E-text prepared by Al Haines
In the original book, all the illustrations were on the inside of the book's front and back covers. In this e-text they have been distributed where they fit the book's text.
HERBERT ADAMS GIBBONS
Illustrations by Lester George Hornby
New York Robert M. McBride & Company 1931
Copyright, 1920, by Robert M. McBride & Co.
Copyright, 1917, 1918, 1920, by Harper & Brothers
Helen and Margaret
The Author and the Artist
We wish to thank the editors of Harper's Magazine for allowing the republication of articles and illustrations.
H. A. G.
L. G. H.
I. GRASSE II. CAGNES III. SAINT-PAUL-DU-VAR IV. VILLENEUVE-LOUBET V. VENCE VI. MENTON VII. MONTE CARLO VIII. VILLEFRANCHE IX. NICE X. ANTIBES XI. CANNES XII. MOUGINS XIII. FREJUS XIV. SAINT-RAPHAeEL XV. THEOULE
"A grandfather omnibus, which dated from the Second Empire."
"The hill of Cagnes we could rave about."
"The houses in the courts were stables downstairs."
The river was swirling around willows and poplars.
"Down the broad road of red shale past meadows thick with violets."
Medieval streets and buildings have almost disappeared.
"The Old Town takes you far from the psychology of cosmopolitanism and the philosophy of hedonism."
"La Napoule, above whose tower on the sea rose a hill crowned with the ruins of a chapel. Behind were the Maritime Alps."
For several months I had been seeing Grasse every day. The atmosphere of the Midi is so clear that a city fifteen miles away seems right at hand. You can almost count the windows in the houses. Against the rising background of buildings every tower stands out, and you distinguish one roof from another. From my study window at Theoule, Grasse was as constant a temptation as the two islands in the Bay of Cannes. But the things at hand are the things that one is least liable to do. They are reserved for "some day" because they can be done "any day." Since first coming to Theoule, I had been a week's journey south of Cairo into the Sudan, and to Verdun in an opposite corner of France. Menton and St. Raphael, the ends of the Riviera, had been visited. Grasse, two hours away, remained unexplored.
I owe to the Artist the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Grasse. One day a telegram from Bordeaux stated that he had just landed, and was taking the train for Theoule. The next evening he arrived. I gave him my study for a bedroom. The following morning he looked out of the window, and asked, "What is that town up there behind Cannes, the big one right under the mountains?"
"Grasse, the home of perfumes," I answered.
"I don't care what it's the home of," was his characteristic response. "Is it old and all right?" ("All right" to the Artist means "full of subjects.")
"I have never been there," I confessed.
The Artist was fresh from New York. "We'll go this morning," he announced.
From sea to mountains, the valley between the Corniche de l'Esterel and Nice produces every kind of vegetation known to the Mediterranean littoral. Memories of Spain, Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy are constantly before you. But there is a difference. The familiar trees and bushes and flowers of the Orient do not spring here from bare earth. Even where cultivated land, wrested from the mountain sides, is laboriously terraced, stones do not predominate. Earth and rock are hidden by a thick undergrowth of grass and creepers that defies the sun, and draws from the nearby mountain snow a perennial supply of water. Olive and plane, almond and walnut, orange and lemon, cedar and cork, palm and umbrella-pine, grape-vine and flower-bush have not the monopoly of green. It is the Orient without the brown, the Occident with the sun.
The Mediterranean is more blue than elsewhere because firs and cedars and pines are not too green. The cliffs are more red than elsewhere because there is no prevailing tone of bare, baked earth to modify them into brown and gray. On the Riviera one does not have to give up the rich green of northern landscapes to enjoy the alternative of brilliant sunshine.
As we rode inland toward Grasse, the effect of green underground and background upon Oriental foliage was shown in the olives, dominant tree of the valley and hillsides. It was the old familiar olive of Africa and Asia and the three European peninsulas, just as gnarled, just as gray-green in the sun, just as silvery in the wind. But its colors did not impress themselves upon the landscape. Here the olive was not master of all that lives and grows in its neighborhood. In a landscape where green replaces brown and gray pink, the olive is not supreme. Its own foliage is invaded: for frequently rose ramblers get up into its branches, and shoot out vivid flashes of crimson and scarlet. There is also the yellow of the mimosa, and the inimitable red of the occasional judas-tree. Orange trees blossom white. Lilacs and wisteria give the shades between red and blue. As if in rebellion against too much green, the rose-bushes put forth leaves of russet-brown. It is a half-hearted protest, however, for Grasse rose-bushes are sparing of leaves. Carefully cultivated for the purpose of bearing to the maximum, every shoot holds clusters beyond what would be the breaking-point were there not artificial support. Nature's yield is limited only by man's knowledge, skill and energy.
As we mounted steadily the valley, we had the impression that there was nothing ahead of us but olives. First the perfume of oranges and flowers would reach us. Then the glory of the roses would burst upon us, and we looked up from them to the flowering orange trees. Wherever there was a stretch of meadow, violets and daisies and buttercups ran through the grass. Plowed land was sprinkled with mustard and poppies. The olive had been like a curtain. When it lifted as we drew near, we forgot that there were olives at all!
The Artist developed at length his favorite theory that the richest colors, the sweetest scents were those of blossoms that bloomed for pure joy. The most delicate flavors were those of fruits and berries that grew without restraint or guidance. "Nature is at her best," he explained, "when you do not try to exploit her. Compare wild strawberries and wild asparagus with the truck the farmers give you. Is wisteria useful? What equals the color of the judas-tree in bloom? Do fruit blossoms, utilitarian embryo, compare for a minute with real flowers? Just look at all these flowers, born for the sole purpose of expressing themselves!" All the while we were sniffing orange-blossoms. I tried in vain to get his honest opinion on horse-chestnut blossoms as compared with apples and peaches and apricots. I called his attention to the fact that the ailanthus lives only to express itself, while the maple gives sugar. But you can never argue with the Artist when he is on the theme of beauty for beauty's sake.
From the fairyland of the valley we came suddenly upon the Grasse railway station, from which a funiculaire ascends to the city far above. Thankful for our carriage, we continued to mount by a road that had to curve sharply at every hundred yards. We passed between villas with pergolas of ramblers and wisteria until we found ourselves in the upper part of the city without having gone through the city at all.
We got out at the promenade, where a marvelous view of the Mediterranean from Antibes to Theoule lies before you. The old town falls down the mountain-side from the left of the promenade. We started along a street that seemed to slide down towards the cathedral, the top of whose belfry hardly reaches the level of the promenade. Before we had gone a block, we learned that the flowers through which we had passed were not blooming for pure joy. Like many things in this dreary world of ours, they were being cultivated for money's sake and not for beauty's sake. Grasse lives from those flowers in the valley below. We had started to look for quaint houses. From one of the first doors in the street came forth an odor that made us think of the type of woman who calls herself "a lady." I learned early in life at the barber's that a little bit of scent goes too far, and some women in public places who pass you fragrantly do not allow that lesson to be forgotten. Is not lavender the only scent in the world that does not lose by an overdose?
The Artist would not enter. His eye had caught a fourteenth-century cul-de-sac, and I knew that he was good for an hour. I hesitated. The vista of the street ahead brought more attraction to my eye than the indication of the perfume-factory to my nose. But there would still be time for the street, and in the acquisition of knowledge one must not falter. I knew only that perfumes were made from flowers. But so was honey! What was the difference in the process? Visiting perfumeries is evidently "the thing to do" in Grasse. For I was greeted cordially, and given immediately a guide, who assured me that she would show me all over the place and that it was no trouble at all.
Why is it that some of the most delicate things are associated with the pig, who is himself far from delicate? However much we may shudder at the thought of soused pigs' feet and salt pork and Rocky Mountain fried ham swimming in grease, we find bacon the most appetizing of breakfast dishes, and if cold boiled ham is cut thin enough nothing is more dainty for sandwiches. Lard per se is unpleasant, but think of certain things cooked in lard, and the unrivaled golden brown of them! Pigskin is as recherche as snakeskin. The pig greets us at the beginning of the day when we slip our wallet into our coat or fasten on our wrist-watch, and again when we go in to breakfast. But is it known that he is responsible for the most exquisite of scents of milady's boudoir? For hundreds of years ways of extracting the odor of flowers were tried. Success never came until someone discovered that pig fat is the best absorbent of the bouquet of fresh flowers.
Room after room in the perfume factory is filled with tubs of pig grease. Fresh flowers are laid inside every morning for weeks, the end of the treatment coming only with the end of the season of the particular flower in question. In some cases it is continued for three months. The grease is then boiled in alcohol. The liquid, strained, is your scent. The solid substance left makes scented soap. Immediately after cooling, it is drawn off directly into wee bottles, the glass stoppers are covered with white chamois skin, and the labels pasted on.
I noticed a table of bottles labeled eau-de-cologne. "Surely this is now eau-de-liege in France," I remarked. "Are not German names taboo?"
My guide answered seriously: "We have tried our best here and in every perfumery in France. But dealers tell us that they cannot sell eau-de-liege, even though they assure their customers that it is exactly the same product, and explain the patriotic reason for the change of name. Once we launched a new perfume that made a big hit. Afterwards we discovered that we had named it from the wrong flower. But could we correct the mistake? It goes today by the wrong name all over the world."
