Recently, I’ve been very nostalgic about my life in France. I had the supreme delight to spend eight years living in the village of Vence, just outside Nice on the Cote d’Azur.
From my terrace, I could look out and see the chapel that Henri Matisse designed and decorated for the nuns who took care of him in his later years. All around me there was art and art history. Chagall created a mosaic for the town’s cathedral. Not far are the house where Renoir lived, the chateau where Picasso painted and a number of individual artist’s museums housing their renowned works. Nothing but inspiration all around.
What I found most enticing though was the village itself. Vence, the City of Arts, is a mecca for artists, painters, sculptors and writers of all nationalities. The town consists of the more modern part and the cité historique where medieval walls dating back to Roman times surround the cathedral and the remaining old town. Within those walls are now shops, restaurants and housing. And it is here that artists have chosen to set up their ateliers or artist’s working galleries.
As you walk along the ancient pathways, you view traditional, modern and contemporary works and often the artist him/herself. The atmosphere is immediate and intimate. You can spend hours in one gallery talking to the artist about any number of things. And when you leave, a café beckons so you wander over and have a coffee (or a beer) happy in your heart that life still exists where people take the time to savor it.
And there is the food. And the beauty of the landscape. And there is the light. Ah, the light of southern France. This is the attraction for all artists past and present. But it was my desire for personal growth that took me back home. The desert as well has its beauty and light; a softer, more serene beauty that also calls to me. It is after all where I grew up.
What I found missing in France was a certain essence that I experience in California. This sense that anything is possible, a feeling for innovation, creativity and expansion. The open spaces and glowing light of the desert welcomed me home with open arms.