We return to the ancestral manse
Trip Start Sep 25, 2012
22Trip End Oct 16, 2012
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After church we took the inevitable walk down memory rue. As always, the venerable Colombe d’Or restaurant, which guarded the entrance to the village, was surrounded, like a swarm of black flies, by Mercedes, BMWs and Jaguars. The Colombe is stuffed with original art by the likes of Picasso and Matisse—in the 1920’s and 30’s these unknown and impoverished artists stayed at the hotel and the prescient owner accepted their paintings as payment in lieu of cash.
Then we walked past the metal cylinder that serves as a barrier to keep non-residents from driving into the village. It’s about the width of a telephone pole, two feet tall, and sinks down into a hole in the road to allow passage when the nearby card reader is activated. (As residents, we were proud to have one of the coveted cards). When we lived there, a prime source of entertainment for Emily and me was to sit on the terrasse of the Café de la Place, drinking coffee or having frites and beer and watch the show: Following a resident car, unsuspecting drivers would find their car bounced into the air as the cylinder, with a pneumatic hiss, reemerged from the hole in the pavement. The car’s undercarriage was pinned and the front end was held aloft in a humiliating display for all to see. Eventually the police would appear and make the cylinder retreat back into its hole, and sometimes a tow truck had to be called to drag the car away. What fun.
Meanwhile, the old men were still playing petanque on the brown gravel court just adjacent to the café
We walked past the Café down the sloping narrow road to our old house, La Golondrina. The apt name means swallows; we had lots of them. We stood in front of the metal gate we’d opened hundreds of times to walk down the stone path to the house. But now we had no more right to do so than did any of the tourists who passed by our house and looked in when we lived there. As I stood, looking at La Golondrina, so many memories packed away in the archives were released: puppy Pandora tearing up the underground plastic sprinkler pipes (they weren’t cheap to replace!), the raucous concerts that lasted most of the night that took place in the space just on the other side of the city wall from the house, the swallows at twilight sewing complicated patterns over the vineyards, the bottle I rigged up on a branch of the lemon tree so that it contained a blossom, which grew into a lemon within the bottle. When it was ripe, I cut the stem of the lemon, untied the bottle, and filled it with vodka. We still have it. During its decade-long marination the lemon has become somewhat bleached out, and the vodka has acquired a strong yellow tint. The passage of time can be marked in so many ways.
We went back up the road for lunch at La Petite Chapelle Restaurant, which was within smelling distance of La Golondrina. We rarely ate there—it was hardly like going out—but it seemed appropriate for this visit. From our table on the terrasse of the restaurant we could see the roof of our old house.
Finally it was time to walk, as we’d done so many times, under the arches of the thick city wall into the bustling core of St Paul de Vence
There were two last stops on this sentimental journey: We visited the cemetery where Marc Chagall is buried and placed small stones on his grave. Then Annie and Paula went to the little tourist office, just across from the estate agent’s where we found La Golondrina. The office was able to supply Annie with the phone number of her dear friend, the artist and St Paul fixture Nanou. Since Nanou speaks almost no English, Paula translated. They made arrangements for us to visit Nanou at her house and studio the next day.