I was glad to get into the open air again, and started to walk along the narrow Rue Droite—which makes a curve every hundred feet!—to find the Artist. I had seen enough of Grasse's industry. Now I was free to wander at will through the maze of streets of the old town. But the law of the Persians follows that of the Medes. Half a dozen urchins spied me coming out of the perfumery, and my doom was sealed. They announced that they would show me the way to the confectionery. I might have refused to enter the perfumery. But, having entered, there was no way of escaping the confectionery. I resigned myself to the inevitable. It was by no means uninteresting, however,—the half hour spent watching violets, orange blossoms and rose petals dancing in cauldrons of boiling sugar, fanned dry on screens, and packed with candied fruits in wooden boxes for America. And I had followed the flowers of Grasse to their destination.
The Artist had finished his cul-de-sac. I knew that to find him I had only to continue along the Rue Droite to the first particularly appealing side street. He would be up that somewhere. The Artist is no procrastinator. He takes his subjects when he finds them. The buildings of the Rue Droite are medieval from rez-de-chaussee to cornice. The sky was a narrow curved slit of blue and gray, not as wide as the street; for the houses seemed to lean towards one another, and here and there roofs rubbed edges. Sidewalks would have prevented the passage of horse-drawn vehicles, so there were none. The Rue Droite is the principal shopping-street of Grasse. But shoppers cannot loiter indefinitely before windows. All pedestrians must be agile. When you hear the Hue! of a driver, you must take refuge in a doorway or run the risk of axle-grease and mud. Twentieth-century merchandise stares out at you from either side—Paris' hats and gowns, American boots, typewriters, sewing-machines, phonographs, pianos. One of the oldest corner buildings, which looks as if it needed props immediately to save you from being caught by a falling wall, is the emporium of enamel bathtubs and stationary washstands, with shining nickel spigots labeled "Hot" and "Cold." These must be intended for the villas of the environs, for surely no home in this old town could house a bathroom. Where would the hot water and cold water come from? And where would it go after you opened the waste-pipe?
But there are sewers, or at least drains, on the hillside. Grasse has progressed beyond the gare-a-l'eau stage of municipal civilization. Before your eyes is the evidence that you no longer have to listen for that cry, and duck the pot or pail emptied from an upper window. Pipes, with branches to the windows, come down the sides of the houses. They are of generous size, as in cities of northern countries where much snow lies on the roofs. Since wall-angles are many, the pipes generally find a place in corners. They do not obtrude. They do not suggest zinc or tin. They were painted a mud-gray color a long time ago.
After lunch, we strolled along the Boulevard du Jeu-de-Ballon, the tramway street. In old French towns, the words boulevard and tramway are generally anathema. They suggest the poor imitation of Paris, both in architecture and animation, of a street outside the magic circle of the unchanged which holds the charm of the town. But sometimes, in order to come as near as possible to the center of population, the tramway boulevard skirts the fortifications of the medieval city, or is built upon their emplacement. It is this way at Grasse. One side of the Boulevard du Jeu-de-Ballon is modern and commonplace. The other side preserves in part the buildings of past ages. Here and there a bit of tower remains. No side street breaks the line. You go down into the city through an occasional arched passage.
We stopped for coffee at the Garden-Bar, on the modern side of the boulevard. The curious hodge-podge opposite, which houses the Restaurant du Cheval Blanc and the Cafe du Globe, had caught the Artist's eye. The building, or group of buildings, is six stories high, with a sky-line that reflects the range of mountains under which Grasse nestles. Windows of different sizes, placed without symmetry or alignment, do not even harmonize with the roof above them. Probably there was originally a narrow house rising directly above the door of the Cheval Blanc. When the structure was widened, upper floors or single rooms were built on ad libitum. The windows give the clew to this evolution, for the wall has been plastered and whitewashed uniformly to the width of over a hundred feet, and there is only one entrance on the ground floor. Working out the staircases and floor levels is a puzzle for an architect. We did not even start to try to solve it. The Artist's interest was in the "subject," and mine in the story the building told of an age when man's individual needs influenced his life more strongly than they do now. We think of the progress of civilization in the terms of combination, organization, community interest, the centralized state. We have created a machine to serve us, and have become servants of the machine. When we thank God unctuously that we live not as our ancestors lived and as the "uncivilized" live today, we are displaying the decay of our mental faculties. Is it the Arab at his tent door, looking with dismay and dread at the approach of the Bagdad Railway, who is the fool, or we?
Backed up at right angles to the stoop of the Cheval Blanc was a grandfather omnibus, which certainly dated from the Second Empire. Its sign read: GRASSE-ST. CEZAIRE. SERVICE DE LA POSTE. The canvas boot had the curve of ocean waves. A pert little hood stuck out over the driver's seat. The pair of lean horses—one black, the other white—stood with noses turned towards the tramway rails. The Artist was still gazing skylineward. I grasped his arm, and brought his eyes to earth. No word was needed. He fumbled for his pencil. But to our horror the driver had mounted, and was reaching for the reins. I got across the street just in time to save the picture. Holding out cigars to the driver and a soldier beside him on the box, I begged them to wait—please to wait—just five minutes, five little minutes.
"There is no place for another passenger. We are full inside," he remonstrated.
But he had dropped the reins to strike a match. In the moment thus gained, I got out a franc, and pressed it into his hand.
"Your coach, my friend," I said, "is unique in all France. The coffee of that celebrated artist yonder sitting at the terrace of the Garden-Bar is getting cold while he immortalizes the Grasse-St. Cezaire service. In the interest of art and history, I beg of you to delay your departure ten little minutes."
The soldier had found the cigar to his liking. "A quarter of an hour will do no harm at all," he announced positively, getting down from his place.
The driver puffed and growled. "We have our journey to make, and the hour of departure is one-thirty. If it is not too long—fifteen minutes at the most." He pocketed the franc less reluctantly than he had spoken.
The soldier crossed the boulevard with me. Knowing how to appreciate a good thing, he became our ally as soon as he had looked at the first lines of the sketch. When the minutes passed, and the soldier saw that the driver was growing restless, he went back and persuaded him to come over and have a look at the drawing. This enabled me to get the driver tabled before a tall glass of steaming coffee with a petit verre.
Soon an old dame, wearing a bonnet that antedated the coach, stuck out her head. A watch was in her hand. Surely she was not of the Midi. Fearing that she might influence the driver disadvantageously to our interests, I went to inform her that the delay was unavoidable. I could not offer her a cigar. There are never any bonbons in my pocket. So I thought to make a speech.
"All my excuses," I explained, "for this regrettable delay. The coach in which you are seated—and in which in a very, very few minutes you will be riding—belongs to the generation before yourself and me. It is important for the sake of history as well as art that the presence in Grasse of my illustrious artist friend, coincident with the St. Cezaire coach before the door of the Cheval Blanc, be seized upon to secure for our grandchildren an indelible memory of travel conditions in our day. So I beg indulgence."
Two schoolgirls smothered a snicker. There was a dangerous glitter in the old dame's eye. She did not answer me. But a young woman raised her voice in a threat to have the driver dismissed. Enough time had been gained. The Artist signified his willingness to have the mail leave now for St. Cezaire.
Off went the coach, white horse and black horse clattering alternately hoofs that would gladly have remained longer in repose. The soldier saluted. The driver grinned. We waved to the old woman with the poke bonnet, and lifted our glasses to several pretty girls who appeared at the coach door for the first time in order that they might glare at us. I am afraid I must record that it was to glare. Our friendly salutation was not answered. But we had the sketch. That was what really mattered.
We were half an hour late at the rendezvous with our carriage man for the return journey to Cannes. But he had lunched well, and did not seem to mind. Americans were scarce this season, and fortes pourboires few and far between. On the Riviera—as elsewhere—you benefit by your fellow-countrymen's generosity in the radiant courtesy and good nature of those who serve you until you come to pay your bill. Then you think you could have got along pretty well with less smiles. We knew that our man would not risk his pourboire by opposing us, so we suggested with all confidence that he drive round the curves alone and meet us below by the railway station in "half an hour." We wanted to go straight down through the city. The cocher looked at his watch and thought a minute. He had already seen the Artist stop suddenly and stay glued on one spot, like a cat patiently waiting to spring upon a bird. He had seen how often oblivion to time comes. The lesser of two evils was to keep us in sight. So he proposed with a sigh what we could never have broached to him. "Perhaps we can drive down through the city—why not?" "Why not?" we answered joyously in unison, as we jumped into the victoria.
Down is down in Grasse. I think our cocher did not realize what he was getting into, or he would have preferred taking his chances on a long wait. He certainly did not know his way through the old town. He asked at every corner, each time more desperately, as we became engaged in a maze of narrow streets, which were made before the days of victorias. There was no way of turning. We had to go down—precipitously down. With brake jammed tight, and curses that echoed from wall to wall and around corners, the cocher held the reins to his chest. The horses, gently pushed forward, much against their will, by the weight of the carriage, planted all fours firm and slid over the stones that centuries of sabots and hand-carts had worn smooth. The noise brought everyone to windows and doors, and the sight kept them there. Tourist victorias did not coast through Grasse every day. Advice was freely proffered. The angrier our cocher became the more frequently he was told to put on his brake and hold tight to the reins.
