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A Summer in France - Part 5 of 6

July 5th, 2015

A Summer in France - Part 5 of 6

Our daily excursions to seek more far flung Cote d’azur villages around Vence, was becoming a chore for in August most of Europe stops for annual summer holidays and heads south to the Cote d'azur.

The roads become clogged with all manner of vehicles shoveling their occupants
to the Mediterranean, from Motorcycles to Camper Vans, the roads are mostly grid locked. In order to enjoy our remaining summer in France we decided to avoid much of this by exploring the area closer to us. There are an amazing variety of unique places within earshot of Vence.
One of the most famous is St.Paul de Vence, about 2 miles south of our Villa it is a centuries old fortified hilltop village of approximately 3000 inhabitants which can swell to the thousands in tourist season. One enters the village through a portal in the stone ramparts and is greeted by a labyrinth of narrow alleys with stepped tributaries running in every direction. Shops and Art Galleries line the walls, selling everything from high fashions to Jewelry to Art.
This area of France is blessed with a lot of natural artesian wells which for years the villages harnessed in the form of the public fountains. Many are hundreds of years old and usually the center piece of the town. I couldn't resist painting this one. The Place de la Grande Fountaine where once the town's women came to was the clothes and socialize.
Another must for anyone visiting this centuries old wonder village is to partake of the many culinary delights which the French are renowned for. The amazing entrance to La Grange hints at its gastronomic wonders inside.
Close by is La Fondation Maeght an art gallery /museum founded by Aimé and Marguerite Maeght in the early 1950's after a family tragedy. The grounds exhibits a collection of many statues and other works of 3 dimensional art while the gallery hosts ongoing exhibits of originals by world renown artists like Lucian Fraud which I spent an afternoon studying.

Close by, the town of Antibes, originally a 5th century BC Greek colony, has had many famous citizens like Pablo Picasso, The Duke of Windsor, Aristotle Onassis and others. It also hosts many events such as International Jazz Festival, a major Yacht show including antique boats and various other cultural festivals.
My wife wanted to mail some postcards home and went to the post office located in the town center, while waiting for her on a bench outside my eye caught a glimpse of a lace curtain gently blowing gently in and out of a large open window framed by a profusion of plants on the balcony which of course I had to paint.

The town sits on a spit of land jutting into the Mediterranean which also forms the Bay of Antibes harboring the town of Juan Les Pins. While driving around the outer road which follows the shoreline and has many walled palatial homes, I spotted two traditional fishing boats tied to an old rickety pier, the weather was warm and the afternoon sun turned everything into a warm, laid back ambiance which, surprise, I also just had to paint.
The following day greeted us with a hot summer sun shining straight down as we returned to visit Juan les Pins. The relatively small beach was packed with every shade of tan one could imagine so we found a spot somewhere in the middle and settled in for some R&R.
Juan Les Pins is famous as the place where the first topless bathing suit attempted to shock the world, created by fashion guru Rudi Gernriech in 1964, its strategically placed straps where pretty much anti climatic by the standards that surrounded us today. This little jewel of the Riviera has become the spring break capital of Southern France with all manner of attractions including a below ground motorcycle arcade and one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten anywhere. It also has one of the most exclusive hotels, the Eden Rock's whose accommodations has played host to some of the world's biggest who's who.

Driving for any length in a non English speaking country can become tiring after a while, fortunately there was Riviera Radio, an English broadcast station one can pick up from St Tropez to Menton, it featured local news while playing all the great hits like UB40's Kingston town which to this day brings all those wonderful memories back each time I hear it.
Cagnes-sur-Mer is a town a bit further to the east where Renoir lived in his later years. Complete with a bronze statue in the front yard, his studio is set up to mimic the day to day activities of this legendary artist.
The town center sports a medieval tower from where one can get a great view of a large part of the Cote 'd'azur coastline.
Returning to our villa, our host invited us to spend an evening in the courtyard of his home & studio. Along with various other artists we sat around the center fishpond filled with lilies discussing the merits of art, world affairs and how can one live a life like this forever.

Michael Swanson is a Canadian Artist who enjoys traveling to capture some of the world's great places. You can subscribe to these blogs at upper left of screen.

