29 March 2016
Stories: ANTIBES, Picasso, Absinthe and Marche Provencale.
Enjoy the second part of the Nisa travel series. Grab a glass of wine, play the song(s), and join the conversation. Travel with us to Picasso’s Museum, the Market and than down in the underground of Antibes for a green fairy drink. Please press play, it’s Yann Tiersen only tonight.
The phone in our hotel room was ringing, so it woke me up. I get up from the bed and check my phone. It was 9:13am. Weren’t we supposed to be down by 9:30? Why is the landline rinding? I pick up, a feminine voice greets me in french; I already knew who that was, the girl from the reception. We were supposed to be down by 9. Perfect. I mumble a “Oui, merci, merci”, I close my suitcase and hurry to the small hotel room kitchen, where I had prepared my clothes the night before. I pull on a white shirt, the red vest from my collection and a Zara leather jacket to top it all. Somebody knocks on the door, I feel my blood boiling (Did they really come to pick me up), the water boiler is hissing from behind me and every sound is driving me insane. I open the door and see Silvia standing before me:
-What are you doing, girl?
-I’m ready, I packed everything last night, I just have to get dressed up… see you at 9:30
-We were supposed to meet at 9 but the driver is late, need my help?
-…my outfit was ready too…, I mumbled as I was trying to roll my suitcase out of the room.
-Did you get the room key? (#straigthface)
-Let’s go, they’ll find it themselves.
We got downstairs and Cosmin asks: “What took you so long? Did you pack?”, “I packed last night, I just had to get dressed… let’s go” – I answer. And that’s how I left the hotel on an empty stomach, without even properly drawn eyebrows, towards Antibes. We already know that a good day starts with good eyebrows… The road to Antibes caught us in the black van again; we were all glued with our phones to the windows, trying to take photos, film, upload on snapchat, something…The light was so beautiful…The sky was dark again, as it got us used to it, however the horizon was bright and the sun was shining above the sea. Silvia was trying to convince the driver to stop for a few photos.
– Can we stop, please? Just for a little bit, the light is amazing.(plea that stopped with: – But the light is everything… and a sigh)
By the time we reached Antibes, the sun was no longer on the sky and it was raining. I was wearing Stradivarius snake print slip-ons, a sleeveless dress and the red vest. Needless to say, the combo was not great for that weather. After meeting our guide for that day, Lucy Howards, we started walking around the harbour, then climbed up a hill to admire the view. Truth is nothing could’ve gone worse than that. It was colder up there, however the view got us all speechless. Cosmin was helping Silvia climb on the wall to take shots of the sea. A boat was floating on water and right by the shore, a man was sitting and watching the sea. With a view like that, there’s no wonder artists such as Pablo Picasso or Matisse fell in love with Cote D’Azur. Did you know Jules Verne spent a good while here, writing?
I forgot about the cold and was typing frantically, in order to post a photo of what I was seeing on Instagram. We then started walking the streets of Antibes, so I took out my camera. We were walking rather fast down the narrow streets, then went faster until we suddenly stopped at a corner.
– “This area is called “La Commune libre du Safranier”. The name “Safranier” refers to the old sand mine, or “safran”, a particular part of the motor boat’s propeller. Either way, the purpose of those few streets is to keep tradition alive and to encourage friendly relationships between neighbours since 1966. That region has its own mayor, however he doesn’t have a political role, he is responsible for the organisation of the festivals that take place there every year: the chestnut festival in November, the grape one in September, when all the citizens squeeze together all the picked grapes and drink grape stum and also the Christmas one, when all the bakers in the city get together to bake the biggest chocolate roll (12 metres of chocolate, people). Rue du Bas Castelet is one of the most beautiful streets in Antibes, let’s go that way” – said Lucy
At the end of the street you could see the sun, so we hurried up. We were right, at the end of the street you could spot the sun and underneath is, a house that was hundreds of years old, one of Antibes’ most beautiful. The owner of the house has died recently, however before doing so, she left the house to the city, so that today, artists can stay there for free for a while, the only price being that they leave some of their works to Antibes. Just imagine waking up and getting on your bike each morning, going down Rue du Bas Castelet, go past the intersection that leads to Marché Provençal. You stop for a coffee on one of the small terraces in Piata National. You go back home with fresh cheese, garden tomatoes and a french baguette in your basket. I would love to live there for a while… From July to late September, so you can enjoy the best months on a riviera… to take walks, eat and bathe in the sea. It’s a beautiful life. I was already daydreaming as I was watching a seagull sit perched on the top of a house.
– It’s as if he lives there, said Lucy…
PICASSO MUSEUM: BACK TO THE ROOTS
“Give me a museum and I shall fill it”, said, at one point, Picasso. That’s exactly what was happening when chateau Grimaldi became his summer residence (when he was 54 years old), as well as his lover’s, Francoise Gilot. The two left Paris in September for the south of France, where they would stay until the middle of November. Here Picasso created over 60 works of art which he leaves Antibes, saying: “If someone wants to see them, they need to come here”. So we did, sir.
