Chasing Matisse: The Book
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June 23, 2003
Blow The House Down
Mané Pous set it down in front of us-the hallowed book-which held works by Matisse, Picasso, Dufy, Maillol, and many more. We held the book ourselves and turned the pages to see one after another of interesting, inspired, beautiful, provocative, complex or simple, wild or tame, bursting with color or elegantly black and white drawings and paintings of these masters and the other artists who wanted to honor the Pouses, their Café des Sports and then Les Templiers. Inside the pages of this book is life and art and history-the visions, memories, and imaginations of the artists who were touched by the light of Collioure and their happy relationship with this Catalan family. The introduction, although we couldn't read it all, contemplated the Joyous Spirit of all of the above.
To put it mildly, we were wowed. To see and touch the original works themselves. To hold in our hands this priceless collection of art and sentimental symbolism for the Pouses who lived and breathed it. It was heady, a rush that flew up and over us. We were dying to be in Collioure this summer, to hang out at Les Templiers where so many artists had been before, to be part of the Joyous Spirit that held forth. M. Pous was an angel for letting us in on this pot of gold, and Mané was the essence of grace in delivering it. We stayed for a delicious lunch. We felt at home here. I could actually learn French in the bar.
Yes, the feeling of making Collioure our home after our traveling finished, when Jim would complete the writing of the book was intense. Wearing espadrilles is very Catalan, and I'd bought a pair of chartreuse thongs the day before. My feet were prepared. But we still hadn't made the commitment, because our wishy-washiness was a nagging demon that tortured us with thoughts and images of the South of France that we hadn't yet seen. Was there some better place? Would someone say he or she had a house that we could use? Maybe this crazy war would actually benefit us, because fewer Americans would be coming to France. More properties would be available, more chances for a lagniappe to fall in our laps. (I like my options open as long as possible.)
We'd just found out that Gerard had returned to his house in Mirepoix, and we hadn't told him our answer about renting one of his apartments. Our hearts told us it should be yes-definitely-without that devilish ambiguity. It would have to be the unfurnished flat-it was a good deal and space-even though the thought of equipping it gave me a feeling of dread and energy draining out of my body like Niagara Falls. It was a job I really didn't want much less the expense. We looked at another apartment that was too small, and I bought a straw purse that matched my chartreuse thongs. Now I was totally accessorized for Collioure. Was this a sign?
On our way back to the hotel, I stuck my hand in the Mediterranean which was frigid. Jim went on, and I tried on beachy clothes. How horrible! I looked so bad I went right to a snack bar and bought some Catalan fondant treats called Rousquilles, ate four of them, and climbed in the bed. When Jim returned from doing laundry, he had bad news. Gerard had called. He'd offered the flat to someone else-obviously with fewer issues than us. We'd let our chance in Collioure slip through our fingers.
We were both upset. We walked down to the Copacabana, our favorite bar by the sea, and joked about our loss. It would all work out, we said. Afterwards, we dined at Les Templiers before returning to our room. Business emails were waiting for us, and Jim wanted me to deal with them. He (like all of us) tends to put things off that he doesn't want to do-emails being one thing he doesn't like attending to, but I said no. I've done way more than my share, and I'm through bearing all of that burden myself. This email happened to be from a hotel-the finding and booking of which has been an enormous job on this trip-especially with our itinerary, budget, and game plan. The spending of money is an issue for Jim, but he'd rather pay than use up his own time or effort shopping around or setting something up. He worries about money, hates to spend it, and then throws it away. Then when the bill comes, it's another stress and strain. This is a conflict that translates to us over and over again. Is being an enabler the part that I usually play?
We hated leaving Collioure, but the next day we did. We lunched in Perpignan at a restaurant with a huge buffet of everything imaginable in hot and cold tapas. We'd arrived just in time which was a miracle, because with our impeccable timing, we usually arrive at a restaurant for lunch right after they've closed. After a satisfying repast, we were off to the Camargue. On our six-week trip a few years ago, I'd wanted to make a stop there. We didn't, so now we were headed that way.
Driving along la Grand Motte was like the Gulf Coast of Florida-heavy traffic, high rise hotels, azure oceans and skies. We knew we'd crossed over and were in French cowboy country when we started seeing one stable after another with their white horses pacing corrals, standing still, or saddled up with people on them trail riding. The horses have a look of Arabian, and the Camargue resembles the American plains-wide, flat, and dusty-though the French West has one thing its American counterpart does not, and that is tons and tons of salt.
We arrived at Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a seaside village named for three Marys of Jesus fame-Magdalene, Jacobea (the Virgin Mary's sister), and Salome (mother of apostles James and John)-who were said to have been set adrift in a boat on the Mediterranean after the Crucifixion. They were supposed to have ended up here along with their servant, Sara. (When you spend time around the Mediterranean, you find Biblical characters pop up all over the place. This sea is not as big as you might think. Either that or they really made tracks to get to all the places that claim them.) There are two festivals for the Marys in May and October that I'd love to attend, but the one that I'm really dying to hit is May because gypsies from around the world come to pay their respects to their patron saint, Sara. There are bullfights, horse races, and flamenco dancing. And with all the gypsies, what a spectacle! Who could ask for more?
We were staying at the Hotel de Cacheral the next few nights which was a Camarguais version of the Ponderosa. The owner's house and the bunk houses where the guests stay were whitewashed and looked out on salt marshes where hundreds of pink flamingoes made a surreal installation in the deep blue of the sky and water below them. Jim and I walked out to the marsh to get a better look at the birds, a herd of white horses being fed with hay, and the Camarguais black cattle with horns. We signed up for a trail ride the next morning.
That night we ate a wonderful dinner of taureau steak (the black cattle). The beef was tasty and had a tang of wild. Later in our hotel room, we lit the three candles we'd been carrying around with us since we'd bought them in Lourdes. We said prayers for our loved ones and went to bed.
The wind blew so hard it rattled the walls. I heard the roar though slept fine, but Jim was awake almost all night. He thought it was going to blow our house down.
posted by Beth on June 23, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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