Chasing Matisse: The Book
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June 15, 2003
Dancing and Dreamers
The old man placed the hat on his head and stood where the room divided in half at the top of the stairs, where the room changed from glass and views of the street by the sea to wood, old-fashioned, and intime. The owner, who had white hair himself and was sporting a red sweater and Catalonian espadrilles, had earlier set down a half-empty bottle of Marc de Banyuls at the table by the fireplace for this man, his wife, and another couple-obviously old, good friends. They laughed, talked, and drank. The couples and we were the only tables of patrons left after lunch in mid-afternoon. Jim had gone to retrieve some cash. I sat by myself.
The music filling the room was fine-jazzy jazz with a beat that rocked the old man's soul, and his hips began to sway. My foot began to move. I liked this kind-faced gentleman who was enjoying himself today. The music changed to Spanish, which did not move his hips or spirit. He sat back down.
The outside door opened, and another kind-faced (and bearded) friend of the owner stepped in, laughing with the merry group. The owner obviously made some comment about the old man's swinging flanks and then threw up his arms as if a call to dance, and the old man stepped up to accept his friend's appeal. The two men and amis tripped lightly around the room, while I watched with absolute delight. The newcomer to the group put out his hand to me, and I thought he wanted to dance, and of course I could-I love to dance-but I wasn't sure what he had said. I must admit with shame that I didn't get up, which is not a bit like me. Was it because I was unsure of his invitation and didn't want to embarrass myself? But his actions told the story. It was a fabulous sight to see and moment to find myself in, and I failed to take it up. I was not so brave as I would like, nor as brave as I usually am. What held me back? When Jim returned, I described it all in great detail. Shortly after, we left right behind the two darling couples, and the not-dancing man attempted a brief conversation with us. He was sweet and dear. This is what we find from the French wherever we go-as well as more lovely moments.
From Céret in the Northern Pyrenees, we'd driven to Banyuls-sur-Mer and this restaurant with the dancing heterosexual men. The cherry trees were blossoming there, and we'd dipped into the modern art museum which held surprises for me. I've never particularly cared for Picasso's work. (Sacrilege, I know, even without dismissing what kind of man he was. My crack sources of Hollywood movies and hearsay a dozen times removed say he was mean and had major issues with women.) But art is art and the perception and viewing of it is personal. In Céret, I saw some of Picasso's pottery, and I liked the bulls and matadors that adorned the plates and bowls. I liked these more lyrical (to me) visions better than many of his paintings which seem hard and angry. I was also interested in the work of Pierre Brune whose work I didn't know, and the museum displays a completely divine Chagall. Then it was on to Banyuls, the jazzy lunch, and then the Musée Maillol.
One sees the name and work of Aristede Maillol all over France. He was a friend of every artist you've heard of or read about of his period, and his muse and model, Dina Vierny, has funded two museums in his name-the museum in Paris, which is one of my favorites, and this one in Banyuls which was his home and is now restored pristinely. He is buried in the garden here with his work La Méditerranée elegantly marking his grave. The house/musée is almost hidden in a valley, bordered by a stream and surrounded by vineyards. His work is hung and arranged well in the new old rooms. It was another happy moment for us, and I look forward to the time when we meet Ms. Vierny, who was and is a smart cookie where life and art are concerned. She has lived artistically and authentically from what I know and supported the arts as well as made a living which is quite a feat.
That night we found an Andalusian restaurant and partook of more tapas. A red flamenco dress was hanging on the wall, and I was eying it. The owner told me it was hers, and I asked if she would teach me the dance in the summer if we return. She said no. She has three children, and the summer tourist season means working non-stop. So what's the problem?
Collioure has quite an artistic history, and the hotel Les Templiers has been a rendezvous point for all artists who have spent time here. The next morning we made an appointment to see Jo Jo Pous, who is the current owner. More to come about that, but first, well, I had quite a startle.