After half an hour we came out at the funicular beside the railway station.
"How delightful, and how fortunate!" exclaimed the Artist. "That certainly was a short cut. We have saved several kilometers!"
I thought the cocher would explode. But he merely nodded. Far be it from me to say that he did not understand the Artist's French for "short cut." Perhaps he thought best to save all comment until the hour of reckoning arrived. He did not need to. The ride back to the sea was through the fairyland of the morning climb, enhanced a thousandfold, as all fairylands are, by the magic of the twilight. One never can make it up to hired horses for their work and willingness and patience. But we did live up to local American tradition in regard to the cocher.
American and English visitors to the Riviera soon come to know Cagnes by name. It is a challenge to their ability to pronounce French—a challenge that must be accepted, if you are in the region of Grasse or Nice or Antibes. Two distinct tramway lines and several roads lead from Grasse to Cannes and Cagnes. Unless you are very careful, you may find yourself upon the wrong route. Once on the Cagnes tramway, or well engaged upon the road to Cagnes, when you had meant to go to Cannes, the mistake takes hours to retrieve. At Nice, chauffeurs and cochers love to cheat you by the confusion of these two names. You bargain for the long trip to Cannes, and are attracted by the reasonable price quoted. In a very short time you are at Cagnes. The vehicle stops. Impossible to rectify your mispronunciation without a substantial increase of the original sum of the bargain. Antibes is between Cagnes and Cannes. Cagnes is nearer, and it is always to Cannes that you want to go. Spell the name, or write it on a piece of paper, if you are to be sure that you will be taken west instead of east.
The place, as well as the name, is familiar to all travelers—from a distance. Whether you move by train, by tramway or by automobile, you see the city set on a hill between Cannes and Nice. But express trains do not stop. The tramway passes some distance from the old town, and prospect of the walk and climb is not alluring to the tramway tourist, whose goal is places important enough to have a map in Baedeker, or a double-starred church or view. If motorists are not in a hurry to get to a good lunch, their chauffeurs are. You signal to stop, and express a desire to go up into Cagnes. The hired chauffeur declares emphatically that it cannot be done. If you do not believe him, he drives you to the foot of the hill, and you see with your own eyes. Regretfully you pass on to towns that are plus pratiques. More than once I had done this: and I might have done it again had not the Artist come to the Riviera.
We were afoot (the best way to travel and see things) on an April Sunday, and stopped for lunch at the restaurant opposite the Cagnes railway station. The Artist was not hungry. While I ate he went out "to find what sort of a subject the ensemble of the city on the hill over there makes." He returned in time for cheese and fruit, with a sketch of Cagnes that made the waitress run inside to get better apples and bananas. She insisted that we would be rewarded for a climb up to the old town, and offered to keep our coats and kits.
Along the railway and tramway and motor-road a modern Cagnes of villas and hotels and pensions, with their accompaniment of shops and humbler habitations, has grown for a mile or more, and stretched out across the railway to the sea. Two famous French artists live here, and many Parisians and foreigners. There is also a wireless station. All this shuts off from the road the town on the hill. Unless you had seen it from the open country, before coming into the modern Cagnes, you would not have known that there was a hill and an old city. It was not easy for us to find the way.
Built for legs and nothing else, the thoroughfare up through Cagnes is a street that can be called straight and steep and stiff, the adjectives coming to you without your seeking for alliteration, just as instinctively as you take off your hat and out your handkerchief.
"No livery stable in this town—come five francs on it," said the Artist.
"Against five francs that there are no men with a waistline exceeding forty-five inches!" I answered, feelingly and knowingly.
But we soon became so fascinated by our transition from the twentieth century to the fifteenth that we forgot we were climbing. Effort is a matter of mental attitude. Nothing in the world is hard when you are interested in doing it.
Half way and half an hour up, we paused to take our bearings. The line of houses, each leaning on its next lower neighbor, was broken here by a high garden wall, from which creepers were overhanging the street, with their fresh spring tendrils waving and curling above our heads. There was an odor of honeysuckle and orange-blossoms, and the blood-red branch of a judas-tree pushed its way through the green and yellow. The canyon of the street, widening below us, ended in a rich meadowland, dotted with villas and trees. Beyond, the Mediterranean rose to the horizon. While the Artist was "taking it," the usual crowd gathered around: children whose lack of bashfulness indicated that many city people were here for the season or that tourists did find their way up to Cagnes; women always eager to gossip with strangers, especially with those from lands across the sea; old men proud to tell you that their city was the most interesting, because the most ancient, on the Riviera.
When we resumed our climb, the whole town seemed to be going our way. Sunday-best and prayer-books gave the reason. Just as we were coming to the top, our street made its first turn, a sharp one, and in the bend was a church tower with a wee door under it. Houses crowded closely around it. The tower was the only indication of the church. An abbe was standing by the door, calling in the acolytes and choir boys who were playing tag in the street. The Artist stopped, short. I went up to the abbe, who by features and accent was evidently a Breton far from home.
"Do any fat men live up here?" I asked.
"Only one," he answered promptly, with a hearty laugh. "The cure has gone to the war, and last month the bishop sent a man to help me who weighs over a hundred kilos. We have another church below in the new town, and there are services in both, morning and afternoon. Low mass here at six, and high masses there at eight and here at ten. Vespers here at three and there at four-thirty. On the second Sunday my coadjutor said he was going to leave at the end of the month. So, after next week, there will be no fat man. Unless you have come to Cagnes to stay?" The abbe twinkled and chuckled.
"It is not to laugh at," broke in an oldest inhabitant who had overheard. "We live from ten to twenty years longer than the people of the plain, who have railways and tramways and carriages and autos right to their very doors. We get the mountain air from the Alps and the sea air from the Mediterranean uncontaminated. It blows into every house without passing through as much as a single neighbor's courtyard. But our long lease on life is due principally to having to climb this hill. Stiffness, rheumatism—we don't know what it means, and we stay fit right to the very end. Look at me. I was a grown man when people first began to know who Garibaldi was in Nice. We formed a corps of volunteers right here in this town when Mazzini's republic was proclaimed to go to defend Rome from the worst enemies of Italian unity, those Vatican—But I beg M. le Cure's pardon! In those days of hot youth the church, you know, did not mean—"
The abbe twinkled and chuckled again, and patted the old man's shoulder affectionately. "When you did not follow Briand ten years ago, it proved that half a century had wrought a happy change. I understand anyway. I am a Breton that has taken root, as everyone here does, in this land of lofty mountains and deep valleys, of wind and sun, of sea and snow. Mental as well as physical acclimatization comes. The spirit, the life, the very soul of the Risorgimento had nothing Italian in it. It was of Piedmont and Savoy and the Riviera—a product of the Alpes Maritimes."
I would have listened longer. But the bell above us began to ring, several peals first, and then single strokes, each more insistent than the last. The abbe was still in the Garibaldi mood, and the volunteer of '49 and I were in sympathy. He knew it, and refused to hear the summons to vespers. But out of the door came a girl who could break a spell of the past, because she was able to weave one of the present. She dominated us immediately. She would not have had to say a word. A hymn book was in her hand, opened at the page where she intended it to stay open. "This afternoon, M. l'Abbe, we shall sing this," she stated.
"No, we cannot do it!" he protested rather feebly. "You see, the encyclical of the Holy Father enjoins the Gregorian, and I think the boys can sing it—"
The organist interrupted: "You certainly know, M. l'Abbe, that we cannot have decent singing for the visits to the stations, unless the big girls, whom I have been training now for two months—"
"But we must obey the Papal injunction, Mademoiselle Simone," put in the priest still more mildly.
Mademoiselle Simone's eyes danced mockingly, and her mow confirmed beyond a doubt the revelation of clothes and accent. Here was a twentieth-century Parisienne in conflict with a reactionary rule of the church in a setting where turning back the hands of the clock would have seemed the natural thing to do.
"Pure nonsense!" was her disrespectful answer. "With all the young men away, the one thing to do is to make the music go."
I had to speak in order to be noticed. "So even in Cagnes the young girls know how to give orders to M. le Cure? The Holy Father's encyclical—" I could stop without finishing the sentence, for I had succeeded. The dancing eyes and the moue now included me.
"M. l'Abbe, it is time for the service," she said firmly. "If this Anglais comes in, he will see that I have reason."
She disappeared. The abbe looked after her indulgently, shrugged his shoulders, with the palms of his hands spread heavenward, and followed her.
In the meantime the worshipers, practically all of them women and children, had been turning corners above and below. I made the round of the group of buildings, and saw only little doors here and there at different levels. There was no portal, no large main entrance. When I came back to the bend of the road, the music had started. I was about to enter the tower door—Mademoiselle Simone's!—when I saw the Artist put up his pencil. The service would last for some time, so I joined him, and we continued to mount.
