Herbert Adams Gibbons.

Riviera towns online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryHerbert Adams GibbonsRiviera towns → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

E-text prepared by Al Haines

Note: Project Gutenberg also has an HTML version of this
file which includes the original illustrations.
See 21996-h.htm or

Transcriber's note:

In the original book, all the illustrations were on the inside
of the book's front and back covers. In this e-text they have
been distributed where they fit the book's text.




Illustrations by Lester George Hornby

New York
Robert M. McBride & Company

Copyright, 1920, by
Robert M. McBride & Co.

Copyright, 1917, 1918, 1920,
by Harper & Brothers


Helen and Margaret

Who Indulge

The Author and the Artist


We wish to thank the editors of _Harper's
Magazine_ for allowing the republication
of articles and illustrations.

H. A. G.

L. G. H.





"A grandfather omnibus, which dated from the Second Empire."

"The hill of Cagnes we could rave about."

"The houses in the courts were stables downstairs."

The river was swirling around willows and poplars.

"Down the broad road of red shale past meadows thick with violets."

Medieval streets and buildings have almost disappeared.

"The Old Town takes you far from the psychology of cosmopolitanism and
the philosophy of hedonism."

"La Napoule, above whose tower on the sea rose a hill crowned with the
ruins of a chapel. Behind were the Maritime Alps."




For several months I had been seeing Grasse every day. The atmosphere of
the Midi is so clear that a city fifteen miles away seems right at hand.
You can almost count the windows in the houses. Against the rising
background of buildings every tower stands out, and you distinguish one
roof from another. From my study window at Théoule, Grasse was as
constant a temptation as the two islands in the Bay of Cannes. But the
things at hand are the things that one is least liable to do. They are
reserved for "some day" because they can be done "any day." Since first
coming to Théoule, I had been a week's journey south of Cairo into the
Sudan, and to Verdun in an opposite corner of France. Menton and St.
Raphaël, the ends of the Riviera, had been visited. Grasse, two hours
away, remained unexplored.

I owe to the Artist the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Grasse. One
day a telegram from Bordeaux stated that he had just landed, and was
taking the train for Théoule. The next evening he arrived. I gave him
my study for a bedroom. The following morning he looked out of the
window, and asked, "What is that town up there behind Cannes, the big one
right under the mountains?"

"Grasse, the home of perfumes," I answered.

"I don't care what it's the home of," was his characteristic response.
"Is it old and all right?" ("All right" to the Artist means "full of

"I have never been there," I confessed.

The Artist was fresh from New York. "We'll go this morning," he

From sea to mountains, the valley between the Corniche de l'Estérel and
Nice produces every kind of vegetation known to the Mediterranean
littoral. Memories of Spain, Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor,
Greece and Italy are constantly before you. But there is a difference.
The familiar trees and bushes and flowers of the Orient do not spring
here from bare earth. Even where cultivated land, wrested from the
mountain sides, is laboriously terraced, stones do not predominate.
Earth and rock are hidden by a thick undergrowth of grass and creepers
that defies the sun, and draws from the nearby mountain snow a perennial
supply of water. Olive and plane, almond and walnut, orange and lemon,
cedar and cork, palm and umbrella-pine, grape-vine and flower-bush have
not the monopoly of green. It is the Orient without the brown, the
Occident with the sun.

The Mediterranean is more blue than elsewhere because firs and cedars and
pines are not too green. The cliffs are more red than elsewhere because
there is no prevailing tone of bare, baked earth to modify them into
brown and gray. On the Riviera one does not have to give up the rich
green of northern landscapes to enjoy the alternative of brilliant

