Monday, May 17, 2010

The Red Picasso Van and Two Women

We arrived in Nice, France after a two hour, delayed, flight. We left Madrid and our hotel that was surrounded by blue/black, neon green stripped police, and the comings and goings of black Mercedes with politicians from Central America and Europe. The sun was shining, and the Icelandic ash cloud stayed out of our way. We were carefree and thought we'd be at our hotel outside Nice by noon. But as every traveler knows that kind of complacency is blind.

After asking a few questions in our rudimentary French we got on the bus that took us to "Europcar". There we rented a red, Citroen van named "Picasso", and headed out into the unknown frontier of French highways. Pablo was the only automatic on the lot, but we're learning to be happy with our arranged marriage.

Our goal was the town of St. Paul and the La Colombe d' Or (the Golden column) hotel. We figured out how to turn on the motor, both with and without windshield wipers and spray, how to put it in gear, and away we went.

On the surface we both were skeptical, but underneath we were as scared, confused, and disoriented as the bull in the ring in Madrid. We missed the turn on the first "round about", and returned to the airport for round two. We did not collect $200, but made the right turn and found ourselves on our way. I do not say "found" lightly however, because the roads on the paper maps look like 2-dimensional spaghetti that even this hard core navigator couldn't quite decipher. With the two larger than life Michelin maps on my lap for security, off hand directions in French from the Europcar guy, a quick guide to the French language, and a lot of adrenaline I focused on the road signs while Mary deftly changed lanes and cussed.

We overshot our goal and found ourselves on a narrow, winding road surrounded by forests. Up and down and around we went, and at one point we begrudgingly pulled outside our lane to make room for a bicyclist. Little did we know that we would meet him at the top of the hill where we found a turn out, and he directed back down the hill to our hotel. Merci, monsieur!

La Colombe d'Or is a famous hotel because of its art collection. Artists like Picasso and Leger came in the 1920's because the hotel owners would accept works of art as payment for their stay. If their walls weren't so full of art I would have tried to continue the tradition.

We had a typical French meal: spring radishes to dip in anchovy paste (my favorite- oh la la), greens in vinagrette, a main course of osso bucco, a selection of cheeses, and creme brulee with orange flavored grappe. Today has been like one of Picasso's cubist masterpieces: different points of views and time frames that can only form a complete composition by merging and dissecting with one another.

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