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happy without their comforts and conveniences, and this means the
impossibility of getting away from streets and buildings and noises and
crowds. The class that has monopolized the Riviera has tried to
recreate Paris in the Midi. If one wants to find the country right on
the sea coast, one must get off the train before reaching Cannes.
Between Cannes and the Italian frontier, one does not have the sea
without the city. Only by going inland can one find the country
without missing the sight and feel of the sea. For everywhere the land
rises. The valleys rise. Roads keep mounting and curving to avoid
heavy grades, and foothills do not hide the Alps and the Mediterranean.
After escaping from Cannet, the outermost suburb, the road to Mougins
goes through a valley of oranges and roses. There are stone farmhouses
with thatched roofs and barns that give forth the smell of hay. There
are cows and chickens.

We were congratulating ourselves upon having given up the casino long
before we reached Mougins. We forgave the _cocher_ his exaggeration
about the workers in the rose fields. When one sees in paintings and
in the cinematograph pretty girls engaged in agricultural pursuits, it
is more than even money that they are models and actresses in disguise.
I am enthusiastic in my cult of the country, but I have never carried
it to the point of becoming ecstatic over country maidens. There must
be, of course, as many good-looking girls in the country as in the
city. But could a chorus of milkmaids to satisfy New York or Paris be
recruited outside New York or Paris?

When we reached the uncompromising stretch of road that led up to
Mougins, we took mercy upon the horses. The _cocher_ had not driven
them as slowly as he had promised. We walked a mile through olive
orchards, and were in the town before we realized it. Unlike other
hill cities of the Riviera that we had visited, Mougins has no castle
and no walls. Few traces remain of outside fortifications. All around
Mougins the land is cultivated. One does not realize the abruptness of
the hilltop, for the city rises from fields and vineyards and orchards.
Saint-Paul-du-Var and Villeneuve-Loubet remind one of the days when
self-defense was a constant preoccupation. Mougins long ago forgot
feudal quarrels, foreign invasions and raids of Saracens and Barbary
pirates. The peasants still live together on a hilltop, going forth in
the morning and coming back in the evening. But they have taken the
stone of their walls for fences, and of their towers for barns. They
have brought their tilled land up the hillside to the city.

On the main street, we had the impression that the medieval character
of Mougins was lost by rebuilding. Ailanthus trees and whitewashed
walls and red-tiled roofs greeted us. The church and the market-place
were of the Third Republic. Sleepy cafés displayed enameled tin
advertisements of Paris drinks. The signs in front of the notions shop
declared the merits of rival Paris newspapers. But when we were
hunting out a vantage point from which to get the view of Cannes and
the Mediterranean, the Artist saw much to tempt his pencil. Back from
the main street, old Mougins survived, none the less charming from the
constant contrasts of old and new.

The arch of a city gate, perfectly preserved on one side, lost itself
in a modern building across the street. A woman, leaning out of a
window, wanted to know what the Artist was doing. I explained our
interest in the arch. Had there been a gate in her grandmother's time?
Why, when so much of a former age had disappeared, did this half-arch
remain? The woman was puzzled. It was incomprehensible that anyone
should be interested in the arch, which had always been there. I
thought I would try her on other subjects.

"Did many travelers come to Mougins from America?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. And you are an American, aren't you?"

Obviously America was a more interesting subject than archaeology.

While the Artist was finishing his sketch she chatted pleasantly with
me. Yes, she had often talked with American visitors. She revealed,
however, the French provincial's customary ignorance of our life and
asked the usual questions about our wealth and our skyscrapers. I am
not altogether sure that I set her right about her fabulous
misconception when the Artist's drawing was completed.

Mougins lives in medieval fashion, if not wholly in medieval houses.
Dependent upon occasional water from the heavens for carrying sewage
down the hillside, Mougins has no use for gutters and drains. Rubbish
is thrown from windows, and tramped down into last year's layer of
pavement. Goats enjoy the rich pasturage of old boots and cans and
papers and rags and vegetables that had lived beyond their day.
Although, as we walked through the alleys, we saw no one, heard no one,
the houses were inhabited: for much of the garbage was painfully
recent, and clothes flapped on lines from window to window over our
heads. The Artist suggested that the townspeople might be taking a
siesta. But it was late in the afternoon for that. Then we remembered
that Mougins was an agricultural community, and that the work of the
town was in the fields. This explained also why we saw no shops and no
evidences of trade. Olives, flowers, wine, fruit and vegetables are
taken to the markets of Cannes and Grasse, and the people of Mougins
buy what they need where they sell. Mougins has only bakeries and
cafés. Bread and alcohol alone are indispensable where people dwell
together.

