Sunday, June 13, 2010




Unlike our seemingly frantic 90 mph drive through Germany into France where we fleetingly glanced ancient castles on distant hilltops, the drive through the countryside of Provence was more leisurely, embracing us with a scenic hug. We thought we'd lunch in Aix, the ancient village where Van Gogh lived and painted for a time, but the streets were crowded with tourists and students. Vespas and Smart cars were everywhere. There was no room for our huge equipment van and station wagon, so we continued east till we saw a sign on our deserted road pointing up a mountain to a hostellerie. We were hungry. This was France . How bad could it be? We hung a left and climbed the mountain road. When we reached the top, we pulled up in front of a rambling country house with picnic tables outside under a vine covered trellis. As we got out of our car, Richard turned to look at the view and gasped. I gasped, afraid the altitude was depriving him of oxygen. But his gasp was from pure joy. There in front of us was Mt. St. Victoire - one of Cezanne's favorite landscape subjects and one of Richard's favorite Impressionist creations.

After a warm welcome from the hostellerie owners, we sat at one of picnic tables and enjoyed a lunch of aged goat cheese, ripe runny bries, olives, crusty French bread, fish, salad, onion soup, and plenty of red and white table wine. We weren't hungry anymore. I had to pinch myself as I sat on a mountainside in the south of France having lunch while enjoying the same view Cezanne loved and painted so many times. How cool is that? Maybe he even sat in the same spot we were sitting.

Lunch over, we reluctantly kissed each cheek of our hosts (the French goodbye) and continued on our journey. The next stop in Provence was Grasse and the estate (or maybe its called a farm) of Gerard Ferry, a Los Angeles restaurateur, who proudly nurtured a 1,000 year old olive tree on the property as well as olive groves from which he bottled one of the world's rarest olive oils, available only in his restaurant. We were all exhausted by the time we arrived late in the afternoon and the guys had no desire to work. But, the old, original stone farmhouse/villa where the caretakers now lived was enchanting.

The new and larger villa where the Ferrys lived when in Grasse was a stunning, modern Mediterranean design.

 Donkeys roamed through the olive groves

 as Jason, the cameraman, shot B roll (w/ my help)

 and then concentrated on the aged olive tree, standing separate from the grove, gnarled and proud. I held and shaded the monitor so Jason could adjust his angles, as everyone else did their producing, directing 'thing'.

The sun was setting when we left the estate laden with parting gifts of olive oil. We headed to Nice, praying all the way there that we wouldn't be subjected to one of the Barry's (the exec. producer) tours in search of our hotel. Exhausted from our long day, we barely noticed the scenery. Miraculously, we found our destination without incident.

It wasn't until the next morning when I was surprised to discover that the Boscolo Park Hotel where we were staying faced the Promenade des Anglais (walk of the English) and the Mediterranean Sea . The Mediterranean ! Wow!

Nice, formerly part of Italy , is a classic example of a modern city that has managed to mix the old with the new. This area was modern and very chic chic. Fifth Avenue/Rodeo Drive shops lined our hotel's street yet within walking distance was "Vieux Nice" (old Nice)… very convenient, because the day's shoot was in the old city at the Place Rosetti. So, since I could walk to the shoot later in the day, I decided to do a little high-end window shopping (there was a Cartier yellow gold and diamond ring for which I would have given my first born if I had had a first born). Then, I explored Vieux Nice. Walking down the narrow streets, I imagined what life was like 100 – 200 – 300 years ago… people dressed in Provencal prints pushing fruit and vegetable carts to the market square… people sipping pastis at outdoor tables in the late afternoon as horse and buggies drove by… and then, there I was at Finocchio's ice cream shop in the Place Rosetti where people were sitting in the plaza sipping pastis, dressed in Provencal prints...

okay, okay – they were in tee shirts and shorts, licking ice cream cones (a woman can dream, can't she?). Why ice cream? In France? Well, Finocchio's doesn't just serve your ordinary ice cream and the show's title is "Extreme Cuisine." So… what could be more extreme than beer ice cream, tarragon ice cream, tomato/basil ice cream, vanilla rose ice cream, rhubarb ice cream, rosemary ice cream and thyme ice cream (can't remember if they had parsley or sage)… just a few of the 86 flavors served at Finocchio's.

The guys shot the plaza surrounded by restaurants, an ancient cathedral and two and three story apartment buildings, some with laundry drying on clothes lines hanging out the windows. I tasted the ice cream. Loved the tomato. Loved the lavender. The tarragon? Not so much. As they focused on Finocchio's, I sat in the Place Rosetti and people-watched. A local "Edith Piaf" strolled by singing "Le Vie En Rose" as I licked my beer ice cream cone. It was quaint. It was picturesque. I imagined a guillotine in the center of the plaza with Madam DeFarge knitting as she sat on her milking stool. Then a Vespa zipped by and I was back in the 21st century.

That night, to celebrate our French adventure and to say good bye to our interpreter, Oliver, we went to a fish restaurant a block from the sea. We had oysters, mussels, clams, breads and, of course, wine. Jason, totally pumped after his truffle soup experience, shocked us when he ordered squid. We toasted France . We toasted Provence . We toasted Nice. We toasted the food. We toasted the wine.

The next morning the wine toasted us with a four-alarm hangover. We popped aspirin for our headaches and head to the open-air market for one last shoot

then said good bye to France as we drove through Monte Carlo . On a road paralleling ours, formula cars whizzed by on a practice run for the Grand Prix. Up the High Corniche we went… the road Princess Grace sped along in the movie "To Catch A Thief" and, years later, where she crashed and was killed. When we reached the top, we stopped and took in the view below of the Mediterranean Sea , Nice and Monte Carlo . Jason shot B roll. The rest of us took tourist pictures. I can't ever remember a more beautiful vista.

We finally dragged ourselves away from the view and crossed the border into Italy.


Richard said...

Cezanne, they say, painted the mountain more than 60 times... different times of day, different light... some say the light in Provence is like no other... It was a wonderful trip... oil, food, wine, light...

Anonymous said...

Beautifully evocative memory piece! Well described. You bring it to life.

I love Monte Carlo! Too bad more movies aren't shot there.

And just you mentioning the High Corniche gt me dizzy. In fact, last time I was there on my way to Italy, the drive was so scary, I had to close my eyes...and I was driving!!


ilona saari said...

Ha! Especially that script titled, "21 Red."