Monsieur Matisse

So why Vence? Why come to France after a month plus in Italy?
Let’s go back to the planning stage(s) again.

By January 2013, the outline of the trip was pretty much nailed down and it was tutta Italia.
And then inspiration came from someone else. Henri Matisse.
Early in the fall semester, we began studying Henri Matisse in Art III.
Matisse had long been a favorite of mine.

I was visiting Washington D.C. with Mom and Dad in, I will guess and say, 1986? One day while Daddy attended a no doubt thrilling auditing conference, Mom and I sought refuge from the oppressive heat in the National Gallery.
I have a strong memory of seeing a Matisse for what I remember as the first time. You would think I would remember the exact painting, although I think it was “Still Life with Woman Sleeping”, I cannot be certain.
What I do remember are the colors, the unmistakable use of black line simply, yet fluidly rendered to create the feminine form. I remember being able to see the cloth of the canvas where the paint on the brush had run thin. I remember staring at his signature.
I remember the mood; the mood in the painting and the mood it evoked.
I did not feel sad or melancholy as I do when in the presence of a Van Gogh. When I looked at a Matisse, I felt happy, content. At that moment, Matisse leap-frogged Monet as one of my favorite artists. (Monet is no longer even in the top few, although I love and admire his work.)

I was excited to introduce my students to Monsieur Matisse. In preparation for this introduction, I viewed a documentary, A Model for Matisse. The film highlights a little known and tender relationship between Henri Matisse and a Dominican nun, Sister Jacque-Marie.

“The unlikely pair worked together from conception to completion of Matisse’s tour de force, the Chapelle du Rosaire (Chapel of the Rosary) in the French village of Vence” (Carnegie Mellon News)

After I viewed this, I felt as if I had spent an evening with Grandma Guidry. Sister Jacque-Marie reminded me so much of her. I bought the dvd, shared it with my students and mom and dad.

I was aware of the chapel of course, but the film was the inspiration for my visit to Vence.

So fast forward to Sunday morning. Last night, I was reading a bit about the area, noted the limited hours of the chapelle for tours but also noticed mass on Sundays at 10:00 am.
I did not want to get my hopes up, but I thought how wonderful that would be.
I assumed it would be a short bus ride over to the chapelle, having spied it on the opposite hill last night. But at breakfast, I was told it was a short 15 minute walk (he later added 15, 30 an hour? to his declaration).
I like the idea of walking. I feel more in control that way.

As I followed my hand drawn map, stopped every once in a while for support. There was one woman that actually looked at my information and tried to listen to me. After a moment she said, “Aaaahhhh Matisse.” It was as if she knew him….listening to her say his name was beautiful. She continued on in French, but smiled and nodded making me feel I was heading in the correct direction.

20130722-201320.jpg OK…Looking good.

20130722-201447.jpg bon bon

20130722-201626.jpg And Voila!
While I walked, I still had no idea regarding the protocol of attending mass….I continued to keep my hopes at bay. But RIGHT when I arrived, a woman came from the chapelle, unlocked the gate and welcomed the few waiting in….I just followed.

Photographs in the chapelle are strictly forbidden…that means that the people that just entered a church, made the Sign of the Cross and prayed and prayed….disregarded that commandment…..however, I could not bring myself to do so in the chapelle proper. I took a couple of photos before entering, in the foyer, and one of my feet as I stood. The other photos I have are poor ones from the internet, but I wanted you to be a little familiar if you were not.

Entering, I was prepared for the stark design and lighting. What I was not prepared for was the size of the chapelle. It it tiny! I would say it is a bit larger than our living room and kitchen put together, a bit wider, but that is it.

20130722-202358.jpg Above the entrance.

20130722-202422.jpg In the foyer.

20130722-202455.jpg A photo without the chairs for mass.

The tile walls with Matisse’s drawings of Mary and Jesus and on the back wall, the Stations of the Cross simply drawn in his unmistakable style.

20130722-202702.jpg The alter and tabernacle with the sun from the stained glass shining in.

