P U B L I C A T I O N S > F
R A N C E S S T I L L M A N ' S E
U R O P E D I A R Y
I..........Going from Here to There
XII..........Paris in the Fall
Wednesday, July 16th
We spent last night in Genoa, and were up early this morning to
take the bus to Nice. The bus was almost an hour late and we waited
in the square in front of the station. Such a stream of buses,
bound for neighboring towns, for Milan and for the Cote d'Azur.
Finally ours arrived.
The road was winding and steep, cut into the mountain rock, and
the contrast of hills and mountain peaks on one side and the exotic
blue sea on the other was breathtaking. There is something terribly
exciting about the blue of the Mediterranean. I hadn't known how
many marvelous shades of blue and green it could be, with just
a swirl of dullish white now and then, for contrast. Although
the cypress and other familiar trees continued, now there were
tall palm trees also, and cactus plants, and the flowers by the
wayside took on a greater brilliancy. The houses were painted
light pink or blue, with red roofs. Frequently we passed a gay
bathing resort, with vacation crowds swimming or sunning themselves
on the broad white beach, under red and white striped beach umbrellas.
What a different world from the walled towns and centuries-old
buildings which we had just left!
As we neared the French Riviera the mountains receded gradually
into the distance, giving way to gentle country and flat beaches,
with the sea dominating the scene. However, there were occasional
hill towns, with shining white villas and terraced orchards. We
had a glimpse of the palace and surrounding buildings of Monaco
in the distance, and passed the fabulous Casino of Monte Carlo
and the luxurious park facing it.
Pulled up in Nice about four o'clock, left the bags at the bus
station, and made for the hotel where the Es stayed when they
were here two years ago. We didn't notice it when we engaged the
room, but later we found that the hotel was only two short blocks
from the railroad station. Throughout the night there was a continual
puffing and snorting of engines and clanging of bells. Ary hardly
closed his eyes, and at daybreak he arose, dressed, and went out
to look for another hotel.
He came back about seven-thirty with the news that he had found
one, but that our room wouldn't be available until later in the
day. It was on a private street, very quiet, and the room which
we would have — but couldn't see now, since it was still
occupied — faced a garden. We would have to engage it for
two weeks, since the landlord had a long waiting list of people
who would be willing to rent it for that period. Ary wanted me
to look at the outside of the hotel, but I said no, that if it
was on a quiet street he should engage the room and have the baggage
brought ever there.
Friday, July 18th to Thursday, July 30th
I am not keeping a day by day record of our stay in Nice because
very little has actually happened during these two weeks.
I was horrified when I first saw our room in Hotel Durante, but
gradually I have come to have a warm feeling, almost an affection
for it. The room is drab and dingy, the walls are badly in need
of paint, the carpets worn, the draperies faded. The bedding is
clean enough, but the linen is terribly coarse. To our surprise
we found a two-burner gas stove in the room and a cupboard containing
dishes and table silver of a sort; also a notice on the wall to
the effect that we are to take care of our own room. Outside in
the hallway there are brooms and mops, a coffee-grinder and other
kitchen utensils, and an ironing board with an old-fashioned iron,
the kind you heat on the gas stove.
The whole establishment has the air of a third-rate actors' boarding
house, and the landlord looks as if he might have been the manager
of a traveling troupe at one time. But there are many compensations.
Our room has a big window and a door leading to a tiny little
balcony just large enough for one chair. Outside is a garden —
such a funny, tangled garden, straggling and unkempt, with a riot
of flowers in the vivid hues typical of the Cote d'Azur. There
are orange and lemon trees, a large tree with flaming red blossoms,
and an exuberantly purple bougaineillea vine which climbs up into
our balcony. All of this is set against flat areas of blue and
yellow formed by nearby houses. The colors are vividly bright
in the clarity of the Mediterranean sunlight.
Although the hotel is so terribly shabby, the guests are a very
genteel and substantial looking lot. From Northern France or Belgium,
most of them, small business men who have driven down in their
cars with their families to spend a week or two on the beach.
