This is a difficult and trying time for us all, so here is a little breath of Cote d’Azur to cheer you up.
After all the cancellations of my trips during the spring and summer, I decided to take the bull by the horns and try to make it to France in August to see my daughter. Not sure if I was brave or foolhardy, but the journey to Luton and onwards to Nice was extremely challenging, but so worth it.
Luton airport was extremely quiet and empty. There were 31 passengers on my flight, on a plane which held 188, so social distancing was no problem! Masks had to be worn all the time, except when enjoying my coffee and shortbread, delicious.
The best bit on arriving at Nice, was having a hug with my daughter. First one for a year, and I had been dreaming of seeing her and getting together, even for a short time.
We drove up the Alpes Maritimes, behind Nice, through the Gorge de Loup and the lower Alps, to her village of Bar sur Loup. Her house is in the centre of the village, and has a chapel in the grounds, and amazing mountain views.
Of course, my visit this time was slightly more limited than usual, but her garden, with its beautiful swimming pool and amazing plants is a holiday in itself.
So, my daughter always tries to take me on one special visit, and this time was no exception. We drove a few miles to the village of St. Paul de Vence, which is a medieval fortified village, just like Bar sur Loup, but it has a very strong artist colony. On the road, leading out of the village, and looking across the valley, is a Chapel, designed and built by Henri Matisse for the Dominican Nuns, called Chapelle du Rosaire.
Matisse was nursed back to health, after a cancer operation in Nice, by a Nun from the order, Sister Jacques-Marie, and he was so grateful to have made such a recovery, that he took a Villa in Venice,( Le Reve) and decided to spend the next four years designing and building a new Chapel for the order to worship in. Their current one was leaking and cold.
We had to book our spot for this visit, as only 10 people were allowed on the site at a time.
As you enter the chapel, you are completely overwhelmed by the Light. The sun shining through the stained-glass windows, yellow, blue, turquoise, floor to ceiling on three walls. It is quite breath taking and made me feel quite emotional. Especially as it was his way of thanking the nuns for the extra years of good life he was leading. The chapel is very simple and minimal, but everything in it is designed by Matisse, including the Monk’s beautiful robes. The colours are all so Provencal and appropriate to the area, and to Matisse himself.
The Walls of the chapel which are not eclipsed by stained glass windows, are plain white porcelain tiles, and Matisse has “drawn” on them, again floor to ceiling. St. Dominic fills one wall, The Virgin and child, surrounded by flowers, fills another, and the 12 Stations of the Cross fill the back wall. This wall caused a great deal of concern when the chapel was blessed in June 1951, as critics thought it looked like graffiti had been scrawled on the wall. It certainly is a shock, as it bears little relationship to the absolutely beautiful original drawings of the Stations of the Cross (which are on display in the adjoining museum) However, I tried to imagine Matisse (a very elderly man) with a bamboo pole with charcoal and brush on the end, trying to transfer these images, and realised that they had to be very simplified down to line drawings.
Matisse said “Despite all of its imperfections, I see the Chapel as my Masterpiece, it is the result of a life devoted to seeking the truth.”
He passed away on the 3rd November1954 and was buried in the cemetery of Cimiez in Nice.
Quarantining for 14 days now, but absolutely worth it!