20130722-202905.jpg Me in awe.

I was struck by the appropriateness of ending my visit of cathedrals and attendance at several masses in stunning, grand surroundings at this simple, beautiful chapelle. From Papa Francesco to this very personable French priest. It made me smile.

It was still early, about 9:40. I secured a spot and then walked back to the door of the confessional. I think of all the aspects of the chapelle, the door is my favorite. So simple, patterned of course and white.
As the chapelle began to fill, an older man walked through greeting everyone. He would shake hands, ask where they were from (in french) and then speak briefly to them, myself included. When we spoke, he said, “oohhh la la people from United States, Spain, England, France….oooohhhh la la”. As I suspected it was the priest.

This was a wonderful way to end my trip. The surroundings, the intimacy…
And if that was not enough…..He made sure I heard the message. They passed out the readings in each language needed.

Martha, Martha,
you worry and fret about so many things,
and yet few are needed, indeed only one.”
(Luke 10:41-42a)

Did He choose this for me!!??!!

As the mass began, I could tell although I could not understand a word, this man was speaking to his parish….in such a small, intimate setting, he would speak, ask questions (even thought EVERYTHING in French sounds like a question to me) and people in the church would answer…there was interaction going on…it was wonderful. He would laugh, they would laugh. He would ask, they would respond. He would ponder, they would nod their heads….

EVERY aspect of the chapelle was a collaborative effort between Matisse and Sister Jacque-Marie, including this cross, the chalice and candle sticks on the altar and the vestments.


Even if you are not into Matisse and art, I recommend seeing “A Model for Matisse”. I am happy to lend you my copy or you can rent it on Netflix.

After mass, I returned to the historic center of Vence, walked around a bit (again, A LOT of things are closed on Sundays) and decided to “visit” another artist, Marc Chagall. I do not know much at all about Chagall, but everything I have seen on his personality point to a very happy, playful man.


And when there is a special exhibit in your own “backyard” why not right?

The rest of the day did not bring much. I did a bit of research regarding my plans for tomorrow, followed another one of Nicolai’s restaurant recommendations


Walked home


Got in bed with a new good book and listened to the church bells ring all night (that is not a bad thing).

Arrivederci Italia ** Bonjour France

As I wait for (what I think to be) my last train in Italia. I consider what is all behind me.

The trip/dream that seemed so far in the future is now slipping through my fingers. A trip that was proposed five years ago, now only has about five days remaining. Time is a funny thing isn’t it.

Many people did not understand me (or anyone I guess) doing this trip on my own. One person even responded, “Oh how awful!” when I first told her about it.
But it was something I thought I wanted to do. “Thought” because you really cannot know. Planning something on paper becomes something quite different when other people/places/events get thrown in the ring.
I do not know if the correct word is “adventure”. I think for me it was more about being independent…my way…no ties….no worries that I might screw something up or make someone else mad or disappointed. Or a much stronger possibility, I get my feelings hurt.
Go, See, Turn Left, Turn Right, In, Out, Sleep, Eat, Sit, Walk, Wait……it was all up to me.

I do not think a person can chase their dreams from place to place, but I think you can walk through a lot of them.

I kinda thought this trip would change me…if good happened, if bad happened…I’d be a better person for it. And to tell you the truth…I do not think that has happened. I remember asking my mom, during a walk several years ago, “How does someone FIND themselves?” and she quickly responded, “I do not think it is about FINDING but about DEFINING.” So, with this, I get to add another little number to the definition of Me.

As I sit on platform 3 of the Albenga stazione, I begin to once again get nervous regarding boarding the correct train. The announcements keep saying something about a retarded train and the people around me got off the last one that stopped here and are still standing around waiting.
My train to Ventimiglia is to depart at 10:38, but “people” are telling me to board the one here now and it is a bit early….even the attendant says, “Si, si , sisis…Ventimiglia” When I show her my ticket. The part that confuses me is that this time I actually have a PRIMO class with assigned carriage and seat….and I have been in Italia long enough to know a 2nd class train when I see one….but as has been my philosophy…there’s ALWAYS another train going somewhere…so I hop on.

