When the shuttle reached the bus terminal, an old and breathless porter, dressed in gray overalls, bowed over the baggage compartment and unloaded the suitcases that were stored in.
Before he had time to stand up straight and align them properly along the curbside, passengers snatched their belongings from his hands like jackals. “It’s mine!” they said with the same self-absorbed irritation when the overwhelmed porter did not yield right away. Their curt remark betrayed that they did not suffer any delay despite their impudence of interrupting his job. Courtesy had no place in a society, which gave free rein to promptness.
The wanderer did not enter the fray because the last item that came out from the baggage compartment was his black and green speckled backpack. He took a deep breath while remembering his misfortune at the Los Angeles International Airport. Until the carrousel kept moving despite the lack of baggage coming out of the hatch, he prayed that his backpack might turn out like a dove from a cylinder hat by an illusionist. With the definite halt of the carrousel, his vain hope was dashed. At the airline front-desk where he told his misfortune, a receptionist invited him to call a customer service the next day after 9 p.m.
The thorough investigation was clueless. The first call center representative said that the backpack was erroneously channeled to Tahiti, an archipelago at the world’s end. The next night, it was rumored that the tracking system in Paris was clogged. Another time, the backpack was supposed to arrive within the first flight coming from Paris, but the hope did not materialize.
The inconvenience turned out a blessing in disguise because the travel insurance company paid compensation with a sojourn at a clean motel at Redondo Beach. The wanderer and his spouse visited the Paul Getty Museum whose access by a cable car offered an extended view of the megalopolis squeezed between the coastal range and the Pacific coast that was draped in fog. While returning from San Gabriel Arcangel Mission where the wanderer lighted a candle in order to thank his guardian angel who saved his life when he inadvertently stepped over a rattlesnake in the San Gabriel Mountain a couple of years earlier, his backpack had been delivered to the motel front-desk. Was it sheer coincidence, good fortune, or divine intervention? The wanderer was lost in conjectures. No matter what it was, he felt nostalgic for that foregone incident, which opened new horizons.
The humiliated porter did not utter a complaint against the rudeness of passengers. Because nobody gave him for his lowly work a token of respect, he raised his head when he heard someone saying “Thank-you!” at the end of his toil. He cleaned up the sweat that beaded his forefront with the slew of his overalls, and gave a blank stare at the man who expressed his gratitude. The wanderer loaded his backpack onto his shoulders, fastened hip and torso belts, and tightened shoulder and hip straps. After the check-up was perfunctorily performed, he shook the hand of the porter who could not fathom the stranger’s motive.
He unhurriedly left the bus station. Unlike previous adventures in the U.S., which were meticulously planned like military campaigns, he envisioned an aimlessly journey through Provence. “Let providence unfold instead of covering twenty-five miles per day with a heavy backpack in the furnace of Arizona,” he told himself after he had recovered his backpack. He walked onto the sidewalk of an avenue, which was bordered by sycamores. The pale green of new leaves could not offset the dazzling whiteness of trunks.
When he imperceptibly arrived at a fountain square, nostalgia hit it him hard. Bedecked with bronze sculptures of lions, swans, sirens, and angels, the Rotonde fountain square was an inescapable landmark when his mother drove him on board a Citroen 2C to Aix-en-Provence. Despite rattling engine and uncomfortable seats, the utilitarian car collected favorable reviews such as “a car like no other”, “the most intelligent application of minimalism ever to succeed as a car” or “the car of remorseless rationality” to name a few.
The little boy was a student at the conservatory, which was nestled at the exit of Passage Agard. Named after Joseph Félicien Agard, a director of Salins du Midi, a salt company in the nineteenth century, the Passage was a covered pedestrian alley, which connected Cours Mirabeau and Court of Appeals.
If the wanderer could remember anything in particular half-a-century later, it was a comic book store. The lad longed for the adventures of Tintin, a daredevil young reporter with a tuff of yellow hair, who was always accompanied by Snowy, a white Wire Fox Terrier. The last issue was prominently displayed at the lowest level of the storefront. Therefore, young readers could salivate over the cover and the title, which alluded to a promising adventure. The outside windowpane was stained by small fingertips, lip traces, or tears from children whose parents could not afford to buy them a new book. When the wanderer saw a new issue, he was both elated and frustrated. He did not venture to enter in the shop because he had no pocket money. He contended himself with the show of a middle-aged employee wearing a necktie and an apron who cleaned the outside stained windowpane, which focused his yearning and despair.
