant came to Saint-Tropez via his boat, the Bel-Ami (in those days, nearly everyone arrived by boat).  It was his writings about the village -- filled with the very same attributes validated by Bardot -- that inspired painter Paul Signac to visit.  Signac was arguably the first person who put Saint Tropez on the map, at least among his artist friends -- he arrived in 1892 and bought a house, named La Hune (a nautical word referring to the top mast), and invited Matisse, Derain, and Marquet to visit. He reportedly wrote in a letter that he found "all I need to work my whole life's happiness that I have just discovered."  A bit later, in 1925, the writer Colette visited with her third husband, Maurice Goudeket.  Colette was smitten and she bought a villa, La Treille Muscate (The Muscat Vine), on the route des Salins, where she lived until 1938.  Goudeket wrote that Colette's renown made Saint-Tropez uninhabitable for her: "A visit to Colette formed part of every holiday programme.  Even the morning bathe had henceforth its spectators, many of whom came by sea."  St. Tropez was one of the landing beaches in Operation Dragoon in  1944 (there are monuments in the Citadelle and around the area) and the harbor area was reduced to rubble.  Later, in the years after Bardot and company, Franҫoise Sagan wrote Bonjour Tristesse and her coterie from the literary St.-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris descended on Saint-Tropez.      

Signac and Colette especially might be stunned by how much the village they knew has changed; they might have agreed with Bardot, who announced years ago that "Saint-Tropez is finished."  But the truth is, Saint-Tropez isn't over and never was.  It still attracts a bevy of socialites and movie stars and tycoons, as well as ordinary visitors (like me) who appreciate the pretty stone buildings and cobblestone streets in the heart of the village that look the same as they did thirty years ago.  The footprint of the village hasn't changed: novelist and travel writer Herb Gold noted in an article for Travel + Leisure (which is included in my Provence, Côte d'Azur, and Monaco book) that "a visitor can learn it in a single day's strolling." 

How to get to Saint-Tropez is a topic that demands your full attention: there is no train station in Saint-Tropez; the closest station is in Saint Raphaël, 38 kilometers away.  From the station, you can take a Varlib bus.  If you drive, it's best to time it so that you'll be on the Route National 98 - the single lane road that is the only road in and out of Saint-Tropez -- early in the morning or late at night or you will be stuck in a traffic jam of epic proportion.  Other options are a private plane or a helicopter, but the very best way to arrive in Saint-Tropez is by boat.  I don't say this to sound privileged, or even to emphasize the historical founding of the village: the patron saint of Saint-Tropez is Torpès, who was a Roman official under Nero who converted to Christianity and would not publicly renounce his faith.  For this, he was beheaded, in Pisa, and his body was laid in a boat (with a cock and a dog) and shoved off from the coast of Italy and miraculously landed on the shore of what became known as Saint-Tropez.  An annual fête honoring this legend is held every year from May 16th to 18th and is known as the Bravade (bravado or defiance in Provenҫal).  My suggestion is based rather on the fact that a boat is the most hassle-free option, and that, like approaching Venice, it's the most beautiful way to arrive.  Some sailings are provided by Les Bateaux de Saint-Raphaël, Bateaux Verts Sainte-Maxime; Trans Cote d'Azur Nice; and Trans Cote d'Azur Cannes.  A taxi boat service is also provided by Taxi Boat Saint Tropez. And to rent a yacht for a day (or to buy one), Mercurio is a reputable name -- founded in 1963 by Antoine Mercurio, the company specializes in day charters and sales as well as brokerage and maintenance.  Its fleet of six charter boats accommodate from 10 to 20 people on board; sleep from 2 to 4 people; and range from $2,000 to $4,300. 
Another aspect of Saint-Tropez that visitors need to consider in advance is where to stay, and like how to get there, it's all about the geography.  Based on some queries I've received recently, I realized that at least some people think that the village of Saint-Tropez is located directly on the beach.  Look at a map and you'll see that Saint-Tropez is located almost at the end of the Golfe de Saint-Tropez (the town of Sainte-Maxime, which is on the beach, is at the other end of the Golfe), and it's also at the top of a peninsula, which juts out into the Mediterranean.  The famous beaches of the Plage de Pampelonne are all located on the eastern side of this peninsula, which is mostly rural and covered with vineyards that stretch almost to the sea.  These are also officially part of the commune of Ramatuelle -- the only beaches that are part of Saint-Tropez are the Plage de Graniers, the Plage des Canabiers, and the Plage des Salins, around the cape just before the Plage de Pampelonne).  Once you leave your lodging in the village of Saint-Tropez and head to one of the Pampelonne beaches, you should expect to be gone for most of the day - it's not like you can walk back in ten minutes if you've forgotten something.  This is why it's wise to really give accommodations quite a bit of thought.  I think a perfect visit would include staying both in the village and near one of the beaches, for the full experience. 