Who needs PRIMO class and air conditioning anyway….not me in the past 24 hours…and YES, these are the same clothes I traveled in yesterday….I told you I did not unpack ANYTHING…more on that when my travel tips come out on another post…..

Anyway, I have this beautiful fan that I painstakingly picked out in Firenze…and they DO come in handy…
So we chug along….every so often I ask someone, “Ventimiglia?” By the way the “g” is silent…..
and 6 out of 7 give me a “Si, si, sisisi.”
The deal is now that I am on a train that left at a different time, and it is a 2nd class one, I have no reference of when we should arrive. My last schedule made it look like it was about an hour trip…on a 2nd class train, considering the stops….that could make it 3 days for all I know…

We are traveling along the coast. The water is not as pretty as it was behind me…nor the towns as picturesque.

We arrive in Ventimiglia and at this point, all prearranged travel is over. At this stop, I have to wait at the long information/ticket booth housing a real person. As I wait, I survey the options on the destination board. Nice ville is where I think I need to go in order to catch a bus to Vence, my final destination.

So 6,80euro later, I have a ticket to Nice ville in hand….the train is to depart in minutes…great timing…

This train has no air either, so I stand near a window a lot of the time. As we are leaving Italia, there is a big, dark cloud over the mountain behind us….awww…I think-a she eees-a crying-a for me-a.

We pick up speed, traveling through many a L O N G tunnel. I can’t help but get kinda spooked in them. They seem lawless to me…during an especially long one, I notice the clock on my iPhone slips back an hour….creepy!!!

And also, at some point, the language around me has gone from Italian to French….
At least with the Italian language, I could understand every 10th word or so. The andiamos, ciaos, adessos, echos, quas, alloras and bravas sprinkled about comforted me. Now all I hear is “blah, blah, blahblahblah, oui.” Not good.

Arrivederci Italia! Grazie di tutto!

The train makes a stop but it is not mine. As the doors open, I hear the unmistakable sound of the announcement system in the stations. This makes me SMILE!! During the trip with the kids and mom, we laughed so much at that little “jingle”. I can still picture the kids doing this little jig when they would hear it…I am laughing now and that feels good.

20130721-150342.jpg Bienvenue en France!


20130721-150556.jpg The Nice ville station.

I enter the train station and size things up….in French… clue….so I just look for lines.
I am assuming at this point that I need to get a bus to Vence. From the itty bitty amount of research I did, I think I am about 20 miles away or so.
The first woman says, “Blah, blah, blah, blahblahblahblah, no.” Gotcha…But luckily she points in english. So I go there.
Here I find out I need to board another train to Cagnes Sur Mer and THEN a bus to Vence.
I can do trains.
At first I get a bit nervous when she says, “Blah, blahblahblah” while shaking her head. She seems disappointed to tell me the next train does not leave for over an hour.
No problem…I can do waiting as well.


20130721-151416.jpg THIS is the last one…I guess…

This train is PACKED!!! Anticipating my stop coming fairly quickly, I do not push and shove to get on, I instead squeeeeeeze on at the end, securing a spotish by the door. I do not know HOW one would exit if they were actually seated with luggage somewhere.
I know I am on the right train, but I can NOT understand the perky little French girl that is announcing the stations….
Standing by the door is an attendant. I casually hold my ticket where he can see my stop, thinking he will either make a face that we have already passed it or alert me when we are getting near.
My slick technique worked!! Before we stopped, he started moving people out of the way, because at the station the opposite door was the exit door. He took my bag and placed it on the platform for moi. Merci monsieur…

So NOW I look for a bus right? OK, I find a window…the two people behind it speak very little english. I speak ZERO french…but again the pointing gets me from one “point” to the next.

I remember on my first trip to Europe with Mom and Jim. When we left Italy, I had this thought (I wish I had italics there) that French would come easy to me…I actually thought that! Instead, I was a nervous wreck each time someone would speak to me…here we go again.
I think the encounters I had with people in Italy, were more casual. I felt they were willing and kind of enjoyed the exchange.

