I will be on route to Paris from Aix-en-Provence this afternoon by train after a bit more than a week spent in Nice and a weekend in Provence, the homes-away-from-home I have. Like any place on the planet where one spends more and more time, Nice is almost as much like home as Paris is. Plus, my frequent travels to Provence, thanks to good friend, Barb Westfield, who has made Ansouis her own home-away-from-home (which is Chicago), has become a second home-away-from-home for me.
This may sound like a whole lot of garble, but I do know an awful lot of people who have invested in abodes all over the planet in order to have multiple homes-away-from-home and who also have found the pleasure in investing their hard-earned savings in something more concrete as a “real asset,” hence the term “real estate.”
The weather last week in Nice was a mix of downpours, cool winds and sunshine. The Niçois are not prepared very well for rain, and often just stay inside rather than venture out in the wet mess, unlike Parisians who see more rain and cloudy skies than sunshine. If you were to limit your Paris outings to only dry days, you’d be relegated to a life indoors…sadly missing what Paris has to offer. In Nice, it’s the opposite with way more sunny days than gray ones.
Thursday, we drove a rental car to the famous seaside resort/convention town of Cannes for a quick visit and then to go onward just above it to Le Cannet where musician and vocalist, Larry King, was to play piano and sing his heart out (from Cole Porter to Michel Legrand) at the SET (the South of France English Theatre).
Cannes (not pronounced like “can” or “con,” but somewhere in between both sounds like “caaannn”) has never bowled me over. Much like Hollywood (which is really just an area of Los Angeles filled with big barn-like sound stages, but with an outsider’s image of glamor), Cannes is just a big convention town on the sea glamorized by the famous film festival (scheduled to start soon — this coming May 14-25) with a few fancy-schmancy hotels and great shopping. The beach is not nearly as beautiful as the Baie des Anges in Nice (in my opinion), except for it being made of sand, rather than “galets” (Nice pebbles), and the water is dotted with enormous cruise liners that are eyesores on the horizon (again, this is my opinion). The buildings in Cannes are on the whole, more contemporary than those in Nice, which is not my idea of Riviera charm. Visiting the city for an afternoon or a festival, like we did to just get a snack and drink at a seaside café, is about as much as I need or want to do, then happily go home to “my” Nice, the real city where real life takes place.
Le Cannet, however, is a different animal. This is a town I’d never been to, as there had never been a good reason until now. Now I know to make a point to go back. There’s a part of it that is “vieux” as in “old,” worth a special visit, filled with art galeries, small shops, restaurants and cafés, and reeking of creativity and old-world charm. The Chapelle Saint-Sauveur, adorned by a mosaic by artist Théo Tobiasse (1927-2012), is a museum of his works, an old stone building punctuating the rue Saint-Sauveur on which SET sits, as does a wall mural on a home resembling a Chagall painting.
The evening was an unusual one, beginning with the theater: a room of tables and chairs, a piano and microphone; the walls lined with posters and some original art. Larry began to play at 7 p.m. while we ordered up drinks and made plates of hors d’oeuvres from a buffet in the “sous sol” (basement). The room filled up with a variety of mostly older people; mostly British who live or visit the region and a few French.
Lisa Anselmo was scheduled to sing one or two songs with Larry. The reason this happened at all was because of “one degree of separation” between Lisa, Larry and me. I’ve known Larry for years through a mutual New York friend who keeps an apartment in Paris. Larry knows Lisa from long ago when he worked with her uncle, who was the “vocal coach to the stars,” at his school in New York, The Singers’ Forum. The school is gone now, and their relationship waned naturally, until they rediscovered each other through me! I met Lisa taping a House Hunters International episode with her that aired in 2014. (These are the moments when you know you’re in the right place at the right time!)
We brought John Garland along, so that he could network and get to know other singing venue possibilities. That’s when Larry invited John to sing, too, and show off his stuff. Unprepared, he was still able to “wing it” and with Larry, the true professional, anticipating his every note, he never had sounded better. Lisa was in great form. She brought me to tears with her rendition of La Vie en Rose — Edith Piaf would have been very proud. Wish you had been there. Here’s a video clip for you to get a glimpse and a listen, taken by Patty Sadauskas.
Saturday afternoon, after Patty and Lisa left to return to Paris, I hopped the Ouibus from the Nice airport to Aix-en-Provence. It was a comfortable two-hour ride costing very little money, making it “easy peasy” to pay a visit to Barb Westfield in Ansouis and her four friends who had just arrived from Chicago. Here’s another one degree of separation of note: one of the four friends, architect Tom Marquardt, is someone I met many years ago. He and I were at the Paris Hôtel de Ville for a special event, and were introduced to one another through the then assistant deputy to the deputy of tourism for Mayor Bertand Delanoë, Laurent Queige. We discovered that evening that we were both good friends with Barb, quite coincidentally and synchronistically. (If you don’t know this term, “synchronicity,” it is “an acausal connecting principle,” as coined by Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.) I didn’t want to miss seeing Tom and the other Chicagoans, and since Ansouis has become my second home-away-from-home, I invited myself for the weekend, while they would be staying for the entire week.
Barb usually gives me the “blue room,” one of the five beautifully appointed bedrooms in the old village house. This one is on the first floor with a window overlooking the cobblestoned main road into town, the town “presse” (newsstand) and the only café in town (there are a few great restaurants, too). By sheer coincidence/synchronicity again, long before I got to really know Barb and Ansouis, my daughter, Erica, and I were traveling around Provence one spring weekend and decided to stop at this very café, not knowing we were sitting in front of these same very windows!
Spring has hit Provence, making it lush, bright green and flowering. The lavender fields are now only rows of little rounded mounds that by July will be in full bloom. The six of us piled into two cars to visit the open-air market at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Sunday morning, having lunch there and enjoying it into the afternoon. This is one of Provence’s finest arrays of fresh produce and Provençal wares one can find, set on the Sorgue river, the source of which starts at the town of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the biggest spring in France and the fifth biggest in the world.
We also had time enough to drive through a few of the “villages perchés” (perched villages) to take in the sun over coffee (and whatever else suited our fancy) in the town of Lourmarin at the foot of the Luberon Massif. Here’s yet another coincidence/synchronicity, as the first time I traveled in Provence about 20 years ago, I stayed at a delightful B&B in Lourmarin named La Cordière, run by a woman equally delightful named Françoise Herry. I learned later that Barb had also been a guest there at one time and new Madame Herry, as well, leaving with the same fine sentiments.
There are a lot of lovely shops in Lourmarin, one of which is particularly special for me — Namasté, filled with beautiful printed silks, the patterns created by a local artist. It is here I have found some lovely dresses, scarves and gifts — seriously not to be found anywhere else in the world.
I didn’t leave Provence without a stop at the Fondation Vasarely in Aix-en-Provence and a lunch in the beautiful garden at the Hôtel de Caumont Centre d’Art. If you love the artist Victor Vasarely, or have never experienced his Op Art works, then a visit to the museum is a must. The enormous works on display will leave you awestruck.
And while you’re in Aix, take a short detour to the beautiful and stately Hôtel de Caumont for whatever exhibition is on at the moment, and be sure to dine in either the garden or one of the many beautiful dining rooms to make you feel as if you have been transported back in time.
Whether I lived in France in another life or not before this one, all these little coincidences and synchronicities keep telling me that I’m in the right place at the right time…that the path set out before me is the right one and all part of some grander scheme. I just have to let it carry me along and not try to control my own destiny. So far, it’s working out just fine…
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(Rocking in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Photo by Tom Marquardt)
P.S. Happy Spring! To celebrate the season, you’re invited to the Paris Alumni Network art exhibition and opening at the Galerie Maître Albert (6, rue Maître Albert, 75005). Meredith Mullins is one of 15 artists in the show and will be exhibiting her photographs from the “Le Cirque” series and a new series in color called “In Play.” Vernissage: May 2nd from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Finissage: May 11th from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Exhibition is open every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.