THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Back in France
Art, food and friends

Back in my France

I rose early, breakfasted well and was soon underway and finding the benefit of my banal choice of hotel. It was less than five minutes from the autoroute. Soon I was progressing rapidly again and enjoying the drive.

I have my entire record collection in the car and set it to play at random which generated odd juxtapositions. Dylan Thomas reading his poetry followed by Handel's Water Music followed by Eurythmics. I tried to hold down my speed (Speranza has no cruise control  it is dangerously easy for it to creep up) and just enjoy the journey. I smiled as the sort of chaps who are provoked by the presence of a supercar roared by and then if they settled back - pride satisfied - to some approximation of my target speed, used them as pacesetters and decoys for the speed police.

I had a three stop strategy because I would need to refuel well before lunch. I had  enough in the tank to make it to a mid-morning coffee break. Then I stopped for lunch at a pleasant "aire" where I parked in the shade, bought some simple supplies for breakfast for the next four days and a baguette to eat out in the sunshine while reading my Times on my iPad.

I have been coming to the Côte d'Azur for so long that when I found myself on the familiar A7 yesterday; my route from Spain  joining my usual route from the North and the Eurotunnel, I relaxed a little. It felt like being home. I had an emotional moment when, on a road that the late Mrs P and I often drove together, Frank Sinatra came up in the random play singing "Moon River". She liked that song and the line "two drifters, off to see the world" reminded me of the two naive but ambitious young kids from the North we had once been. We saw a lot of the world together - especially her beloved France - but here I was, seeing it without her. It's been five years since she died but I suddenly missed her terribly again. I took another coffee break to collect myself. 

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For some reason my satnav went on the fritz 10okm from my destination. I knew my way to Mougins so it only cost me the distance to travel and ETA data. Once I reached the village I used Google Maps on my iPhone to find the villa. Soon I was in possession of the keys and unloading the car. I opened up the house to air it and took my ease on the terrace overlooking the Royal Mougins golf course until it was time to freshen up for dinner. 

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I met my friends from London at their hotel in the wonderful village of Saint-Paul de Vence; the quirky Colombe d'Or. I made my own way down to the car park at the bottom of the steep hill on which it perches. A series of hairpins so steep they could not be taken without reversing and jiggling led to a shabby dirt patch and a steep climb back on foot up a crumbling stone staircase. The manager was much amused when I commented. Not only should I have left this to the voiturier, she said, but they have a special place out front for Ferraris so they don't have to risk their low undercarriages on that track.

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My friends showed me the view from their terrace (pictured) before we headed for the bar. The hotel has a spectacular art collection that must be worth far more than the business and its premises. Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, among many great painters and sculptors, had paid in artistic kind for accommodation and restauration over the years and great works are everywhere, both in rooms and public spaces.  There had been a Picasso over the bed in a room they had rejected in favour of one with a better outlook!

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The restaurant is great and we had a pleasant evening catching up and making plans for the next day's amusements. Even if the food was poor I would recommend dining there just for the chance to wander the premises and see the art. 

I let the voiturier do his stuff and bring Speranza out front for me. I didn't fancy ascending that windy dirt track in the dark. I rather hoped he might make a hash of it so I could demand a Picasso in compensation but he smilingly handed her over intact. Soon I was back on the peage and heading for home. 

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