OK, so the guy behind the glass points me to the street….I think he said something that sounded like “collage”….but as he said it he looked around for help….none came.
So I exit and hang a right….I walk along with my worldly possessions….and a line from Hope Floats comes to mind, “You stink Justin Matisse.”

A bus, there’s a bus… I runish, stick my head in and say, “Vence?” He shakes his head no and points…got it…..So I keep walking….across a freeway….again, Daddy would have loved that. But I just could not pay for a cab not knowing how far or close, hard or easy something else would be….lesson learned.

20130721-152854.jpg I find a bus stop….and I look and look at these…..I have to just call them letters….they are not even words to me….

20130721-152953.jpg Then I stare at this one long enough and start making something out. I THINK I might be in the right place. About 10 minutes goes by, bus 200 passes….I think it is the 400 I need, and then it arrives.
I board and pay.
I will be honest…at this point, I am near crumbling. I am tired (thank The Lord for the overnight in Albenga….a day from Poggibonsi would have never worked), I am hot, I am sweaty, I stink AND you guessed it, I AM HUNGRY!! The cappuccino and croissant at the Hotel Magnolia are long gone.
AND to top it off….I really don’t have a clear idea of where I am headed….I know WHY I am going to Vence, but where it is is not how it seemed on paper.
When I see a beautiful town perched on a hill, I tap the woman next to me and point trying to convey that that point is a question. She looks at me blankly and says “Saint Paul”.
I do not even know enough to know whether Saint Paul and Vence or one in the same and this woman is not interested in the promotion of world peace.

I will cut to the chase…Vence comes after Saint Paul. In Vence, you will be let out at a little bus circle. At that point you need to once again choose a direction to walk.
I again could not contact my B&B before arriving, so I fire up the cellular and follow the blinking, blue dot to the labyrinth of Vence…
then I resort to the international pointing method again.
Near tears I arrive to my B&B, Le2 (Le Deux….don’t make yourself look REALLY silly and call it Le Two…) which is closed. Locked, closed, lights out….
In my fog, I figure out that I am suppose to call if they are closed. Which I do and Nicolai comes to let me in.
There is an additional funny story about a family that is also waiting, saying they have rented the entire place and have the key, but I cannot convey Nicolai’s “frenchness” in dealing with her…

Nicolai is very sweet and helpful as he shows me to my room, turns on my AIR CONDITIONING and makes me a reservation for dinner tonight at a bonne restaurant and not a touristy one. Nicolai…my hero!!!

And Voila….my room…





I am SO pleased with the room and get downright giddy when I feel how comfortable the bed is!!

I take my time cleaning up. There is a concert in the square tonight, but since I have reservations, I do not need to worry about the crowd.

My quick walk through Vence tells me that this is just about the cutest little French town ever! I look forward to exploring it more.

I throw on one of my MVPs. A Rachel Pally maxi. I have worn this dress to dinner in every town I have been in.
I find the restaurant easy enough and happy to sit enjoying a view that is not rushing past me.

If you look closely, at the center left, you will see a white building. I believe that is the Chapelle Du Rosaire, the reason for my stop in Vence.

I order and relax.

Before what I ordered arrives, the waitress brings this to me and says, “Blah, blah, blahblah a glah, marscapone”.

20130721-160218.jpg We are not in Kansas anymore!



et pour le dessert

20130721-160556.jpg Are those cute or what!?

I walk past the craziness of the concert….happy not to pay 30euro to mix with that


And I roam home…





20130721-161434.jpg It’s not like me to miss a wedding…


20130721-161514.jpg My street, rue des Portiques

20130721-161625.jpg See the 3rd floor (they do not count the street level) to the left? Those are my windows.

20130721-161758.jpg My flash ruined the feel of this…the first flight was lit with candles…

20130721-161838.jpg 2nd and 3rd flight, motion detector lights…and then ma chambre and mon point de vue

Bonne nuit!