Friday, November 11, 2005

A&G Off to France--Day Ten

(Author's note: This entry is the tenth of two weeks of daily entries about our trip to Provence.)

25 October 2005

First, I have to admit that this day is the first for which I took no notes during the trip, so my memory will have license to be even more fanciful than usual. Second, never make fun of a town by referring to it as part of an 80s television show, for it will get revenge. But more on that later.

This day we make the fifteen minute walk from our hotel to what has to be one of the best modern art museums in the world, Foundation Maeght. This institution managed to be buddies with the art world when it opened in 1964, so it has specifically designed installations by Miro, Giacometti, etc. And the design, while creating galleries full of light, is also fun to look at itself, so kudos to architect Josep-Lluis Sert.

I think I forgot to mention it's in a grove of oaks and pine, a site as peaceful as can be, and although on a hillside (thereby giving us our climb for the day), it doesn't even look down on the incredibly scenic St. Paul. This is all about the 20th century, thank you very much. The museum does allow for you to take pictures, but you have to pay a few extra Euros to do so, and I go shutter-finger happy to get my money's worth. I'll spare you most of the shots, but some you have to see, like a room of Calders:

As I've always been a sucker for his simplicity, a kind of truly American optimism without too much of the usual bullshit promise that comes with keeping your sunny-side-up; the works are almost blatant in being all surface, which is one way to see America, after all. Then there's a room with almost as many Chagalls as there are in the museum with his name on it in Nice, and a bunch of Braque, including a special reflecting pool:

In fact, much of the sculpture outside of the building itself is better than the artwork inside. Although it is intimidating to stand next to a Giacometti after all the eating we did on the trip.

There's also a labyrinth Miro designed specifically for the site that's whimsical and reminds us how seriously unserious art can be.

It was a great couple of hours, to say the least. All that art, especially the giant egg, left us hungry, so we walked up to St. Paul and had a jambon and fromage crepe at one of the numerous crepe-makers-in-a-window establishments that France offers. And visited La Petite Cave de St-Paul, my kind of grotto, a wine cellar. It's one of the few places you can but the wine the Foundation Maeght makes from a nearby small vineyard, so we bough a bottle of their rose as a way to have an artfully consumable experience back in the states. Here's hoping it tastes as lovely as this St. Paul doorway:

After lunch we headed up to Vence to continue our meander through modern art. Our main goal was the Chapelle du Rosaire Henri Matisse, a small chapel completely designed by the artist--from stained glass to simple line-drawing stations of the cross to the priest's vestments--and the work he considered his masterpiece. You can't take pictures there, but you can buy postcards. Alas, when we visit we missed the morning sun that would throw the stained glass colors all about the church. But it's still quietly impressive, the chance almost to be in a canvas, as it were. He certainly tapped into a serenity so much of religion promises but rarely delivers.

It turns out even chapels take a break from 12 till 2 in France, so that's why it looks all locked up when we first arrive just prior to 2. But it also hints at the place's modesty.

We also visit the old part of Vence, another sleepy lovely town on a hillside that seems oddly shuttered for a Tuesday after 2. Perhaps it, too, is seasonally warmed by tourists' feet. Those who do go get to look at buildings like this:

The rest of the afternoon becomes a story of traffic, as we crawl along through rush hour on French roads that aren't charming, but instead like Route 22 in New Jersey, crammed with minor businesses with majorly ugly and large signs, to Biot, where the Leger Museum is closed, and all the supposedly good glassworks seem sort of cheesy (maybe we just failed to hit the right places, not that you should hit stores full of glass).

We decide to make things really interesting by attempting to check out Le-Haut-de-Cagnes (and Lacey), what our guidebook says the New York Times says "crowns the top of a blue-cypressed hill like a village in an Italian Renaissance painting." Unfortunately, driving in Haut-de-Cagnes is like trying to drive in an Italian Renaissance painting for many of the roads seem two-dimensional. It's partly because we get freaked out trying to park in garage where the passenger must exit and some sort of car elevator is involved, so we decide not to try, then miss the "all other directions" sign and end up in what might have been a bobsled run and not a road at all. Amy managed to get us through, but it was scary. So we don't get to try to eat at the recommended Josy-Jo, even though we do drive past it at one point. Then we don't know where to eat. We head back to our hotel hungry and puzzled and frazzled, ask the ever-there-when-we-show-up hotel manager if he has any ideas, and it turns out Le Blanc Manger is the place near St. Paul he says is best, unless we want to spend tons of money. We don't, so get back in the car and go to Vence (it's really only 20 minutes away, if on dark and windy roads) and try the guidebook picked Auberges des Seigneurs.

Hang on to your cyber-taste buds, as I don't have the whole meal written down to report on. Almost more notable than the food was a table with three young French girls who more or less romped about the room much of the meal, but somehow they were funny and not annoying. Once again, we wanted to adopt a cute French child (you can see them somewhat in this photo).

I might settle for the copper pot collection instead of one of the children, to be honest. Perhaps one of the children could stop by weekly to polish the pots. As for the meal, it was good-not-great, as we both had a veal chop with mushrooms crusted on it, and that rocked, but the mushrooms alongside the chop were oddly bland, especially compared to every other one we had had so far on the trip. My dessert I also recall, as it featured a cream that was sauterne infused over berries. That was about perfect. As was the wine, a 2001 Mas de la Rouveriere Bandol Rouge--probably the best wine we got with a meal in our two weeks.

As for the amuse, some combo of tuna and crab, it will make its appearance again tomorrow, as our story, or at least my part of it, will take an unpleasant turn.


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