A Summer in France - Part 4 of 6

July 5th, 2015

A Summer in France - Part 4 of 6

Of all the French Riviera's villages, St Tropez is one of my favorite. Everywhere I turned was a potential painting, from the colorful fishing boats doting the harbor to the outdoor bistro tables waiting for customers in the many alleyways, life seemed nothing but laid back. Atelier Sei was an art gallery amongst many I checked out and ended up buying a piece to take home as a souvenir . Close by is the main Sycamore shaded square, as most in this region it has its Bole Ball addicts who will stop at nothing to compete on these dusty tanned clay courts while awning covered diners watch from nearby cafes.
Across from the square is the local Museum / Public Art Gallery which hosts revolving local shows along with the region's history highlights which we found quite interesting. Stepping out of the Museum we ran smack into a parade in progress, celebrating some historical event. All including children, where dressed in colorful period customs with large brimmed straw hats. After buying some take out sandwiches at a local shop we wandered to a small alcove beach area just behind the public pier (still wanting to be near a washroom LOL) where we sat down amongst some lively (yes topless) summer school students enjoying their lunch hour break, swimming and playing Frisbee.

Asking if this was the only beach, a student gestured toward the south saying that there was a larger beach area in that direction but one needed a car to get there. After meandering through more of St. Tropeze's quaint streets our daughters voted to go there so we headed out along a small bogenvilea lined road which opened up to a very long beach. The sun was high and intense, shining down on a very large and dusty parking area, it took us a while to find a spot but one could see an inviting and magnificent azure / turquoise sea just beyond the beach. Trekking through the white hot sand between bamboo fenced outdoor restaurants we finally reached the open beach. As we walked along the water's edge looking for a good spot to set up our umbrella our youngest pulled my arm down to whisper earnestly into my ear "they're all naked here". It turns out that the private bamboo walled areas can be rented by those who enjoy that lifestyle, thereby beating the public beaches Le Minimum rule. At any rate, the day turned out to be a perfect summer's day, a warm gentle breeze, warm clear water and the ever present Super Yachts on the horizon, it's a memory I wall cherish during our Canadian winters.

After enjoying this paradise like day, we knew that all good things must come to an end. While the large orange sun slowly sank into the Mediterranean, it dawned on us that it was still quite a ride home, so we packed up and trekked back to our now almost lonely little Renault in the parking lot. By the time we reached the open bay area road with St. Maxime at its end it was totally dark. What I had forgotten about was the hairy cliff side road we now had to take in total darkness.

Earlier I thought I knew fear but this time I was almost petrified, one could not see the cliff's edge and this time we where in the right lane, separated only by what looked like a 3 inch stone curb from certain death over that 1000 ft cliff.
Then I saw them, Headlights, coming straight at us. To this day I will never know how two cars could pass safely on a 20 ft wide road in total darkness. I know I had my eyes closed and to make things worse, I again had to find a restroom as soon as possible.

I mentioned before, using a French Public Restroom room is a unique experience. Earlier in St Tropez my wife came back out of the rest room wide eyed saying the there is no toilet just a hole in the floor with two brass foot plates in front of it !

My experience differed little in the men's side, except that between front door and the hole sat a stern looking matron at a table handing out toilet paper for a few francs. In retrospect I guess it's a model of efficient public / private partnership, the city supplies the infrastructure and for a small fee, private enterprise keeps it clean and tidy.
After enduring the Tartar experience, I now consider myself somewhat of a French Restroom expert from St. Tropez to all the way Monte Carlo, it taught me which ones where run well and which where just holes in the ground.

The upcoming weekend promised more of the same,Sunny and Warm, we wanted to do something different. I noticed an ad for Venicia or Venice, Italy, checking the distance I realized that it was possible to drive there in about one day so Thursday night we packed for the trip. Heading east we took the expressway which runs above the local roads bypassing Monaco and Menton, to the Italian border. Most of the Riviera area was once In Italian hands which explains why a lot of the larger buildings have some pretty ornate plasterwork compared to most of the French inland villages which are made from stone and mortar, the Italians are masters in the art of plastering stuff, even many of the Roman columns that Italy is known for are actually brick with a plaster overlay making them look like cut marble.