We circled the city, and came out on the promenade across which we had
entered Mougins. Every French town has an illustrious son, for whom a
street is named, on whose birthplace a tablet is put, and to whom a
monument is raised. Our tour had taken us through the Rue du
Commandant Lamy. We had read the inscription on his home, and were now
before his monument, a bust on a slender pedestal, with the glorious
sweep of La Napoule for a background. The peasants of Mougins, as they
go out to and return from the labor of vineyard, orchard and field,
pass by the Lamy memorial. Even when they are of one's own blood, is
there inspiration in the daily reminder of heroes? How many from
Mougins have followed Lamy's example? I have often wondered whether
monuments mean anything except to tourists.

As I had recently been writing upon French colonial history, Lamy's
daring and fruitful journeys in Central Africa were fresh in my mind,
and I remembered his tragic death in the Wadai fifteen years ago. An
old man had just come up the hill, and was dragging weary legs encased
in clay-stained trousers across the promenade. A conical basket of
lettuce heads was on his back, and he used the handle of his hoe as a
cane.

"Did you know Lamy?" I inquired.

"Lamy was a boy in this town when I was a grown man going to my work.
I used to pass him playing on this very spot," he answered.

As we walked along toward the main street, we asked whether there were
others from Mougins who, like Lamy, had played a part in the history of
France abroad. No, the people of Mougins liked to stay at home.
Fortunately for the prosperity of the country, the young men returned
after their military service, and the attractions and opportunities of
city life rarely took them and held them farther away than Cannes and
Grasse. The Artist had his eye on the lettuce basket and the hoe, and
I wanted to hear more of life in Mougins. We asked the old man to
share a bottle with us.

The _cocher_ was waiting in front of a café, and corroborated the
statement on a huge painted sign, that here was to be found the true
_vin mousseux_ of Mougins. It was evident that we were not the first
tourists to come from Cannes. The _cocher_ was a friend of the
proprietress, who made us welcome in the way tourists are greeted.
Little cakes and a dusty bottle were produced promptly, and in the
stream of words that greeted us we could gather that this was a
red-letter occasion for us, and that it was possible to have the _vin
mousseux_ of Mougins shipped to Paris by the dozen or the hundred.
This annoyed us and dampened our ardor for the treat. The Artist and I
share a foolish feeling of wanting to be pioneers. We like to believe
that our travels take us out of the beaten path, and that we are
constantly discovering delectable places. After us the tourists - but
not before!

The corkscrew of the proprietress, however, consoled us. A corkscrew
through whose handle the beaded pressure of gas escapes before the cork
is drawn may be common enough. But the fact remains that neither of us
had seen one. We expressed our delight and wonder, and the Artist
naïvely told the proprietress, before he tasted the wine, that he felt
rewarded for the trip to Mougins just for the discovery of the
corkscrew. After the first sip, I added that now we knew why we had
walked up the long hill. The proprietress and the _cocher_ beamed.
Our enthusiasm meant money to them. The old man twisted his mouth
contemptuously.

"Tell me, then," he said, "what was your thought of me when you saw me
coming up the hill to the promenade with my burden of lettuce heads?
And when I told you that I had seen Lamy playing as a boy on the spot
where his statue stands? Sorry for me, were you not? Lamy had the
good sense, you think, to quit Mougins, and go out to glory. I and the
rest of Mougins, you think, have stayed here because we do not know any
better. It is all in the point of view. One of you is enthusiastic
over a patent corkscrew, and the other over the wine. You tourists
from the city cannot understand us. It is because you carry your
limitations with you. You think you lead a large, broad, varied life.
You do not. Finding the greatest interest of Mougins in a patent
corkscrew and sparkling wine betrays you."

