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SOUTHERN FRANCE

by..... umfhil@jackson.main.nc.us

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We go to the train station for two tickets to Cagnes-sur-Mer. The train ride is quiet and pleasant and we're a bit proud to have managed to buy tickets and board the right train so easily. An enjoyable ride along the sea with stop in Biot, then debark at Cagnes-sur-Mer. With help from a friendly, good-at-giving directions policemen near the school, we find the correct bus stop and wait for the S.A.P. bus to St. Paul. We board the S.A.P.,nearly full, and begin to ascend into the hills. The narrow road accomodates two buses passing, no more,no less. Gardens of flowers press closely to the road, filling small yards with fragrant glory--lilacs,roses(trees,bushes, and vines), wisteria. As the views open to the hills: the verdant terraced farms and stone and stuccoed houses are situated in near layers from the bottoms of the hills to the crest. Then at the crown, a city appears, stretched across the high horizon unexpectedly. What is the place? a castle? a resort? It dominates the imagination on the remainder of the too-brief ride. It is St. Paul-de-Vence, an ancient walled city no longer aiming its cannon at intruders, but welcoming visitors to its narrow ancient streets.

But first, to the Maeght. We walk up a narrrow street into the woods and onto a well-worn path through fragrant flowers and vine-covered trees. The gates won't open until 2:30; we look through onto thick green grass on which two dogs play amid hige sculptures of Miro and Arp and others. Miss Fuss-Budget slowly readied her cash box; Mr. Surly grumpily unlocks gates, as we Americans, Germans, and French wait patiently impatiently for the promised, but late, entry. "It's 10 F for your camera, or you may check it." The WC is not immediately found, nor is a plan of the museum.(There is a WC, but there is no map.) And soon all is forgiven and forgotten as the delights of the museum unfold: a room of small Giacometti including the l-o-n-g dog, the cat, groups of skinny men, and drawings. Through the window, striding across the green grass, are two determined, elongated figures. There is a Germaine Richter in the corner--In the Forest-a woman with hand to her brow. The court yard and fountain are all Miro--my favorite the fat squat horned figure with undeveloped bird wings opened joyously to the sun. Miro planned the courtyard and did each of the pieces specifically for it. Remember the maze of yellow cords. The fountain filled with mosaic fish was planned by Braque. Another fountain by Pol-Bury of stainless Cylinders moves with awkward grace as the tubes fill and empty of water. Paintings, many of primary red, blue, and yellow colors(Miro, Kandinsky); mobiles by Caulder; pleasant dreams by Chagall; outlined figures of Leger. Miro represents man with a rigid, square-topped stool, woman with a smoothly rounded stool on which sits an egg. Even groups of noisy school children can't distract from the enthusiastic enjoyment of this delightful museum.

A brief respite for shared pizza and expresso. A walk down the hill to St. Paul. And St. Paul,too, is thrilling. Narrow cobbled streets, enticing shops. Cascading flowers from ancient windows. Fountains with steady streams of water--one potable, one not. Several windows display fabrics of Provence, blue and white and yellow tablecloths, skirts, shirts, aprons, blouses, and napkins.

In St. Paul we walk on the path outside the city walls for views of the hills and sea. Then inside on the back street of less-frequented shops and artists' studios. Streets are being washed. Flowers everywhere. Climb on the somewhat crumbling wall(dangerous, at your own risk) for views of the chalky mountains behind and the sea before. Smells from the Purple Cafe are devine. On to the Colombe d'Or; reservations for 12:30; seat us under the Leger mural looking out to the vista beyond the city. Restaurant appropriately named, we thought, when we looked at the hors d'oeuvre specialite, asperges blancs, for 120 francs(about 23.00 dollars). We opted instead for the marianated haricots verts, long thin ones, generously served. All other choices paled when we saw agneau sisteron as a choice for the plat principal. And what a piece de resistance! Garnished with plentiful garlic,tomatoes, and endive, it was accompanied with potatoes and fresh spinach. The chocolate cake with its creamy chocolate middle and fine cocoa could not be resisted. Much to our surprise and delight, the restaurant served a thin stick of dark chocolate and a small brandy, gratuit.

Following dinner we walk into the hotel to see the famous art collection. Finer, more exciting pieces than we ever imagined! Well lit but very much a part of the hotel, un-gallery-like. Caulder, Miro, Picasso, Braques, Dufy,etc. We walked up the narrrow stairways to the rooms, where each corner held a new treat--and the chamber maid told us we were not to be there.(We'd gotten to the fourth floor by then so I think we'd managed to see it all, unless there are paintings in the rooms.)

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