Fat papas with big black mustaches, good-natured mammas and docile
youngsters. They leave early in the morning for the beach, return
at noon carrying long loaves of bread, bottles of red wine, and
bags of smelly cheese and sausage. Then after lunch they go to
the beach for the rest of the day.
We prepare breakfast and lunch in the room. Ary goes out early
in the morning and buys fresh rolls and milk and cheese and tomatoes
and oranges and the most luscious tasting peaches. We stay in
our room until noon, writing letters or enjoying the garden from
our little balcony. After lunch, when the sun streams too strongly
into the room, we walk down to the big park by the sea, where
we stretch out in beach chairs and doze, or read our French newspapers
or the little anthology of modern poetry, which we always carry
It isn't a very exciting existence, but it is a welcome rest after
our travels in Italy, and we are quite content.
The park by the sea is enchanting, particularly at night when
it is brilliantly lighted — the lawns like green velvet,
the tall palm trees, the fountains, the vine-covered arbors, the
gay umbrellas, the bright-colored beach chairs, and the flow of
movement of the crowds. In the evening we promenade on the Avenue
des Anglais with the beach and the dark blue sea on one side of
us and the row of ornate white hotels on the other. Their verandahs
are crowded with tables of diners, and inside, the orchestras
are blaring out jazz music. The entire Avenue is flooded with
dazzling light just like the park. One hotel in particular is
so Hollywood-ish looking that it seems just like the backdrop
for a musical movie. Any minute one expects a chorus of Rockettes
to float out, or Fred Astaire with a dancing partner to waltz
out of the doorway.
But the park and the Avenue des Anglais are all that is left of
the glamour of Nice. Otherwise it is tawdry. The international
crowd of royalty and multi-millionaires which made Nice the playground
of cosmopolitan high society before World War I has disappeared.
The wealthy European crowd and the exclusive American travelers
now seek secluded spots or the coast nearby and the city of Nice
has been given over to the "hoi-poloi". The elaborate
hotels on the Avenue dos Anglais are patronized by tourists, mostly
Americans, who stop over-night, on Cooks or American Express tours,
or by those who have their own cars and make Nice their headquarters
while they take excursions to nearby Grasse or Vence or other
well-known spots in the hill country.
For the most part Nice has a Coney Island atmosphere, with cheap
hotels, restaurants, stores and dance halls. Swarms of people
are constantly parading the streets in shorts or bathing suits,
which they wear throughout the day and evening, even on the glamorous
Avenue des Anglais. There are countless little souvenir shops
and the main street is dotted with travel agencies, their windows
plastered with placards advertising rail-road and bus excursions.
You have a great sympathy for the vacationers — plain, hard-working
people, getting away from their jobs or their little shops for
a few days to inhale the sea air and sun themselves on the beach,
and to enjoy the glamour of the famous beach promenade. But this
does not make for an attractive vacation resort.
One thing that has struck us is the great number of old people
here — octogenarions by the hundreds. Couples mostly, probably
pensionaires who have come here to enjoy the mild climate and
to take advantage of the low cost of living (rent is low and food
comparatively cheap.) They hobble along the streets, or sun themselves
in the park, always on the wooden benches, which are free, never
in the beach chairs or armchairs, which rent for 8 or 10 francs.
Their garb is often as ancient as they themselves, but they are
very neat. Sometimes they bring their lunch to the park, occasionally
the women do a bit of sewing, but more often they just sit. No
psychological problems here — they seem at peace with the
world and quietly contented.
On Sunday morning we visited the Russian church, a very fine one,
for there was a wealthy Russian colony in Nice before the Revolution.
We had some difficulty in finding our way, but finally some young
men passed by and Ary said, Listen, they are speaking Russian".
So we followed them, and before long we came to a street marked
"Szaravitch Avenue", then "Rue Nicholas II",
and eventually we arrived at the church.
The mass was in progress and we stood there (there are no seats
in the Russian church) listening to the singing and admiring the
handsome gold icons on either side of the altar. After the principal
mass a woman and a man and a lovely dark-haired little girl stayed
and participated in some sort of a candle service. The singing
was magnificent (Moussorgsky used this type of music as source
material and the chants sounded to me like "Boris Goudenoff")
and the scene was quite dramatic — the priests in their
white robes, with long gray hair and flowing beards — the
man and woman and pretty child, holding the long white candles,
and the background of flowers and flickering candles and the gleaming
gold of the icons with their richly colorful designs
Our only excursion to the hill country was our trip to Vence.