"_Ces messieurs_ have a passion for the country and for towns away from
the railroad," remonstrated the _cocher_. "This afternoon I tempted
them from the Casino at Cannes. They are a thousand times enthusiastic
about Mougins, your homes, your streets, your views, and all they have
seen in the valley coming here. If they had limitations, would they
have wanted to come? It is senseless to think that they make the
effort, that they spend the money, just to be pleased with what they
see from their own world or what reminds them of their own world. I
spend my life with tourists, and they always appreciate, I have never
known them to fail to thank me for having brought them to Mougins."

Our critic - and, indeed, our judge - turned on the _cocher_.

"Tell me," he said sharply, raising his voice witheringly, "would you
risk bringing tourists to Mougins if there were not this café and the
_vin mousseux_?"

The _cocher_ puffed his cigar vigorously. The Artist, highly
delighted, broke an almost invariable rule to prove that the greatest
interest of Mougins was not the corkscrew. He opened his sketch-book.
While the old man was fingering the sketches, I ordered another bottle.

Our guest had been the vanguard of the homeward procession. All
Mougins was now passing before us.

"Now you see," continued our mentor, "what it is to live. A score of
men who knew Lamy have passed before you. They did not go to Africa to
hunt negroes and to put our flag on the map at the same time as the
names of unknown towns. They are here, and will eat a good dinner
tonight. Lamy is dead. Now I do not say that we are heroes, and that
our point of view is heroic. But I do say that we are not to be
pitied. And I say, moreover, that we do as much for France as Lamy
did. If we had all gone to Africa, there might be more names on the
map, but there would be less food in the markets of Grasse and Cannes."

"Oh, for the ghost of Gray," commented the Artist "He would be face to
face with the 'unseen flower' - but not blushing!"

"A case of _auream quisquis mediocritatem diligit_," I answered.

We were getting classical as well as philosophical, and it was time to
go. To whom was the mediocrity?




CHAPTER XIII

FRÉJUS

The ride from Théoule to St. Raphaël, by the Corniche de l'Estérel, gives
a feeling of satiety. The road along the sea is a succession of curves,
each one leading around a rocky promontory into a bay that causes you to
exclaim, "This is the best!" For thirty-five kilometers there is
constantly a new adjustment of values, until you find yourself at the
point where comparatives and superlatives are exhausted. The vehicle of
language has broken down. Recurrent adjectives become trite. When the
search for new ones is an effort, you realize that nature has imposed,
through the prodigal display of herself, a limit of capacity to enjoy.
Of copper rocks and azure sea; of mountain streams hurrying through
profusely wooded valleys; of cliffs with changing profiles; of conifers;
of enclosed parks, whose charm of undergrowth run wild and of sunlit
green tree-trunks successfully hides the controlling hand of man to the
uninitiated in forestry; of hedges and pergolas and ramblers and villas
and lighthouses and islets and yachts, we had our fill.

But at La Napoule a Roman milestone announced that we were on the road to
Forum Julii: and the very first thing that attracted us when we reached
St. Raphaël was a bit of aqueduct on the promenade. It looked singularly
out of place right by the sea, and surrounded by an iron fence quite in
keeping with those of the hotels across the street. The inscription
(Third Republic, not Roman) told us that this portion of the aqueduct
from the River Siagne to Fréjus was removed from its original emplacement
and set up here under the prefectship of Monsieur X, the subprefectship
of Monsieur Y, and the mayorship of Monsieur Z. The fishing village that
has rapidly grown into one of the most important "resorts" of the Riviera
claims distinction on historical grounds. Napoleon landed at St. Raphaël
on his return from Elba. Gounod composed Romeo and Juliet here. General
Galliéni was cultivating his vineyard here when the war of 1914 broke
out, and the call to arms sent him from his seclusion to become the
savior of Paris. But when ruins became fashionable in the last decade of
Queen Victoria, it was necessary for St. Raphaël to have an ancient
monument. An arch of the aqueduct was imported to the beach with as
little regard for congruous setting as Mr. Croesus-in-Ten-Years shows in
importing an English lawn to his front yard at Long Branch and a gallery
of ancestral portraits to his dining-room on Fifth Avenue.

The Artist looked at the ruins in silence. He tried to gnaw the ends of
his mustache. His eyes changed from amusement to contempt, and then to
interest. I was ready for his question.

"Say, where is this town Fréjus?"