We neared the Italian border and scrambled to find our passports, each time we looked around for them the lights suddenly went out as we drove into one of the long mountain tunnels and then immediately over a long bridge spanning the often very deep valley as we exited into daylight again. Building these highways must have been a hell of a job for there were quite a few areas like that.
At the border ( which was before the European Union), we where approached by a uniformed guard who in Italian asked us something which none of us could figure out. The only thing I could think to say was that we where Canadians going to Venicia for the weekend in English.
I could make out the word Canada in the Italian's answer and immediately afterwards were waved on through. Not sure if he meant us to go to the customs building I started to show him my passport but he kept waving us on while my wife tried to get him to stamp her passport to show we had been in Italy which also proved futile.
So now we where suddenly in Italy feeling like world travelers. Except for the Italian language traffic signs everything felt the same, more tunnels with high level bridges but in general a very good road. As we neared Genoa traffic picked up noticeably and a lot more signs to decipher, I took the ones with arrows pointing north and suddenly there was the word "Venicia" right under "Milano". After a while the mountainous landscape changed to more level land as we entered one of the best 6 lane divided highways I had ever seen, straight as an arrow with a speed limit of 130 km which no one seem to take serious. The actual speed limit was whatever your car could get up to which left us mostly in the right lanes as even downhill with a good wind at our backs the little Renault was good for about 105 km.
Being passed by Mercedes, BMW's and a few Lamborginis streaking by wasn't that embarrassing when one considers the gas mileage we were getting, however we did need some petrol and pulled into one of the very modern service centers.

After filling tummies and tank, we headed north to Milano which we bypassed due to time constraints. Heading east from there, it wasn't long before the signs for Vanicia appeared. We had no idea what to expect other than Venice has canals with water instead of roads so we decided to stay at a small hotel in Mestre a part of the Venice area but still on the mainland.
We arrived tired so decided on a nap before going into Venice. It was almost evening and we decided to go into Venice anyway taking the local bus. Crossing a long causeway by road or train is the only way one can get into the ancient city for it is all built on islands.
Venice is everything one can imagine, yet nothing like what I expected. Once the New York of the Adriatic nearly one thousand years ago, it was the hub for all things exported and imported to and from Europe earning its wealth by taxing it all.

The bus left us in a small open area beside the multi story parking garage so we headed to the first thing that looked like a canal which had a pier with a small open waiting structure at the end. People were getting on a ferry type boat so we followed and sat down on the benches within. I had heard that the main area to see was called St.Marks Square so I asked the man beside us when to get off. Not speaking english, he gestured he understood and would let us know.

His tap on my shoulder indicated that our stop was next but thinking he meant now, we got off a stop too soon. The first thing we came to was a small bridge crossing a canal, where a wonderful voice singing something in Italian greeted us. Thinking it came from one of the many open windows we started to cross the bridge and noticed the singing getting louder. Out of the dark a Gondola passed quietly under the bridge, its two occupants barely visible from the single candle were being serenaded by a third man while the Gondolier expertly handled the long single oar. As mysteriously as it appeared, the voice disappeared again shrouded in darkness. So this was Venice and absolutely enchanting I must say !

The city is full of small alleyways and also split into various regions by a large network of small canals which in turn is split in half by the large "Grand Canal" meandering like a snake through the middle.
Due to this, it is hard to get one's bearing at the best of times but at night it is impossible. We strolled a few more alleyways and finally returned, making sure to get the last bus back to the mainland and our hotel before we really got lost.

The next morning during the bus ride back into Venice the whole picture of "Venicia" began to get much clearer. As we entered Venice over the causeway in daylight, one could better sense how the islands are laid out. The area that we were dropped of last evening, is as far as any motorized vehicle can travel, hence the multi level parking structure on the south side. What I didn't see last night was the ticket building near the Grand Canal were one buys maps and tickets for the water buses we rode, I guess for free last night. It turns out that many sneak on these boats for free anyway for rarely does any one check for tickets once on the boat.
The water buses or Vaporettos as they are called in Italian are more of an enclosed steel ferry type boat about 45 ft long with benches throughout. Like Buses, they are marked for the various locations and stops and run abut every 15 minutes. We got on one just past the ticket building and noticed a large covered train station across the other side of the canal, the trains are the most popular way for most to get to Venice.
As we headed for St Marks Square again the once magnificent city came into better focus. While still a must see, the weathered and partially crumbling buildings along the canal speak of Venice of another day. Originally built for protection from roaming warriors on small islands in the Lagoon it gradually grew and amalgamated into what one sees today.
Like any main thoroughfare, the canal is a hub of activity, everything from private water taxis, commercial deliver boats and of course the ever present Gondolas scurrying back and forth across the canal with no stoplight to control traffic.

Pizza St. Marco or Marks Square as it is commonly called, is the psychological heart of Venice featuring a perimeter of covered walkways, with restaurants, a huge clock tower, the amazing Basilica of St Mark which refused entry to my daughter because she was wearing shorts, and of course the Doge's Palace facing the canal. Getting there early is important if one wants to avoid the usual throng of tourists but nothing will help you avoid the hordes of pigeons or Gondoliers trying to entice you into a Gondola ride.
Sadly our time in Venice was limited as I needed to return to the art galley business but a solemn promise was made to return to this historical city ASAP.