To clarify about the beaches: the Plage de Pampelonne is a gorgeous, four kilometer stretch of sand  that stretches from the Cap du Pinet to the Pointe de la Bonne Terrasse, and there are more than a dozen individually named beach clubs here, including Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Pirata, Kon Tiki, Le Club 55, Key West, Nikki, Aqua, and La Plage des Jumeaux and Gigaro (these last two are actually family-friendly beaches).  I have only spent time at Club 55 and I loved it -- and I love the story I've read about its origins, which I assume is true: the father of the current owner, Patrice de Colmont, bought a plot of land and built a modest, wooden house without running water or electricity near the beach in 1953, when there was really nothing there.  On the few occasions when people wandered by, Bernard and Genevieve invited them to share a meal or a drink.  In 1955, when Vadim was filming a scene for 'And God Created Woman' on the beach nearby, he thought the Colmont family house was actually a restaurant because he saw a handful of people eating lunch there outside one day.  So Vadim asked if the husband and wife team would be willing to cook meals for the cast and crew for a few days. They agreed (though they had to take dishes to the baker's oven in the village to cook and they had to carry back gallons of drinking water from the fountain on the place des Lices), and a full fledged business -- appropriately named 55 -- was born.  Patrice and his sister Véronique now run the Club, which has an appealing vibe that is hard to achieve: casual, chic, laid back, and elegant at the same time, and in my experience, the staff treats everyone the same whether you are a somebody or not.  I also love the thatched straw paillotes (like a flat-topped palapa except made of straw and not palm fronds, providing welcome shade) though you must reserve for one of these.  But you can visit all the beaches here by taking the Sentier des Douaniers, a fantastic hike along the entire coast that begins at the mariner's cemetery below the Citadelle and ends at Gigaro -- see more below. 

Here are a few accommodations that I recommend:

*B. Lodge Hotel (23/25 rue de l'Aïoli / place Forbin).  Finding affordable lodgings in St.-Tropez is quite difficult, but B. Lodge is a relatively good value considering the stylish guestrooms, buffet breakfast included in the price, and great location: close enough to just about anything you'd want to do and quiet even late at night -- it's mere steps away from the Citadelle and its surrounding park.  I stayed in a larger-than-expected double room with dark wood floors and crisp white bed linens and a balcony facing the Citadelle and I loved it.  The breakfast offerings are more substantial than the usual Continental fare and may be taken indoors or outside on the front terrace.  The Barock Café (technically located at 21 rue de la Citadelle) is connected to the hotel so it's nice to know you don't have far to go after a nightcap.  The staff is quite friendly and helpful, and the hotel owners are also the proprietors of Key West Beach at the plage de Pampelonne and shuttle service to the beach may be easily arranged with the front desk staff. 