The _cocher_ protested. He had bargained to take us to St. Raphaël, the
horses were tired, and anyway there was no good hotel, no food, nothing
to do at Fréjus.

"Where is Fréjus?" repeated the Artist. The _cocher_ pointed his whip
unwillingly westward along the shore. The Artist turned to me with his
famous nose-and-eyes-and-chin-up expression.

"What do you say, _mon vieux_?"

"Decidedly Fréjus," I answered.

Accustomed to American queerness, the _cocher_ resigned himself to the
reins for another five kilometers.

Since the River Argens began to flow, it has been depositing silt against
the eastern shore of the Gulf of Fréjus, at the point of which stands St
Raphaël. Consequently the road, sentineled by linden trees, crosses a
rich plain, and is more than a mile from the sea when it reaches the city
of Julius Caesar. The upper ends of the mole of the ancient port, high
and dry like ships at low tide, join the walls of the canal. You have to
look closely to distinguish the canal and the depression of the basin
into which it widens near the town. For where land has encroached upon
sea, vegetable gardens and orchards have been planted. Inland, the
arches from the aqueduct of the Siagne shed their bricks in wheat fields
and protrude from clumps of hazels. As it enters the city, the road
turns back on itself and mounts to the market-place. The sharp outward
bend of the elevation above the narrow stretch of lowland suggest that
there was a time, long before Roman days, when Fréjus, like the towns of
the Corniche de l'Estérel, was built on a promontory.

Fréjus belongs to no definite period. It is not Roman, medieval, modern.
It is not a watering-place fashionable or unfashionable, a manufacturing
town prosperous or struggling, a port bustling or sleepy, a
fishing-village or a flower-gathering center. Fréjus suggests no marked
racial characteristics in architecture or inhabitants. It is neither
distinctly Midi nor distinctly Italian - as those terms are understood by
travelers. Fréjus is unique among the cities of the Cote d'Azur because
it has no unmistakable _cachet_. Fréjus suggests Rome, the Middle Ages,
the twentieth century. Fréjus embraces pleasure-seeking, industries,
fish, flowers, and soldiering. Mermaids, delightfully reminiscent of the
Lido and Abbazia in garb, dive from the end of the mole into a safe
swimming-pool; children of the proletariat in coarse black _tabliers_,
who have not left sandals and white socks on the beach behind them, fish
for crabs; naval aviators start hydroplanes from an aerodrome beside the
Roman amphitheater; fishermen, of olive Mediterranean complexion, dry
copper-tinted nets on the beach, laying them, despite the scolding of the
Senegalese guards, upon piles of granite and cement blocks with which
laborers are building a new pier.

We had come to the beach for an after-luncheon smoke, and when we were
not looking at the Senegalese and workmen, our eyes wandered from
hydroplanes and machine-gun-armed motor-boats to the mermaids on the
Roman mole. Not till we ran out of tobacco and the mole ran out of
mermaids did we realize that Fréjus was still unexplored and unsketched.
We gave ourselves a six o'clock rendezvous on the beach. The Artist
started to seek Roman ruins, while I turned towards the market-place,
cathedral bound. Sea-level villas came first, and then a quarter of
sixteenth-century houses, many of which showed on the ground floor
medieval foundations. In two places I got back to the Romans. A cross
section of thin flat bricks with generous interstices of cement in the
front wall of a greengrocer's opposite, indicated the line of the Roman
fortification. Walking around the next parallel street, I managed to get
into a garden where a long piece of the wall remained.

I came out to the St. Raphaël carriage road at a corner where arose a
huge square tower of the Norman period. Almost to its crumbling top,
houses had been built against it on two sides. The angle formed by the
alley through which I came and the main street had fortunately kept the
other two sides clear. The tower was the home of a wine and coal
merchant, who had laid in a supply of cut wood on his roof to the height
of several feet above the irregular parapet. Outside one of the narrow
vertical slits, which in ages past had served as vantage point for a
vizored knight fitting arrow to bow, hung a parrot cage. "Coco" was
chattering Marseilles sailor French.