Heading back to France, this time west with the wind blowing at us I managed to get the little Renault up to about 95km which caused some stern looks by those wishing to pass. At one point a motorcycle was almost toughing my back bumper before I could mover over. Commenting on the stupidity of tailgating my daughters suddenly yelled "Hey, he just gave us the finger ! Such is life in the fast lane LOL.

Late Sunday evening we finally pulled into our villa's driveway who's large iron gates are flanked by two equally large bones mad from plaster (I think) our host had apparently created as a statement to the arts (I think.)

Michael Swanson is a Canadian Artist who enjoys traveling to capture some of the world's great places. You can subscribe to these blogs at upper left of screen.

A Summer in France - Part 3 of 6

July 5th, 2015

Cannes is the other large city on the Cote d'azur or French Riviera and famous for the annual Cannes film festival "Festival De Cannes". We arrived during the final week of this star studded event and found the main promenade filled with movie posters and the movie’s beautiful people being vowed by a bevy of the world's Glitter Press and paparazzi.
Most of the big stars had gone but on my way to check a gallery out, I realized the man walking in front of me who had cursingly just stepped into some dog poop, was none other than Zorro or as others know him, George Hamilton.
He gave us a disgusting look while his all too young female companion giggled awkwardly, I guess even Hollywood stars are human after all.

Cannes's main Beach area “Promenade de la Croisette”, is the place to see and be seen. Shorter than Nice's promenade it is well manicured with flowered areas, a working antique Merry-go-Round and stately palm trees. Running east to west and overlooking the harbor area, it ends at the red carpeted “Palais des Festivals et des Congrès” where the awards are handed out. Paralleled by a divided boulevard where Sir Galahad's quest it seems, is re enacted hourly by those with their Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Rolls-Royces whistling at all manners of shapely legs walking by
I wanted to capture the ambiance of this sunny and elegant place but rain clouds threatened and once things cleared I was greeted by a whole different scene which ended up making a great melancholy picture anyway.

It was my oldest daughter's birthday so we decided to go and spend a relaxing evening meal at one of the many outdoor cafes by Cannes's harbor. Huskers and Mimes meandered from table to table to earn a few coins; when my youngest daughter noticed the white faced Mime in a top hat nearing our table she panicked and probably scared them more for they never came back.
As the sunset slowly faded and night set in, all the street lights suddenly went out. This odd situation was compounded by what I took as distant music emanating from the promenade area which peaked our curiosity. Walking over to that area we notice more and more people gathering around us when suddenly the sky erupted with fireworks and the classical, now much louder sound of The Blue Danube Waltz, coming from large speakers everywhere.
Unknown to us we were experiencing one of the cigarette maker Du Maurier awesome "Sound and Fire" events staged over the water along the entire beach area. Of course we told our daughter that we had arranged it all just for her birthday LOL.

Like Monaco, Cannes is a playground for the rich but with a far more casual attitude; the beach has trucked in sand rather than pebbles like Nice and is popular for sunbathers as long as one respects the La Minimum rule of a G string which is pretty universal along the coast. Looking towards the horizon one can see a number of mega yachts, dotting the skyline which I painted along with the pier of the luxury hotel Martinez using my wife as a model, always good to earn brownie points. Before leaving for our Villa, I noticed an American Aircraft Carrier anchoring out which made the yachts look rather puny, I guess there is always a larger fish somewhere.

To keep our budget intact we alternated from cooking at our villa, eating fast food and once or twice a week pigging out at a good Bistro. We looked for a MacDonald’s but found that they weren't welcome here which I found odd for we did see a number of burger places who copied the look exactly minus the arches.
All this was before electronic banking and I used mostly travelers cheques which were sometimes difficult to cash so I befriended the manager at our closest burger joint in Cagnes-sur-Mer, who ended up becoming or sort of bank; before going on our daily excursions I would stop to cash enough cheques for our daily spending money. On a couple of occasions our Gallery host took us to one of her favorite places for a real treat.

