La belle France has been on my mind the last few days. I finally watched "Coco Before Chanel" on Netflix this past weekend, The Style Saloniste is visiting Paris right now and my friend Belinda Carlisle called me yesterday from New York in the middle of her press tour for her new memoir, Lips Unsealed.
Belinda has made her home in the South of France for the last 12 years and after my son Luca was born, I would take a solo trip every year to stay with her for a week and relax, unwind and catch up that most precious of commodities for a new mother: sleep.
(My guest room at Belinda's home, South of France)
I haven't been back there in about three years and I miss it. There is such a distinctive style to the French Riviera. Life there is so intimately connected with the outdoors, especially in summer, when the fertile seductiveness of the landscape and soft caresses of the sun bathe everything in an intoxicating charm. The word "langour" is derived from Old French, for obvious reasons. You just want to sit outside under an orange tree, feel the warm marine wind on your body and sip something iced and nectar-y.
(Belinda and me by her pool, circa 2004?
I had just arrived, hence my NYC pallor.)
Belinda and her husband and son have lived in a variety of houses in the South of France and now happily reside in the hills of Provence. Here's a photo I took of their downstairs salon on one of my trips there.
To me, it's a perfect example of Riviera Style. A massive sleigh daybed festooned with silk pillows anchors the center of the room and local flea market treasures rub shoulders with family heirlooms: the vintage hand-painted screen in the back (it's hard to see, but the style is very Ludwig Bemelsman), the Venetian mirror, the harp, and the wonderfully odd blue, green and white multi-lanterned lamp reveal Belinda's passion for color, history and the dolce vita lifestyle. Vivid pieces like the yellow armchair, the vintage 1950's painting overhead and all those jewel-toned pillows (silkscreened with the faces of French aristocrats) make it both personal and approachable.
In every house she lives in, there is always a leopard print somewhere (note the armchair). Her son James was about ten here and heading off to school; now he's a lovely and self-possessed 17 year old (and 6 feet tall!) and heading off to college in the fall.
(James Mason, 2003)
During my stays there, we would hike, explore local towns, spend a beachy afternoon at the Belles Rives Hotel at Juan-les-Pins, do some shopping...
(Belinda in the markets of Vieux Nice, 2007)
...and spend a lot of time discussing what we were going to eat. We would visit the local farmer's markets in the morning and stock up on all the incredible fruits and vegetables...
...and then go back home where Belinda would waltz around the kitchen, barefoot and braceleted, with Bird, her parrot, offering vociferous comments from his safe perch on her shoulder. Afterwards we'd sit at the table and chew over the usual subjects: friends, books, travel and trying to live a meaningful life.
(Belinda with Bird, her beloved parrot, and dog Bingo)
Even taking a trip to to the local Géant supermarket was fun: it's so enormous that the sales staff wear roller skates! I wish I had taken a picture of the cheese aisle -- it's the length of a football field. I will next time.
Belinda is an intrepid road warrior, so my visits usually included a girls' road trip somewhere. One year, we both became fascinated with the Knights Templar and went on a three day trip to Languedoc-Roussillon to explore a few of history's unsolved mysteries.
(Somewhere on the way to Carcassonne)
Okay, we also went to some fun parties. I took the photo below at Johnny Pigozzi's yearly luncheon during the Cannes Film Festival. We were all aflutter because Bono had just arrived. Even Belinda was moved to strike a pose.
(View from Cap d'Antibes)
But no stay chez Carlisle/Mason was complete without a trip to the most enchanting restaurant on earth, La Columbe d'Or.
Situated in the crazy charming medieval village of St. Paul de Vence...
(photo via here)
...La Columbe d'Or combines traditional gastronomy with a glamorous history, wonderful service and chic people-watching in one of the most romantic locales ever.
Every artist, movie star and luminary from the last sixty years has eaten here. It's also a small luxury hotel; in fact, Picasso and Matisse lived here for a time and settled their bills in paintings (that worked out well for the owners, as you can imagine). As a result of this barter agreement, the artwork everywhere is astounding.
(Simone Signoret and Yves Montand at the Columbe d'Or, via their website)
(Picasso at the Columbe d'Or, via their website)
I scanned a brochure from the restaurant to show you because the photographs do a wonderful job of capturing the magical feel of the place.
Last night, dipping into Dirk Bogarde's book of letters, "Ever Dirk", which has a permanent spot on my nightstand, I came across this memory of La Columbe d'Or. It says it all.
From a letter dated February 15, 1970:
Angela and Robin Fox [parents of English actors James and Edward Fox] came down to the Columbe d'Or with us...and at lunch on the terrace, the sun blazing, the mimosa great golden plumes, the almond blossom drifting in the soft wind...and the doves scattering in an arc of blue sky, Antonia said, "I think this is as near as I will ever get to Heaven." Which was rather nice.
Here we are, all dressed up and on our way to one of our dinners there.
(Belinda and yours truly)
(Morgan and James Mason)