Story says that at that time, the curator of the museum offers Picasso the old guard chamber as a studio (not exactly the whole chateau). In exchange for the studio, Picasso promises that he will fill the museum with paintings, as a thank you. However, as the walls were very old and his stay rather short, he did not honour his promise, still he left the museum 23 paintings and 44 drawings of the city, some of them drawn straight on the museum’s walls. Stepping over the white line, closer to the wall, gives you an incredible feeling. Picasso is still there.
1946 – the second World War was just ending and the materials needed were hard to come by, therefore Picasso would sometimes paint on wood, sometimes even on top of other’s paintings #TrueStory. When the Picasso museum from Antibes decided to scan the paintings to debunk the myth, they found out that under his painting with a fisherman eating fish was the portrait of a general. It seems that Picasso snuck into the castle’s storage place (he had the keys) and picked a painting, over which he drew his own. If you look closely, you can see the general’s eyes and hairline above the fisherman.
He used to paint at night, his work being lit by a cinema reflector. In Michel Sima’s photos you can also spot a mattress, which hints at the fact that Picasso often slept at the studio. About his time and work in Antibes he says: “it took me living a man’s life to be able to learn how to draw as a child”, the quote sitting next to simple drawings of happy fauns. The greek mythology was often present in his works. Also, during this period he found out that his wife was pregnant and the happiness is obvious on the fauns’ faces, who were dancing and singing around the woman, as if they were celebrating.
The main room is filled with photos that bring Picasso closer to us, through his photographer friend’s eyes, Michel Sima. Picasso is almost always wearing striped blouses and pants in neutral colors as well as a pair of dark leather sandals. Next, I notice a photo of Picasso on the terrace that had a view to the sea, then another one with him and a small owl sitting next to him. His friend found the wounded bird and Picasso nursed it back to health. The bird refused to leave and stayed with him, inspiring a sculpture and various paintings and drawings. As we were talking about the round owl and Picasso, Lucy also tells us that he used to paint what he saw before him: his lover, the owl, fishermen, sea hedgehogs, seafood sellers… Meanwhile, the rain was getting worse, however this time the sun was shining among clouds, so we all ran to a window to take photos. Cosmin’s photos came out the best and he also has the coolest photo, as he’s gazing nostalgically on the window. That’s why I’m always holding my camera – a la carte and I’m looking maybe too closely at the paintings.
RUSH HOUR IN THE MARKET
When our tour is coming to an end, the rain stops and we head to Marché Provençal, where we have 15 minutes of free time. 15 minutes? Okay. Wanna know how that went? We’ll meet here in 15 minutes, here is the bar where we’ll have a tasting. You can go. So we went from speed 1 to 100 (steps) in 3 seconds, and ran to check out the local goodies: cheeses, shiny olives, spices and fresh fish. I got to buy some spices: pepper, spices for omelettes (du fromage), lavender, himalaya salt…
NO HAT, NO ABSITHE.
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. After the unfortunate experience in the morning, I set an alarm for everything, it’s very easy to drift away and get lost from the group… In front of the absinthe bar was only Lucy. I asked her if I could run and get some cash from an ATM, meanwhile. She tells me she’s going to show me where I can find one, then we’ll meet back at the bar.
I ran, using one hand to hold my camera and the other one on the sunglasses that were bouncing on my face, got the cash I needed and went back to the bar. It was 11:45 am and we were going to drink Absinthe. Did I mention I haven’t eaten anything that morning? That’s because I slept in and everybody ate around half past 8 that morning… I went down the narrow, spiral staircase; on my left there was a portrait of Van Gogh who seemed to be advertising absinthe. Two metres underground, we discovered a place that was packed with tourists and every single person was wearing a hat. Actually, the bar had 3 boxes filled with all kinds of hats. If you want to drink absinthe, you have to wear a hat, there’s no other way. I got the smallest, oldest black hat, while Cosmin got a topper hat that suited him perfectly and Silvia a Kudos straw hat.
We tasted Absinthe at 12am with no shame, after which we visited the gift shop and bought a classical absinthe glass, that looked just like the ones in the bar and two sugar melting instruments, one plain and one with Van Gogh’s face on it. I thought these would be a pretty killer conversation starter when I get to serve my friends in Cluj with absinthe. I haven’t used them yet, however the two jars with aubergine and olive paste we got are long gone. More about absinthe in a dedicated post.
If you’re ever in Antibes, you have to go to: the harbour, colourful streets. the house at the end of the street, the Picasso museum and the absinthe bar. Before ending the second part about Cote D’Azur, we need to leave for Nice.
Just after the tasting, we headed to National square, where we had lunch at the restaurant with the same name. We had foie gras, red wine, fish and a dessert I ended up photographing and sending it to Carmen: “look what I’ve got for you”. The restaurant also had a terrace, a glasshouse filled with plants and in the colourful paintings on the walls seemed to be Doina Ciobanu. I highly recommend that place for a snack or lunch, even during cold weather the terrace is full of light and has a great energy. We left National well fed and happy, however on our way to Nice, the most dreadful silence fell in the car. My phone was dead so I borrowed Silvia’s external battery, lean against the window and admire the sea to my right, then the less impressive scenery to my left. Our road trip would last 38 minutes. We were headed to Nice where we would check in at Ellington hotel and head over to the festival.
To be continued…