*B&B (12 rue Saint Jean).  This chambre d’hôtes de charme is one of the least expensive lodgings in town.  Current rates are 100-140 euros in the low season; 120-160 euros in mid-season; and 140-180 euros in high season.  I think it's an exceptional value, but as there are only two rooms -- the Clock Tower room and L'Orientale, which can accommodate three people -- you must reserve many months ahead.  I tried to make a reservation in February for a trip in early June and it was fully booked for the entire month, so don't delay!  The rooms are basic but cute (and note that breakfast is not included in the price, unusual for a B&B) and the location is right in the coeur de Saint Tropez.

*La Ferme Ladouceur (Quartier La Rouillère, Ramatuelle).  Ladouceur is mostly known as a farmhouse restaurant, open only for dinner; but there are seven guest rooms and like the B&B above they are a good value (about 122-135 euros, and breakfast is included).  Surrounded by vineyards that the Ladouceur family has cultivated since 1910, the bastide (the word for country house in Provenҫal) itself dates from the late 1800s.  The rooms are simple but with quality furnishings and charm.  A stay here is a quiet sojourn.
*Hotel Byblos (20 avenue Paul-Signac).  What set the Byblos apart when it opened in 1967, and what still does, is that it feels like a separate village. The architecture is what immediately defines this: all the parts of the hotel are contained in what looks like a village of individual, brightly colored houses, and there are outdoor seating areas and a swimming pool but it's all pat of the same complex.  Honestly, when you're standing in the middle of it, you could easily not know there is another, larger village outside of it.  The original vision was, in fact, for it to be an hameau (hamlet), and it has succeeded brilliantly and has never lost its cachet.  Byblos was created by Lebanese businessman Jean-Prosper Gay-Para, who believed the ancient Phoenician town of Byblos (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lebanon) was a suitable contemporary tribute to Brigitte Bardot and other noteworthy personalities.  Shortly after the hotel opened Gay-Para sold it to French businessman Sylvain Floirat, and today his great grandson Antoine Chevanne manages the hotel and is the CEO of Groupe Floirat.  Rivea is the on-site Alain Ducasse restaurant and Les Caves du Roy is the legendary nightclub.  In 2009, Byblos received its 5th star; in 2012 it was honored with the French hotel distinction of Palace; and in May of 2017 the hotel will celebrate its 50th anniversary.       

Other noteworthy accommodations (listed alphabetically) include:  Benkiraï (on the chemin du Pinet), Châteaude la Messardière (on the route de Tahiti), Hôtel des Lices, Hôtel La Mistralée, Hôtel La Ponche, Hôtel Les Capucines, Hôtel Sezz, (on the route des Salins), Hôtel Sube, La Bastide d’Antoine (in Gassin), La Bastide de Saint Tropez (outside of the town center), La Ferme d’Augustin (in Ramatuelle), La Figuière (in Ramatuelle),  La Réserve (in Ramatuelle), La Villa Belrose (in Gassin), Le Yaca, Pan Deï Palais, Pastis Hotel, Résidence la Pinède (on plage de la Bouillabaisse),  and Villa Marie (in Ramatuelle).

And here is a handful of other addresses and sites I recommend:

*Atelier Rondini (16 rue Georges-Clemenceau).  The original Rondini sandal dates from 1927 and is a strappy, gladiator-style version with a leather piece between the big toe and second toe.  It's a family business, and all the sandals -- for men, women, and children -- are handmade in the back of the plain-looking shop.  Happily for me, a range of other styles are now available (I cannot bear anything between my toes), and also happily, the staff keeps your size and purchase information on file and maintains a brisk mail order business -- Rondini sandals, after all, are only available here. Closed Sunday and Monday.

*Le Brigantin II, for one-hour, guided tour excursions on the water.  I didn't take this promenade en mer but a friend did and she loved it, and Seth Sherwood referenced it in his '36 Hours: St.-Tropez' piece in The New York Times in 2011.  The Brigantin holds 76 passengers and commentary is in English and French.  The trip includes the beaches of Pampleonne, the villas of the rich and famous, and "all the gossip of St.-Tropez."  10 euros per person, half price for kids, and sailings are daily in the summer months.  The Brigantin is also available for private charters.