Tessa had encouraged us to see a real estate agent to find out more about the rental market here before we made a commitment to Gerard. We were already enthralled with both of Gerard's apartments though neither fit us perfectly. Frankly, we didn't want to mess with a real estate agent, so we were going to blow it off. But Tessa's concern got the best of us. Getting a place for the summer was what we'd planned on arranging all along, but where? After living in the same house for 13 years and hating in some ways to give it up, we suddenly felt hesitant about making a commitment for a few months. Traveling all the time is hard, but one of the great points about it is seeing and experiencing new places constantly. There is no time to get bored. Choosing a place to stay for several months loomed large in our minds.
We walked in the office, and the petite woman with coiffured dark hair sitting behind the desk was dressed expensively in Italian boots that were on the side of "too much" which is a style that many French women prefer. We told The Real Estate Agent what we were doing and what we were looking for. She checked her books and came up with a two bedroom/two bath flat in merely Jim's favorite building in Collioure. It's next to the church and looks like a castle with green shutters the color of grass and a huge terrace that would hold quite a fête for tinkling cocktails and a view of the sea. Not bad, as M. Malvic of the Hotel Saint Germain would say. The price? Well, not in our league, but I asked The Real Estate Agent to take a look at our web site and to ask the owner to view it as well. She didn't understand why. As I was explaining how some people were helping provide accommodations on this valiant quest of ours, she interrupted me. "Pardon me," she said. "But you are a dreamer. This is business to these people." Jim rushed to my defense by jumping and telling her that others had seen this as business. I caught my breath and added, "This is marketing."
The damage was done. My bubble was burst. Me? A dreamer? It was true, of course, but a stick in my heart. This has been one of my strengths and weaknesses my entire life-being a dreamer. My glory and torture. My creativity and art, and gulp, the real world that I preferred not living in as compared to the one in my head. (My brother, Brent, and I lying in bed on Christmas Eve and pretending we heard Santa's bells and finding switches in our stockings instead.) Oh, when I get the Hollywood ending, I will show all the naysayers like The Real Estate Agent. When I've persevered and stuck it out, and I am the hero and all good things come to me, I will still be a dreamer, but this time with results. Collioure is known for its artists. Don't I fit in here? We told her we'd call her later that afternoon (like that was ever going to happen) and left her office to head back to Les Templiers and M. Pous. M. Pous's family had supported a dreamer or two who did quite well-Matisse, Picasso, Dufy, Derain, more and more. I only wish I'd thought of pointing that out. Part of what The Real Estate Agent is marketing herself in Collioure is that it is a town of artists, and Les Templiers proves it.
Les Templiers is a bastion of Pous family energy with their and Collioure's history covering the walls. The bar is the perfect saloon, and the hotel is charming and comfortable like you were a guest at a gigantic weekend party in a shabby chic house. M. Pous's children are now in charge. His daughter, Mané, runs the excellent restaurant, and son, Jean-Michel, the hotel. When M. Pous walked in the door, I realized I'd seen him around town. His look is trés Catalan. (The French/Spanish mixture shows on his and his children's faces, and they look alike.) He is now 74 with white hair and bright eyes and personality to match. He speaks little English, so his fabulous employee Veronique interpreted for us. His grandmother, Marie, started the place, a bar called the Café des Sports in the late 1800's. His parents built the place up and all the artists came here, spent time, drank and hung out, felt at home and part of the Pous family. The Pouses and their bar (and later hotel) provided a haven of support and good spirit for the artists who walked in their door. Two thousand paintings were given to them over the years. Each one a part of his life M. Pous said. Paintings and drawings covered every inch of the hotel and bar walls-so many they cannot all be hung-but the priceless art had to be taken down 25 years ago when three Picasso drawings were stolen. The Pouses and the dreamers were friends and compatriots in art and commerce.
M. Pous told us there was a book of art that artists like those named above had blessed with their work and signed. We could see it the following day. Wow. We were flying high as kites. This was incredible. The history and spirit of Les Templiers blasted through the air, and we sucked it in. I felt like dancing, and I imagine that more than a few people have kicked up their heels here, and I want to be one of them. I will not say no again to such a joyous invitation as my one the day before. It won't matter if the words are not clear to me. The meaning will be.
This I understand. After all, I am a dreamer. And one thing I know is the language of ideas.
posted by Beth on June 15, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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