Thursday, 10 August 2017

Holidays and handbags

In my last post, I'd written about  our forthcoming holiday to St Paul de Vence, near Nice. It was just as dreamy as we'd hoped - one of those lovely towns that feels totally unspoiled, despite it's popularity. It was a place of winding, cobbled streets, where every turn seemed to offer something new to 'ooh' and 'ahh' over.

We stayed in a beautiful self-catering villa at the bottom of a ridiculously steep hill. When the man who we'd rented the villa from realised we'd come without a car, he said that no one had made it past Day 2 in that location without taking a taxi back to Nice to hire a car. Reader, we broke that record and walked up the wretched hill every day, usually in about 33 degree heat. Although whenever we arrived in the town, we must have looked curiously fuchsia-cheeked and wet of brow, as though we may be a family who relished completing marathons while wearing sundresses and day shorts; everyone else wandered around looking serene having arrived in their cars like civilised people. We couldn't tell if a defibrillator was positioned on the wall near our entrance to the town ironically, but we grimly noted its presence each day.

The road we walked up (not pictured) was private and cars were only permitted to travel down it in one direction, due to how narrow, steep and winding it was. At the top, there was a sign drawing attention to the danger of its 20% incline (although, I feel sure that that was a grave underestimation, and that it was nearer 50%)! Very occasionally, we would see an English person driving down this road, identifiable by their speed not going above 3mph, a look of pure terror worn across their face, and their foot permanently resting the brake pedal. Mostly, it was French drivers though, who would barrel merrily down the hill, appearing around one of the many twists and turns at such speed that no audible sound would announce their presence until they were almost upon us, scattering us in different directions, as they joyfully continued their helter-skelter descent. Getting to the top of the hill alive was a truly challenging experience.

Once we'd reached the summit (St Paul de Vence), we were well-connected to all sorts of lovely places by a wonderfully reliable bus service, that allowed you to go pretty much anywhere for just €1.50 in air-conditioned luxury. We went over to Vence (the next town along) several times, where we winkled out Matisse's Rosary Chapel and his beautiful stained glass windows.

En route to the chapel (which was out of town, up many more hills), we were discussing how pristine and beautifully maintained everything was, when we saw this house, with dreamy blue shutters and doors, which offered evidence that even the local vandals were careful to respect the town's loveliness, having used sympathetic colours when graffitiing expletives.

Back in the centre of Vence, the Museum of Vence proved to be an unexpected treasure, full of more wonderful pieces of Matisse's work and also a long French documentary (with English subtitles) interviewing Sister Jacques-Marie, who was instrumental in making Matisse's vision for the Rosary Chapel a reality. It was an incredibly moving film, discussing both their friendship and the difficulty she'd had in persuading others within her religious community to approve his plans. It was possibly one of the most engaging interviews I've ever watched (I've since found it won Best Documentary at New York Film Festival), so I bought a copy of the DVD to share with my mum and sister, but if you have Amazon Prime in the US, the film is included in your membership! You can watch it here, if you're interested. For some reason, sadly that's not the case if you're in the UK.

By the time we found a day to take the bus over to Nice to visit the Matisse Museum, my expectations were high! By that point we'd seen many of Matisse's sketches, appliqué and paper cuts, and I was ready for some of the beautiful vibrant paintings I'd seen in Russia and which were inspiring my second version of my Eight Dials pattern. My husband and children weren't crazy about the sketches, but I promised them that they would love the paintings. The Matisse Museum was quite a way from the city centre and (predictably) up more hills, so we broke the walk up with a visit to the Marc Chagall gallery, which we all really enjoyed. I realised I knew and liked lots of his work, even though I hadn't necessarily been conscious of it beforehand. What's really noticeable about Chagall's work is that he is absolutely crazy about goats (and often violins too) - they seemed to make their way into so many of his paintings and we enjoyed playing Spot the Goat as we worked our way around the gallery. I felt fairly sure that this must have had some religious relevance, but I wasn't able to ascertain quite what by reading the cards around the museum, which seemed odd as surely that's the thing everyone wants to know (it was only when we got home, I found he was Jewish and the goat was often used as a sacrifice for God in the Old Testament). Above is a Chagall painting where no goat appears...I'm unsure how I've ended up with such an unrepresentative photo for this post!

When we got to the Matisse Gallery, we were feeling quite hot and tired (it was scorching the week we were there), so, it was with a sinking -slightly dehydrated- heart that I walked from room to room and realised that they had barely any of Matisse's more vibrant paintings. My sister and I had truly been spoilt when we visited The Hermitage in Russia - it really was wall-to-wall breathtaking goodness. By contrast, the Matisse Museum seemed to offer a sparse collection that was missing some of its heart. It feels such a shame that more paintings hadn't been able to stay in Matisse's homeland - I felt really heartbroken for the museum itself, as well as its visitors. We walked back down to the old quarter of the city centre feeling really quite disappointed (at that point, my son nobly offered to visit more museums, if there was anywhere that might feel like a consolation to me. Sometimes I want to gobble him up; having teenagers is so much lovelier than I ever imagined. My imaginings were mainly based on how absolutely awful I was myself as a teenager though, which may not be representative)! We were revived, not by more museums, but by an amazing meal in the old part of Nice - we went to Sentimi, where the other three had pizzas which slotted into their Top Five ever. After Sentimi, we visited a wonderful ice-cream parlour that my sister had told me about (if you find yourself in Nice, it's called Oui, Jelato! It has an amazing range of flavours, all beautifully displayed).