*Cimetière Marin, at the water's edge below the Citadelle.  If you walk on the rue Cavaillon from the  La Ponche quartier the water will be on your left and you'll have a nice walk to the cemetery.  Not that this is as legendary as the Montparnasse or Père-Lachaise cemeteries in Paris, but Roger Vadim, the parents of Brigitte Bardot, and the painters André Dunoyer de Segonzac and Henri Manguin (whose works are in the Annonciade museum) are buried here.     

*K. Jacques (25 rue du General-Allard).  Founded in 1933, K. Jacques also specializes in sandals, including a Rondini-like, gladiator style version.  But K. Jacques styles are more numerous, in flat and wedge versions and in a wider range of colors and materials.  They're also quite a bit more expensive and are sold in boutiques and department stores around the world.

*Kiwi Saint-Tropez (34 rue du Général-Allard).  The Kiwi brand was founded in St.-Tropez in 1985 and offers colorful bathing suits, swim trunks, tote bags, beach tunics, towels, and casual warm weather apparel for men, women, and kids.  Some of the men's swim trunks and tote and cosmetic bags feature scenes of Saint-Tropez, kitschy but in a good way.       

*Le Café (place des Lices).  There's really nothing distinctive about this café; its name is as ordinary as it is. But that's not to say it isn't a very pleasant place to sit for a spell, over something cool or hot to drink, or over a meal that will be prepared with care.  There is usually a game of pétanque (the
Provenҫal word for boules) going on nearby and the terrasse is a great perch for people-watching.

*Le Dit Vin (7 rue de la Citadelle).  I believe the name of this small tapas bar/restaurant translates as Wine Says.  I didn't eat here, but my friend Denise and I stopped in for a drink at the crowded bar at about 1:00 a.m. because it was clear something fun was going on.  Shortly after we were seated, we learned from the charismatic bartender that just about everyone there worked in the local hospitality business.  Not a word of English could be heard, and a little while later everyone broke out into song - a woman next to me said it was 'La java de Broadway' by Michel Sardou.  It was big fun, and we were sorry we'd made a plan to get up early for a hike around the Citadelle, but I will positively be back.
*L'Espadrille Tropezienne (15 rue des Commerҫants).  Nothing but espadrilles are for sale in this shop, in a wide range of colors and styles.  I bought a pair along with some bijoux de chaussures, bejeweled clips that you fasten on to the top of the shoe, so you can wear the espadrilles with or without them.  The staff will help you select the right size; there is a right way to put these espadrilles on -- toes first, then pull up the back around your heels -- and the fit is meant to be quite snug.  They are also to be stored in their burlap sac with the backs turned inward.

*Les Senteurs Tropéziennes (12 rue de la Ponche). This small shop smells lovely because it offers a range of room sprays, soaps, candles, and scents, all with a whiff of Saint Tropez -- the room sprays, for example, have names like A Spring Weekend in Saint Tropez, A Christmas in Saint Tropez, A Meeting at place des Lices, and A Summer Scent at the Citadelle, etc.  Any of these make a great gift or a souvenir.  I'm especially fond of the scented stones, which you can put in a drawer or linen closet or your suitcase.  Also found here is the Bracelet Tropezien -- the one I bought for my daughter features a red cord with a sterling silver cut-out shape of the St. Tropez peninsula.

