Atlantis Alumni

Friday, May 15, 2009

Further Adventures Toward Avignon

Top photo: The port at St. Tropez
Bottom photo: Gourmet dish in Antibes

Wednesday''s excursions started with a drive to Vallauris, the cityof pottery. When Pablo Picasso, the most famed artist of the 20th century, worked in the town during the 1950s, he revitalizedthe ceramics trade. Today the village is full of pottery shops. There arealso a group of small civic museums that include a Ceramics Museum, (with mostly works by Picasso) and a chapel containing hislarge mural "War and Peace." We left Vallauris to drive back through Juan-les-Pins to Antibes. Larger than many of the nearby towns, Antibes also has a magnificent harbor (mostly full of yachts and ocean liners), an old sectionand a cheerful Provencal Market. The scents of the market--from spices,flowers and local produce --were as much of a treat as the sight ofthe intense blue sky and Mediterranean. We visited the Cathedral and the Picasso Museum, housed in the Grimaldi Castle. Here are works that Picasso made--sculpture, paintings, prints and ceramics--mostly donein the building that the town let him use as an atelier in 1946. In gratitude,the artist donated all the works he'd done that year (about 150) and later he and then his widow left more works from the late 1940s to the museum.During those years, his themes were centered around portraits of women, still life and some amazing, very personal interpretations of classicsmyth, like "Odysseus and the Sirens." His Cubist style became less strict, resulting in broader areas of color, combined with meandering or geometric line in strong brushstroke. After discovering an English bookstore, run by a pleasant expatriate named Heidi, we looked up and then found a superb restaurant right on the ramparts of the old city, overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean. Jim was so amazed by the 'terrine de maccaroni' that he photographed it; note it was accompanied by a delectable chartreuse-colored sauce and a squash flower (edible) stuffed with a soft goat cheese. Two other courses followed with an exquisitely balanced Provencal rouge wine, and we both concluded that this place--Les Vieux Murs (Old Walls)--produced the best food we've had on this trip so far.Later, after navigating the treacherous roads back to our hotel, Jim returned to the beach while Dan read and wrote.

In the evening we took a train back to Antibes, just to eat at another gourmet restaurant, the creative Figuier (Fig Tree) Le Esprit. This was our most lavish splurge so far, but well worth it.

Thursday we left Juan les Pins early, to spend a couple of hours in beautiful Saint Tropez on the coast. The small, but good art museum included marvelous paintings by Signac, Van Dongen, Vuillard and others from the time of the Neo-Impressionists, Nabis and Fauve art movements. In our last Riviera town we also bought souvenir t-shirts and for lunch, a delicious fougasse (a latice-designed bread) stuffed with tomatoes and goat cheese. We ate lunch on the road, while traveling through hair-pin curves to reach the 'Route Provencale' super highway, in the direction of Avignon. Avignon, the city of the Medieval exile papacy, proved a horror to drive around, with one-way, circular ancient streets. Finally we reached our hotel, and after recuperative aperitifs on the main square, we had a delightful dinner at La Fourchette, near the Opera.


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