We decided to go and check out the villages to the west of Vence and started out on the road to Grasse. Grasse has a long history making the various smells for perfume, soaps and the like. Fragonard Perfumery is one of the oldest factories offering free tours, samples and a museum collection of rare perfumes. As with all the hillside villages its streets are mostly narrow, winding through structures built centuries ago. After many dead ends and twisting turns, we finally found the facility and decided to take a tour. The first thing one notices is the constant aroma of exotic flowers particularly lavender. The main person in this whole business is the NOSE, that title is bestowed upon him or her who can tell all the fragrances apart. To the traditional minded French it is a honored title and no laughing matter.

Continuing our search for visual delights brought us to a town called Tourrettes-sur-Loup another quaint little mountain town best discovered by foot due to the impossible small roads. While exploring these streets I came upon this little gem of stone steps and a stone wall full of bougainvillea.
Before moving on to the next visual delights, we decided to have lunch at a little corner cafe. Now for those who have never heard of Tartar before, it is a French must eat delicacy consisting of almost raw ground horse meat often served with a raw egg topping and therein lies the next part of the story.
I grew up in the time of Father knows Best and Mad Men, however my wife is probably the smarter of that bunch for I vaguely recall her warning, "I wouldn't eat that stuff"

We had just left Grasse's amazing downtown flower market with the lingering aroma of or perfumery trip still teasing my olfactory senses when the pain started. At first, just a mild discomfort but by the time we where well underway on another one of those hairy mountain roads, I began to understand the words "Montezuma's Revenge" The road was about 20 ft wide (much like my driveway) with a shear drop of a 1000 ft to my left which I vaguely remember.
My strangely quiet wife and ashen faced daughters offered the only clue that this had become no ordinary ride in the woods. Between closed eyes and the kids' audible gasps when glancing quickly over the cliff, I slowly come to understand fear but now mostly from the thought of not finding a washroom soon.

We blew into St. Maxime, down the cliff, at about 100 miles an hour where the nearest gas station luckily had a washroom. St Maxime is the first stop of a large bay that ultimately ends at the jet set town of St Tropez, a once sleepy fishing village brought to fame during the 50's with movie stars like French sex symbol Bridgett Bardot who apparently still lived there with a menagerie of cats I was told.

It sports an ample size curved harbor where all manner of artists ply their wares and vie to capture quick charcoal portraits of tourists. It also has a long breakwater pier with a lighthouse at its end but my focus was on the two doors underneath at the foot of the pier sporting familiar male and female silhouettes. French washrooms are a story in themselves, a tale I got to know well over the next three days.
To be continued

Michael Swanson is a Canadian Artist who enjoys traveling to capture some of the world's great places. You can subscribe to these blogs at upper left of screen.

A Summer in France - Part 2 of 6

July 5th, 2015

A Summer in France - Part 2 of 6

One of the fascinating aspects of traveling to another country are the people you meet. The galley staff included a young man I met who lived in the apartment above the galley and was responsible for maintenance etc. Over coffee I found out that he was a British Expat and a former boyfriend of Elton John, his circle of friends included many of Rock n Roll's superstars along with the American artist David Hockney and my villa's landlord, Nall. His stories of big money and the lifestyle it buys still fascinates me today.
Along with others, I met a fellow Canadian artist named Jim from Montreal, a college roommate of Pierre Elliot Trudeau who had been living in France for quite a few years but still well connected locally and still to Canada. He explained how the Russians at the turn of the century invested heavily in the region's real estate and many of these old large estates where run as artist retreats to beat French taxes, as was the one I was staying at. The soaring land values made these targets of real estate tycoons who left no stone unturned to get their hands on them, including but not limited to clandestinely greasing the steps in hopes of causing a severe enough fall to put any reluctant elderly owners permanently into a hospital.
Such where many of the evenings spent at the local Bistros until the wine finally blurred the mind enough to seek some sleep.
Another unique French tradition was the many artists who would set up their easels daily near the gallery creating copies of famous paintings in hopes of selling these copies to tourists.

My focus was not only to sell my work through the Galley but also to gather enough reference material to take home to paint later. To this end we continued to scour the country side more and more. Each day I would target one of the many surrounding villages and spend a few leisure hours walking the medieval streets.
Few citizens had the luxury of owning a lot of land and therefore live in many smaller apartments in the village centers but their love for the outdoors is immediately apparent by the many beautiful decorated flowered windows. Those lucky enough have balconies often grow virtual gardens which to any artist are a visual delights.

One of my favorite villages is Mougins, my first view was a geranium filled window cradling a bird cage in the center of an old stone wall. Street after street offered these charming vignettes that any artist would love to paint, they give insight to our human condition. While windows can get you smiling, doors are every bit as interesting for they either welcome us or warn us emotionally to keep out.

