"So," you might ask, "what’s a redneck Marxist doing on the French Riviera?" Well, the same thing that millions of French workers have been doing for the past three-quarter’s of a century: not much, other than drinking, eating, breathing clean air, and talking to friendly folks. And, anyway, Karl Marx stayed for a month here in 1882 — three times longer than my vacation.
I spent ten relaxing days in August staying with a friend of mine in Nice. I had big plans of visiting many art galleries, doing some writing, and taking side-trips to other places in southern France and northwestern Italy. But, I never did any of that. In fact, I never got more than a mile from the apartment.
I met many wonderful people, from the US, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Algeria and, of course, France. Among many things I learned on this trip is that it is pure bull shit being spread by the American news media and politicians that the French don’t like Americans. Every French man and woman I met was friendly and polite. Although not one of them paricularly cares for George W. Bush, the French have no hostility toward ordinary Americans.
There are many stories from this short visit. Here’s one example. One afternoon I went on a walk by myself. Somehow, I found my way to a working class, neighborhood beer bar (what a surprise, huh?) where six other patrons were taxi drivers who had just finished their shifts. I speak no French and only two of the taxi drivers knew basic English, but we had a great and friendly debate about politics. Two hours and five beers later, we had solved all the world’s problems — just like we do back home. And, I swear, one of my new best friends, Jean-Jacques, a taxi driver in Nice, is the long lost twin of Pooty at Burt’s Tavern in Winchester,
Below are three photos from this very short vacation.
What wonderful people! That’s me on the left with Beth Arnold and James Morgan, gifted writers from Little Rock, Arkansas who now live in Paris. Beth and Jim came to visit in Nice for three days of talking, drinking and eating.
Jim’s most recent book is Chasing Matisse about his visits to the places where Henri Matisse had painted some years ago. "A lot of people just think it’s pretty pictures, but he was a
tormented man, like most artists in some way," Jim says. "He had his devils and his
demons." Jim’s own pen and ink sketches are featured in the
book. It’s a worth a click to go to Jim’s web site, Chasing Matisse. Better yet — buy his book.
Jim’s earlier work includes the New York Times Notable book, The Distance to the Moon, and the critically acclaimed If These Walls had Ears. He also collaborated with Virginia Kelley, President Clinton’s mother, on her best-selling autobiography, Leading with My Heart.
As articles editor at Playboy magazine in the 1980s, Jim worked
with a number of literary legends, including Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. His articles and essays have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post Magazine, Preservation, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Traveler.
Over dinner and drinks, Jim is quiet and contemplative. But, his wife Beth is a hoot — a very talented and smart hoot. Born and raised in Arkansas, Beth has has the gift for putting the Southern voice on paper. She is the award-winning author of Innocent Lanier, the first novel in a trilogy whose characters occupy a true yet invented world. Although her novel won awards in manuscript form, it has yet to be published. Any publishers reading this?
Go to Beth’s web site and poke around. To gain an appreciation of Beth’s ear for the Southern voice, click on "Video Reading". She reads — and sings — from her novel Innocent Lanier at the 2002 Nob Hill San Francisco Literary Prizes. To do this reading justice, and if you have a high-speed connection, click on the 70MB version of the video.
I’m not sure why it is, but I like the feeling of being in the same spot where literary and artistic giants once walked. Here I am in front of the building where Anton Chekhov and Henri Matisse once lived — not at the same time, but same building on the waterfront in Nice, France.
On the sidewalk where I am standing, I felt a sense of awe in realizing that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Paul Gallico, Ring Lardner, D. H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde and Henry Miller strolled by some years ago.
Just a short walk from here is the apartment where Friedrich Nietzsche lived while writing Thus Spake Zarathustra. Nearby is the hotel where a teen-aged Vladimir Nabokov stayed during his first of many visits to the French Riviera.
Nearby towns and villages were once the homes for James Baldwin, Jules Verne, James Thurber, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert W. Service. Just a 15-minute drive down the coast to Antibes is where Harpo Marx had a circle of friends that included W. Somerset Maugham, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. The ghosts of so many creative geniuses should have inspired me, but I didn’t write a word while in France. However, I did relax and I regained my energy to keep on deadline to give Random House a finished manuscript.
Here I am with Ken Smith, my friend and host for this trip to France — both of us damn fools for wearing black shirts on a hot August day on the French Riviera. Ken has lived in Nice for three years "on Social Security and one even smaller retirement check." Ken says he would like to return to the US some day, but hasn’t yet found the American city where can he live so well, so cheaply.
(My good friend Sunil K. Sharma at Dissident Voice also wrote about my French vacation and he included two photos. Click here.)