*Maison des Papillons (9 rue Étienne-Berny).  I have a soft spot in my heart for butterflies (papillons) because when my daughter was first learning to talk, I taught her the word papillon without ever mentioning the word butterfly, and that's the word she used whenever she saw one.  I also think butterflies are beautiful winged creatures, but I'm not sure I would have been interested in going to a museum devoted to them, and in fact butterflies are only part of what's interesting about this Maison.  About 25,000 species of butterflies have been collected here, in the family home of photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue and his wife, Madeleine Messager, a St.-Tropez local.  Their son, Dany, is the butterfly collector, and this classic Tropezian home with a pretty courtyard dating from the 19th century is now owned by the village.  I've read that Dany, who is quite elderly, will stop by the Maison and talk about his collection in great detail with visitors if he is in town.  I don't know if this is true, but it might be worth inquiring about with the tourist office staff.  Visiting the museum is a rare opportunity to see an old home in the village, and if you're not sure you recognize the name Lartigue, you'll surely recognize some of his photographs -- a number taken on the Côte d'Azur -- which are also displayed in the house.  Visiting hours are limited to April to September, Monday through Saturday, from 2:30 to 6:00 p.m.    

*Marinette (30, rue Georges Clemenceau; also at no. 4 and no. 21).  Marinette is a classy and stylish family of stores that specialize in tabletop items, linens, and household décor.  At Marinette Beach I found a great beach towel -- white with a few turquoise stripes and a checkerboard pattern along the fringed edge -- that has a secret zippered pouch for valuables - brilliant!.    

*Musée L'Annonciade (place Grammont).  The L'Annonciade is a superb small museum with a collection of works by Paul Signac, Matisse, Derain, Albert Marquet, Seurat, Braque, Kees Van Dongen, Dufy, Bonnard, Vuillard, Francis Picabia, and Aristide Maillol, among others.  The museum faces the port and the building was once the Chapel of Our Lady of the Annunication.  It began modestly as the Muséon Tropelen in 1922, founded by local painters Henri Person and André Turin.  In August 1939 the museum was closed for the duration of the Second World War and all the works were evacuated and hidden. Finally, in 1955, the museum reopened under the name of L'Annonciade with over 50 artworks donated by Georges Grammont, a businessman and collector of modern art, who funded the architectural renovation.  Many of the works here are a tribute to Saint Tropez; among my favorites are Signac's 'L'orage,' 'Vue de Saint-Tropez, coucher de soleil au bois de pins,' and 'Saint-Tropez, les pins parasols aux Canoubiers'; 'Place des Lices' by Charles Camoin; 'Saint-Tropez, le port' by Marguet; and 'Saint-Tropez vu de la Citadelle' by André Dunoyer de Segonzac.  The image below was taken from a window at the L'Annonciade,looking out over the port.

*Nikki D'Oggi Atelier (41 rue Georges-Clemenceau).  This small boutique offers an appealing collection of women's clothing, jewelry, and accessories, and the service is very friendly. 

*Outdoor market, place des Lices.  Sadly, I have not been in St.-Tropez on either a Tuesday or a Saturday, the days that are market day.  But since I am a big fan of outdoor markets in France I'm recommending that you don't miss this one if you are here on one of the designated days. 

*Rosé wine, served everywhere.  I didn't record every label I enjoyed, but a few are Domaine Les Bouis, Château Barbeyrolles, Domaine de la Madrague, Domanine de la Bastide Blanche, and La Ferme des Lices. 

*Café-Patisserie Sénéquier (quai Jean-Jaurès).  With its distinctive fire-engine red awning, folding chairs and triangular-shaped tables, Sénéquier, located just across from where the yachts are docked, is the most famous cafe/restaurant in St.-Tropez.  It dates back to 1887, when it was opened as a bakery by Marie and Martin Sénéquier -- you can get to the bakery, which is technically located at 4 place aux Herbes and is famous for its really yummy soft nougat, directly from the café, which opened in 1930.  Sénéquier was badly damaged during the 1944 bombing of the port area but was renovated and back in business by 1948 (all the buildings along the port were rebuilt after the Second World War).  When my husband and I decided to have a drink at Sénéquier we strolled right in on the terrace; I later learned that only tourists do this and the locals know that the only way to enter Sénéquier is by a little pathway behind the terrace.  Oy.  The scene here may be a bit trop (too much), but there's no denying that a table on the terrace is the absolute best place to see and be seen, if that's your thing.    

