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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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August 17, 2003

Beth Chases Pigs

The day was sky blue with puffs of white clouds, the air hot and dry. We drove up the Route des Sanguinaires on a hunting expedition to stalk the wild bistro. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's tracking the elusive restaurant. We found one in a prime position to view the sea and the Sanguinaire Islands, a perfect spot for dejeuner. A rally of antique cars was parked along side us, and the drivers and their companions were lunching as well. The old automobiles were cool, mostly sports cars of all makes and models including a Mercedes coupe like Jim drove for a time. This one obviously ran better than his. We enjoyed the setting as much as the cuisine while basking on the terrace, and after lunch, we followed the path around the land's end. The view was out of this world, the hillside covered in fragrant yellow broom and sauvage herbs, the maquis that perfumed the air along with a hint of salty sea. Pools of blue petals floated at the shore like a jardin de l'eau. Mounds of them had dried in the sun, faded to pale brown, and blew with every breeze.

Back at the pool, I swam 30 laps and read my new book-Paris in the Fifties by journalist Stanley Karnow. Writers love to read about other writers-their lives, their experiences, thoughts about their craft-especially when they persevere to succeed which Karnow did outstandingly. After a decade in Paris, Karnow spent many more years abroad and won numerous awards including a Pulitzer. Since he was particularly interested in French life and cultural nuances, he paints the Parisian landscape with deft and sure strokes. I could compare his experience to our own as well as drool over some of the people he met (my film heroine Audrey Hepburn, photographer Robert Doisneau), repasts he savored (in the village of Saulieu on the Burgundy border a standard lunch with his buddies-charcuterie assortie, quenelles de brochet, gigot aux flageolets, pommes frites, salade, le plateau de fromages-whoa), and the literary journalistic dirt he dished ("Don't let the facts interfere with a good story," he was once told while working for Henry Luce's Time magazine so as not to interfere with the "jazzy Timestyle."). Not to mention he and his journalistic compadres' habit of dropping into the Crillon every lunch for martinis. It was a heady time to be in Paris, and Karnow made the most of it.

Our own culinary quest here was to taste the fare of this island. For dinner that night-a Paysanne vegetable soup and cannelloni stuffed with brocciu cheese, figatelli paté (liver sausage that has been marinated in wine, garlic, and peppercorns) and lamb, washed down with a pichet of wine. Chestnuts (marrons) are big in Corsica (and everywhere in France), and we got a coupe of them for dessert in luscious chestnut ice cream with chestnut liqueur and whipped cream. (You see my weight problem.)

Corsica is a land of fierce independence and regionalism. Invasions of Greeks, Romans, Pisans, and Genoese established their influence, and intertwined with the French, producing the Corsican identity. Corsican is recognized as a distinct language, which is spoken by the people, and there is a choral tradition of chant that is sung a capella and is a passionate wail-as is their feeling for independence. We were told by a French mainlander, who now lives on the island, that Corsicans are happy with themselves and their land. They don't much care what anyone else thinks. That description matches the hill people of Arkansas as well, and that attitude created billionaires like Sam Walton there.

Corte is said to be the soul of Corsica, so not having the time to look up an oracle or seer who are said to still be around (which I was dying to do), we decided to take a trip into the island's interior. One glorious vista after another met us on our way-rocky mountains thrusting their peaks into the sky, a lush forest that reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains. The villages we passed through were serene and beautiful, and we wondered how it would be to spend a winter here. A young woman herded her goats up their path as we drove by. She chided them for their slow gait. Indepenza was written as graffiti along the way no doubt by the partisans who want Corsica to be separate.

Corte sits in a valley with its citadel jutting into the sky. We wandered around, but it was hot as a firecracker, and we stopped at a restaurant with covered terrace that caught the wind for a lunch that included a paté of pigeon, salad, and veal ragout. I was hoping for boar. We'd read about all the wild pigs and boars in Corsica (that we could never find on any menu), and on our way home, we spotted some wild pigs shuffling up the road. I was thrilled with the pigs, and Jim stopped the car so I could take their photo. First, I was walking and they were ambling. Then they started trotting. Before long, I was running up the road chasing the pigs for their picture. They wouldn't let me close enough for a good one, and I walked back to the car laughing about the sight I'd been-again. Were they laughing at me, too? A little further down the road we found a pen of pigs who were more agreeable for the photo op. One black and white sow shamelessly hammed it up, while I shot her in all her oinking glory.

We had been to so many museums we didn't imagine we were interested in the Musée Fesch. We finally decided to go at least to see the building itself, which was the palace of Cardinal Fesch, an uncle of Napoleon Bonaparte. It's a splendid villa that is filled with the Cardinal's Italian art collection, which he acquired from his nephew's spoils. In fact, we found it quite amazing. The presentation of the art is ingeniously well-hung, and artists like Raphael and Botticelli are represented-quite a collection for this island to house.

It had been a week since my first major problem with my new Dell computer. I was typing along, and suddenly the keyboard quit. It completely shut down. Nothing happened when I pressed the keys. Oh, it made me feel so warm and fuzzy that this machine was screwed again. I made the call to Dell and was told that someone would meet me in Nice in two days to fix it. Jim thought this was a message for me not to work. I decided to take it as an excuse to enjoy Corsica even more.

I'd bought a medal of St. Bernadette and the Virgin at Lourdes which was sitting on my bedside table. Neither one of them were helping. We ran into our maid in the hall, and she told me Bernadette was her heart. I was touched by her devotion and gave it to her.

There was much more of Corsica we wanted to see but no time. We'll have to come back, and I already have our future itinerary in mind. We caught our ferry to Nice from Bastia on the other side of the island. A tiny Yorkshire Terrier sat on the lap of the passenger in front of us. The French so love their dogs and carry them around in their arms, baskets, or bags. I've seen them being pushed in strollers, riding on motorcycles and bicycles, or sitting on banquettes. This one had vacationed in Corsica. She was a dog about France. Pooches little and big always make us think about our Snapp and how much we miss him being here with us. Jim is afraid Snapp doesn't love him anymore, because we left him. Dogs have feelings too, you know. Will he forgive us? Will he walk down a Paris street one day and bark English at the native canines, while they woof French back to him? We hope to make him a dog about France like this one.

We arrived in luminous Nice and spent one night at Matisse's Beau Rivage. Location, location, location. The hotel is a little tired for a 4-star hotel, but you walk out the door, and the life of the city surrounds you-the Promenade des Anglais around the block, the Cours Saleya down the street. My computer was fixed again (we thought), and our world was good.

We were happy to be back in Nice. We felt like we belonged. When you're homeless as we are, it's interesting to see what creates the feeling of home. I have to give this more thought, but one factor I can tell you is people. If you're in a hotel, and the staff is warm and welcoming, personal and helpful, they actually provide the comforts of home, the familiarity of a home, and even the sentiment of an extended family (maybe nicer than your own). In Nice, Le Grimaldi did that for us, and we were at ease. We'd stalked many bistros in these rues.

Time and again I return to Hemingway's quote, "I loved this country and I felt at home and where a man feels at home, outside of where he's born, is where he's meant to go." For us at this moment in time, our home is France. This is where we were meant to come.

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

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