Sadness overwhelmed the wanderer beyond the Passage Agard. The conservatory was a shadow of its former self. Windows and doors were sealed off with plywood in order to prevent squatting. The white frontage was stained by a black and slimy streak that was running down from a broken gutter under the roof that elicited a roundup of impervious pigeons. A creeper plant had overgrown the wrought iron gate, and the bell that rang at the beginning and the end of each recess was reduced to silence. Grass had grown between disjointed cobblestones in the schoolyard where children played hopscotch. The wanderer felt a pang of emotion while remembering the intimate atmosphere that reigned in the conservatory. Students huddled in narrow hallways while waiting their turn for rehearsing their sheet music with a stern professor who was not forthcoming with encouragement.
Designed by a Japanese architect, the conservatory had been relocated to a glass and steel building beyond the beltway. With its surface of 75.000 square feet, it was a more accommodating place than the old brick-and-mortar was. Nevertheless, the wanderer relished the intimacy of the former. Whilst he grabbed onto the closed wrought iron gate, he put his head between bars and closed his eyes for an undetermined time. Forgotten sounds resurged such as music echoing through doorsteps, muffled creaking of wood stairs and handrails, and laughing fit of children who overacted to any opportunity.
Except for an insignificant shopping mall that did neither deface nor improve the access to the Rotonde square, the wanderer noticed a bronze statue of Paul Cezanne that was erected onto the plaza in front of the tourist office. The beardy painter wore a hunting coat whose pockets were filled with pencils and sketchbook, a waistcoat with a herdsman rope-tie from the Camargue, and a brimming hat, which was cocked to his eyebrows. His crossed hands leaned onto a walking stick as though he peered at Mont Sainte-Victoire wherewith he nurtured a lifelong passion.
In order to be closer to his motif, Cezanne rented a cabin at the Bibemus quarry, which was half-way between Aix-en-Provence and Mont Sainte-Victoire. Incidentally, the modest ocher quarry was the birthplace of Cubism when Cezanne explored geometric simplification that greatly inspired Braque. Picasso referred to him as his sole master. Cezanne created a bridge between the ephemeral ambiance of Impressionism and the more materialist aspect of Cubism.
Cezanne’s obsession for the barren mountain led to his demise. On October 15, 1906, he was caught in a thunderstorm that drenched him to the bone. He stubbornly resumed his painting with his wet clothes for a couple of hours. However, an irrepressible shivering of his hands forced him to give up his work. As he walked back to the city, he collapsed on the road. A cart driver recognized the artist, and carried him to his apartment. He regained consciousness when his old housekeeper rubbed his body to restore blood circulation.
As if nothing happened to him, he left home, as was his habit, at dawn. He walked at brisk pace a mile uphill toward what he called his studio, which was a modest country house that was named “Les Lauves.” From there, the view extended beyond the city to the Arc valley where cottony mist floated in the fall season. On the threshold of the door, he settled in with a model who was a gregarious old sailor. The hours passed normally until the artist collapsed without notice. He was carried back to his apartment where his worried sister Mary came running. At his request, she brought him a watercolor near his bed. He now and then gave a few strokes when he was strong enough to do it. He worked himself to death because he thought that he had not reached his ultimate goal. Caught by pneumonia, his dire condition worsened, and alternated between delirium and lucidity. A week later, he died with the anguish that he was a failed artist.
After his passing, his wife Marie-Hortense Fiquet was kept at arm’s length by Cezanne’s family. The artist met her in Paris when he was thirty-year-old and she nineteen. Marie-Hortense was an attractive girl with strawberry-blond hair. She was a bookbinder at her father’s shop when the artist invited her to work for him as a model. The artist kept their liaison secret because he feared his father’s wrath. Louis Auguste Cezanne was the co-founder of a banking firm that prospered through the artist’s life, affording him financial security that was out of reach to most of his contemporaries.