*Sentier des Douaniers (mentioned above) is one of the best hikes I've ever taken in my life.  I didn't walk it to the very end -- I stopped at Cap Camarat -- but it is beautiful and wonderful and good exercise and is positively my favorite thing to do here. It's also the only way to see the peninsula's coastline without a boat or a car, and it doesn't cost anything.  The footpath was originally created by a statesman under Napoleon, Joseph Fouché, for the purpose of looking out for smugglers.  The yellow-marked path begins at the round Tour du Portalet where the old port ends, below the Citadelle and above the Cimetière Marin.  There is a restaurant at the Plage des Graniers if you want to stop for some sustenance early on.  There is another restaurant, Les Salins, at the Plage des Salins -- you'll see the blue umbrellas from a distance -- and it specializes in pizza and Neapolitan cuisine.    Plan the walk as the major event of your day as it is an hours-long pursuit, from about three to six hours depending on how far you want to go.  And if you're too tired to make it all the way back, just take a taxi from one of the beach clubs.

*A tarte Tropézienne, available at many cafes and restaurants on the St.-Tropez peninsula but best at either Micka (36 rue Georges-Clemenceau) or Sénéquier (quai Jean-Jaurès).  This pastry doesn't look like much: two round slices of brioche-like bread with a scented pastry cream in the middle (vanilla or orange-flower water are most traditional).  But like many other very simple treats, it's delicious.  The story behind it is a source of controversy: the original tart was created in 1955 by a baker named Alexandre Micka, who came to St.-Tropez as a member of the Polish military during the war.  But somehow the recipe came to be legally owned by someone named Albert Dufrêne, who owns a chain of bakeries called La Tarte Tropézienne (there is one in St.-Tropez on the place des Lices).  Like quality cannoli, a tarte Tropézienne must be eaten very fresh, and if you can get one shortly after the filling has been sandwiched between the layers it is superb.  I have tried a few versions in New York and they were all mediocre, so if you, too, have wondered what all the fuss is about, do try one on location, so to speak! 

Lastly, don't forget about the nearby hilltop villages of Ramatuelle and Gassin, both of which were built for the local populations to escape from pirates who cruised the Mediterranean coast (note that ideally it's best to have a car to make these visits).  Ramatuelle's name may derive from Rahmatu'llah, Arabic for "God's gift" or "divine providence," a reference to when the village was occupied by Saracens (the entire peninsula was controlled by the Saracens between 884 and 979); one of two original Saracen doors is still a part of the fortified wall.  The village is charming, and the views over the rooftops and of the Pampelonne beach beyond are gorgeous, and 2016 is the 31st year of Ramatuelle's summer jazz festival.  Gassin, only five miles from St.-Tropez, is a designated Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and you have to park your car at a point below the village and walk up to it. The views are equally as lovely as from Ramatuelle, but one of Gassin's unique features is its narrow, stone streets -- one, l'Androuno, is reported to be the narrowest street in the world.  Gassin's annual festival is the Feast of Saint-Laurent (Gassin's patron saint), celebrated on the 10th of August.  In both villages, what's immediately noticeable is the quiet pace of life, which is why they are such a contrast to Saint-Tropez itself. 

Colette wrote with disdain about what Saint-Tropez was becoming in her book Prisons et Paradis.  But she also added that "I know the other St.-Tropez, which still exists -- and will always exist for  those who wake up at dawn."  My friend Amy and I didn't wake up exactly at dawn, but we left the lobby of the Hotel B. Lodge at 7:00 a.m. and went for a walk along the pathway around the Citadelle.  At that hour, we saw only a few other people, and the views all around were really lovely and we felt we knew a little of what Colette meant.  We were also looking for peacocks -- the day before we met a really friendly and helpful staff member at Nikki D'Oggi (see above), who is British but moved to St.-Tropez many years ago, and she told us that she walks everyday around the Citadelle and she is convinced one of the peacocks actually knows who she is.  She said there used to be quite a number of peacocks but that now there seemed to be only two, and she was concerned (so were we).  We were disappointed that we didn't encounter either of the two plumed birds and we circled back to the B. Lodge for breakfast on the terrace.  As we were sitting there enjoying our coffee, Amy suddenly noticed that a peacock was headed our way, walking down from the Citadelle straight to the hotel.  We couldn't believe it, and the peacock strutted around like he or she did this everyday, turning onto the rue Paul Signac, jumping up on a wall, and disappearing from our view.  What a wonderful parting memory, reaffirming for me that, as Colette noted, there truly is a natural, serene, and beautiful part of St.-Tropez that still exists. 