We lived roughly between the larger cities of Nice and Cannes and often took turns visiting each. Nice has a significant harbor where all manner of international vessels including cruise ships dock. it also has a long stony beach overseen by the equally long Blvd 'd Angle ( English Blvd named after an English man who long ago helped fund this beautiful promenade). Today it is filled with locals and tourists alike who stroll or sit on the many benches overlooking the Mediterranean while in areas underneath restaurants flourish and offer umbrella shade lounges on their section of private beach. The center of this public space is anchored by the stately Negresco hotel complete with a uniformed doorman. The old quarter of Nice offers many fantastic stores and restaurants for the hungry where you can watch all manner of buskers while enjoying your meal.
While doing just that, I noticed a couple of windows visually connected with a profusion of vines. The one appeared to have had knitted wool curtains with an inscription the read "Chalet Manuela" in the plastered wall below. Later while strolling along further I chanced by a short alleyway whose building colors of red /orange and white stood out against the Mediterranean blue sky which I just had to paint.
Traveling further east one comes upon Villefranche-Sur-Mer, complete with a Canadian university facility and a natural harbor sprouting a massive water fountain in its center. The coast at this point meanders somewhat dotted with more villages like St-Jean-Cape-Faret, Beaulieu-s-Mer, Ez and finally Monte Carlo

One of the fascinating aspects of traveling to another country are the people you meet. The galley staff included a young man who lived in the apartment above the galley and was responsible for maintenance etc. Over coffee I found out that he was a British Expat and a former boyfriend of Elton John, his circle of friends included many of Rock n Roll's superstars along with the American artist David Hockney and my villa's landlord, Nall. His stories of big money and the lifestyle it buys still fascinates me today .

Along with others, I met a fellow Canadian artist named Jim from Montreal, a college roommate of Pierre Elliot Trudeau who had been living in France for quite a few years and well connected locally and also to Canada. He explained how the Russians at the turn of the century invested heavily in the region's real estate and many of these old large estates where run as artist retreats to beat French taxes, as was the one I was staying at. The soaring land values make these targets of real estate tycoons who will leave no stone unturned to get their hands on them, including but not limited to clandestinely greasing the steps in hopes of causing a severe enough fall to put any reluctant elderly owners permanently into a hospital.
Such where the many evenings spent at the local Bistros until the wine finally blurred the mind enough to seek some sleep.
Another unique French tradition was the many artists who would set up their easels daily near the gallery creating copies of famous paintings in hopes of selling these copies to tourists.

My focus was not only to sell my work through the Galley but also to gather enough reference material to take home to paint later. To this end we continued to scour the country side more and more. Each day I would target one of the many surrounding villages and spend a few leisure hours walking the medieval streets.
Few citizens had the luxury of owning a lot of land and therefore live in smaller apartments in the village centers but their love for the outdoors is immediately apparent by the many beautiful flowered windows. Those lucky enough have balconies often grow virtual gardens which to any artist are a visual delights.
One of my favorite villages is Mougins, my first view was a geranium filled window cradling a bird cage in the center of an old stone wall. Street after street offered these charming vignettes that any artist would love to paint, they give insight to our human condition. While windows can get you smiling, doors are every bit as interesting for they either welcome us or warn us emotionally to keep out.

We stayed roughly between the larger cities of Nice and Cannes and often took turns visiting each. Nice has a significant harbor where all manner of international vessels including cruise ships dock. it also has a long stony beach overseen by the equally long Blvd 'd Angle ( English Blvd named after an English man who long ago helped fund this beautiful promenade). Today it is filled with locals and tourists alike who stroll or sit on the many benches overlooking the Mediterranean while in areas underneath, restaurants flourish and offer umbrella shade lounges on their section of private beach. The center of this public space is anchored by the stately Negresco hotel complete with a uniformed doorman. Further into the city is the old quarter of Nice which offers many fantastic stores and restaurants for the hungry where you can watch all manner of buskers and enjoy your meal.

While doing just that, I noticed a couple of windows visually connected with a profusion of vines. The one appeared to have had knitted wool curtains with an inscription the read "Chalet Manuela" in the plastered wall below. Later while strolling along further I chanced by a short alleyway whose building colors of red /orange and white stood out against the Mediterranean blue sky which I just had to paint.