Above the church tower, steps led to the very top of the hill, which was crowned by a chateau. Skirting its walls, we came to an open place. On the side of the hill looking towards the Alps, a spacious terrace had been built out far beyond the chateau wall. Along the parapet were a number of primitive tables and benches. The tiny cafe from which they were served was at the end of a group of nondescript buildings that had probably grown up on a ruined bastion of the chateau. Seated at one of these tables, you see the Mediterranean from Nice to Antibes, with an occasional steamer and a frequent sailing-vessel, the Vintimille rapide (noting its speed by the white engine smoke), one tramway climbing by Villeneuve-Loubet towards Grasse and another by Saint-Paul-du-Var to Vence, and more than a semi-circle of the horizon lost in the Alps.
The Sunday afternoon animation in the place was wholly masculine. No woman was visible except the white-coiffed grandmother who served the drinks. The war was not the only cause of the necessity of Mademoiselle Simone's opposition to antiphonal Gregorian singing. I fear that the lack of male voices in the vesper service is a chronic one, and that Mademoiselle Simone's attempt to put life into the service would have been equally justifiable before the tragic period of la guerre. For the men of Cagnes were engrossed in the favorite sport of the Midi, jeu aux boules. I have never seen a more serious group of Tartarins. From Monsieur le Maire to cobbler and blacksmith, all were working very hard. A little ball that could be covered in one's fist is thrown out on the common by the winner of the last game. The players line up, each with a handful of larger wooden balls about the size and weight of those that are used in croquet. You try to roll or throw your balls near the little one that serves as goal. Simple, you exclaim. Yes, but not so simple as golf. For the hazard of the ground is changed with each game.
Interest in what people around you are doing is the most compelling interest in the world. Train yourself to be oblivious to your neighbor's actions and your neighbor's thoughts, on the ground that curiosity is the sign of the vulgarian and indifference the sign of the gentleman, and you succeed in making yourself colossally stupid. Here lies the weakest point in Anglo-Saxon culture. The players quickly won me from the view. Watch one man at play, and you can read his character. He is an open book before you. Watch a number of men at play, and you are shown the general masculine traits of human nature. Generosity, decision, alertness, deftness, energy, self-control—meanness, hesitation, slowness, awkwardness, laziness, impatience: you have these characteristics and all the shades between them. The humblest may have admirable and wholesome virtues lacking in the highest, but a balance of them all weighs and marks one Monsieur le Maire or the stonebreaker on the road.
The councils of Generals at Verdun did not take more seriously in their day the problem of moving their men nearer the fortress than were these players the problem of rolling their big balls near the little ball. Had the older men been the only group, I should have got the idea that jeu aux boules is a game where the skill is all in cautious playing. But there were young chasseurs alpins, home on leave from the front, who were playing the game in an entirely different way. Instead of making each throw as if the destinies of the world were at stake, the soldiers played fast and vigorously, aiming rather to knock the opponent's ball away from a coveted position near the goal than to reach the goal. The older men's balls, to the number of a couple of dozen, clustered around the goal at the end of a round. Careful marking, by cane-lengths, shoe-lengths and handkerchief-lengths preceded agreement as to the winner. At the end of a round of the chasseurs alpins, two or three balls remained: the rest had gone wide of the mark, or had been knocked many feet from the original landing-place by a successor's throw. During half an hour I did not see the young men measure once. The winning throw was every time unmistakable.
The Artist leaned against the chateau wall, putting it down. The thought of Mademoiselle Simone, playing the organ, came to me. How was the music going? I must not miss that service. The view and the chateau and the jeu aux boules no longer held me. Down the steps I went, and entered the first of the church doors. It was on the upper level, and took me into the gallery; I was surprised to find so large a church. One got no idea of its size from the outside.
The daylight was all from above. Although only mid-afternoon, altar and chancel candles made a true vesper atmosphere, and the flickering wicks in the hanging lamps gave starlight. This is as it should be. The appeal of a ritualistic service is to the mystical in one's nature. Jewels and embroideries, gold and silver, gorgeous robes, rich decorations, pomp and splendor repel in broad daylight; candles and lamps sputter futilely; incense nauseates: for the still small voice is stifled, and the kingdom is of this world. But in the twilight, what skeptic, what Puritan resists the call to worship of the Catholic ritual? I had come in time for the intercessory visit to the stations of the cross. Priest and acolytes were following the crucifix from the chancel. Banners waved. Before each station the procession stopped, the priest and acolytes knelt solemnly (with bowed heads) and prayers were said. While the procession was passing from station to station, the girls sang their hymn in French. It was the age old pageantry of the Catholic church, a pageantry that perhaps indicates an age old temperamental difference between the Latin and the Anglo Saxon.
When the service was over, I went around to the door under the tower. Of course, it was to meet the abbe. Still, when I realize that I had missed the organist, I was disappointed. The abbe soon appeared from the sacristy. I gave one more look around for Mademoiselle Simone while he was explaining that he had just twenty minutes before it was necessary to start down to the other church, but that it was long enough to take me through the Moorish quarter. Although I had come to Cagnes to see the old town, and to get into the atmosphere of past centuries, I must confess that I followed him regretfully.
The houses of the Moorish quarter are built into the ancient city walls. Baked earth, mixed with straw and studded with cobblestones, has defied eight centuries. There are no streets wide enough for carts, for they hark back to the days when donkeys were common carriers. And in hill-towns the progressive knowledge of centuries has evolved no better means of transport. You pass through ruelles where outstretched hands can touch the houses on each side. Often the ruelle is like a tunnel, for the houses are built right over it on arches, and it is so dark that you cannot see in front of you. The abbe assured me that there were house doors all along as in any other passage. People must know by instinct where to turn in to their houses.
When the abbe left me to go to his lower vesper service, after having piloted me back to the main streets, I decided to go up again to the place to rejoin the Artist. But under an old buttonwood tree, which almost poked its upper branches into the chateau windows, stood Mademoiselle Simone, waving good-by to another girl who was disappearing around the corner of a street above. Her aunt, she declared, was waiting for her at a villa half-way down the hill, at five. Just then five struck in the clock-tower behind us.
"Had you looked up before you spoke?" I asked.
"Clocks do strike conveniently," she answered.
Although Mademoiselle Simone repulsed firmly my plea that she become my guide through the other side of the town, where two outlying quarters, the abbe had said, contained the best of all in old houses, queer streets and an ivy-covered ruin of a chapel, she lingered to talk under the buttonwood tree of many things that had nothing to do with Cagnes. When I tried to persuade her to show me what I had not yet seen, on the ground that I had made the climb up to the top because of my interest in hill cities and wanted to write about Cagnes, she immediately answered that she would not detain me for the world and made a move to keep her rendezvous with the aunt. So I hastened to contradict myself, and assure her that I had no interest whatever in Cagnes, that I was stuck here waiting for the Artist, who would come only with the fading light.
After Mademoiselle Simone left me under the buttonwood tree, I thought of the Artist. He had finished and was smoking over a glass of vermouth at one of the tables by the parapet of the place.
"Great town," he said. "Bully stuff here. In buildings and villagers have you found anything as fascinating as that purple and red on the mountain snow over there? It just gets the last sun, the very last."
"Yes," I answered, "but neither in a building or a villager of Cagnes. There is a Parisienne—" And I told him about Mademoiselle Simone. He was silent, and his fingers drummed upon the table, tipity-tap, tipity-tap. "Show me your sketches," I asked.
"No," he said scathingly. "No! You are not interested in sketches. Nor should I have been, had you been more generous. You had the luck in Cagnes."
The prospect of a trout dinner at Villeneuve-Loubet took us rapidly down the hill. We soon passed out of the fifteenth century into the twentieth. Modern Cagnes, with its clang of tramway gong, toot of locomotive whistle, honk-honk of motor horn, cafe terraces crowded with Sunday afternooners, broad sidewalks and electric lights was another world. But it was our world—and Mademoiselle Simone's. That is why coming back into it from the hill of Cagnes was really like a cold shower. For a sense of refreshment followed immediately the shock—and stayed with us.
The hill of Cagnes we could rave about enthusiastically because we did not have to go back there and live there. It will be "a precious memory," as tourists say, precisely because it is a memory. The bird in a cage is less of a prisoner than we city folk of the modern world. For when you open the cage door, the bird will fly away and not come back. We may fly away—but we do come back, and the sooner the better. We love our prisons. We are happy (or think we are, which is the same thing) in our chains. And in the brief time that we are a-wing, do we really love unusual sights and novel things? In exploring, is not our greatest joy and delight in finding something familiar, something we have already known, something we are used to? An appreciative lover and frequenter of grand opera once said to me, "'The Barber of Seville' is my favorite, because I know I am going to have the treat of 'The Suwanee River' or 'Annie Laurie' when I go to it." There is an honest confession, such as we must all make if we are to do our souls good.
So you understand why there is so much of Mademoiselle Simone in my story of Cagnes, and why the Artist had a grouch. His afternoon's work should have pleased him, should have satisfied him. He would not have finished it had he met Mademoiselle Simone. He knows more of Cagnes than I do, but he would rather have known more of Mademoiselle Simone.