The submissive model proved to be an independent woman outside the studio. After she lived together with the artist for sixteen years, and bore him a child out of wedlock that set tongues wagging in the prudish city, she relented to get married.
Because Cezanne’s family considered her as a gold digger, she was nicknamed “Queen Hortense.” Her sister-in-law Mary was a jealous spinster who nurtured a close relationship with the artist. She gossiped that Marie-Hortense relished more fine clothing than her husband’s work. When the artist was terminally ill, she wrote a malicious letter to her nephew Paul saying that his mother’s presence was not required to his funerals.
Despite the family’s feud, the artist and his wife were not estranged. By common consent, they lived separately half-a-year. She returned with their son Paul to Paris in the fall season. The Parisian woman could not stay in the stifling atmosphere of a provincial town all year round. Escapism to the capital was vital for her balance.
Regardless the wearing effect of time, Marie-Hortense remained the favorite model of the artist. He knew her oval head and her bony jaws as well as the rise of Mont Sainte-Victoire. She stood in the same stance when the artist lacking inspiration paused a quarter of an hour between hatched brushstrokes. She never complained that her portraits were plain and pallid. In many of them, she appeared remote or blank while seated stiffly with her hands on her lap. Furthermore, Cezanne’s friends were mean to her; they called her the “dumpling.” She also put up with her self-absorbed husband who inherited the quick-tempered character of his mother. Whatever asked the artist, she complied with it. As a homemaker, she had an unfailing patience with her anxious husband who could not get to sleep. She read him poems and writings of Baudelaire dealing with art for hours. Her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law recognized her endless patience with the moody artist. The cruel irony was that she wore two aptly first names for her unfailing support. Marie was the mother who accompanied her son to his martyrdom on the Golgotha. Hortense was a girl’s name in fashion in France, which derived from Latin Hortensia, which became the source of horticulture, the persevering art of growing ornamental plants in the nineteenth century.
If Marie-Hortense and Katharine Hepburn had beautiful hair that elicited strong interest from the public, the comparison stopped short. One was submissive, the other feisty.
The international recognition of Paul Cezanne grew steadily after his death. Unfortunately, the Granet Museum in his hometown only held a canvass of the young artist when his style was still academic. It represented a portrait of his old friend Emile Zola.
John Rewald, a Jewish Berliner, was a student at the Sorbonne when he wrote a dissertation on the friendship of Cezanne and Zola in 1932. Academic authorities were reluctant to give him the green light because Cezanne who died in 1906 was considered too recent a figure. Rewald alleged that Cezanne took umbrage with “L’Oeuvre,” a novel of Zola whose main character, Claude Lentier, was unfavorably portrayed as a failed artist.
When Rewald wrote his magnum opus, the “History of Impressionism,” that was published to universal acclaim, the feud between the two artists was recognized and accepted by critics as a fait accompli. Theodore Reff, professor of art history at Columbia University, said in 1983,
“Rewald is more responsible than anyone else for putting the study of impressionism and post-impressionism on solid scholarly foundations. What he set out to do, he did more thoroughly and scrupulously than anybody else, and he did it first.”
Rewald became a devoted Cezanne scholar. He was instrumental in creating a foundation in order to save Cezanne’s studio Les Lauves, and turn it into a museum. In gratitude to his relentless lobbying, the citizens of Aix-en-Provence named a plaza after him. After his passing in 1992, he was buried close to Cezanne’s grave.
In 2013, the feud between the two artists was deconstructed when the Sotheby’s catalog mentioned an unknown letter of Cezanne to his old friend Zola.
Gardanne, 28 Novembre 1887
“ Mon cher Émile,
Je viens de recevoir de retour d’Aix le volume de la Terre que tu as bien voulu m’adresser. Je te remercie pour l’envoi de ce nouveau rameau poussé sur l’arbre généalogique des Rougon-Macquart. […] Quand tu seras de retour, j’irai te voir pour te serrer la main. Tout à toi sous l’impression des jours écoulés.”
My dear Emile,
I have just received at my return to Aix the Earth’s volume, which you kindly sent me. Thank you for sending me this new branch on the Rougon-Macquart’s family tree. When you come back, I will pay you a visit. I am all yours with the souvenir of old days.”
