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


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

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July 23, 2003

Note from Beth: You may have noticed that my postings have been sporadic and that there are no pictures. This begins now three months of terrible computer problems. My computer has crashed so many times it's not even funny. As we speak, my new Dell is in the shop, and the technicians can't find anything wrong. They've replaced the motherboard twice. I've lost all my email addresses in this nightmarish hell--as well as my Adobe Photoshop software--so for those of you who haven't heard from me, please email so I have your address.

The Promenade

My Dell computer had an error message, the screen went black, and it shut down. Ohmygod, had I lost all my files? What was wrong? I spent the next three hours talking to a technician-in Spain-not France. Dell, of course, has support in France, but they told me no one was there who spoke English (and the office had shut down at 6 o'clock). Somehow they connected me to the competent and good conversationalist Gerardo. I know because we had plenty of time to chitchat, which made the time go by ever more agreeably.

Since I'd recently been to Spain twice, I was armed with material. Number one was Barcelona. Among other things, I mentioned what good tapas we found there. He replied there were good tapas everywhere in Spain. Of course, the eating is good there. I also brought up San Sebastian, where he'd never been but spoke of longingly. Many of his countrymen say it's the most beautiful city in Spain, said he. From the horse's mouth (what in the heck does that mean), this was something to consider. I reported that yes, indeed, I thought it pleasing, enjoyed it much while I was there, and wanted to return. I described how we promenaded by the beach and along the boulevard with everyone else on that Sunday afternoon. We ate, drank, and listened to part of a concert. He said, "This is our behavior. We have to promenade. We love to eat and drink sitting in the sun." I was beguiled by his explanation, and so was Jim. "This is our behavior." Yes, indeedy. I've seen it in many Spanish cultures-single men and women, couples, families, old ladies and men, drunks (we saw the police in San Sebastian help an unfortunate man who'd had a few too many sangrias or possibly he'd never been to bed the night before. It could happen to anyone with the size of those cocktails). How many ways could we apply this to ourselves-this is our behavior?

Promenading, eating and drinking in the sun are not bad behaviors for anyone to claim. I'll venture to say that the French on holiday promenade as well. Especially the women who like to get dressed and parade up and down by the sea. Of course, the evening promenade brings more ooh la la, high heels, and jewelry. But you're just as likely to see a French woman in the middle of the day with a couple of little kids walking beside her, while she's pushing a stroller in heels I wouldn't want to walk to dinner in. I admire the resiliency of these feet. Mine were beaten to a pulp after 20 years of aerobics without knowing you needed to change your athletic shoes regularly.

My mother had a closet full of high heels and wore them daily as long as her body allowed. It never failed that when we went into a shoe store, she still had to try on the high heels first before settling for something lower and with more stability. There was a time I wore them often as well before styles and my life changed more than a decade ago. I don't have that many occasions for them now. Unlike the French women, my feet are not super-heroic. I can't trudge up and down cobblestone streets, across cities for hours with shoes that don't offer solace.

It's no secret that your legs and feet look more seductive, sexier with a pair of high heels strapped to them. (What exactly is the allure of this appendage?) So it's no wonder women have always loved them, although "Sex and the City" has been a boon for the shoe industry with Carrie Bradshaw a walking advertisement for Manolo Blahniks, Jimmy Choo's, Christian Dior's, etc. Women spend a fortune on these chic foot-coverings that kick ass and maim the wearer. Once your feet adjust to wearing the flattering angles it helps, although I don't think evolution is going to stress the high-heel gene as a pre-requisite for being born. Does fashion have that much power over us? Could it go that far?

We promenaded to the Negresco for a drink, and I wore my Kenneth Cole black strappy platforms that I've had for several years and love just as much as the day I bought them. They're a staple when I travel for a dress shoe with style and appeal, and they're easy to walk in. (I eventually get a blister where one of the straps crosses, but you can't have everything. This is what I'm talking about about my feet.) I will go so far as to say that I favor platforms generally. They provide padding, length to my legs, and steadiness. If the occasion arises, they're also trustworthy to dance in, and this will come to play later on.

