Sunday, August 15, 2004

I returned from my business trip to France last weekend. I had a great time. My hotel was located on the beach in St. Laurent du Var (a few miles west of Nice airport). A couple dozen restaurants and cafes lined the sea path below. I spent the evenings eating long dinners in the cafes, armed with my notebook and pen.

As I referenced in a previous post, I love the cafe culture in France. In America, eating at a restaurant is based largely on sustenance. We're hungry, and we need food so that we don't pass out. From the restaurant owner's perpspecitve, they want turnover. But in France, dining is a social endeavor, and an evening long event. A couple will go there together, talk the whole night, continuously engaged in the conversation. They look at each other, and don't stare off to continuously monitor every passing person that walks by. You start off with a drink and appetizers, move onto the entree, and follow that with coffee and dessert. All the while, taking your time. Never feeling hurried. Everything done casually. Enjoying each other's conversation. To an outsider, it may seem haphazard and wasteful, especially if you're used to everything being done in American staccato fashion. But I love the pace, and the respect people give each other at the table. It's genuine.

I worked late Monday through Thursday, so my evenings consisted mainly of descending down to the beach and lounging in restaurants. We had a half-day at work on Friday, so with the afternoon free, I took the train from the hotel to Nice proper (about seven miles east). I walked down to the beach and sat there for a while writing. It was abominably hot, between the temperature and the humidty -- a level I can't ever remember ever experiencing before -- and had I been dressed for it, I would have jumped into the Mediterranean Sea and stayed there for hours. And for those of you wondering, yes, I did sunbathe topless. Longing for shade, I crept back onto city streets and wandered through old haunts. I sat down under the awning at my favorite Nice cafe called Mori's Bar. On average, it may have the ugliest clientelle in all of Nice, but it has an undescribed charm that I gravitate to. Perhaps it's because I feel good looking when I'm there.

I returned to the beach and ascended up a staircase that wound up the side of Castle Hill, upon whose plateau offered one of the most beautiful views of any city I've ever seen.

Nearing dinner time I strolled the streets of Old Town and heard two acoustic guitarists playing familiar songs on an outdoor patio. I took a seat and enjoyed drinking beer on a beautiful evening while the guitarists played an ecclectic mix of English covers including Beatles' songs, Nora Jones' Don't Know Why, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Billie Jean, Stand By Me, and Wonderful Tonight.

I left Old Town to catch the train back to St. Laurent du Var, but I literally missed it by seconds. It departed as I approached within yards of it. With the next train not leaving for two hours, I found a nearby Chinese restaurant to grab dinner in while waiting. The food was horrible, but the ambience charming. I drank my favorite French beer, Kronenbourg 1664, and upon completing my dinner I caught the train and returned to the hotel.

On Saturday morning I caught the train to Villefranche-sur-Mer. Well, technically I caught three trains to Villefranche. I had assummed that my train from St. Laurent du Var would stop at my desired destination, but it happened to skip that one, so I had to take another that returned me to Nice's main station and the third train took me to Villefranche. The town is stunning and one that I had become enamored with when I visited France two years ago. The village is comprised of tightly woven buildings that cling to the mountainside. I passed through narrow alleys, paths, and staircases, to arrive at the Citadel, an amazing stone fort built in 1557. Two sections contained the ouvre of two local and deceased artists. The artwork was exceptional, but as there was no ventilation or air conditioning, the heat in the corridors was beyond intense and I couldn't linger for long. I saw one work on paper and thought that it was a watercolor since the paper was buckled. I looked closer and saw that it was pastel, but the weather conditions within the room caused the paper to bend as it would if water were placed on it. The sculpture and drawings in the Musee Volti were fantastic. Just wondering through the building made you feel like you were living in Medieval times.

After spending much time walking around the city I took the train back to Nice and went to its Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The building itself is a piece of artwork. It is composed of four five-story columns with connected glass corridors. The museum has a great collection of artwork, and I was impressed -- and surprised -- by its focus on modern American art. One of my favorite pieces was Damien Hirst's, Five Black Dots. It was painted directly onto the enormous wall, and resembled a Twister game with large equidistant dots of different colors. Upon first look, it appeared that there were more than five black dots. But closer inspection revealed that some of the dots that appeared black were actually dark brown, green, and blue. Perhaps a comment on race and the hazards of judging on first appearence? I found it engaging in its simplicity. The very top of the museum had an open air atrium with beautiful views of the city and an interesting way to interlock the functional columns. They were spanned by an arching path that resembled a bridge that one would find in a Japanese garden.

I retraced some of my earlier steps through Old Town, accompanied with a cup of gelatto. In the evening I took the train back to the hotel, and left Nice early Sunday morning. The flight had a barking dog and kids that continuously ran through the plane and swung off seats, so it wasn't a calming flight, but not too bad. I wrote, read, watched TV, slept, and did a drawing.

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