The “Earth” was published a year after “L’Oeuvre.” Zola used to send a copy of every novel to his old friend. Therefore, the letter destroyed the thesis of John Rewald that was recognized by art historians. In fact, Cezanne did not break up with Zola but their relationship withered away.
Zola’s life was divided between his apartment in Paris in winter, and a house in the countryside in Médan the rest of the year. After the phenomenal success of his book “L’Assommoir,” he bought with the royalty payment a house that he referred to as a “rabbit hutch.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It was a small castle uphill the Seine River. He designed the park of which he always dreamed. Médan was fifteen miles away from Paris but with the construction of a railway line, it took less than an hour to get there with a steam train starting from Saint Lazare Station.
On the other hand, Cezanne found solace in the Bibemus quarry after being rejected by the jury of the official Paris Salon. He endlessly submitted his works from 1863 to 1882 to no avail. Although he gained public recognition later in his career, he remained a loner most of his life.
After paying homage to the artist, the wanderer took the Cours Mirabeau, a wide thoroughfare interspersed with three ornamental fountains and bordered by sycamore trees. The hive of activity had morphed into a silent no-car-zone. Immersed in sunlight, the extended paved sidewalk was an unceasing flow of idle pedestrians. The crowd had changed since the little boy used to go to the conservatory every Thursday morning. The aging crowd who was dressed to the nines had been replaced by tattooed people wearing sneakers and cargo pants, and by lads wearing baseball hats backwards who rode a scoot on the tiled sidewalk.
Striding along the most beautiful street of Provence was also a different experience. The Cours Mirabeau was a coveted place to be seen by happy few. Onlookers staked out the flow, hoping to discover a celebrity hidden in the crowd. On the other hand, a handful of prissy hopefuls yearned to be recognized, and greeted by someone in the crowd. Half a century later, everyone could be a wannabe with a selfie stick. The old hierarchical society was replaced by individuals and clusters interacting with each other in social networks.
The wanderer let himself carried away by the flow until he saw a bookstore where he used to buy his scholar books. Except for the staff that was younger than he was, nothing had changed inside. After buying a detailed map for his journey, he resumed his roaming onto the historical street of Provence.
The Cours Mirabeau was named after Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Earl of Mirabeau, who became a leader of the French Revolution in 1789. Irony of history, the most beautiful street of Provence was named after a leader whose ugliness was due to smallpox that disfigured his face. Despite his handicap, Mirabeau was an unrepentant charmer. After leaving school, he was drafted in a cavalry regiment where he seduced a woman to whom his colonel was attached. The scandal was so huge that his father obtained a lettre de cachet from the King that led to his imprisonment in an island. The punishment probably saved his life in a duel with the colonel. Besides a noteworthy marriage to a rich heiress who gave him financial security, his greatest attempt was to seduce no less than Queen Marie-Antoinette! He fell in love with her when she was held in custody at Saint Cloud, in May 1790. However, his longing was not reciprocal. The Queen used him for her private business. With the money she received from her royal family in Austria, she secretly reimbursed her gambling debt in France. She gave him in return a commensurate monthly bribe of six-thousand francs. His loyalty to the royal family and his goal of forming a constitutional monarchy on the model of Great Britain put him in an impossible position when the revolution morphed into a dictatorial regime led by the Jacobin Club. Before he died of heart’s failure after contracting pericarditis, he asked Marquis de La Fayette to strive for a transition toward a constitutional monarchy. He feared that France sunk into anarchy.
A mossy fountain on the Cours Mirabeau unleashed an urge to drink. Stroke of luck, the brasserie Les Deux Garçons was a block away. The landmark building was sparsely filled with clients on sidewalk tables that looked out the Cours Mirabeau.
If the wanderer was ill at ease with his backpack, nobody noticed him. The personal was busy to set tables for lunch in the veranda. Servers unfolded steamed white tablecloths onto tables, and ceremoniously folded napkins according to an elaborate design whereas busboys meticulously aligned silverware along plates according to the courses of meal.
The lavish tearoom was empty, but the bar was lively with greetings exchanged between bartenders, the headwaiter, and the sole female waiter among the staff.