At the restaurant opposite the Cagnes railway station the waitress welcomed us as old friends. She told us how lucky we were to come on a Friday. Fish just caught that morning—the best we would ever eat in our lives—were waiting for us in the kitchen. We flattered ourselves that the disappointment was mutual when we had to tell her that there was time only for an aperitif. Precisely because it was Friday and not Sunday, there was no reasonable hope of running into Monsieur le Cure or Mademoiselle Simone or a game of boules, if we climbed the steep hill to Cagnes. On our last visit, we had seen from the top of Cagnes a walled city crowning another hill several miles inland. Saint-Paul-du-Var was our goal today.
Electric trams run to Grasse and to Vence from Cagnes. The lines separate at Villeneuve-Loubet, a mile back from the Nice-Cannes road. The Vence tram would have taken us to Saint-Paul-du-Var along the road that began to avoid the valley after passing Villeneuve-Loubet. It was one of those routes nationales of which the France of motorists is so proud, hard and smooth and rounded to drain quickly, never allowing itself a rut or a steep grade or a sharp turn. This national highway was like all the easy paths in life. It meant the shortest distance comfortably possible for obtaining your objective. It eliminated surprises. It showed you all the time all there was to see, and kept you kilometrically informed of your progress. It was paralleled by the electric tram line. It enabled you to explore the country in true city fashion.
We were walking, and the low road, signpostless, attracted us. It started off in the same general direction, but through the valley. It was all that a country road ought to be. It had honest ruts and unattached stones of various sizes. Cows had passed along that way. Trees met overhead irregularly, and bushes grew up in confusion on the sides. The ruthlessness of macadam, the pressure of fat tires, the scorching of engines, had not banished the thick grass which the country wants to give its roads, and would give to all its roads if the country were not being constantly "improved." There were places where one could rest without fear of sun and ditch-water and clouds of dust. Why should one go from the city to the country to breathe tar and gasoline? Why should one have to keep one's eyes wandering from far ahead to back over one's shoulder for fifty-two weeks in the year? We wanted to get away from clang-clang and honk-honk and puff-puff. Since the real vacation is change, we welcomed the task of looking out for hostile dogs instead of swiftly moving vehicles. Our noses wanted whiffs of hay and pig, and our boots wanted unadulterated mud.
We were not allowed to have our way without a warning. There always is someone to keep you in the straight and narrow path. As we were turning into the low road a passer-by remonstrated.
"If you're going to Saint-Paul-du-Var," he explained, "you want to keep to the high road. It's very muddy down there, and will take you longer."
When our adviser saw that we did not stop, he raised his voice and called, "There are no signposts and you may get lost."
"You take the high road and we'll take the low," sang back the Artist.
He who had meant well disappeared, shaking his head. No doubt, as he shuffled along, he was muttering to himself over the inexplicable actions of ces droles d'Anglais.
The miles passed coolly and pleasantly. Trees and bushes did not allow many glimpses of the outside world. The dogs that barked were behind farmhouse gates, and we had use for our stones only at an occasional jackrabbit. "At" is a convenient preposition. It gives one latitude. Jackrabbits on the Riviera are not like human products of the south. They jump quickly. They jump, too, in directions that cannot be foretold. After one particularly bad throw, the Artist explained that he did not enjoy inflicting pain. His boyish instincts had long ago been controlled by reading S. P. C. A. literature. I told him that I thought he had given up baseball too early in life. So had I. The jackrabbits escaped.
I am rarely oblivious to the duty of the noon hour. Although I knew the Artist's habit of stopping suddenly, and the hopelessness of budging him by plea or argument as long as the reason for stopping remained, it had not occurred to me that there would be a risk in taking the low road. We had started in plenty of time, and as we were out for a medieval town, I thought he would not be tempted until we reached the vicinity of a restaurant. But about a mile below Saint-Paul-du-Var the low road brought us to a view of the city that would have held me at any other time than twelve noon. I tried the old expedient of walking faster, and calling attention to something in the distance. When the Artist halted, moved uncertainly a few yards, and stopped again, we were lost. He did not need to pronounce the inevitable words, "I'll just get this little bit." The Artist's "just" means anything from twenty to ninety minutes.
Food without companionship is not enjoyable, least of all on a holiday. There was no use suggesting that we could come back this way, and advancing that the light would be so much better later. The Artist had started in. I cast around for some way of escape from an impossible situation. The only farmhouse in sight was at the end of a long lane, and did not look as if it could produce the makings of a meal. The poorest providers and preparers of foodstuffs are their producers. Who has not eaten salt pork on a cattle ranch and longed for cream on a dairy farm? What city boarder has not discovered the woeful lack of connection between the cackling of hens and the certitude of fresh eggs on the table at the next meal? What muncher of Maine doughnuts in a Boston restaurant has not thought of the "sinkers" offered to him when he was on his last summer's vacation?
A bridge crossed a stream just ahead of us. On the other side was a thick clump of trees. I walked forward with the thought that a drink of water at least might not be bad. When I got to the bridge I heard plaintive barking and a man's voice. The man was explaining to the dog why he ought not to be impatient. He would have his good bone, with plenty of meat on it, in a little quarter of an hour. A house-wagon was standing back from the side of the road. The owner was shaking a casserole over a fire, and the dog was sniffing as near as he dared. The dog gave me his attention, and the man turned. It was a favorite waiter of a favorite Montparnasse cafe.
"Pierre," I cried, "where did you drop from? What luck!"
Pierre put the casserole on the window ledge, out of the dog's reach, and greeted me. You never could surprise Pierre. He was always master of the situation. One has to be in a Montparnasse cafe. I noted with approval the precaution that Pierre had taken. Either the dog was very hungry or there was something particularly tempting in the casserole.
Pierre had gone to join his regiment on the second day of the war. I had not seen him or heard of him since then. He told me that he had been unable to shake off a bronchite, caught in the trenches. It was the old story. When he left the hospital, the medical board declared him unfit for further service and warned him against returning soon to city life. The hope of recovery lay in open air and sunshine.
"I determined to get well, Monsieur," he said. "I had money saved up. I bought this wagon and a cinematograph outfit. I go to the little towns in the Midi. One can take only four sous—two from the children—but I get along. Now, when I am well, I shall not go back to Paris. Have you ever lived in a wagon, Monsieur? No? Well, never do it, if you do not want to realize that it is the only life worth living."
Pierre was interested in the gossip of the Quarter. A frequent "c'est vrai" and "dites donc" punctuated my news of American artists who had gone home at last. When I told him of the few who had sold pictures in America, his comment was "epatant," which he meant in no uncomplimentary sense. The Artist was an old favorite of Pierre's. I restrained his impulse to go right out to greet the Artist. Pierre entered into my idea with alacrity. The dog was given a bone and chained. The coal box was brought out from the wagon, and turned upside down for a table beside a fallen tree. When all was ready, I watched Pierre surprise the Artist. He put a napkin over his arm, and froze his face. Then he tip-toed up to the Artist's elbow, and announced, "Monsieur est servi." For once I was able to get the Artist away from his work.
What a meal we did have there beside that little stream! There were bottles in Pierre's wagon, and he insisted upon opening more than one. When we finally left Pierre to his dishes, we were well fortified for the climb to Saint-Paul-du-Var, and in the mood to appreciate enthusiastically all that was before us.
Above on the left we could see the high road that we had deserted at Villeneuve-Loubet. It did not come out of its way for Saint-Paul-du-Var, but went straight on inland Vence-wards. A side road, on the level, came over towards the gate of Saint-Paul-du-Var. To this road ours mounted, and joined it just outside the town. In climbing we had the opportunity, denied to the conventional, of seeing that Saint-Paul-du-Var was really on the top of a hill. The walls rose sheer, and only the outer houses, directly behind the ramparts, were in our line of vision. Nearly up to the entrance to the city we passed between a tiny stone chapel and a mill, whose wheel was a curious combination of metal and wood. The Artist exclaimed that it would make a bully sketch. He saw its picturesque possibilities. I wondered, on the other hand, whether it would work and how it worked. Moss and grass on a millwheel in the Midi are no surer signs of abandonment and disuse than a dry millrace. Where things die fast they grow fast. A little water brings forth vegetable life in a single day. Southern streams are not perennial. On the Riviera, they are fed from nearby mountains, and are intermittent even in their season. When the water ceases, the sun quickly bakes a crust of silt and dries the stones of the river-beds gray-brown.
A dwarf could hardly have said mass in the chapel. Its rear wall was the rising ground, and there seemed to be a garden on the roof. Burial space extending no farther than the roots of a sentinel cypress told the tale of one man's vanity or devotion. The situation of the chapel prompted us to look over the ground for traces of a lunette bastion on the counterscarp. We found that the chapel was built upon an earlier foundation of stone taken from a fortification wall, and that later builders had made over the chapel into a belvedere. Steps on the side of the slope led to the roof, upon which two benches had been placed. What past generations have left us we use for purposes of our own. We talk sentimentally of our traditions, but we test them by their utility.