The peacock

To read:
Artists and Their Museums on the Riviera by Barbara Freed (Abrams, 1998)
Bella Vista by Colette
Bonjour Tristesse by Franҫoise Sagan (Dutton, 1955)
Côte d'Azur: Inventing the French Riviera by Mary Blume (Thames & Hudson, 1992)
The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Ted Jones (I. B. Tauris, 2004)
The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, 1986)
In the Spirit of St. Tropez by Henry-Jean Servat, foreword by Brigitte Bardot (Assouline, 2003)
Making Paradise: Art, Modernity, and the Myth of the French Riviera by Kenneth Silver (MIT Press, 2001) -- a fabulous photo by Jacques Henri Lartigue graces the cover of this wonderful book!
The South of France: An Anthology by Laura Raison (Cadogan, 1985)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

En nom de quoi?

'En nom de quoi?'
(In the name of what?)
Since the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper-Kacher store attacks in Paris, I have taken a stance of waiting quite a while before writing any posts because I need the time to process these horrific events and I want to read what others who are far more knowledgeable than me have to say about them.  The problem with this stance is that I have waited too long, as the attacks just keep coming, and I have missed the opportunity to acknowledge them.  But I do feel that as a travel writer I have a duty to say something, no matter when, and since it seems certain there will be more attacks, my posts will remain relevant. 
After I've read just about everything I can find, I like to identify the articles and opinions I feel are the best summations.  Here are a few that stood out over the past months:
*The best handwritten sign I saw in a photograph taken in Paris in November featured the words at the top of this post.  
*John Cassidy, who writes a great column for The New Yorker that you can subscribe to at no charge, recommended this article (also from The New Yorker) entitled 'Journey to Jihad' by Ben Taub.

*'How to Beat Islamic State' by Maajid Nawaz (The Wall Street Journal, 11 December, 2015) is a really interesting piece.  Nawaz is the founding chairman of a counterextremism organization in London called Quilliam, and the author of Radical: My Journey Out of Islamic Extremism (Lyons Press, 2013).  After it appeared, there was some online chatter that somewhat discredited Nawaz, but I feel at its core the piece is spot on. 

*'Faith and Its Consequences' by Nicola Clark (The New York Times, 21 February, 2016) explores the current state of a uniquely French tradition called laïcité (pronounced lie-EE-see-tay), the legal separation of religious and civic life that dates from the French Revolution.

*Also from The New York Times, the 'Friday File' for 19 November, 2015 by Mary Jo Murphy, which was devoted to an article that appeared on the front page of the paper on Christmas Day, 1914.  'Paris's Gaiety Gone: Even Restaurants Not Allowed to Keep Open Longer Than Usual' ended with a reference to a patriotic revue showing at the Bataclan.  This reminded me, again, that the first time I heard of the famous Paris club was in an art history class, and the name of it was written as Bat-a-clan.  I remembered the club as being part of a painting's title, perhaps by Toulouse-Lautrec or Degas or Seurat, but I can find no mention of it -- yet -- in any of the books on my shelves.  Emphasis on the word 'yet.' 

I wrote the paragraph below after September 11th and included it in several of my books as well as in my post after Charlie Hebdo.  Though it isn't new, it seems worth repeating again:

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. 

Travel on, dear readers.