July 11, 2013
The Cote d’Azur, easily the most beautiful, interesting, and climate friendly part of our trip. On July 3rd we drove into Valbonne and the home of a high school friend of my sister’s. From the moment we entered that welcoming portal the trip shifted from the edginess of finding our way in a foreign country to the comfort of being with people who knew their way around and took us there. Until we didn’t have to cope with driving, unpacking, finding food, figuring out what to see, seeing it, packing, leaving and starting the process over again, I don’t think any of us were aware of a subtle hum of stress vibrating through our adventures.

And then we got to Joe and Laurent’s. Before we dragged in over packed duffle bags or even saw our rooms, our hosts seated us in a lovely garden, served us appetizers and champagne and sent the clear message: “Relax.” Dinner was five (count them) courses and typically French in the leisurely approach to a meal. Soup, followed by salmon and rice, followed by salad, then a cheese course, and (always) dessert. By the time dinner was over, we had a plan for the next day, our only full day in the area.
A great night’s sleep, a few hundred calories of carbohydrates and we were ready to begin. First we walked to the village nearby—very modern and basically the Silicon Valley of Nice with IBM, Apple and other high tech firms providing the impetus for the design of the town. After that we went to Valbonne for lunch and walked around a bit. Then we were driven a little ways to St. Paul de Vence, a striking example of the fortress like towns that were built high up on hills a long time ago (1200’s I think). Along the narrow streets were galleries and shops and many stairs leading to the top of the village and a stunning view of the valley below. We had so much fun looking at the work of local and international artists and (I confess) shopping. Well, while Noni and I shopped, the men moved on to the next gallery or café. I went through an exhibit of photos of Marc Chagall, who spent the last years of his life in St. Paul de Vence and whose later work was influenced by the colors of the French Riviera. At the summit of the village we took many pictures of the view and each other. Then we left and drove to Nice so that the tourists (us) could see the famous hotels and beaches. Because we needed to be in Cannes in time for the fireworks, we just drove through the very busy and crowded city.

It turned out that Cannes has a fireworks competition for several weeks each summer. This year the powers that be decided to add a fireworks display a week before the competition started. I don’t know how it all worked out but Azerbaijan (a country that owns a lot of property in the area) put on the show and they started it with our national anthem since it was Independence Day. Almost everyone on the beach stood up for “The Star Spangled Banner” (and they couldn’t have all been Americans), followed by the national anthem of Azerbaijan, followed by the most fantastic fireworks I’ve ever seen. They were underscored with gorgeous classical music, blasting from speakers on a platform on the Bay of Cannes. It was such a wonderful way to spend our last night in France—perfect, balmy weather, a final serving of fresh fruit ice cream, and the great company of family and friends.

The next day we flew home—well, some of us made it home that day…. The details of that adventure are in “Take the long way home,” a few posts back.