13 March 2011

Ninety Minutes in Vence

‘You’re a day late’, said Patrice, my hairdresser. ‘You were booked in yesterday.’

And so with groveling apologies, I asked Patrice what he could do and thankfully he had a spare slot ninety minutes later which I accepted.

Arial View of Vence
It was only as I left his shop that I wondered what I’d do next. I’m not like J who would have happily wandered round the shops, melting her plastic on the way and making Vence one of the most prosperous towns in France. No, shopping is not my thing and working out that if I went back home on the scooter (20 minutes) and then back into Vence (another 20 minutes), it would be a waste of time, I decided to do the tourist bit, but first of all I had to do a few things at the bank.

I wandered in and looked at the refurbishment job they’d done last year. I saw a banker-woman and asked her where the counter was. ‘We don’t have a counter – you have to do everything for yourself’, she said. 

‘OK – I want to pay this cheque in please.’ ‘Right’, she said, ‘just come over here and I’ll do it for you’, taking my cheque, pay-in slip and enevelope. ‘Anything else’, she enquired. ‘Yes – I need some plastic containers for all my copper coins that the kids have saved up’. ‘Here you are – we have a new system. Just put all your coins in this plastic bag’, she said handing me what looked like a Ziploc bag. ‘Anything else?’ she asked. ‘I need some cash’, I said, ‘but I reckon I’ll have to do that myself – eh?’ ‘Well, I could show you if you’ve not used our new machines before’, she said and with that I was given the final part of my new ‘do-it-yourself’ banking service.

I then wandered down to see my mate who has a wine business which he runs from home but he wasn’t in and so I stopped at the Château de Villeneuve next door which is a 17th Century building annexed to a 12th century tower (see pictures). I’d passed it many times before but had never had the time to walk round it. Looking at the signs outside, it said there was an ‘exposition’ of art on display but I was more interested in the fabric of the building and stepped inside. I took a few steps up the main staircase when a lady shouted that I hadn’t paid the fee.   

A fee? There had been no mention of an entrance fee outside but I paid the €5 and walked up the staircase once again. Looking around there wasn’t much to show for a 17th Century castle, certainly not compared to what J and I had just seen in Florence.

I reached the first floor and found that all the walls in the vast rooms had been boarded up to hang the art but I reckoned that this was permanent, there was virtually nothing of the inside of the building which could be seen apart from a few ornate fireplaces.

In the first room, I stood and looked at a piece of art which looked like it had been a bad paint spraying job on a car. It was a board about 1 foot square and was just painted black. I stood there shaking my head and then noticed that a lady attendant was smiling at me – it was obvious she couldn’t work it out either.

The next room also had a lady attendant and was full of about 60 prints of the same guy growing older. The adjacent room had another lady attendant and looked like the walls had been vandalized – but no, it was art!

As I went to climb the stairs to the next level, I spotted the most amazing chandelier and asked if I could take a photo with my iPhone. I was told NO! I protested that it wasn’t the art I wanted to photograph but the one and only interesting part of the château on display which I wanted to record. ‘Non monsieur’, was the reply.

Matisse Chapel and the man himself
I climbed the stairs to the next level which had been given over to an exhibition of Matisse who famously lived in Vence and designed a Chapel just outside the town. This was rather more interesting as you could actually work out what he had been painting but what was intriguing was that there were no attendants present. All the ‘tat’ downstairs was being guarded, even from photographs being taken, whilst here there were dozens of Matisse prints with nobody in attendance! Bizarre.

After about thirty minutes, I headed to the café on the corner but first stopped at an estate agent’s premises as tourists generally do but what grabbed my attention wasn’t the houses for sale but the estate agent’s fees, ranging from an eye-watering 11% of the sale price to 5% for the most expensive properties. And they don’t let foreigners run estate agencies until they’ve had something like 10 years training – talk about keeping the money for the French. Anyway, seeing this ‘fees’ sign reinforced my determination to sell my own house when the time comes.

Then it was the café for a glass of wine and a cigarette. I spoke in French – they spoke in English – how did they know?

I got my wine and sat down outside looking at the Château which was just across the road and then it started – Arabic pop music. Blaring from the speakers it was like a call for all the Moroccans and Tunisians who congregate on Vence’s corners and sure enough they started to arrive and order their tiny little coffees. I could only put up with an 'Arabacsised' version of Leona Lewis for so long before I was driven away. Away for my number two with Patrice.     

No comments: