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Taking the Thanksgiving Cake

Five nights, four carts, three cars, two trains, one hotel and I’ve lost count of the towns and cities.

Remember the 1987 film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with Steve Martin, John Candy and Laila Robins about a man struggling to travel home for Thanksgiving? This marathon excursion was reminiscent of that comedy of errors with a whole lot of fun in between the effort and mishaps.
 
The train to Aix-en-Provence was du gateau (“a piece of cake”) taking three hours from Gare de Lyon to Aix TGV where the first of three rental cars was awaiting pick-up. The fog lifted and sun hit the scene as we arrived in Provence and that’s when the fun began. With an iPhone plugged into the cigarette lighter for ‘juice,’ Google maps led us to the tiny village of Ansouis where an American friend has a large (six bedrooms and three levels), spacious, beautifully renovated and redecorated village house that she rents when she’s not using it herself. Friends from the U.S. had come, like us, to share Thanksgiving with her in this heavenly place at the foot of the Luberon in Provence (Ansouis Rustic Luxury). 

That afternoon she showed us the old Mairie (city hall) that has been abandoned and for which she has been pining to purchase, renovate and with which she could do something exciting — but it’s a major project of enormous proportion that only the strong of heart should even begin to consider. Her good sense will likely win the emotional battle. Still, it was easy to see how one could get swept up in the possibilities of restoring a centuries-old stone building whose walls have heard more stories than one can create in a lifetime.

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On Thanksgiving Day while she and her visiting friends prepared the dinner and took a vigorous hike to the top of the Luberon, my sister and I took a driving tour of the hill towns, stopping in each for a brief visit: Lourmarin, Bonnieux, La Coste, Mènerbes, Oppède, Oppède-le-Vieux, Gordes and Roussillon. This is a part of Provence that has always stolen my heart — the little perched villages that from afar look like Disney drawings for animated fairy tales. At this time of year, they are particularly quiet with much of the retail shops and restaurants closed for the season. At Mènerbes, the town made famous by Peter Mayle and his book “A Year in Provence,” the car became wedged down a narrow path that led to nowhere next to the town church, barely escaping a scraping from the stone walls. Whew!

The cast of characters around the dining room table included Expats who had lived in France most all of their adult lives in small towns close to Ansouis. They had much to say about what that was like and how certain aspects of their Americanism will never go away, nor would they want it to. The large French turkey was beautiful and delicious as were all of the dishes, but the desserts ‘took the cake’: Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Apple Tarte, all homemade by Americans. 

Friday morning my sister and I drove back to Aix TGV to change the VW Golf for a larger vehicle we could take to Ikea to fill with purchased goods for the Nice apartment. Orchestrating the array of vehicles for the five-day excursion had been no easy task, and had been done with Auto Europe’s counsel. There was no budging the seats in the minivan they had recommended to make the necessary room. Fortunately Europcar traded the minivan for a small truck and off we went to Ikea just a few minutes away from the train station in vehicle number two.

Ikea was an almost six-hour spree, with a lunch break for Swedish meatballs and zillions of decisions. We were able to find just about every accessory one might need to equip an apartment as inexpensively as is possible. Let’s face it, Ikea is amazing! It’s not how you want to furnish a luxury apartment in its entirety…but it serves its purpose for certain items that are tough to beat. If you mix the “Zircons” with the diamonds, as you can with a bit of Ikea here and there, few will be the wiser. This is a philosophy that works well to produce a luxury abode on a smaller budget.

So, by the time we reached the cash register, we had accumulated four carts — two shopping carts filled to overflowing and two flat-bed carts loaded with boxed items. The poor shoppers behind us in line had no clue that we were to hold up the whole process when my U.S. credit card failed to accept the charge due to the security safety-guard imposed by the bank. Their mood wasn’t too hostile once I apologized to all and explained why I was on hold on the cell phone for so long waiting for the fraud department to respond. Perhaps the Provençaux aren’t as impatient as the Parisians!

Loading the little truck was an adventure in itself, filling it to the brim and with success adding the last item — a large white wicker “fauteuil” while securing the wine and champagne glasses, ceramic dinnerware and other breakable items in a way they would at least make it to Nice. In the dark we drove to Nice (about 1.5 hours), found the hotel and parked in its lot.

Mosaïste Véronique Husson had already begun the tile in the bathroom — an interpretation of Matisse’s branch-like forms in yellow glass tiles waiting for the background of three different forms of whites to be filled in. The bathroom is spacious enough to house a large oval tub and counter top for the sink — all to be entirely tiled by hand with her mastery. If you have read of the saga of the overly small bathtub in my own apartment, then you know how a large oval tub in which I can soak for an hour will fulfill my dreams…and those of the guests of the apartment who appreciate a hot bath as much as I do. This bathroom has the beginnings of being a bit of heaven on earth.

The next day we drove the truck to the contractor’s storage unit in the “Riquier” area of Nice and unloaded all the goods. After a good lunch at a very local little bistrot with the contractor and his colleague, we brought the car to Europcar at the train station to switch it out for car number three — another compact car easier to drive and certainly more pleasant.

”It’s easy and fast,” they promised…to travel to “Castorama” (like a “Home Depot”) in Antibes by the A8 Autoroute to see light fixtures and purchase a few more accessories.

Sure! That’s a joke.

One-and-a-half hours later, after having seen every back road between Nice and Cannes, crossing the Autoroute twice, we began to give up and head home when my sister sharply spotted a sign for Castorama in Cannet — another town west of Cannes. Within minutes we found it and saved the day and the wasted time in the car, with the exception of coming across the Musée de Ferdinand Leger that we would never have seen or known about if not for getting lost.

Getting back to the hotel was fast an easy once we had become so familiar with the Autoroute and its particular exits — in time for dinner at my favorite Nice bistrot — Bistrot Antoine in Vieux Nice on rue de la Préfecture (number 27).

Yesterday my sister and I toured the cities of the Cote d’Azur, just as we had done in the Luberon: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Eze and Eze Village, Cap d’Ail, Monaco and Monte Carlo, Roquebrune, Cap Martin and finally Menton. We dined twice, circled the casino in Monte Carlo several times to gawk at the expensive cars and shopped in Menton for Provençal goodies for the apartment.

The weather was sparkling bright, sunny, warm and very Riviera. There is nothing quite like the blue coast — one beautiful town after another, lined in villas, luxury condos, ports of sleek yachts and a casual lifestyle fit for those who can afford it. Each offers something a bit different, but all are designed for living.

Today we took the TGV back to Paris — a 5.40 hour ride in comfort with table-side service in first class. It’s inexpensive, quiet, easy and oh so Frenchly efficient. As much as I love Paris, having the ability to spend time in Provence and on the Riviera is like “eating the cherry on the cake.”

A la prochaine…

adrian drivingAdrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

(driving the truck)

Respond to Adrian

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P.S. Mark your calendar for December 13th when Interior Architect and Designer Martine di Mattéo talks about “How to Create the French Shabby Chic Style” at Parler Paris Après Midi. Visit Parler Paris Après Midifor more information.

P.P.S. For those of you interested in making an investment in Nice or the Riviera, contact us at [email protected] to learn more about how to best realize your blue coast dream. And for those who just want to visit, Le Matisse will be ready for guests before or no later than “Carnival!” Email [email protected] for more information or to book your stay.

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