POSTCARD FROM THE RIVIERA – IV

For all of you who’ve asked me the complete the last segment of my Riviera Pastcard, here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the experience. For the rest of you, feel free to skip this. I promise to post in the coming days something unrelated to travel. Hope you are all enjoying your weekend.

 

POSTCARD FROM THE RIVIERA – IV

 

Aix-en-Provence (or simply “X” as said by the locals) is a university town, a town of water, a town of art. Home to the great French impressionist, Cézanne, whose atelier (studio) was one of the highlights of our visit, Aix is a beautiful city of fountains, immaculately dressed locals, sidewalk cafes filled with students, visitors, and local gentry. Aix, whose name, Aquae Sextia, was chosen by the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus for the local springs that he named after himself in 123 B.C., went through a succession of occupants: Romans, Visigoths, Franks and Lombards, the Saracens, then by Charles Martel in 737. During the Middle Ages Aix became the capital of the county of Provence, reaching its zenith in the 12th century, when it became a center for art and learning under the houses of Aragon and Anjou. Today, blessed by an average of 300 sunny days a year, the city draws students and visitors from all over the globe. We wandered down its wide boulevards and narrow streets, guided by Stephanie, my favorite poet’s bride, who spent a year studying English here during her university days. She unerringly led us to her favorite patisserie, where we loaded up on goodies, then walked to sit in front of City Hall with its handsome clock tower to consume the calories and watch local life strolling by. On the way back, we pass by the Deux Garcons, the most famous brasserie of Aix, frequented by the likes of Cézanne, Zola and Hemingway. The city boasts over a thousands fountains, some, covered in moss, with natural hot water bubbling out from the local thermal springs dating back to the Romans, some with elaborate sculptures, and at the bottom of the Rotonde, is a monumental fountain with three giant statues representing art, justice and agriculture. Sadly, the two-hour drive to and from Nice didn’t allow us sufficient time to fully appreciate all that Aix had to offer.

 

Our penultimate day on the French Riviera starts off in Grasse (where 60% of the world’s perfume comes from) with a visit to the Parfumeries Galimard, the oldest perfume factory in France, dating back to the sixteenth century. I confess, I wasn’t all that crazy about visiting a perfume factory, but the tour turned out to far exceed my, and I suspect my other male compatriots, expectations. From learning about the ton of increasingly difficult to obtain raw material needed to make a few ounces of perfume, to the difference between parfum, eau de parfum and eau de cologne (20%, 12% and 6% perfume per volume), to the three types of extraction process, to the 200 “Noses” (highly skilled, paid and trained individuals leading austere lifestyles in order to keep their talents sharp) who create a new scent, to the need to keep the products away from light and humidity (the bathroom is the worst place for it, ladies!) to why they put it in clear, expensive bottles (so you’ll buy it, then have it degrade faster; our French friends were way ahead of GM in planned obsolescence) our guide kept our rapt attention for over an hour (besides speaking flawless English, she also spoke Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, and naturally, French.) She was also the best sales person I have ever encountered, as evidenced by the number of packages our group walked out with.

 

Mid-day found us 15 km. South of Grasse in Cannes, with its yachts, fine-sand beaches and luxury shopping. The famous Cannes film festival occurs in the month of May, but we saw the red-carpeted exhibit hall where moviemakers and shakers gather each year with the glitterati of cinema fame to see who walks off with the awards that are guaranteed to boost a movie’s income and a star’s earning power. We got a poor man’s preview of what the action must be like, as currently the people who make content for the television industries of the world were hawking their wares at the exhibit hall. It was interesting to watch the swirling of passers-by, as the power outfits of the directors and producers mixed with the much humbler clothing of the myriad reporters, and the fashion statements of models and starlets paraded by to the obvious gawking of the Asian tour groups. Stadium sized screens played excerpts form various shows, and passers-by with convention badges were assaulted by an army of young men and women passing out samples of DVD’s and assorted promotional products. We found a nice restaurant a couple of blocks away from the main waterfront drag, where, to her delight, Miki discovered the French version of Wiener schnitzel, one of her all time favorite menu items. After lunch, we wandered through a few shops to purchase the required souvenirs to bring home to our friends and colleagues – French soaps, potpourri of lavender in traditional Provencal colored sacs, chocolates, and a couple of magazines for Vikki, our office manager, who has a penchant for interior decorating.

 

The afternoon brings us to St. Paul de Vence, one of those medieval walled towns found in many parts of Europe. This one is especially picturesque, its narrow winding streets filled with small shops and galleries featuring tastefully decorated windows and stores; not the typical tourist kitsch, but artful displays of things you wanted to buy if only the dollar-euro exchange been more favorable. Those who have not been in Europe in the past couple of years are in for a very rude sticker shock. Fortunately, our travel had been paid for in advance at a time before the dollar took its current nosedive. Besides wandering around town and taking numerous photos (every corner presented a new Kodak moment) we watched some locals playing bocce. (You can find one of my photos of the bocce players in the adjacent album to get a flavor of the scene.)

