Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The genteel charm of Menton in off-season




What do you think of when you imagine the Côte d'Azur? For me, the first image that springs to mind is a literal one of Jaques-Henri Lartigue's photographs of his muse, the sultry glamorous Renée. Or perhaps the Murphy's picnicking on the sands with the Fitzgerald's in a devil may care fashion. So imagine my disappointment on my first visit to the French Riviera to find it over-built, over-busy, over-bling.

That champagne bubble swiftly popped.



Happily, I was invited to spend several truly wondrous days in Menton during les fêtes and there, during this sleepy time of year, I found the stuff of my dreams.


The mystery of it all...


...was rather romantic.


Stairs lead down to secret gardens...


...and up to sweeping sea views...


...the best of which was reserved...


...for those resting eternally...


...in yet another cemetery that left me breathless with wonder.


But oh, there was much charm of the genteel kind...


...for those still walking and laughing, as we did.


Wobbling arm in arm over stone-paved alleys, peeking towards horizons...


...passing a many fruit-laden bower with goods ripe for the picking.


Senses set to soften and soothe...


...to bring out the readiness to play.


Isn't that the essence of their essence? Those long-ago loungers living for...


...luxe, calme et volupté? *


I felt right home, lost in time, slipping into a sweet vortex, accompanied by friends and a red-headed tree...


...giving a wink to me and the coast of near-by Italy (but more of that soon).

I don't want to spend too much effort to imagine how very different this town must be sweating under the full summer swing. No, I am perfectly content, delighted even to have been slightly off and slightly on in the off-season of Menton. 

to listen:

* L'invitation au voyage
Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D'aller là-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l'ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l'âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l'humeur est vagabonde;
C'est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu'ils viennent du bout du monde.
— Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D'hyacinthe et d'or;
Le monde s'endort
Dans une chaude lumière.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

— Charles Baudelaire

Invitation to the Voyage
My child, my sister,
Think of the rapture
Of living together there!
Of loving at will,
Of loving till death,
In the land that is like you!
The misty sunlight
Of those cloudy skies
Has for my spirit the charms,
So mysterious,
Of your treacherous eyes,
Shining brightly through their tears.
There all is order and beauty,
Luxury, peace, and pleasure.
Gleaming furniture,
Polished by the years,
Will ornament our bedroom;
The rarest flowers
Mingling their fragrance
With the faint scent of amber,
The ornate ceilings,
The limpid mirrors,
The oriental splendor,
All would whisper there
Secretly to the soul
In its soft, native language.
There all is order and beauty,
Luxury, peace, and pleasure.
See on the canals
Those vessels sleeping.
Their mood is adventurous;
It's to satisfy
Your slightest desire
That they come from the ends of the earth.
— The setting suns
Adorn the fields,
The canals, the whole city,
With hyacinth and gold;
The world falls asleep
In a warm glow of light.
There all is order and beauty,
Luxury, peace, and pleasure.

— Translation by William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)


49 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Merci Janey, appreciate that. And Happy New Year!

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  2. So much beauty seen through your lens leaves me breathless too. And your photos are a welcome reminder of a trip we took to Nice about 10 years ago, we were there in the spring, and I remember standing in some amazing gardens overlooking Monaco after long, leisurely lunch in a perched village. Sigh.....

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    1. Oooh, were they the Rothschild gardens above the Cap Ferrat?? I didn't know that you had ever been so close Judith. That makes me a tad wistful, truth be told...my turn to sigh...

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  3. Beautiful, Heather. I have to admit, the Cote d'Azur has been pushed down on my list of places to visit in France because of that very pop of a champagne bubble you describe. But Menton in the off season looks like my cup of tea - or glass of bubbly. I love visiting places in the off or shoulder season. You experience charms and delights that aren't available at other times. And I would rather walk on an isolated beach than lounge on a hot crowded one any day. Your photos are stunning.

