Woo-hoo, we’ve been sprung!* Almost the second the second confinement was lifted, we got out of town, fleeing the classic but relentlessly grey/beige of Montpellier for bright, Italianate Nice. We’d been there twice before, but only on day trips. Nice has never really appealed to us all that much, so we decided to put it to the test with a 10 day stay over Christmas. We loved it, but did we love Nice itself, or was it just so damn wonderful seeing something new after so long? I’m still not sure, and so we’re planning to come back for a much longer stay. The weather certainly didn’t hurt.
We had a car this time, the first road trip of the new era of French driver’s licenses. We took advantage of it to head into the hills, to villages inaccessible or at least inconvenient by public transportation.
To me, towns that survive exclusively on tourism are sad places. At least they’re well-preserved and not falling into ruin, but they’re not living places. St. Paul de Vence is that sort of town. Gorgeous, but a museum. Not a hardware store or even a boulangerie to be found, but awash in ghastly and expensive “art” galleries. I used to wonder who all these people were with tons of money and absolutely no taste to keep these sorts of places in business, but after the last 4 years, I know these people are legion.
Tourette-sur-Loup, on the other hand is an all-around treat. Every bit a beautiful as St. Paul, but with the advantage of being further from Nice, and thus a still functioning town. My first clue: there was a butcher’s shop next to the tourist office. It struck me that if you lived in this town even just 100 years ago, this was your entire world. You probably only rarely left it.
Great-aunt Betty (who I’ve mentioned before) lived in a small town in Wisconsin. I remember her telling me when the last dress shop went out of business. Shoppers had been lured out of town to the mall for years; to me, it was surprising it had hung on for as long as it did. She said, oh it’s too bad, now girls will have to go to Fort (the next town over, slightly bigger) when they want a new dress. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Fort’s shops were all gone as well, and that the girls had been going to more fashionable Milwaukee for years. When Aunt Betty was young, going a few miles to the next town over was a big event. Now we think nothing of it.
All of this traveling was a sight for sore eyes, a figure of speech which turned literal when I had an eye emergency on our second day. All is well, but I need to (ahem) keep an eye on it. I was left with a blob in my field of vision (which should resolve after a few months) and a new zeal to go places and see things. There’s a fair amount of blindness in my family, Aunt Betty was blind in her later years. I have long said my goal at this point in my life is walking around and looking at things. It’s a flippant statement, because I feel slightly guilty not using my remaining time and talents being more ambitious, or to make the world a better place. I now will say it without any bashfulness, without thinking it is an insufficient goal. Moving and seeing, marveling that there’s something to see, that I and it mutually exist at this point in time is enough.
*for now. Confinement 3.0 is just around the corner. Be careful out there!
As always, fantastic. You have evoked so many memories…Hank and I arriving at the train station in Nice in October, 1997, and lugging our heavy suitcases up and down and all around (too cheap to hire a taxi) until we found our hotel. Super exhausted. That was the launch point of one of the best hiking trips we ever took, with British Coastal Walks, a small group, unfussy tour company long absorbed by Backroads. The Perched Villages of Provence. Every day we set out on a different venture in the magnificent Maritime Alps, walking back and forth over and over and over, on small mountain trails, between Italy and France to villages that truly did seem perched and that were, at least back then, remote and very difficult to access by car, van, whatever. As walk-in tourists, we were often objects of some interest. No where near the interest that we had, though, in those who lived so fully and simply. Remember visiting multiple small cemeteries where, because of space limits, bodies had to be removed after so many (30 or so?) years and where the gravestones that could still be read offered lessons in the WWII back and forth between French and Italian territorial control. Remember, too, several days on the train between Nice and Ventimiglia (?).
One of the members of our BCT group was a lover of organs and organ music. In one village I remember a shopkeeper in a tobacco store on the main, perched, plaza, when she learned of his interest, closing the shop temporarily and walking us all up to the town church. She must have had a role there. At least she had a key. If I remember correctly, the church was an unadorned chapel, c. 500 years old, with an organ with air bellows. Our fellow traveler was in seventh heaven, as were we all, stoking the bellows and generating some form of music from the ancient, poorly maintained instrument.
Oh the memories you have just evoked. I can only imagine how the last 23 years have changed the area. I’ll continue to cherish the uncomplicated memories.
THANKS. AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Hi Joan and Hank,
You two have long been our travel idols, and we still say we want to be you when we grow up!
Happy happy to you too and we’ll talk soon.
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