In between the two-rooms, there was a hallway with an old phone booth near the toilet room, and lithography of the French Riviera in the interwar period, which was the golden age of Art Deco style. A printing piqued the curiosity of the wanderer. It featured a woman dressed in black swimsuit with red scarf, and white sandals. She was partially turned away in direction of the blue Mediterranean Sea. She stood on tiptoe with her hands raised and her palms turned upward as if she welcomed the sun. Giant green leaves of agaves adorned the poster. A brief slogan “Le soleil toute l’année”, which was written in half-circle, praised the weather on Côte d’Azur with golden rays beaming in all directions of the poster.
A discreet PLM logo was inscribed within a bouquet of white and pink flowers at the bottom of the poster. PLM was the acronym of the Paris Lyon Mediterranean Sea railway company. PLM commissioned French illustrator Roger Broders for its advertising campaign. During a decade, the company financed his travels to the Côte d’Azur in order to sketch the landscape. Therefore, the talented Broders fully dedicated himself to poster art.
Alike Cezanne, Broder’s illustrations were distinctive for their simple lines and bold colors, combined with graphical perspective showing the featured mountains and seascapes in the background.
While gazing at the printing, the wanderer remembered a stack of black and white pictures of his mother that he found by chance in a shoe-box after her passing. She wore the same black one-piece swimsuit on a sandy beach during her honeymoon on the French Riviera. More intriguing, on another picture taken at the botanical garden of Monaco, she was surrounded by the same agave’s leaves that adorned the woman on the lithography. She fondly smiled on both pictures that turned yellow and faded in the shoe-box over time.
It happened that the wanderer was conceived accidentally by his parents on their honeymoon in June 1954. Both were virgin when they got married. The contraceptive pill was not yet experimented. Large-scale clinical trials were conducted in Puerto Rico, in 1956, because there was no anti-birth law on the island. A year later, the Food Drug Administration approved the pill, but only for severe menstrual disorders. Because a huge number of women reported severe menstrual disorders, the FDA relented, and extended the pill for contraceptive’s use in 1960. Whatever the transitional period he belonged to, the wanderer had the sad feeling that his unwelcome birth made him less loved than his younger sister.
Coincidentally, film director Alfred Hitchcock was shooting “To Catch a Thief” on the French Riviera where his parents spent their honeymoon. Edith Head was in charge of Costume Design. She had no time to bathe in the Mediterranean Sea because her job was very demanding. Of all the movies she ever worked on, “To Catch a Thief,” was her favorite but also the most demanding of her carrier. Shopping for bathing trunks that would please actor Cary Grant was her biggest challenge. Grant knew exactly how he wanted to look, but he also wanted to be comfortable with the fabric. He did not like tight elastic bathing trunks. Because he was choosy, he selected most of his clothes for his parts in the film.
His female partner Grace Kelly was easier to work with than Cary Grant was. Because she played a rich American heiress, she wore elegant clothes and fabulous jewels. “Hitchcock told me to dress Grace like a princess. I did it. Of course, I had no idea I was dressing a real princess-to-be!” Edith Head admitted to a reporter after Grace Kelly married Rainier III Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco. Their marriage came after a courtship that was described as a rational appraisal on both sides. Rainier was seeking a wife for a diplomatic reason. A treaty with France after the war stated that if the Prince had no heir, the principality of Monaco would revert to France. On her side, Grace Kelly was dating French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont when she headed the U.S. delegation at the Cannes film festival.
As the wanderer was lost in remembrance of things past in the hallway, a show-off took place in the bar room. The young headwaiter with ebony and wavy hair, and neatly trimmed beard that emphasized his manliness fitted his necktie in front of an ornately framed mirror dating back to the Consulate. Strangely, the opulent restaurant was opened when the French Revolution morphed into the Terror in 1792. The headwaiter was the center of attention. After he fitted the necktie to the starched collar of his white shirt, he snapped his fingers. The young waitress who was deferentially behind me helped him to put on the sleeves of his black tailcoat. He turned his head back, and thanked her with a honeyed tone. Satisfied by her appraisal, he returned to his fussily way of getting dressed. He heaved a sigh after he finished buttoning the double row of trimmings. Then he folded a blue pocket square, which matched his coat. The foppish and willowy headwaiter turned his inquiring eyes toward the young woman. Because she was awe-struck by his demeanor, he made a dash to a flowerpot, picked up a daisy, and bestowed it upon her lapel.
