Letters to Strabo — poets and painters in the South of France


Finn and Francoise continue their rail journey over the French border stopping at the town of Collioure. Here they stop to take in the setting painted so often by the likes of Matisse:

“The town is French, but has a distinct Catalan feel. At the time of our visit, it was recovering from its annual Saint Vincent festival. As we descended through medieval streets from the station towards the sea, we caught glimpses of the royal castle and lighthouse luxuriating confidently around a picture-perfect Mediterranean bay. I felt instantly relaxed as we wandered the narrow alleyways soaking in the comfortable conspiracy of its street life, as if I had shed a northern skin. The tint of azure water, the deep terracotta roofs, the colorful mix of scruffy children and bourgeois old-timers has inspired a myriad of iconoclasts over the years, including Braque, Picasso and, of course, Matisse. It seemed a lovely, tranquil place.”

“However, we soon discovered the town had a grittier side too. It was the death place of one Antonio Machado, an exiled Spanish poet, who crossed the border with his elderly mother in 1938, in the face of Franco’s advancing Republicans. Poignantly, his last homesick poem: Estos dias azules y este sol de infancia (These blue days and this sun of childhood), was found on his dead body, buried in the pocket of his tattered overcoat. I bought a book of his poetry in the town to read later in his honor.”

After a brief stay in Nice, our couple continue on to the Cap d’Antibes, where they spend a day in the shadows of the rich at the magnificent Hotel du Cap:

“If the hotel was astounding, the clientele were even more so. I didn’t dare look at the waiters in case I was presented with a hundred buck magnum. It was as if it was still inhabited by the likes of Fitzgerald’s Dick and Nicole Diver and their glittering friends. Murder, incest, neuroses…the setting contained more than enough to inspire any writer!”

“That evening, we returned back to the bright lights of Nice where we stayed one more night. We made love on the balcony looking out at the stars across that enchanted garden. There were crickets and lemon trees and ivory strains from the piano bar below; what further encouragement could I guy get? It was a long and passionate night.”

The next day our couple take the morning express to Paris.

“The train was one of those beautiful streamlined machines the French do so well. In our smart compartment there were a number of classy-looking couples and a solitary short dapper man sitting opposite. I guessed he was in his early sixties, with a moustache and rakish grey goatee and a large leather satchel filled with books.”

George owned a bookstore on the Left Bank, the setting for the next stage of Finn’s adventures in Paris…parisnice

Letters to Strabo

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