Saint-Paul-du-Var fails to satisfy twentieth-century standards. It is not a thriving, bustling city. It is not a tourist center. The walls are as they were five centuries ago. The space inside is sufficient for the population, and one gate serves all needs. The medieval aspect is not destroyed by buildings outside the walls, and the medieval atmosphere is undisturbed by hotel touts and postcard vendors. When we presented ourselves before the gate, not a soul was in sight. A bronze cannon of Charles-Quint's time stuck its nose out of the ground by the portcullis. We had to pull off grass and dirt to find the inscription. While we were examining the towers that flanked the gate, a wagon rattled slowly by. The driver did not look at us. A woman with a basket of vegetables on her head met us under the arch. She did not look at us. We found the same indifference in the town. Even the small boys refrained from staring or grinning or yelling or asking for pennies. None volunteered to show us around.
"The interest in our arrival at Saint-Paul-du-Var," commented the Artist, "is all on our side."
Human nature is full of contradictions. We should have been annoyed if people had bothered us. We were as much annoyed when they paid no attention to us.
We went up in one of the towers to reach the ramparts. Keeping on the walls all the way around the town involved an occasional bit of climbing. We had to forget our clothes. That was easy, however, for every step of the way was of compelling interest extra et intra muros. Outside, the panorama of the Riviera, sea and mountains, towns and valleys, lay before us to the four points of the compass. Inside, houses of different centuries but none post-Bourbon, each crowding its neighbor but none without individuality of its own, faced us and curved with us. For once, the Artist failed to single out a subject.
Seaward, beyond the valley through which we had come, were Villeneuve-Loubet and Cagnes. On the right we could see to the Antibes lighthouse, and on the left, across the Var, to the point between Nice and Villefranche. Landward were Vence and the wall of the Alpes Maritimes. The afternoon sun fell full on the snow and darkened the upper valleys of the numerous confluents of the Var and Loup rivers.
Sketching was tomorrow's task. There was time only for exploration of the city before sunset. We came down at the tower opposite the one from which we had started on our round. On the road to the electric tram, we saw the restaurant-hotel, a cube of whitewash, but we were far from the temptation of banalities. Tea or something, and a place to spend the night, could be found within the walls.
Saint-Paul-du-Var caught us in its fascinating maze. We forgot that we were thirsty. There was just one street. It zigzagged its way across the town from the gate. You lost the points of the compass and hardly realized that you were going over the top of a hill. The street curved every hundred yards, and frequently turned around three sides of a single building. Fountains were at the bends. One of them, opposite the market, fed a square pool that was the city laundry. Women, kneeling on the edge, were at the eternal task. We passed the centers of municipal life, post-office, mairie, gendarmerie, school and church.
Churches of Riviera towns, like the character and speech and features of the people, are a reminder of the recency of the French occupation. There is a replica of the church of Saint-Paul-du-Var in a thousand Italian cities. When you enter the colorless building from the plain curved porch, the chill strikes right into your bones. Windows do not compete with candles. You have to grope your way toward the altar. Unless you strain your eyes, or lamps are burning, side chapels pass unnoticed. If you are looking for inscriptions or want to admire the old master's picture, with which every church claims to be endowed, you must get the verger with his taper. Altars are gaudily decorated and statues bejeweled and be (artificial) flowered in Hispano-Italian fashion. The mairie, reconstructed from an ancient palace or castle, was more interesting. Beside the mairie a medieval square tower, which may have been a donjon, was occupied on the ground floor by the gendarmerie. Bars on the upper windows indicated that it was still the prison.
We tried the alleys that led off from the street, thinking each might be a thoroughfare to take us back to the ramparts. They ended abruptly in a cul-de-sac or court. The culs-de-sac, uninviting to eye and nose, were as Italian as the church. The houses in the courts were stables downstairs. Man and beast lived together. Flowers and wee bushes grew up around the wells in the center of the courts. Everything was built of stone and red-tiled. But there was none of the dull gray-and-red monotony of northern towns near the sea or of the sharp gray-and-red monotony of towns of the Mediterranean peninsulas. Grass sprouted out between the stones of the walls and the tiles of the roofs. From window-ledges and eaves hung ferns. A blush of moss on the stones added to the green of plant life, and softened the austerity of the gray. Nature was successful in asserting herself against man and sun and sea.
We were expressing our enthusiasm in a court where the living green combined with age to glorify the buildings. We did not see the dilapidation, we did not smell the dirt, we did not feel the squalor. A woman was lighting a fire in a brazier on her doorstep. She looked hostilely at us. We beamed in counteraction. She looked more hostilely. As the Artist wanted to sketch her house, some words seemed necessary. I detailed our emotions. Was not her lot, cast in this picturesque spot, most enviable?
"We want to take away with us," I said, "a tangible memory of this beautiful, this picturesque, this verdant court in which you live."
"If you had to live here," she announced simply, "you'd want to go away and forget it."
The fumes had burned from the charcoal. The woman picked up the brazier, carried it inside without another word or look, and slammed the door behind her with her foot.
The Artist was already in his sketch, but he paused to growl and philosophize. "If she had waited a minute longer," he complained, "I should have had her and the brazier. Funny how unappreciative people are. You and I, mon vieux, would like nothing better than to stay here. From the other side of her house that woman must have a great view of the sea and the mountains. Is she going to watch the sunset? No, she is going to make soup for her man on that brazier in a dark hole of a room, and feel sorry for herself because she doesn't live in Paris where she could go to the movies every night."
Our ardor for Saint-Paul-du-Var lasted splendidly through the sunset on the ramparts. We had found the ideal spot. Hoi polloi could have their Nice and their Cannes! But when night fell, there were few lights on the street, and shopkeepers looked at us in stupid amazement when we inquired about lodgings. We did not dare to ask in the drinking places, for fear they might volunteer to put us up. In the epiceries, we were offered bread and sardines. There was no butter. So we went rather less reluctantly than we had thought possible an hour earlier out of the gate towards the hotel-restaurant. An old man was camped against the wall in a wagon like Pierre's. He had been sharpening Saint-Paul-du-Var's scissors and knives. We confided in him, and asked if he thought the hotel-restaurant would give us a good dinner and a good bed. The scissors-grinder wrinkled his nose and twinkled his eyes. "The last tram from Vence to Cagnes stops over there at eight-ten," he said decisively. "You have five minutes to catch it. Get off at Villeneuve-Loubet, and go to the Hotel Beau-Site. The proprietor is a cordon bleu of a chef. He has his own trout, and he knows just what tourists like to eat and drink. Motorists stop there over night, so you need have no fear."
"But—" I started to remonstrate.
The Artist was already hurrying in the direction of the tram. I followed him.
The next morning the Artist went back to Saint-Paul-du-Var for his sketches. I did not accompany him. Saint-Paul-du-Var was a delightful memory, and I wanted to keep it.
On a hill a mile or so back from the Cannes-Nice road, just before one reaches Cagnes, a castle of unusual size and severity of outline rises above the trees of a park. The roads from Cagnes to Grasse and Vence bifurcate at the foot of the hill on which the castle is built. What one thinks of the castle depends upon which road one takes. The traveler on the Vence road sees a pretentious entrance, constructed for automobiles, with a twentieth-century iron gate and a twentieth-century porter's lodge. The park looks well groomed. The wall along the Vence side is as new as the gate and the lodge. The stone of the castle is white and fresh. One dismisses the castle as an imitation or a wholesale restoration by an architect lacking in imagination and cleverness. But if the left hand road toward Grasse is taken, one sees twelfth-century fortifications coming down from the top of the hill to the roadside. There are ruins of bastions and towers overgrown with bushes and ivy. Farther along an old town is revealed climbing the hill to the castle. There is nothing nouveau riche about Villeneuve-Loubet. The only touches of the modern are the motor road with kilometer stones, the iron bridge over the Loup, and the huge sign informing you that the hotel is near by.
Had we limited our inland exploration to the Vence side of the hill, the Artist and I would not have discovered Villeneuve-Loubet. Had we been hurrying through toward Grasse in automobile or tram, we would probably have exclaimed "how picturesque" or "interesting, isn't it?" and continued our way. Luck saved us.
A scissors-grinder at the gate of Saint-Paul-du-Var recommended the trout and beds of the Villeneuve-Loubet hotel. Just as the moon was coming up one April evening, we got off the Vence-Cagnes tram at the junction of the Grasse tramway, and walked to the revelation of what the castle really was. We decided to eat something in a hurry, and go around the town that very evening.
When, helped by the sign, we reached the Hotel Beau-Site, the proprietor came forward with his best shuffle and bow. Trout? Of course there were trout, plenty of them. Alas, in these days when business was very, very bad, when people had no money to travel, and visitors accordingly were scarce, there were too many trout. But that was to the advantage of messieurs. He, Jean Alphonse, could give a large choice, and the dinner would have all his attention. It was his pride and rule to give personal attention always to every dish that left his kitchen, but with the monde of a regular season, he could not take every fish out of the pan himself, and see that the slices of lemon were cut, and the parsley put, just as he had always done when he was the chef of Monsieur Blanc. We knew Monsieur Blanc. Monsieur Blanc died eight years ago, but that was the way of the world. Now messieurs could go right along with him and pick out their own fish. The net was down by the pool, and he would get a lamp in just one little minute. For that would be best. The moon was coming up, true. But one could not trust the moonlight in choosing fish.