    Hope you are having a lovely week! XO

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    1. Jeanne...I get such a kick out of you, I really do. We come from different backgrounds and life experiences but we really do have so much in common. Just the way we see things and what we do or don't appreciate. This is a perfect example! And don't scratch off the Côte yet...you would have loved this...plus lots of other things too, yes all off-season...are you sure you don't want to TGV down next week??
      PS. Thank you for the lovely compliment!

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  4. A red-headed tree. Now, this is perfect isn't it?
    So much ancient beauty to just breathe in & try to imagine how it must have been when it was all built.
    For me, this is the best part.
    & the dogs, of course.

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    1. Oh Marsha, Kipling was only baaaarely behaving and Ben, well, we all know what a love is. He only has ONE "issue": a terrible fear of loud noises. Can you believe that young kids set off firecrackers on the beach just after those last photos were taken? Ben high-tailed it back to HQ so fast it was dangerous, poor sweetie.
      And yes, thank you for knowing what a red-head tree means to me and going along to imagine what it must have been...although (save for poor Ben) we had a mighty fine time in the present!

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    2. Silke, c'est très dur à voir...on peut rien faire... :(

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  5. Beautiful, beautiful. I was lucky to get to know Mediterranean France from the department of Var. We used to spend the 4-week annual holiday in Le Lavendou some 20 years ago when my kinds were young so were only made short visits to the most crowded areas. Much more recently, I've been to Menton twice, once in March on the last days of the Fête du Citron and once in July accompanying my sister who couldn't travel at any other time. The next visit will definitely be made off season!

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    1. Oh I love the Var! It must have been heaven 20 years ago. But there are still some good spots! Take a look at this older post (mainly to see a favorite photo of Ben if you wish): http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2012/04/la-mer-deux.html

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  6. I don't think I'd come across the word 'limpid' since reading Fitzgerald over a decade ago ...

    You are an interesting soul mix, H. Quiet but churning, vexed, at times, but easily induced back to love.

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    1. I love it when you leave a response that I have to chew on for 24 hours. So I'll just say it: I don't know if anyone has ever tried to describe me in a single sentence before but you nailed it. It is kind of mind-boggling and yet one more check in the "meant to be" box of our friendship.

      I am very, very grateful to the Maestro for opening the path for me to find you.

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  7. Oh this was such dreamy, lovely post. I am loving the musical interlude. Thank you and wishing you the happiest 2014.

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    1. Hooray, merci! Oh and to you as well Gillian...in Rome...le sigh. We both live/spend time in some dreamy places and know how lucky we are...

      And I am glad that you liked the Jean Sablon. You know, Remi and I always refer to his music or others similar from that time period as "Cote d'Azur" music and then, there we were, right in the middle of it! It was too perfect...

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  8. While you were in Menton did you have a chance to visit the Stinky Puddle of Garavan? I think next week they're tacking up a trivia plaque.

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    1. You know, I have some really close friends that visited it, got right up close to it actually and they let me know in no uncertain terms that the experience was...overwhelming. I am not surprised about the plaque. Frankly, Garavan could use another attraction besides the mini-putt.

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  9. Such a lovely looking spot: beautiful photos.

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  10. You take us to places which are at the heart of all my daydreams. Give me off-season any place, any time and I will love it just for the sheer nostalgia of it all.

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    1. Loree, you and I just have the same taste in destinations! That is all there is to it...

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  11. I adore Menton! I had never been before, but really fell in love with it when we were living in Eze last fall and winter, the architecture, beach, market and the trees lined with citrus are indeed genteel.

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    1. Was the new Cocteau Museum open when you were there? I love the architecture, a fun contrast! And wow to have spent fall and winter in Eze...ooohhhh...pretty!

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  12. Looks beautiful from your shots…….especially the cemetery!
    The colors………..grab me!
    Love the red top tree!