Jim was handsome in his linen pants and jacket, and I was well put together in my black leather jacket and Balenciaga scarf, Michael Stars black ¾ length scoop-necked T-shirt, and denim skirt. I'll compete with the French any day in the style department, or at least, when I'm in my training-weight range. The Negresco is pink and fabulous from the outside, and the bar is classic clubby with handsome polished wood and tailored, rich fabrics, just the right people sitting around, the women dripping in jewels. We sat down, and I slung my jacket over my chair like this was nothing for me. When the proper waiter leaned over to quietly greet us, Jim ordered us Gin Fizzes. The cool refreshments were perfectly made and elegantly delivered with petite bowls of crunchy snacks. The problem was we were bored. If one can afford a luxurious five-star hotel, does this mean that he or she is dull? Or is the level of pretension such that life has ebbed away? Or was it just the evening?

I danced down the Promenade des Anglais before a group of musicians playing away with a beat that my body wanted to move to and in my Kenneth Coles. We made our way down the boulevard to the Colline de Chateau which has one of the most stunning views of Nice's half-moon bay, lights sparkling in the twilight, and the Mediterranean mirroring this delight. We stopped into the Hotel La Perouse right below it for another libation, another Gin Fizz to be exact. We were led to the garden bar and restaurant (good thing since it was a labyrinth to get there), and we watched as the waiter picked a lemon from the tree for our drinks. This was charming as all get out as were the hidden garden and romantic pool.

The next stop of our night on the town was a late dinner on the Place Rosetti. This is a beautiful square in old Nice that is so Italian piazza, out of the way, and quiet except for the falling water of its fountain, tinkling of diners' glasses, and the voices which sounded like good neighbors and friends enjoying the evening together. There are several cafés. We picked one and were happy to be there at this moment in time for a dinner of pissaladiére, ravioli, and Nicoise farcis (stuffed vegetables). Jim picked up the pacifier that a baby had dropped. The mother hadn't noticed but was grateful when Jim handed it to her. We felt like we were two of them.

On our way home, we ambled by Le Big Ben Pub and had to stop for a nightcap once we glanced inside at the glamorous semi-circular and tufted banquettes of green velvet, dim smoky light, and the heartfelt music of Gillian Welch, Eric Clapton, and many more. Jim had a revelation! We should have a bar in SoHo or somewhere called the Lazy Boy which would be filled with recliners for men to lie around it. I can see it. Think of the food and drinks you could serve-pigs in a blanket, Ro-tel dip and chips, the always good chicken wings-and the rest of the décor, standing lamps with a round table at their waist. Maybe terry-cloth house-shoes for every patron to wear home. I'm putting it in my restaurant file as well as my Southern restaurant in Paris I know would be a smash.

The following day was remarkable in several ways. First, we promenaded ourselves down to the best socca in Nice (which has been documented by Calvin Trillin and reiterated to us by a Nice native we met while stuffing down our lunch, which also included cod and sardine beignets, farcis Nicoise, and torta bleta-a chard torte that Trillin went wild for but I didn't get). I think we ate more. Secondly, on our way to the socca (a paper-thin pancake made from chickpea flour and olive oil) stand, Jim said, "Look up." Two gray-haired, heavy women-identical twins-wearing the same styleless blue blouse (or dress) and hairstyle, were side-by-side leaning out of a window, staring down at us. They were bizarre. I wanted to take their picture, but they actually intimidated me. It was weird. What were they going to do? Give me more evil-eye? What was their story? What did they do every day besides freak people out? They were Diane Arbus or David Lynch subject matter.

Late in the afternoon, Jim called me to our window. The most complete and exquisite rainbow either one of us had ever seen filled the sapphire sky, and all we could do was stand and marvel at it. Perhaps it was an ethereal walkway for the Spanish angels to promenade along and look down on glorious Nice.

posted by Beth on July 23, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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