Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Côte d’Azur’ Category

holding two worlds apart, or living in a flying buttress

The streets in medieval villages are narrow, and in some villages, such as Grasse, France, one can stretch out the arms and touch the walls to each side.

Often the walls are tall, denying access to the light, except for parts of day when it manages to cut across the shadows and illuminates briefly patches of the bulwark and warms an otherwise gray day.

These tall walls, when built, needed support that the stone and construction could not provide.

Flying buttresses were devised to support walls from outside of a building. These structures projected perpendicularly from the face of a wall and served either to strengthen it or to resist the side thrust created by the load on an arch or a roof of the building. Notre-Dame de Paris in Paris is a good example.

While not considered flying buttresses per se, medieval buildings in France do rely on buttresses of another kind to prevent the walls of two adjacent buildings from collapsing into each other.

Projecting supports were built between the walls of two buildings and serves the same purpose as flying buttresses: they maintain the stability of the two walls and thus the entire building.

Besides the practical architectural reasons for putting these supports into place, they became passages for walking between the buildings. Some were built large enough to serve as small residences.

For obvious reasons these supports were built in the middle of passages between outlying streets. They are not portals per se or gates or doorways, although they do provide access to other public areas. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)


eating and drinking at a bistro in nice

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” ―Julia Child

The other day I was meandering around Vieux Nice, and lunch time was approaching. While passing the Bistro d’Antoine, a favorite restaurant of mine where I have eaten many times, I saw on le menu posted outside the restaurant, as is typically done all over France, that I could order une cuisse de canard sur grille for lunch. Basically, it is grilled duck with potatoes and other vegetables, depending on the restaurant.

The previous week I had ordered a similar dish at le Comptoir du Marché, a restaurant not far from Le Bistro d’Antoine that has a similar style.

20170303_020_niceI wanted to compare the preparations for this dish, which is a typical plat français. I wanted to know if the two dishes were correct, as my French tutor might say, that is, were they proper, accurate, right.

I made reservations for 12:15, even though the church tower clock over my shoulder said 11:45. From previous experiences with Le Bistro d’Antoine and other popular restaurants, I have learned that arriving at noon and asking for a table without having reserved one may result in being turned away because the restaurant est complet, is fully booked.

“Il faut manger pour vivre et non pas vivre pour manger.” –Molière, L’Avare

My table was ready when I arrived. After getting settled, the waiter asked if I wanted an aperitif or something else to drink, which could mean an aperitif, a glass of wine, or some water. Typically, I say, “no.” If I want to practice my French, I mention that I will order some wine once I have decided what I will eat. Why order a glass of red wine when the main dish will be a delicate fish in a cream sauce?

The first order of business then is choosing something to eat. Typically, that is a bit more complicated in France than in the United States. Will you choose la formule? Which might consist of one, two, or three dishes, and sometimes four dishes? Will you choose a combination of the three? Or, will you go with one of the many suggestions du chef? Or, will you look past those options and decide from the à la carte menu?

I decided easily enough, because I was going to order the cuisse de canard sur grille. My only hesitation was what I wanted for the entrée, the first course.

img_1144“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” ―W.C. Fields

Grilled duck was to be the main course. Meat. Red wine.

In the United States one has generally two options when ordering wine during a meal–a glass or a 75cl bottle.

In France, depending on the restaurant, one can order a glass, un quart de vin (25cl), a half bottle (37.5cl), a half bottle (50cl), a bottle (75cl), or a liter (100cl).

Lately, and depending on the restaurant again, I have been ordering bottles of wine–37.5cl or 50cl. (The reasons  are many and should be explained later.) At Le Bistro d’Antoine I opted for the 50cl of a Côtes du Rhône, a nice red wine that I know well. (I will never finish the bottle.)

In addition to the wine I might ask for a bottle of water or une carafe d’eau, a pitcher of water.

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.” ―Charles Baudelaire But wait, there’s more!

channeling the spirits of vence for a day

Matisse and Chagall and James Baldwin and Soutine and Dufay. All have something in common. One might suggest they are painters, but in the middle of the list is the American writer, James Baldwin.

All were hanging out in Vence on the French Riviera at one time or another.

Matisse designed a small chapel, the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, which houses a number of his originals and was regarded by Matisse himself as his “masterpiece.”

Referring to Chagall’s time in Vence, Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot, “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color is. . . . His canvases are really painted, not just tossed together. Some of the last things he’s done in Vence convince me that there’s never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has.”

James Baldwin lived and died down the road in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where Chagall is now buried.

I returned to Vence to hang out and hoped I could channel their spirits.

Vence is not hard to visit. I took the train to Cagnes-sur-mer; and from the bus stop at Square du 8 mai, a short walk from the train station, I took the #400 bus to Vence, the end of the line. The cost was 1,50 euros, about $1.60 with the current exchange rate.

Sprinkled through out southern France are metal posts with an image of a painting done by a famous painter who stood at the spot that is illustrated in the painting. One can see–sort of–what the painter saw and wonder about the inspiration of that scene for the artist. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

One of the first paintings one will see before passing the ramparts of the vieux village is of a very, very old ash (oak?) tree that locals say may have been planted by Francois I in 1538. Here stood Soutine, looking toward the esplanade Fernand Moutet and the valley of the Lubiane, when he painted “L’arbe de vence.” But wait, there’s more!

hanging out at my neighbor’s house & channeling renoir

I decided to hang out at my neighbor’s (Renoir) house for a couple of  hours. I have passed the time at chez Picasso, but for some reason had not ventured over to chez Renoir. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the painter, was living nearby until he died in December, 1919.

All right, so maybe the Renoir estate is not my most immediate neighbor. His home, which is now a museum, is above the city of Cagnes-sur-mer, three train stops from Antibes and a few stops from Nice.

On a nice day, when one can walk the grounds, the Musée Renoir is worth a visit. It is open during irregular hours. One should check those times and days before venturing there.

I took the train to Cagnes-sur-mer, and from the train station I walked to the Musée Renoir. The walk is flat, until one reaches the road that ascends to the museum. That climb does not last long and is easy to walk. However, the road is narrow and the shoulders do not offer much room for pedestrians.


The cost for admission is minimal, 6 euros. I spent an hour-and-a-half touring the small museum in the lower level, the house itself, and the grounds, and found the time sufficient and well spent. But wait, there’s more!