Before I embark on my nine-day trip to Spain tomorrow, I want to discuss the many layers of history in France. Everywhere I go, I can trace history, earning myself a greater understanding and respect for the world around me. Greek ruins lie underneath Roman ruins with skyscrapers around; what a mark of history! Everything is a result of something else, a deep connection to the past. Class here is not just reading books; it is more like detective work, taking memories from museums and readings in order to contextualize the gist of things.
As part of this detective work, I recently spent five days studying events and impacts of World War I and World War II in the south of France. It is the land of sunny lavender fields, clear blue Mediterranean beaches and mountains that crest the clouds, but that is a facade to the devastation it faced back in the 20th century. You see, it is one thing to study something, it is another to be where it happened, and yet another to experience it firsthand. Sometimes I wish, for the sake of my knowledge, that I was present at some of these sites where major events happened, but that is truly sadistic for no one should ever want to be in such a time or place of unrest, blood and savagery. Although, tourism is so prevalent that half of the people speak English!
The story begins at Marseilles, where I spent one night. Marseilles began as a Greek port city, actually, then it was turned over to the Romans during the Roman civil war around 49 B.C. This explains why, when archaeologists are excavating some of the Roman ruins, they will usually find Greek ruins beneath!
Marseilles, since it allied with the side opposing Julius Caesar, has always been known as a resistant and independent city. In fact, Louis XIV was said to have had to break down the wall of Marseilles just to get in, even though he was king!
During World War II, a good portion of Marseilles was destroyed by German bombing, something I blame for the absence of that touristy feel like in Nice. However, of interest to note is the fact that Marseilles’ civilians actually rebelled against the Germans even when French help did not come yet. The civilians of Marseilles essentially defended their own city until some French and American help did arrive as a diversion tactic for D-Day.
Hitler tried to take Notre Dame de la Garde, a beautiful church on a huge martyred hill, but the French got it back in the end. The church is a symbol of the strength of Christianity, for it is an arduous journey to the top of the hill. It is utterly amazing to see this level of independence from a city, but the civilians of Marseilles were well-prepared, considering their admirable defensive history.
Also, there is an excellent memorial for internment camps in Marseilles since Marseilles is where a huge round-up of Jewish people took place in 1942 under the collaboration of the Vichy regime and the German government. I found this particularly moving.
The next town I visited was Giens, just to stay for the night. The hotel had a brilliant view of the Mediterranean, even better than Marseilles! But I left the hotel to visit Villa Noailles the next morning, a beautiful modern house built on a hill in the Bauhaus style of the 1920s. Form follows function is its motto. A lovely place to be, if you like small rooms, obsessive-compulsive cleaning, and architecture that reminds you of that nasty pink sweater you bought in 2004. I respected the place for its thoughts, not necessarily its opinion. Villa Noailles reflects the post-World War I concern with hygiene, fitness, and the disembarkation from classic architecture; hence the modern, Bauhaus feel of this 1920s chateau with fitness rooms, clocks in every room (think Age of the Machine), and clean nature.
From Giens, I went to St. Tropez, where Hermes, Dior, Prada and other top fashion brands await the extremely wealthy tourists that visit year-round. Snow-covered mountains drift over the crashing sea, and sailboats linger around with little idea of their location, it seems.
After lounging around the port with my friend Kate, especially in response to a little motion sickness I experienced from the bumpy bus ride, I visited a museum housing Pointillist, Fauvist, and Impressionist paintings. You can probably tell from my experience at Musee Lorangerie that I love these styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; they are centerpieces to my own music. It is so nice to see the originals of artists that I have only read about!
St. Tropez was too pricey, so I was happy to leave for Nice, where there was a better array of things to do. Where do I start, though? The hotel was amazing and comfortable and right along the beach! In fact, it was right along the Promenade des Anglais, or Promenade of the English.
Nice used to be a vacation spot for the English before World War I, as even Queen Victoria of the Diamond Jubilee visited in 1892. The world wars destructed France, and I believe that because of that, tourism was on a decline until the latter half of the 20th century. In fact, most people speak English in Nice, and those who are not French prefer English. Perhaps this represents the reburgeoning interest of the English in Nice.
I also visited this amazing little chateau built by the Rothschild family that was just outstanding. There are seven gardens outside, and the lady herself collected so much art back in the ’20s (mind you that this is the same era of that Bauhaus modern villa), representing Antiquity, Renaissance, and Baroque painting and objet d’art. The most stunning aspect were the fountains that danced to music, overlooking that blue dreamy Mediterranean with foggy mountains in the background. Many of my fellow classmates felt they should get married there, but I think it is too early to think about marriage.
Nice has so many little shops, so I could not help shopping for Christmas gifts. I cannot reveal too much about what I bought for everyone, but rest assured, the gifts of Nice are unlike anything else. I also found time to jog around the beach, stumbling upon beautiful rocks and memorials. And the food! Oh, I love food! Nice cuisine is so tasty, like your grandma’s cooking but refined into a 5-Star restaurant style.
Also while in Nice, I visited the town outside called Boit, where the Fernand Leger museum is. The tour guide was amazing, and she detailed every creation of Leger, from his first little Impressionist exercises to his last avant-garde pieces. I like Leger because he understood that the Renaissance negatively influenced and hindered future artists; he was not content with rules. I would probably not hang his art in my home, but I would definitely find some more time to study it. I am too picky about art to settle on something I like right now. (Do you see that theme in my view of marriage too?)
Even F. Scott Fitzgerald visited Antibes, notably the Belles Rives Hotel, and that is where he wrote Tender is the Night, or in my opinion that is where he sketched a good deal of it. His reputation in Antibes was scandalous, but aren’t all of us artists just a tad scandalous?
But from this, one can definitely say that American tourism was prevalent then, and today, it is even more so with its infatuation with American culture due to the visits of the Fitzgeralds.
And fortunately, I got to play the piano a bit there, a nice grand black piano sat in the room while we enjoyed refreshments. I just made up some jazzy 9th chords with a Debussy-like melody over the top, a kind of seaside jazzy feel. I think it won some favor in my upcoming writing. And here I am, about to leave for Spain for nine days! Until next time!