As we rode inland toward Grasse, the effect of green underground and
background upon Oriental foliage was shown in the olives, dominant tree
of the valley and hillsides. It was the old familiar olive of Africa and
Asia and the three European peninsulas, just as gnarled, just as
gray-green in the sun, just as silvery in the wind. But its colors did
not impress themselves upon the landscape. Here the olive was not master
of all that lives and grows in its neighborhood. In a landscape where
green replaces brown and gray pink, the olive is not supreme. Its own
foliage is invaded: for frequently rose ramblers get up into its
branches, and shoot out vivid flashes of crimson and scarlet. There is
also the yellow of the mimosa, and the inimitable red of the occasional
judas-tree. Orange trees blossom white. Lilacs and wisteria give the
shades between red and blue. As if in rebellion against too much green,
the rose-bushes put forth leaves of russet-brown. It is a half-hearted
protest, however, for Grasse rose-bushes are sparing of leaves.
Carefully cultivated for the purpose of bearing to the maximum, every
shoot holds clusters beyond what would be the breaking-point were there
not artificial support. Nature's yield is limited only by man's
knowledge, skill and energy.

As we mounted steadily the valley, we had the impression that there was
nothing ahead of us but olives. First the perfume of oranges and flowers
would reach us. Then the glory of the roses would burst upon us, and we
looked up from them to the flowering orange trees. Wherever there was a
stretch of meadow, violets and daisies and buttercups ran through the
grass. Plowed land was sprinkled with mustard and poppies. The olive
had been like a curtain. When it lifted as we drew near, we forgot that
there were olives at all!

The Artist developed at length his favorite theory that the richest
colors, the sweetest scents were those of blossoms that bloomed for pure
joy. The most delicate flavors were those of fruits and berries that
grew without restraint or guidance. "Nature is at her best," he
explained, "when you do not try to exploit her. Compare wild
strawberries and wild asparagus with the truck the farmers give you. Is
wisteria useful? What equals the color of the judas-tree in bloom? Do
fruit blossoms, utilitarian embryo, compare for a minute with real
flowers? Just look at all these flowers, born for the sole purpose of
expressing themselves!" All the while we were sniffing orange-blossoms.
I tried in vain to get his honest opinion on horse-chestnut blossoms as
compared with apples and peaches and apricots. I called his attention to
the fact that the ailanthus lives only to express itself, while the maple
gives sugar. But you can never argue with the Artist when he is on the
theme of beauty for beauty's sake.

From the fairyland of the valley we came suddenly upon the Grasse railway
station, from which a _funiculaire_ ascends to the city far above.
Thankful for our carriage, we continued to mount by a road that had to
curve sharply at every hundred yards. We passed between villas with
pergolas of ramblers and wisteria until we found ourselves in the upper
part of the city without having gone through the city at all.

We got out at the promenade, where a marvelous view of the Mediterranean
from Antibes to Théoule lies before you. The old town falls down the
mountain-side from the left of the promenade. We started along a street
that seemed to slide down towards the cathedral, the top of whose belfry
hardly reaches the level of the promenade. Before we had gone a block,
we learned that the flowers through which we had passed were not blooming
for pure joy. Like many things in this dreary world of ours, they were
being cultivated for money's sake and not for beauty's sake. Grasse
lives from those flowers in the valley below. We had started to look for
quaint houses. From one of the first doors in the street came forth an
odor that made us think of the type of woman who calls herself "a lady."
I learned early in life at the barber's that a little bit of scent goes
too far, and some women in public places who pass you fragrantly do not
allow that lesson to be forgotten. Is not lavender the only scent in the
world that does not lose by an overdose?

The Artist would not enter. His eye had caught a fourteenth-century
_cul-de-sac_, and I knew that he was good for an hour. I hesitated. The
vista of the street ahead brought more attraction to my eye than the
indication of the perfume-factory to my nose. But there would still be
time for the street, and in the acquisition of knowledge one must not
falter. I knew only that perfumes were made from flowers. But so was
honey! What was the difference in the process? Visiting perfumeries is
evidently "the thing to do" in Grasse. For I was greeted cordially, and
given immediately a guide, who assured me that she would show me all over
the place and that it was no trouble at all.

Why is it that some of the most delicate things are associated with the
pig, who is himself far from delicate? However much we may shudder at
the thought of soused pigs' feet and salt pork and Rocky Mountain fried
ham swimming in grease, we find bacon the most appetizing of breakfast
dishes, and if cold boiled ham is cut thin enough nothing is more dainty
for sandwiches. Lard _per se_ is unpleasant, but think of certain things
cooked in lard, and the unrivaled golden brown of them! Pigskin is as
_recherché_ as snakeskin. The pig greets us at the beginning of the day
when we slip our wallet into our coat or fasten on our wrist-watch, and
again when we go in to breakfast. But is it known that he is responsible
for the most exquisite of scents of milady's boudoir? For hundreds of
years ways of extracting the odor of flowers were tried. Success never
came until someone discovered that pig fat is the best absorbent of the
bouquet of fresh flowers.

Room after room in the perfume factory is filled with tubs of pig grease.
Fresh flowers are laid inside every morning for weeks, the end of the
treatment coming only with the end of the season of the particular flower
in question. In some cases it is continued for three months. The grease
is then boiled in alcohol. The liquid, strained, is your scent. The
solid substance left makes scented soap. Immediately after cooling, it
is drawn off directly into wee bottles, the glass stoppers are covered
with white chamois skin, and the labels pasted on.

I noticed a table of bottles labeled _eau-de-cologne_. "Surely this is
now _eau-de-liége_ in France," I remarked. "Are not German names taboo?"

My guide answered seriously: "We have tried our best here and in every
perfumery in France. But dealers tell us that they cannot sell
_eau-de-liége_, even though they assure their customers that it is
exactly the same product, and explain the patriotic reason for the change
of name. Once we launched a new perfume that made a big hit. Afterwards
we discovered that we had named it from the wrong flower. But could we
correct the mistake? It goes today by the wrong name all over the world."

I was glad to get into the open air again, and started to walk along the
narrow Rue Droite - which makes a curve every hundred feet! - to find the
Artist. I had seen enough of Grasse's industry. Now I was free to
wander at will through the maze of streets of the old town. But the law
of the Persians follows that of the Medes. Half a dozen urchins spied me
coming out of the perfumery, and my doom was sealed. They announced that
they would show me the way to the confectionery. I might have refused to
enter the perfumery. But, having entered, there was no way of escaping
the confectionery. I resigned myself to the inevitable. It was by no
means uninteresting, however, - the half hour spent watching violets,
orange blossoms and rose petals dancing in cauldrons of boiling sugar,
fanned dry on screens, and packed with candied fruits in wooden boxes for
America. And I had followed the flowers of Grasse to their destination.

The Artist had finished his _cul-de-sac_. I knew that to find him I had
only to continue along the Rue Droite to the first particularly appealing
side street. He would be up that somewhere. The Artist is no
procrastinator. He takes his subjects when he finds them. The buildings
of the Rue Droite are medieval from _rez-de-chaussée_ to cornice. The
sky was a narrow curved slit of blue and gray, not as wide as the street;
for the houses seemed to lean towards one another, and here and there
roofs rubbed edges. Sidewalks would have prevented the passage of
horse-drawn vehicles, so there were none. The Rue Droite is the
principal shopping-street of Grasse. But shoppers cannot loiter
indefinitely before windows. All pedestrians must be agile. When you
hear the _Hué!_ of a driver, you must take refuge in a doorway or run the
risk of axle-grease and mud. Twentieth-century merchandise stares out at
you from either side - Paris' hats and gowns, American boots, typewriters,
sewing-machines, phonographs, pianos. One of the oldest corner
buildings, which looks as if it needed props immediately to save you from
being caught by a falling wall, is the emporium of enamel bathtubs and
stationary washstands, with shining nickel spigots labeled "Hot" and
"Cold." These must be intended for the villas of the environs, for
surely no home in this old town could house a bathroom. Where would the
hot water and cold water come from? And where would it go after you
opened the waste-pipe?

But there are sewers, or at least drains, on the hillside. Grasse has
progressed beyond the _gare-à-l'eau_ stage of municipal civilization.
Before your eyes is the evidence that you no longer have to listen for
that cry, and duck the pot or pail emptied from an upper window. Pipes,
with branches to the windows, come down the sides of the houses. They
are of generous size, as in cities of northern countries where much snow
lies on the roofs. Since wall-angles are many, the pipes generally find
a place in corners. They do not obtrude. They do not suggest zinc or
tin. They were painted a mud-gray color a long time ago.

After lunch, we strolled along the Boulevard du Jeu-de-Ballon, the
tramway street. In old French towns, the words boulevard and tramway are
generally anathema. They suggest the poor imitation of Paris, both in
architecture and animation, of a street outside the magic circle of the
unchanged which holds the charm of the town. But sometimes, in order to
come as near as possible to the center of population, the tramway
boulevard skirts the fortifications of the medieval city, or is built
upon their emplacement. It is this way at Grasse. One side of the
Boulevard du Jeu-de-Ballon is modern and commonplace. The other side
preserves in part the buildings of past ages. Here and there a bit of
tower remains. No side street breaks the line. You go down into the
city through an occasional arched passage.

We stopped for coffee at the Garden-Bar, on the modern side of the
boulevard. The curious hodge-podge opposite, which houses the Restaurant
du Cheval Blanc and the Café du Globe, had caught the Artist's eye. The
building, or group of buildings, is six stories high, with a sky-line
that reflects the range of mountains under which Grasse nestles. Windows
of different sizes, placed without symmetry or alignment, do not even
harmonize with the roof above them. Probably there was originally a
narrow house rising directly above the door of the Cheval Blanc. When
the structure was widened, upper floors or single rooms were built on _ad
libitum_. The windows give the clew to this evolution, for the wall has
been plastered and whitewashed uniformly to the width of over a hundred
feet, and there is only one entrance on the ground floor. Working out
the staircases and floor levels is a puzzle for an architect. We did not
even start to try to solve it. The Artist's interest was in the
"subject," and mine in the story the building told of an age when man's
individual needs influenced his life more strongly than they do now. We
think of the progress of civilization in the terms of combination,
organization, community interest, the centralized state. We have created
a machine to serve us, and have become servants of the machine. When we
thank God unctuously that we live not as our ancestors lived and as the
"uncivilized" live today, we are displaying the decay of our mental
faculties. Is it the Arab at his tent door, looking with dismay and
dread at the approach of the Bagdad Railway, who is the fool, or we?

Backed up at right angles to the stoop of the Cheval Blanc was a
grandfather omnibus, which certainly dated from the Second Empire. Its
sign read: GRASSE-ST. CÉZAIRE. SERVICE DE LA POSTE. The canvas boot had
the curve of ocean waves. A pert little hood stuck out over the driver's
seat. The pair of lean horses - one black, the other white - stood with
noses turned towards the tramway rails. The Artist was still gazing
skylineward. I grasped his arm, and brought his eyes to earth. No word
was needed. He fumbled for his pencil. But to our horror the driver had
mounted, and was reaching for the reins. I got across the street just in
time to save the picture. Holding out cigars to the driver and a soldier
beside him on the box, I begged them to wait - please to wait - just five
minutes, five little minutes.

[Illustration: "A grandfather omnibus, which dated from the Second

"There is no place for another passenger. We are full inside," he

But he had dropped the reins to strike a match. In the moment thus
gained, I got out a franc, and pressed it into his hand.

"Your coach, my friend," I said, "is unique in all France. The coffee of
that celebrated artist yonder sitting at the terrace of the Garden-Bar is
getting cold while he immortalizes the Grasse-St. Cézaire service. In
the interest of art and history, I beg of you to delay your departure ten
little minutes."

The soldier had found the cigar to his liking. "A quarter of an hour
will do no harm at all," he announced positively, getting down from his

The driver puffed and growled. "We have our journey to make, and the
hour of departure is one-thirty. If it is not too long - fifteen minutes
at the most." He pocketed the franc less reluctantly than he had spoken.

The soldier crossed the boulevard with me. Knowing how to appreciate a
good thing, he became our ally as soon as he had looked at the first
lines of the sketch. When the minutes passed, and the soldier saw that
the driver was growing restless, he went back and persuaded him to come
over and have a look at the drawing. This enabled me to get the driver
tabled before a tall glass of steaming coffee with a _petit verre_.