 

Soon, it’s getting close to dinnertime, so we take a short ride back to Nice for our final cocktail party and dinner together. We have grown closer together as a group than many of us I think expected, and there was a genuine feeling of sadness as we exchanged e-mail addresses and promises to stay in touch. After dinner, we presented our guide, Giuseppe, and our driver, Pierro, with monies Fran collected to thank them for their good humor, knowledge and skill, and for adding so much to our satisfaction of the trip. Chuck, one of Fran’s stalwarts, capped the evening off with a spot-on imitation of Giuseppe, bringing smiles to everyone’s face.

 

It was a wonderful holiday, and I had to agree with Miki, one of the best groups we’ve traveled with in many years. It was hard to say good-bye to my favorite poet and his bride, but that’s always a painful parting for me.  This was made easier this time by the knowledge that I would be seeing them again in the States at the end of the summer. Now, we have to return to reality, and as a friend once said, “Reality is highly over-rated.” Until we travel again, I conclude my Postcard.

 

 
 
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11 Responses to POSTCARD FROM THE RIVIERA – IV

  1. Beth says:

    All good things must come to an end.  I have enjoyed reading your postcards.  Thank you!
    I think your friend\’s statement, "Reality is highly over-rated"is right on.  I will have to remember to use that phrase.

  2. Gayle says:

    I always feel as if I\’m right there with you. Thanks!Gayle

  3. sweeti's says:

    La douce  France 
    hmmm
    why do they call it this way????now u know…i have a south france  friend..
    he lives in Vienne   and its a lil village  with a lot of  history..
    He went  last weekend to  St.Tropez and  Nice
     
    he found it  ..hmmmmm ppl walking  with heads up  looking down to  us ppl…but hehe
    its  the  surroundings  that counts
    i love ur stories
    asnd its  really awesome u have good group totravel with
     
    we have still contacts  with our  Indonesia  tour.  friends  ..its was awesome  same as u write now.
    a connected group   and thats very  important  to let a trip be a perfect experience.
    lots of hugs
    bye now
    love for u and ur loved ones
     
     
     

  4. Gelert says:

    That\’s ok Jorge, always good to read. I may say something about Athens if I can get around to it. Have you been there?
     

  5. Charlotte says:

    So grateful for your traveling postcard.  It takes one out of the mundane and into a little fantasy land where one can dream of being along with your family in your travels.  Thanks once again for sharing.  It is always a + to come here.  hugs, lottemae

  6. Aafrica says:

    Jorge you definitely left the best to the last. … not that earlier parts were not good. every time you travel somewhere, i\’d daydream of being there. hopefully i can make it to the French Riviera sometime soon.

  7. Holy says:

    this was a nice Nice read… as in chic alor. If one were to look up La Dolce Vita in a travel dictionary, I suspect
    one might see a picture of young gang enjoying late night laughs around
    a table. And reading along, I felt as though I was strolling a few steps or  rather, weeks behind, you and your travelling entourage in the plazas, shops, bistros.  I could almost but not quite, smell the potent bouquet of the red wine and taste the crusty, fresh-baked breads.So thank you for giving us this mini Riviera Ruminations.  I now see I will need to add the Italian Riviera and even more of the French Riviera to my must-do travel list. 

  8. Marge says:

     
    Jorge, thank you for making a magical part of the world accessible to those of us who have only dreams of such adventures as you\’ve enjoyed. As the recent sunshine recedes behind snow-filled clouds here in central Iowa, you have brought me visions of warmer, sunnier places, smiling friends and good times. I imagine the tastes of fine chocolate, sweet wines, savory breads and local cuisines, and the laughter of people brought together by the love of travel. 
     
    I have never been disappointed when visiting this wonderful Space; anything you write is always a fest for a hungry mind and imagination.
     
    Thank you for bringing a little flair and panache to Spaces. You have always been, and ever shall be, a gentleman and raconteur par excellence. 
     
    Always,
     
    Marge

  9. Kathryn says:

    Can\’t wait to catch up! I have company in from Indiana, so I am visiting briefly while they are showering and the like…:-) But I did want to stop in and say I\’d be coming back to read!

  10. Jane says:

    Hola querido, es el Cinco De Mayo… felicidades! Abrazos, Tu amiga,                 Juana 🙂

  11. Jana says:

    Jorge, which country you liked more Italy or France? I have never been in France. I hope I will one day. Don\’t you miss Europe? Are you ever thinking to return back or is it so long time ago? Your son lives in Paris? Isn\’t that funny? Kids are returning to the old europe. Beautiful photos.

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