The garden of the Hotel Beau-Site contains a curious succession of bowers made by training bamboo trees for partitions and ceilings. As we went through them, Jean Alphonse explained that these natural salons particuliers, where parties could have luncheon out-of-doors and yet remain sheltered from the sun and in privacy, combined with the trout to give his hotel a wonderful vogue in tourist season. We, of course, insisted that the reputation of the chef must be the third and controlling attraction. The pool was full, and the trout had no chance. It was not a sporting proposition; but just before dinner one does not think of that. Even our choice out of the net was gently guided by Jean Alphonse. Since human nature is the same the world over, is it surprising that the tricks calculated to captivate and deceive are the same? I recalled a famous restaurant in Moscow, where one went to the fountain with a white-robed Tartar waiter and thought he picked his fish. I have no doubt that Jean Alphonse believed that his idea was original, and that we were experiencing a new sensation.
Jean Alphonse did not boast idly of his cuisine. He possessed, too, the genius of the successful boniface for knowing what would please his guests. He sensed our lack of interest in the wines of the Midi, and, helped by the Artist's checked knickers and slender cane, set forth a bottle of old Scotch. We refused to allow him to open the dining-room for us, and had our dinner in a corner of the cafe. Villeneuve-Loubet's elite gathered to see us eat. The garde-champetre, the veteran of 1870, the chatelain's bailiff, the local representative in the Legion of Honor (rosette, not ribbon, if you please), and two chasseurs alpins, home from the maneuvers on sick leave, ordered their coffee or liqueur at other tables, but were glad to join us when we said the word. Soon we had a dozen around us. The history of the war—and past and future wars—and of Villeneuve-Loubet was set forth in detail.
Had it not been for the moon, we should certainly have gone from the table to our rooms. But the full moon on the Riviera makes a more fascinating fairyland than one can find in dreams. We did not hesitate, when the last of our friends left, to follow them out-of-doors. Villeneuve-Loubet might prove to be a modest town tomorrow, old, of course, and interesting: but we were going to see it tonight under the spell of the moon. We were going to wander where we willed, with all the town to ourselves. We were going to live for an hour in the Middle Ages. For if there was anything modern in Villeneuve-Loubet, the moonlight would hide it or gloss it over; if there was anything ancient, the moonlight would enable us to see it as we wanted to see it. I pity the limited souls who do not believe in moonshine, and use the word contemptuously. One is illogical who contends that moonshine gives a false idea of things; for he is testing the moonshine impression by sunshine. It would be as illogical to say that sunshine gives a false idea of things on the ground that moonshine is the standard. If sunshine is reality, so is moonshine. The difference is that we are more accustomed to see things by sunlight than by moonlight. Our test of reality is familiarity, and of truth repetition.
Villeneuve-Loubet is built against a cliff. The houses rise on tiers of stone terraces. They are made of stone quarried on the spot. Red tiles, the conspicuous feature of Mediterranean cities, are lacking in Villeneuve-Loubet. The roofs are slabs of stone. The streets are the surface of the cliff. We climbed toward the castle through a ghost-city. The moon enhanced the gray-whiteness that was the common color of ground, walls and roofs. The shadows, sharp and black, were needed to set forth the lines of the buildings.
The picture called for a witch. The silence was broken by the tapping of a cane. Around the corner the witch hobbled into the scene, testing each step before her. She was dressed in black, of course, and bent over with just the curve of the back the Artist loves to give to his old women. She was a friendly soul, and did not seem amazed to find strangers strolling late at night in her town. We were "Anglais," and that was explanation enough to one who had seen three generations of tourists. She stopped to talk with us. When had we arrived at Villeneuve-Loubet? Had we come up from Nice that afternoon and did we plan to stay for a day or two with Jean Alphonse at the Hotel Beau-Site? Did we not agree that Villeneuve-Loubet was superb? Perhaps we were artists? So many artists came here to paint and sketch the old houses. What was our impression of her country? We knew that she meant by "country" not France but Villeneuve-Loubet, and mustered our best vocabulary to admire the town, the solid foundations, the houses, the protecting castle, and above all, the unique streets of stone.
"But it must be very difficult to go up and down in winter. How do you manage when the rock is frozen over with snow and ice?" I asked.
"It does not freeze here," she answered.
The moon-whiteness had made me think of winter, and it had not occurred to me that there would be no snow and ice. Ideas are pervasive. We place them immediately and unquestioningly upon the hypothesis that happens to fit.
The church, of eighteenth-century architecture, is the last building at the upper end of the town. It stands on a terrace outside the lower wall of the castle, an eloquent witness of the survival of feudal ideas. In order that the lord of the manor need not go far to mass, when there happened to be no private chaplain in the castle, the town-folk must climb to their devotions. I tried the church door from habit. It was not locked. The Artist refused to go in.
"Why should one poke around a church, especially at night and this night?" he remonstrated, and walked over to the wall of the terrace.
"There may be something inside," I urged.
"There is something outside," he answered, with his back turned upon the castle as well as church.
I could see my way around, for the windows of nave and transept were large, and had plain glass. Moonlight was sufficient to read inscriptions that set forth in detail the pedigree of the chatelains. The baptismal names overflowed a line, and were followed by a family name almost as long, MARCH-TRIPOLY DE PANISSE-PASSIS. Longest of all was the list of titles. The chatelains were marquesses and counts and knights of Malta and seigneurs of a dozen domains of the northlands as well as of Provence. March-Tripoly and some of the seigneural names told the story that I have often read in church inscriptions near the sea in Italy, in Hungary, in Dalmatia and in Greece, as well as in Provence and Catalonia. The feudal families of the Mediterranean are of Teutonic and Scandinavian origin. They were founded by the stock that destroyed the Roman Empire, barbarians, stronger, more energetic, more resourceful, more resolute than the southerners whom they made their serfs. When feudalism, through the formation of larger political units by the extension of kingly rights, began to decline, the chatelains preserved their prestige by supporting the propaganda to redeem the Holy Sepulcher. They took the Cross and went to fight the Saracens in Africa and Asia. When climate rather than culture latinized them, later northmen came and dispossessed them. The men of the north have always been fighting their way to the Mediterranean. Are Germans and Russians disturbing the peace of Europe any more or any differently than Northern Europeans have always done? Since the dawn of history, the Mediterranean races have had to contend with the men of the north seeking the sun.
Behind the church, ruins of centuries, overgrown with shrubbery and ivy, cling to the side of the cliff from the castle to the valley road. The great square mass of the castle rises on top of a slope far above the church terrace. A moat, filled with bushes, is on a level with the terrace, and beyond the moat is a wall. An unkept path leads through the moat to a modest door. From the towers and arch above one can see that the former entrance to the castle, by means of a portcullis, was on this side. But the outer wall has been rebuilt, leaving only a servants' door. Evidently the chatelain used to enter by climbing up through Villeneuve-Loubet as we had done. Since the motor road was made on the other side of the hill, he and his guests can ignore Villeneuve-Loubet.
The Artist was sitting on the wall of the terrace, engrossed in midnight labor. He was willing to stop for a pipe. Above us the castle, dominated by a pentagonal tower, rose toward the moon. Below us, the blanched roofs of Villeneuve-Loubet slanted into the valley. As long as the pipe lasted, I was able to talk to the Artist about the men of the north seeking the sun. But when the bowl ceased to respond to matches, he said; "All very well, but I know one man of the north who is going to seek his bed."
Before reaching the Hotel Beau-Site, however, a street on the left attracted us. It seemed to end in a flight of steps that dipped under arches, and we could hear the swift rush of water. We were not so sleepy as we thought, for both of us were still willing to explore. The steps led to the flour mill. We followed the mill-race until we reached the Grasse tram road near the river. By the tram station, a light was shining from the open door of a cafe in a wooden shanty. We went in, and found Villeneuve-Loubet's officer of the Legion of Honor smoking his pipe over a cup of tilleul.
"There has been an accident in the gorge of the Loup," he said. "The last tram from Grasse was derailed, and two automobiles from Cagnes went up an hour ago. As I am the maire, I must wait for news. There may be something for me to do."
Monsieur le Maire told us that he had spent his life in the West African coast trade, with headquarters in Marseilles. If he had stayed there to end his days, he would have been one of a hundred thousand in a great city, cast aside and ignored by the new generation. But in his native pays he was in the thick of things. To return to their old home is not wholly a question of sentiment with Frenchmen who retire from business in the city or the colonies. Money goes farther, and one can be an official, with public duties and honors, and enjoy the privilege of writing on notepaper bearing the magic heading, Republique Francaise. Monsieur le Maire told us that the chatelain came often, and never forgot to invite him to meet the guests at the castle. Some years ago I used to think that it was a peculiar characteristic of the French to enjoy being made much of and exercising authority. But since I have traveled in my own and many other countries I have come to realize that this characteristic is not peculiarly French.
When Monsieur le Maire spoke of the chatelain, I had my opening. Full of the idea of the men of the north seeking the sun, I was ready to spread to others the impression I had made upon myself of my own erudition and cleverness. At the risk of boring the Artist, I repeated and enlarged upon my deductions from the inscription of the March-Tripoly de Panisse-Passis. Monsieur le Maire looked at me with malicious amazement.