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  13. Beautiful post, Heather. Menton holds a special place in New Zealand history and Literature as home to Katherine Mansfield and the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship http://mansfieldfellowship.org/index.html

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    1. Oooh must take a look right away. Your encyclopediatric knowledge astounds me. And ps!!!! Christchurch was named on the "52 places to go in 2014" list by the New York Times WITH a photo of the new chapel...!!!

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  14. with more talent I could write an essay or vignette on the music, the poem, your photos, your prose....I so enjoyed all and several evoked so many feelings and memories. Merci.

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    1. So happy that they did but you have plenty of talent for living Joan and that is good enough for me! :)

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  15. Thank you for the beautiful pictures and post--just what I needed to come home to this evening!

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    1. Oh dear, sorry that you needed this but very glad that it was there!!!

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  16. Soooo beautiful!! I'm high on the colors - the only color I see here are variations on gray! It looks lovely, and I'm so glad that you captured it as beautifully as you always do - grateful! The word that comes to mind is "yummy"!

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    1. More colors tomorrow Sister--like an ice cream cone corrective to all that gray. I love you!

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  17. Charles Baudelaire, the Flâneur , with his poem: “order and beauty,luxury, peace, and pleasure”.

    Is there really a Shangri-La that is vanishing somewhere? Beauty that’s about a wink away from eternal repose?

    Your poetic exploration, your idea of strolling, finding the “sweet vortex”, the “essence”, the romantic “mystery”, “sweeping sea”, “charm of the genteel” and a “red-headed tree” captures the day, and my day. I don’t have to imagine I’m content.

    Thank you Heather.




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    1. Well then I did my job then Edgar and I am truly pleased to hear it. But I think that your question is far more interesting actually: Beauty that’s about a wink away from eternal repose? Oooh. I have experienced it a few times...in Tibet on a hill amidst the prayer flags, at Angkor at sunrise. That feels lucky, beyond lucky.

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  18. Que bello! Les couleur et la brûme! L' Italie c'est tout proche, ca ce voit! C'est vrai que hors saison ou juste avant la saison on peut eviter le "bling" à la Côte d'Azur et découvrir de merveilleuses endroits.

    Le Cap d'Antibes, la vieille Antipolis avant que les milliardaires soient arrivés, la magnifique Domaine de Rayol, les Îles d'Or, surtout Port Cros, le merveileux Cap Bénat, Bormes les Mimosas et je suis sûr d'autre que je n'ai pas encore vue.

    Mais pendant la saison c'est vrai que c'est pas supportable.

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    1. J'avoue que je suis jamais allée en saison! Pas une fois! Mais dis donc, nous avons le même gout...quelle belle liste...la Riviera Profonde! ;) J'ai donné le lien suivant à Theresa Maria: http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2012/04/la-mer-deux.html

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    2. Oui, oui! La mer, deux! C'ètait le poste avec laquelle j' ai trouvé ton blogue dernier été. Ou plutôt c'ètait l'image de Ben que j'ai trouvé d'abord à Google et puis tes merveilleuses images du Cap Bénat ou j'´étais en deuxmilledouze.

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  19. You've beautifully captured my memories of the time we visited Menton! A lovely post, Heather.

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  20. So beautiful, thank you. So looking forward to seeing it with my own eyes, soon. XXXX G

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    1. George! Mr. Snyder! Are you going to Menton too?? I am positively desperate for more info!

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  22. Oh, I LOVE Menton! Thank you for the virtual visit. You might enjoy the novel THE LONG AFTERNOON by Giles Waterfield, set in Menton. It's all about secret gardens, British invalids convalescing in the gentle climate, and a shocking twist at the end...

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    1. Oh, thank you for this hint! It really sounds like a very interesting book!

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  23. If the rain lets up on Saturday, we're going to go to Menton :)

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  24. Thank you for this virtual tour I take as I sip my coffee on a dark Toronto winter morning. Makes me want to pack my bags NOW!

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