Traveling further east one comes upon Villefranche-Sur-Mer, complete with a Canadian university facility and a natural harbor sprouting a massive water fountain in its center. The coast at this point meanders somewhat and is dotted with more villages like St-Jean-Cape-Faret, Beaulieu-s-Mer, Ez and finally Monte Carlo.

Monte Carlo along with it's district Monaco, is by all standards the city to live in if you are part of the 1%. This principality is a virtual country within a country and boasts a number of annual world class international events, like auto racing's Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

Driving to Monaco presents one with a choice of roads, there are actually three "Corniche" roads, the lower (basse), middle (moyenne), and upper (Grande), that run from Nice to Menton, the last French town before the Italian border, all run in a zigzag manner along the steep cliffs of the Mediterranean north shore and often featured in James Bond's 007 hair razing car chases, it was on one of these sharp turns that Princess Grace Kelly lost her life.

We arrived during the Grand Prix time trials when they shut the roads until after lunch so the racers can practice driving the course which afterwards I
drove to feel what the race might be like.
I had been approached by a British publisher to discuss doing some Auto Racing art and was to meet them in Monaco. After introduction formalities I was taken to the very exclusive Automobile Club DE Monaco by a gentleman who owned the main art gallery in part of the Hotel 'd Paris across from the famous Monte Carlo Casino also of James 007 Bond fame. The club was full of motor racing's famous faces I though I recognized like Graham Hill and James Stewart.

During our conversation I discovered that this gentleman had worked for England's venerable Sotheby's Auction House and during an appraisal trip to Hamilton, Ontario Canada, had bought the said paintings to resell himself directly, thereby quitting Sotheby's with enough money to start his
prestigious Monaco Galley. It's really a small world!

The race was scheduled two days later so we strolled the pit and staging area while watching the many bleachers being erected for the race. My favorite place to watch these time trials was the open air restaurant across from the Casino and the Hotel 'd Paris as the racers drove around the traffic circle there.
It was interesting sight was watch all the super yachts jockeying for positions along the harbor's main straightaway across from the Olympic size pool. My wife and daughters meanwhile found more interesting things to do by visiting the imposing multistory Jacques Cousteau Marine Museum perched high along the Mote Carlo's shoreline.

Race day is best watched on TV for you can see the entire course rather than just the cars directly in front of you.
Another interesting thing is to go the Prince's palace and watch the Guards do their thing when changing. We arrived just as a bus load of school kids got there on a field trip excitingly yelling things in French. Further down from the Palace is the church where Prince Rainier of Monaco married Grace Kelly and later sadly buried her.

Overall I found little to paint in Monte Carlo, I felt the city is too structured and conservative, lacking the neat little visual jewels one can find in many of the smaller places. So we continued our journey.

Michael Swanson is a Canadian Artist who enjoys traveling to capture some of the world's great places. You can subscribe to these blogs at upper left of screen.

A Summer in France - Part 1 of 6

July 5th, 2015

A Summer in France - Part 1 of 6

I was woken by a hard metal object pushed into my back, three men in black army uniforms and automatic rifles gestured me to get up. Totally disorientated I clamoured to my feet when I saw my wife and daughters looking quite disturbed.
These guys kept gesturing for me to show them something, I guessed my passport. After fumbling around in my pockets I handed them the document whereupon one of them said in a heavy French accent "Ah, Canada..Welcome to France".

After a long and sleepless overnight flight arriving at Charles DeGull, I had fallen asleep on my luggage while waiting for our connecting flight to Nice, apparently there was a Bomb attack on the Pairs subway system overnight and the airport was bussing with police and Gendarmes everywhere looking for anything suspicious.
Oh well at least I was welcomed officially, so began our summer in France.

The next leg of our trip was a half full 737 that almost made us gag from the putrid smell of stale cigarette smoke which actually made me feel good for I finally kicked the habit a few years earlier. We landed in Nice on a promising and bright sunny day, perhaps the worst was behind us.

After picking our pre arranged car up and stopping for the lights to the main highway panic engulfed me, it dawned on me that I had no idea of which way to turn or for that matter figure out what all the French signs meant but I told myself that I did want to go to France to have a show and paint so I closed my eyes and turned left which turned out to be the right move, so things were getting better it seems :)

Some years a go while at New York's Art Expo I received an offer from a very classy lady to have a one man show at her galley in Vence, France. The town is nestled in the Alps Maritimes region of southern France and is the local area's economic engine which includes the famous tourist destination of Saint Paul de Vence.
Needless to say my wife Brenda and daughters Leana & Tracey voted on coming along for this adventure in France.
We rented a villa that was was part of a historic artist's commune overlooking a beautiful forested ravine complete with goats our daughters named Momma & Baby which turned out to be my first encounter with gender issues for Momma turned out to be a Poppa after a neutering experience which our hosts Nall & Tushi, vowed to make right by someday implanting a pair of silver balls. What more can I say, after all they are French LOL.