"La-la-la!" he cried. "Not so fast. You haven't got it right at all, at all, at all! The castle of Villeneuve-Loubet is the only one in this corner of Provence that belongs to its pre-Revolutionary owners, but there are many centuries between feudal days and our time. Castles remain, but history changes. The March-Tripoly de Panisse-Passis are not a feudal family, and they do not come from the north. The African part of the name is due to an unproven claim of descent from a French consular official in Tripoli of the sixteenth century. The chateau, after a succession of proprietors, came to the Panisse family through marriage with the daughter of a Marseilles notary, who got the chateau by foreclosing a mortgage. During the Revolutionary period, the property was saved from confiscation by a clever straddle. The owner stayed in France, and supported the Revolution, while the son emigrated with the Bourbons. The peerage was created just a hundred years ago by Louis XVIII, in reward for the refusal of the Panisses to follow Napoleon a second time after the return from Elba."
Another pervasive idea!
"The Moon got you," was the laughing comment of the Artist.
Historical reminiscences died hard, however. We discussed the possible Saracen origin of the pentagonal tower, and the vicissitudes of the castle during the struggles between Mohammedans and Christians, feudal lords and kings, Catholics and Protestants, Spaniards and French. Monsieur le Maire was a Bonapartist, and he insisted that the chief glory of Villeneuve-Loubet was the association with Napoleon.
"When Napoleon was living at Nice," he said, "he used to come out here often. Napoleon thought that the view of sea and mountains from Villeneuve-Loubet was the finest on the Riviera. He could stand up there and look out towards his native island, and contemplate the mountains the crossing of which was his first great step to fame. Napoleon (and here Monsieur le Maire winked at the Artist) was a man of the sun seeking the north—just like Caesar, ho! ho!"
The arrival of the tram, which had recovered its equilibrium, helped me to recover mine. We said good night to Monsieur le Maire, and before turning in went out on the iron bridge that spanned the Loup.
The river, swollen by the spring thaw and rains, had overflowed its banks, and was swirling around willows and poplars. It was not deep, and the water flashed in the moonlight as it rippled over the stones. There was a smell of fresh-cut logs. We looked beyond a sawmill into a gorge of pines that ended in a transversal white mountain wall.
"Bully placer ground!" I exclaimed.
The Artist leaned over the bridge, looked down, and sighed just one word, "Salmon!"
We sought the Hotel Beau-Site in silence.
Monuments of men's making create a diversity of atmospheres and call forth a diversity of reminiscences. They cause imagination to run riot in history. But nature is the same the world over, and there would be reactions and yearnings if one knew nothing of the past from books. There is no conflict. Nature transcends. We dreamed that night not of crusaders, but of Idaho and the Bitter Root Range.
The most picturesque bit of mountain railway on the Riviera is the fourteen miles from Grasse to Vence. Yielding to a sudden impulse, we took it one afternoon. The train passed from Grasse through olive groves and fig orchards and over two viaducts. A third viaduct of eleven arches took us across the Loup. We were just at the season when the melting snows made a roaring torrent of what was most of the year a little stream lost in a wide gravel bed. The view up the gorge gave us the feeling of being in the heart of the mountains. And yet from the opposite windows of the train we could see the Mediterranean. Then we circled the little town of Tourettes at the foot of the Puy de Tourettes, with high cliffs in the background, and a wild luxurious growth of aloes below. We almost circled the village, crossing the ravines on either side on viaducts. A sixth long viaduct brought us to Vence. We had a rendezvous that evening at Cannes. There was no time to stop. We kept on to Nice to make the only connection that would get us back to Cannes.
Afterwards the Artist and I spoke often of Vence. Twice we planned to go to Vence, but found the fascination of Villeneuve-Loubet and Saint-Paul-du-Var justifiable deterrents.
On the terrace of our favorite cafe in the Allees de la Liberte at Cannes on Easter evening we announced the intention of making a special trip to Vence the next day.
"Tomorrow is Easter Monday, and the children have no school," said the Artist's hostess. "We shall make a family party of it, train to Cagnes where I may have a chance to see your Mademoiselle Simone, a trout luncheon at Villeneuve-Loubet with the rest of that bottle of which you boys spoke, and Vence in the afternoon."
The orders had been given. There was an early morning stir at the Villa Etoile, a scramble to the Theoule railway station, and before nine o'clock we were all aboard for the hour's ride to Cagnes. When we got off the train, there was just one cocher available. He looked at papa and mamma and Uncle Lester and the four babies and their nurse, and raised his hands to heaven. But Villeneuve-Loubet was not far off and we were careful to say nothing of the afternoon's program. Leonie and the children were packed into the carriage. The rest of us followed afoot.
Our cheerful host at Villeneuve-Loubet greeted us effusively. He had many holiday guests, but he remembered the Artist and me, and the splendid profit accruing from every drink out of the bottle only les Anglais called for. There were plenty of trout, fresh sliced cucumbers, and a special soup for the kiddies. The cocher was so amenable to Leonie's charms and to drinks that cost less than ours that he consented to further exertion for his horse. But the climb to Vence was out of the question—a physical impossibility, he declared. And we, having seen the horse at rest and in action, could only sorrowfully agree. It was too much of a job to maneuver all the children (the baby could not walk) to the tramway halt, nearly a mile away, and on and off the cars. The mother said that she could not be a good sport to the point of abandoning all her handicaps for several hours in a place where the river flowed fast and deep. So it was agreed that she would have at least the excursion to Saint-Paul-du-Var, and the Artist and I, determined this time on Vence, would see her the next evening for dinner at Cannes.
So we made our adieux, and hurried off to get the tram at the bifurcation below the castle. Half an hour later our tram passed the carriage jogging up the hill. As luck had it, we turned out just then on a switch to let the down car pass. The temptation of Vence was too much for Helen. The cocher seemed a fatherly sort of a man. There was a quick consultation from tram to carriage. A reunion with the handicaps was set for two hours later in front of the triple gate of Saint-Paul-du-Var, and another passenger got on the tram.
Around a curve we waved farewell to our children. After all, Vence was only three miles beyond Saint-Paul. As we passed the Saint-Paul halt, our old friend, the postman, was on the platform to receive the mailbag. We told him that the kiddies were coming, and slipped him ten francs to look after them until our return.
"Soyes tranquilles, M'sieu-dame," he reassured us. "Moi, je suis grand'pere."
Beyond Saint-Paul the tramway left the road and climbed over a viaduct to Vence.
Ventium Cassaris was a military base of great importance in the days of imperial Rome. It was the central commissariat depot for the armies in Gaul, and had a forum and temples. During the Middle Ages it was a stronghold of the Holy Roman Empire. It stands on the side of a fertile hill more than a thousand feet above the sea. The site was probably chosen because of the wall of rocks on the north which shelter it from the mistral, a wind that the Romans found as little to their liking as later interlopers. In peace as in war the outside world has never been able to keep away from the Riviera.
The Artist announced his intention of spending a couple of days sketching, and left us to seek a hotel. Helen and I found that there was no tram to Saint-Paul-du-Var that would enable us to pick up the children in time for the train to Theoule unless we returned without seeing Vence. So we decided to give an hour to the town and walk back to Saint-Paul.
As at Grasse a boulevard runs along the line of the old fortifications. Some of the houses facing it have used the town wall for foundations or are themselves remnants of the wall. But at Vence the boulevard de l'enceinte is circular—a modest Ringstrasse, marking without interruption the old town from the new. We dipped in and out of alleys under arches, and made a turn of the streets of the old town. Much of the medieval still survives in Vence, as in other hill towns of the Riviera. But only behind the cathedral did we find a remnant of imperial Rome. A granite column supporting an arch, and reliefs and inscriptions built in the north wall of the cathedral, are all that we saw of Vence's latinity.
The cathedral, however, is the most interesting we found on the Riviera. It is a Romanesque building, built on the site of the second-century temple, and its tall battlemented tower harks back to a tenth-century chateau fort. The interior is striking: double aisles, simple nave with tiers of arches of the tenth century, a choir with richly carved oak stalls, a fourth-century sarcophagus for altar, and a font and lectern of the Italian Renaissance.
It was just a glimpse. But sometimes glimpses make more vivid memories than longer acquaintance. At the end of our hour we left Vence and hurried down the broad road of red shale past meadows thick with violets. We went through the deep pine-filled ravine over which we had crossed on the viaduct. Then the climb to Saint-Paul-du-Var.
We might have taken our time. Christine and Lloyd and Mimi came running to greet us, bringing with them little friends who had probably never before played with children from Paris. We did not need to ask what kind of a time they had been having. Children are the true cosmopolitans. Hope lay under a tree on her blanket playing with her pink shoes. Nearby, at a table in front of the Cafe de la Porte, Leonie was treating the cocher and the postman to a glass of beer.
"I got bread and honey and milk for the children's gouter," explained Leonie, "and Monsieur le cocher and I are having ours with Monsieur le facteur."
As the children did not seem to be tired and the cocher was in no hurry, Helen and I made a tour of the walls, and took a photograph of our handicaps and their faithful attendants in front of the great gate built by Francis I, who prized Saint-Paul-du-Var as the best spot to guard the fords of the river against Charles V.