A single gargoyle remained. It was a panther, elongated like a
dachshund. He was desecrated and humiliated by having tied around his
middle the end of the clothesline that stretched across the alley. This
proved, however, that he still held firmly his place. The panther,
ignoring change of fortune, looked down as of yore, snarling, and with
whiskers stiffened to indicate that if he had been given hind legs, they
would be ready for a spring. So worn was the gargoyle that ears and chin
and part of forehead had disappeared. But you can see the snarl just as
you can see the Sphinx's smile. When a thing is well done, it is done
for all time. If a poor workman had fashioned that gargoyle, there would
have been no panther and no snarl when it was put up there. But a master
worked the stone, and what he wrought is ineradicable. It will disappear
only with the stone itself. When we speak of ruins, we mean that a part
of the material used in expressing a conception has not resisted climate
and age and earthquake and vandalism. Armless, Venus de Milo is still
the perfect woman. Headless, Nike of Samothrace is still symbolic of the
glory of prevailing.

In the morning, before reaching St. Raphaël, we passed an African soldier
limping along the dusty road. He was dispirited even to the crumpled
look of his red fez, and the sun, shining mercilessly, glinted from his
rifle-barrel to the beads of perspiration on the back of his neck. We
were going fast, and had just time to wave gayly to cheer him up. He did
not return our salute. This struck us as strange. Fearing that he might
be ill, we made the _cocher_ turn round, and went back to pick him up.
He declared that a sprained ankle made it impossible for him to keep up
with his regiment, which had been marching since early morning. He was
grateful for the lift, and beamed when we assured him that we could take
him as far as St. Raphaël. At that time we were not thinking of going to
Fréjus, the garrison town of the African troops. When we overtook the
regiment and reached his company, we tried to intercede with the French
sergeant. The sergeant was adamant and positive.

"A thousand thanks, but the man is shamming. He is lazy. He must get
out."

We had to give up our soldier. The sergeant knew his men, and justice is
the basic doctrine which guides the discipline of the French colonial
army. The regiment of Algerians must have stopped for lunch or
maneuvers. For they were just coming through the Place du Marché when I
reached there. Only the colonel was on horse. At the turn of the road,
the captains stood out of rank to watch their companies wheel. Our
soldier of the morning passed. He had forgotten his limp. The sergeant
recognized me, and pointed to the soldier. His left upper eyelid came
down with a wink, as if to say, "Don't I know them!"

There is a spirit of _camaraderie_ between officers and men in Fréjus
that one never sees in native regiments of the British army. The French
have none of our Anglo-Saxon feeling of caste and race prejudice, which
makes discipline depend upon aloofness. French officers can be severe
without being stern: and they know the difference between poise and pose.
We Anglo-Saxons need to revise radically our judgment of the French in
regard to certain traits that are the _sine qua non_ of military
efficiency. Energy, resourcefulness, coolness, persistence, endurance,
pluck - where have these pet virtues of ours been more strikingly tested,
where have they been more abundantly found, than in the French army?

The sign of the French colonial army is an anchor, and Fréjus is full of
officers who wear it. They are mostly men of the Midi, Roman Gauls every
inch of them. The Lamys, the Galliénis, the Joffres, the Fochs, the
Lyauteys were born with a genius for leadership in war. Their aptitude
for African conquest and their joy in African colonization are the
heritage of their native land. The fortunes of southern France and
northern Africa were inseparable through the ten centuries of the spread
of civilization and the Latin and Teutonic invasions in the Western
Mediterranean. The connection was unbroken from the time that Hannibal
marched his African troops through Fréjus to Italy until the Omayyads
conquered Tunis, Algeria and Morocco. It is the most natural thing in
the world to see African troops in Fréjus. They belong here now, because
since men began to sail in ships, they have always been at home here as
friends or enemies. Mediterranean Africa and Mediterranean France
received simultaneously political, social and religious institutions, and
from the same source. As the Crescent wanes, Gaul is coming back into
her own.

Fréjus shopkeepers suffer from the proximity of the upstart St. Raphaël.
Fréjus keeps the bishop, but St. Raphaël has taken the trade. There is
now only one business street. It runs from the Place du Marché through
the center of the city to the Place du Dôme. You can get from one
_place_ to the other in about five minutes. Few people were on this
street in mid-afternoon. None were going into the shops. I chose the
department store, and asked the only saleswoman in sight for a collar.
She brought down two styles, both of which were bucolic. Matched with a


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Online LibraryHerbert Adams GibbonsRiviera towns → online text (page 8 of 10)