An old pendulum clock rang noon in the tearoom. Its resounding sounds gave the chills to the wanderer. It brought back a nightmarish souvenir from his childhood when he visited his great-uncle Joseph and his wife Rose who lived at the Villa des Violettes in a dead-end street, which was half a mile distant from the Cours Mirabeau. It was a gray winter day. The little boy who suffered from a cold was left alone after lunch while his family took a breath of fresh air in the garden. He did not wait for their return at the dining room. He ventured into a dark hallway but he felt trapped inside when a draft shut the door behind me. As his pupils dilated in response to darkness, he slowly became aware of his surroundings. Besides cold naked walls, he perceived a huge pendulum clock making a lugubrious grinding on each swing. Despite his terror, he became hypnotized by its swings and grinds, which kept him inexorably in check. A reversal of his dire situation occurred when the clock struck the hours. As the hypnosis was over, he yelled for help. Despite reassurance from his family who came to his rescue, the phobia of pendulum clocks in darkness marred his dreams.
Specific phobia involving natural environment such as darkness usually develops between the ages of seven and nine, but it occurred to him when he was five-year old.
As noon was rung by the pendulum that dated back from the eighteenth century, the staff was ready for the lunch service. A second thought regarding punctuality popped up in the head of the cosmopolitan wanderer. After the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, lawmakers in Albany, on behalf of parishioners, circumscribed temperance during the office. The wanderer did not want to offend the Lord but he took perverse pleasure in testing the limits. He invariably asked for a beer before noon, and the bartender invariably checked the clock before politely answering that he had to wait for noon sharp. “Law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life,” wrote Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Because the wanderer was in a befuddled state of mind in the hallway, the sprightly waitress invited him to follow her in the veranda where lunch was served. She had a striking resemblance with Sharon Stone in the eyes of the moviegoer. The cryptic smile she gave him, and her strut on high-heel shoes deceived him into thinking that she was not leading him to the veranda but to a precinct in San Francisco where Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone, was cross-examined by police detectives. As the reader remembers the scene, the manipulative crime novelist taunted them when she spread her legs wide.
Because he wanted to stay in the background whereas people always preferred to be in the front row close to the Cours Mirabeau, his wish was quickly fulfilled by the double of Sharon Stone whose job was to place clients. A middle-aged waiter with a strong accent took his order. He chose the dish of the day, which was aïoli, which observed the Friday past of abstaining from eating meat on the day the Christ gave his life on the cross. Steamed vegetables and codfish were served with a separate garlic sauce in a Terra Cotta clay pot.
A nearby table was occupied by two women in their fifties. Their exquisite manners revealed that they belonged to the high society of Aix. When the double of Sharon Stone came to their table, he could not resist to observing her. She bent over and discreetly thanked them for an intercession that they made in favor of her six-year-old boy who was admitted to a private school.
The intercession rekindled a vivid memory to the wanderer when his great-uncle Joseph had a word with a woman who was a bursar at a college near the Cours Mirabeau. A year later, he was admitted into the prestigious college.
The wanderer carefully listened to the two women when they warmly talked about a Turner’s exhibition, which was hosted at the Caumont Art Center, a quarter of mile from the restaurant. He marveled at the prospect. In this way ended the meal on a happy note.
However, his admission was turned down for a safety reason. His backpack could not be stored because the Art Center did not have a cloakroom. “You may leave it to the luggage deposit at the train station,” said a young receptionist after referring to her manager. The advice deterred the wanderer. He remembered his disappointment at the Metropolitan Museum in New York when he queued with his backpack by a cold and rainy morning late October. The Met had a locker-room but his backpack was too big for the standard metal locker, which was at the disposal of the public.
The disappointed wanderer returned to the bus station in order to reach Puyloubier, a village nestled at the bottom of Mont Saint Victoire, where he intended to start his hike in Provence.
PS this is a chapter of a book in progress
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