Opening night at the Galley is best described as a wonderful party with guests discussing my work in detail which with my limited French at times became comical rather than embarrassing. The Nice Martine news story of my opening and work did much to clarify my comments and dubbed the show "A painter who paints with light"

There after, each morning I would head into town to help along with the gallery staff, to open the gallery while my family explored the local market and this quaint historic medieval town's delights. At about noon the doors closed to open again around 4PM which to this day I consider a very sane way of living one's life. It allows time to explore the nocks and crannies of the centuries old structures while still having plenty of time to enjoy the gastronomic lunch delights France in known for.
When the doors closed around 9PM, evenings became a special time, we picked one of the number of the open air restaurants to spent at leisure, a couple of hours enjoying the new found dishes and get to know some of the locals while their children played in the adjacent cobble stoned square.

Once they learned that I was an artist showing my work locally, I found their respect for the arts humbling. Increasingly they would drop by the gallery to see my my work and bring friends and family.

The show ran for 6 weeks allowing plenty of time to gather reference materials for future paintings and explore the area known as the Cote Azure, roughly from Saint Tropez to Menton on the Italian border. Each town and village offed countless painting opportunity not to mention the ambience the Mediterranean is known for.
Each time I turned a corner the scene would awe me, that lasted until the next corner and so on.
The French while while fiercely independent are also masters of tradition. The many things that seem to be unique to France are that because of tradition which sadly is starting to erode in our world of globalization, a realization that dawned when I walked into what at that time was the largest shopping store I had ever seen.
Within its walls, Carrefour, located in Nice, sold everything from groceries to clothing and cars, it could have taught Wall Mart a thing or too.

The day started out bright and sunny like all the others our French summer had so far given us and was awaken by some odd noises coming from the front door of our rented villa. I slowly opened the door to be greeted by our goat friends, Momma and Baby who proceeded to walk right in as if this was routine. Both of our daughters looked down from their loft bedroom area and stated laughing while asking my wife to get the bag of spaghetti out. It urned out that the goats loved dried spaghetti they had fed them the day before, so our breakfast included guests and spaghetti.

I had decided to take a day off from attending the gallery and explore the back roads of this painters paradise for some references, we where told of a quaint but popular little restaurant higher up in the region's mountains in a place galled Coursegoules so we set out on our adventure of discovery and potential gastronomic delight.
Rather than rent a car we had actually bought a car, if you plan to stay longer than 30 days it is cheaper that way because it becomes a used car and the dealers can get a tax break which along with a buyback guarantee they pass on to you. We oped for a small diesel Renault which was the right choice to navigate some of the smallest lane ways the French call roads I had ever encountered not to mention the village streets where we actually had to pull the mirrors in to stop from hitting the buildings.

As we drove higher and higher the views of the blue sparkling Mediterranean became more aw inspiring as I realized how aptly the name Cote Azure (Blue Coast) was for this region. My mind struggled hard to figure out which of my artist colours of blue I would have to mix to archive even a close likeness.
What was yet harder to comprehend was the luminance of the soft blue sky.
This area is washed with a unique light the many artists before me have struggled to capture and my guess is that it has something to do with the dry Sahara winds called the Mistrals locally, that blow across the warm Mediterranean from Africa creating an atmosphere that dissipates the sunlight in just the right way.
Continuing along the road it became clear that we had left the more populated areas far below, encountering everything form one car stone bridges to herds of sheep it seemed around each corner. A final turn and there it was Coursegoules a little stone village clinging to the side of a mountain which I was actually able to drive into the one street center and find a parking spot. We had gotten used to seeing villages that seemed abandoned during the early afternoon store closing time but this palace really looked abandoned. The only place even resembling a restaurant was beside the village water fountain with a description reading "Souvenir De Mr. Rhodes", probably some long forgotten benefactor. So when life gives you a lemon, I decided to make lemon juice and painted this lovely little scene of the fountain and the abandoned restaurant beside it, so continued our French adventure :)

Michael Swanson is a Canadian Artist who enjoys traveling to capture some of the world's great places. You can subscribe to these blogs at upper left of screen.