Soon an old dame, wearing a bonnet that antedated the coach, stuck out
her head. A watch was in her hand. Surely she was not of the Midi.
Fearing that she might influence the driver disadvantageously to our
interests, I went to inform her that the delay was unavoidable. I could
not offer her a cigar. There are never any bonbons in my pocket. So I
thought to make a speech.

"All my excuses," I explained, "for this regrettable delay. The coach in
which you are seated - and in which in a very, very few minutes you will
be riding - belongs to the generation before yourself and me. It is
important for the sake of history as well as art that the presence in
Grasse of my illustrious artist friend, coincident with the St. Cézaire
coach before the door of the Cheval Blanc, be seized upon to secure for
our grandchildren an indelible memory of travel conditions in our day.
So I beg indulgence."

Two schoolgirls smothered a snicker. There was a dangerous glitter in
the old dame's eye. She did not answer me. But a young woman raised her
voice in a threat to have the driver dismissed. Enough time had been
gained. The Artist signified his willingness to have the mail leave now
for St. Cézaire.

Off went the coach, white horse and black horse clattering alternately
hoofs that would gladly have remained longer in repose. The soldier
saluted. The driver grinned. We waved to the old woman with the poke
bonnet, and lifted our glasses to several pretty girls who appeared at
the coach door for the first time in order that they might glare at us.
I am afraid I must record that it was to glare. Our friendly salutation
was not answered. But we had the sketch. That was what really mattered.

We were half an hour late at the rendezvous with our carriage man for the
return journey to Cannes. But he had lunched well, and did not seem to
mind. Americans were scarce this season, and _fortes pourboires_ few and
far between. On the Riviera - as elsewhere - you benefit by your
fellow-countrymen's generosity in the radiant courtesy and good nature of
those who serve you until you come to pay your bill. Then you think you
could have got along pretty well with less smiles. We knew that our man
would not risk his _pourboire_ by opposing us, so we suggested with all
confidence that he drive round the curves alone and meet us below by the
railway station in "half an hour." We wanted to go straight down through
the city. The _cocher_ looked at his watch and thought a minute. He had
already seen the Artist stop suddenly and stay glued on one spot, like a
cat patiently waiting to spring upon a bird. He had seen how often
oblivion to time comes. The lesser of two evils was to keep us in sight.
So he proposed with a sigh what we could never have broached to him.
"Perhaps we can drive down through the city - why not?" "Why not?" we
answered joyously in unison, as we jumped into the victoria.

Down is down in Grasse. I think our _cocher_ did not realize what he was
getting into, or he would have preferred taking his chances on a long
wait. He certainly did not know his way through the old town. He asked
at every corner, each time more desperately, as we became engaged in a
maze of narrow streets, which were made before the days of victorias.
There was no way of turning. We had to go down - precipitously down.
With brake jammed tight, and curses that echoed from wall to wall and
around corners, the _cocher_ held the reins to his chest. The horses,
gently pushed forward, much against their will, by the weight of the
carriage, planted all fours firm and slid over the stones that centuries
of sabots and hand-carts had worn smooth. The noise brought everyone to
windows and doors, and the sight kept them there. Tourist victorias did
not coast through Grasse every day. Advice was freely proffered. The
angrier our _cocher_ became the more frequently he was told to put on his
brake and hold tight to the reins.

After half an hour we came out at the funicular beside the railway

"How delightful, and how fortunate!" exclaimed the Artist. "That
certainly was a short cut. We have saved several kilometers!"

I thought the _cocher_ would explode. But he merely nodded. Far be it
from me to say that he did not understand the Artist's French for "short
cut." Perhaps he thought best to save all comment until the hour of
reckoning arrived. He did not need to. The ride back to the sea was
through the fairyland of the morning climb, enhanced a thousandfold, as
all fairylands are, by the magic of the twilight. One never can make it
up to hired horses for their work and willingness and patience. But we
did live up to local American tradition in regard to the _cocher_.



American and English visitors to the Riviera soon come to know Cagnes by
name. It is a challenge to their ability to pronounce French - a
challenge that must be accepted, if you are in the region of Grasse or

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryHerbert Adams GibbonsRiviera towns → online text (page 1 of 10)