It is an hour's ride in the bus, which leaves from the station
back of the Casino, and the road winds through the mountains.
On the way we stopped for a few minutes at St. Paul, a picturesque
old village, with a gay-looking hotel by the side of the road.
St. Paul has been a favorite spot for artists for many years.
Soutine especially used to frequent this town, and the crooked,
up-hill streets formed the theme of a number of his highly personal
Vence was further up the mountain. I thought it charming. It reminded
me of our Eastern mountain resorts at home, only with a very French
flavor. We went up the road to look for a pension, which we had
heard about. Luncheon was being served in the garden, at little
tables under colored umbrellas in bright shades of blue and yellow.
We ate there and it was extremely pleasant — a delicious
salad of tomatoes and black olives, meat, fruit, etc. and red
wine to drink. It was so cool and comfortable that we lingered
for some time.
At the pension they told us, to our great disappointment, that
the Matisse "Chapelle du Rosaire" is open only two days
a week, and this was not one of the days. We decided to walk there
anyway, although it is quite a distance from the center of the
town. When we arrived there we found to our delight that at three-thirty
each day it is opened for a short time for a special bus-full
of excursionists. So we waited for the bus to arrive, and at three-thirty
it pulled up, and the gate of the chapel was opened.
The entire chapel is white — white marble floors, white
walls, white stone altarpiece, circular in shape, on an oblong
platform of the same stone — sturdy candlesticks of brass
with low white, large-sized candles. A small gold crucifix designed
by Matisse high on the altar, and a fanciful little oil lamp,
also Matisse-designed, on the wall. A light blue rug on the altar
and on it a light-colored wooden chair. The choir stalls opposite
were also made of the same light wood, with a very simple modern
The wall back of the altar is white tile and a black figure of
a saint in robes, carrying a bible with a cross, covers the wall
from top to bottom. On the opposite wail, also white-tiled, is
a Mother and Child, very lovely, outlined in black, with large
flower designs on either side of the figure. On another large
wall are scenes of Christ and the Crucifixion, also in black on
The three large colored windows are wonderful — one back
of the altar, with a typical Matisse flower design in blue, green
and yellow, and the other two with a larger, equally decorative
design in the same bright colors. The colors are glorious and
the play of light through the windows on the white floors and
tiled walls is something very exciting. An exquisitely designed
door leads into the confessional, which is also in white, with
a simple wooden chair, and a reddish-purple curtain in front of
the window of the confessional itself.
Our stay was much too brief, but this daily view of the chapel
is a special privilege and we couldn't protest when the white-robed
nun who was our guide insisted sweetly but very firmly that we
must leave. The exit led to the garden, from which there is a
fine view of the surrounding country and mountains. The exterior
of the chapel, all white, topped with a Matisse metal arabesque
ornament, is lovely, but the effect is somewhat lost because the
building is annexed to the convent on one side, with a house close
by on the other side.
I am not especially a devotee of Matisse, but I feel that if he
had created nothing else, this Chapelle du Rosaire would earn
him a special place in the history of art and architecture. Of
course the whole conception is so unorthodox and so daring that
there is much adverse criticism. Undoubtedly however this will
give way in time and the Matisse conception will inspire architects
in other parts of the world. However, it will be difficult to
capture the effect of this Chapelle, for it is not only the simplicity
of design that is arresting. It is also the flood of light from
the Mediterranean skies; this light playing on white marble and
vivid blues and greens and yellows; a light that seems alive and
joyous and all-penetrating
And now we are ready to resume our travels after this very pleasant
interlude in Nice. Ary is eager to have a look at the Catalan
primitive art, which appealed to him so strongly when he visited
the museum at Barcelona years ago. So tomorrow we will set out
for Barcelona. The trip is a long one. We shall go from here to
the French town of Narbonne, where we will make connections with
the express from Paris, which is bound for the Spanish border.
We shall have to stop over in Narbonne for the night.