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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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July 17, 2003


What can a girl do when she feels like a mess-ragged and down-at-her-heels, so blue she doesn't feel like turning cartwheels or tap-dancing down the length of a bar? We all know the restorative powers of retail therapy, if cash is available or credit cards aren't maxed-out. But that wasn't my answer even though, like the eating in Barcelona, the shopping in Nice looked pretty darn good. What I needed was a remedy that was deeper. What I needed was nurturing and relaxation to provide a sense of well-being. Heave in a soupçon of beauty. If someone touched me with their hands, while my feet were propped up, and in some way made me beautiful. You know. If I looked better, I would feel better.

Is this the cart before the horse? I don't know. It's like the chicken and the egg. Which came first? You look like the dog drug you up, so you feel like his do-do. Or you feel like road-kill, and you begin to look like it too. This obviously should be answered some night when we've all had too many cocktails. Anyway, I decided a manicure and pedicure would do me the right amount of perking.

I love my nails to be manicured and fresh, but I never seem to have the time or careful attention to tend to them. They always end up being the last thing on my list, and it had been weeks since I could have used the word "attractive" in conjunction with my nails. The efficient staff at Le Grimaldi set me up. Okay, for those not in the know, here is the drill. First of all for us girls, stopping whatever we frantically do 24/7 is, well, blissful. After that, cleansing, removal of grime and jagged edges, softening of skin and massage, and an application of lacquered color to enhance a mood or dress is akin to being reborn. Away with the old and in with the new, it's a finishing touch that, for me, constantly traveling, is mostly left undone.

My therapist, oops I mean manicurist, did a lovely job and to make it even better turned me on to a wonderful restaurant for dinner. Jim and I walked down to Place Wilson (in case you haven't noticed, many French towns have the names of American presidents or other American war-related references as titles of their streets) in a misty rain to find Les Epicureans. It was charming yet modern, not touristy at all. Most of the diners had obviously been there many times before. I ordered a perfectly-cooked veal liver while Jim tried chicken curry. We sipped a great bottle of Bandol and then at home (ie. the hotel) we slipped our new "Sopranos" DVD into my computer. Oh, boy. All I can say is the need wells up to have a cozy night at home (again, hotel) sitting in front of a screen to watch a film or TV show that you can actually understand, to hear your language with your own enunciations. Plus, we got hooked on "The Sopranos" before we left the States. It was a completely satisfying experience.

The next day we drove up the hills to the Roman garden in the clouds above Nice called Cimiez. The Romans knew how to choose all the best spots, and Cimiez is one of them. It was a city of an estimated 20,000 residents that has a most magnificent view and ethereal air. There's something about it that exudes civilized serenity. I can only imagine what it must have been like in 300 B.C. without the high-rise apartments like the Hotel Regina where Matisse lived the last years of his life, although again, what an inspiring view and gentle atmosphere he found. He died in 1954.

We were looking for the Regina, but the Musée Matisse is what drew us up the hill into the sky. It is a palatial and beautiful deep rose-colored Italian villa with grand trompe l'oeil of shutters and other architectural accoutrements that are so realistic it takes some time to notice they're not genuine. The grounds are ample as they should be for a house/museum of this scale, set in a park with a small amphitheatre where jazz concerts are held. The paths through it have names of the greats like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. What a blend of time and space, talent and state-French art, Italian style, and American groove in the palm of ancient history.

The collection inside the impressive villa was-God forbid I say this-okay, not-stunning, but what was there was perfectly nice. Evidently, Matisse sold most of his paintings and enjoyed the income. I guess there wasn't much left for him to give away, and many of the pieces were donated by Madame Matisse who hadn't even lived with him for years when he died. Some years before, her nurse, Lydia, first became the painter's model, then assistant, and finally companion. Lydia was his mate for more than a decade before he died. I don't know if the Matisses divorced, but I thought it was generous of Madame Matisse to contribute her husband's work to his museum to which he didn't leave much himself. (Especially since she apparently wasn't too happy about the whole Lydia situation. Why would she be? I can imagine that M. Matisse had used up his wife's energy and patience and needed some fresh adoration and blood. I see both points of view. Really, I can.) I was most interested in the personal items of Matisse, many of which you see in his paintings, a pitcher and table and chairs, Moroccan wall hangings. The museum store rocks, so pick up lots of Matisse posters, cards, books, etc. while you're there.

At the end of the street is the Monastere Franciscan whose gardens were divine. If we had just known, we could have brought a picnic lunch, lain on a blanket on the pristine lawn, sipped a bottle of wine, fed bread, olives, and cheese to each other by the blooming flowers or under the trees. The tranquility of the property folded us under its wings.

A darling old couple told me Matisse was buried in the petite cemetiere on the other side of the monastery. As we mistakenly looked through the grand cemetiere, I thought I heard a baby cry. It could have been a cat or a bird-probably was. But we had to search to make sure there wasn't a frightened baby that someone had left, hoping a holy father or mother would find the child and bring him or her up. The crying stopped before we found the gravesites of Monsieur and Madame Matisse (and I had a slight neurotic worry that the baby wouldn't be found). He may have spurned her in life, but they have found togetherness in eternity. (Do death and life work like that? Is life death, and death is life? Are they sometimes traded or confused?) I laid flowers on the tombs for the artistic couple as well as a flower for my mother, Bobbye Ann.

Driving back down the hill, we stopped at the Musée Marc-Chagall. I count Chagall among my favorite painters along with M. Matisse and so was excited about seeing it. To paraphrase myself, wow. I'd read that the theme of these pieces was Biblical, and I've always been drawn to the mystical aspects of Chagall's work, but these were 17 canvasses that were huge, dynamic, poetical blasts of color and energy like the sound of heavenly music on the scale of Wagner's Ring (though not so authoritarian). Or they could be the life of dreams or the dreams of life, a journey into soulful creation that Chagall saw and felt. I hate to say this with my tremendous admiration for M. Matisse, but M. Chagall's museum blew M. Matisse's away.

What a brilliant day to find such emotion expressed in these visions and that the world has been endowed! These were spiritual. They were creation. This is what life is about.

When art and artists are not recognized or valued as being worthwhile, not being worth supported, not worth keeping on a school curriculum-especially in my own country-I have to ask what do we value? Material things is the easy answer-money, power, winning over any and all competition. Is this fulfilling? Is this what soothes our souls and comforts us in the end? When "family values" are discussed, what does this really mean? Why aren't we teaching our children that true happiness comes from finding themselves, their own spirits, and expressing themselves in a meaningful way, and in the process, contributing to the good of the world? Their search for themselves is the search for God, and that is what will sustain them.

Art is emotion, expression, creation. Artists are searching for soul and spirit in their work and expressing this for all of us to see, touch and be touched by somehow. When life feels empty, artists connect us with the meaning that they've found, the God in all of us, the Universal One.

posted by Beth on July 17, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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