As an antidote to all the galleries they'd endured on my behalf, my husband and son took a taxi to watch a football match at Nice's stadium (I think it was Nice vs Ajax), which they both said was a really wonderful experience. My daughter and I stayed at the villa and watched two films, which I think we enjoyed almost as much.

I realised my children had never experienced a pool holiday involving inflatables and I wanted to rectify that before they reached 18, so on our first supermarket trip to Vence, we bought two lilos (St Paul de Vence has no supermarkets - not even a tiny one). The above picture was taken on our first morning, before we'd introduced large pieces of brightly-coloured plastic to the pool. I'd forgotten quite how relaxing drifting around on a lilo can be, having not done it since I was a teenager (also, how much fun it is to tip one another off them and have lilo races). We also bought a few nose pegs before leaving home and spent a substantial amount of time perfecting our syncopated swimming and underwater handstands. And also sitting on the ledge in the pool or lying in a hammock reading books. I tore through these three books while we were away and would recommend all of them.

Our garden came complete with a vegetable patch that we were free to raid during our stay. It rather dwarfed the tomatoes that we'd left growing in our own back garden...

One of the things that always amazes me whenever we go to Europe is how misshapen the fruit and vegetables are in the supermarkets, but how incredibly flavoursome it all is. I feel utterly perplexed by why we have such uniform specimens in England, even when they're imported from Europe. Also, why they taste so bland...I'm imagining that may be something to do with cold storage and picking the fruit and vegetables a little before they're ripe to allow for the transportation time, but that doesn't explain why the obsession with uniform specimens. I wonder at what point our supermarkets decided we would only eat perfectly-shaped offerings? The farmers who grow things to be shipped to Britain must think we're absolutely curious creatures. Back to home-grown, which although misshapen, still doesn't taste as good as the food on the continent, I've suggested to my husband that I think we may be better leaving our tomato plants in the greenhouse for the whole summer, rather than bringing them out to sit on the patio around July to try and bump up the heat - does anyone have any thoughts on this? What do you do with your tomatoes?

I always find myself frantically preparing paper pieces before we leave to go on holiday and this was no exception. Although I tend to do lots of EPP on English holidays, once the plane journey is over, it's rare for me to do any EPP abroad - the heat seems to make it a less appealing activity and I tend to want to use any spare time for reading instead. The daily trauma of the hill caused lengthy family analysis of exactly what I was choosing to haul up and down it each day in my handbag. There was much teasing on discovering that despite having no intention of actually sewing due to the heat, I still felt compelled to carry my EPP everywhere with me like a strange comfort blanket.

I think my mum, sister and daughter all carry a lot around in their bags too, but I'm not really sure what it's not normal to be carrying (EPP that you have no intention of sewing with while on holiday aside - I'm aware that that one is really quite strange, but the idea of wanting to sew and not being able to is so horrible that it feels worth insuring against). As the contents of my bag are all entirely essential in my eyes, I'm not really looking to reduce them, but I'd love to know how it compares to your own handbag and also if you have any odd things that you feel you can't leave home without (or anything that's wonderfully space saving)!

So, here's what I'd usually carry when I'm in England (Keys, phone, plasters etc aren't shown here and if it's sunny, I'd also add in a miniature bottle of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses), in rows from left to right: a cotton bag for carrying shopping home; Liberty print handkerchief; tissues; umbrella; earphones (if I'm going on a long train journey, I actually pack two pairs, just in case one breaks - evidence of a hearty podcast addiction); wallet and chrome Spacepen - these have both been in my handbags since they were given to me by my parents for my 21st birthday. The wallet now desperately needs replacing, but the space pen is still going strong; English paper piecing pouch, which is in frequent use when not abroad; a tiny drawstring bag containing a beautiful white heart and wishbone, bought for me by my mum and sister on a trip to Bath; a mirror (I've only recently started carrying one, so rarely remember to actually use it, but I like the flamingos against the creamy background too much to leave it at home - you can find it here, if you're interested); Nars lip crayon in Dolce Vita (this needs resharpening often, so is ultimately quite irritating, but I love the colour); my husband bought me an iPhone charger at an airport several years ago when I realised my phone was likely to die before we arrived at our destination and it's one of his best ever purchases - it's light, holds its charge and recharges super-quickly; finally, Lanolips Lemonaid Lip balm - this is my absolute favourite lip balm - it moisturises brilliantly and somehow makes the Nars lip pencil colour last for longer when placed over the top. For years, I also carried two tiny drawings by my children, but I finally took them out when they reached a point near disintegration.

How has your summer been so far?
Florence x

Ps. If you like Matisse, this exhibition is now on at the RA in London!


  1. Sounds like a place in need of a funicular or two! Haven't seen the Matisse doc and will now keep eyes peeled for it; have you watched the Chris Ofili thing on iPlayer? It's an episode of Imagine, only on until Monday eve. Veg - do Riverford deliver in your area? Best-tasting veg I've had on these shores (aside from home-grown); founder Guy Watson often rants about bland supermarket stuff and wasted knobbly produce in the newsletter. Never heard of anyone carrying little bits of pottery around in their handbag before but otherwise it all looks quite sensible to me! x

  2. If you are interested in Chagall, All Saints church, Tudeley (near Tonbridge in Kent)is the only church in the world to have all its (twelve) stained glass windows decorated by him. It is the most amazing experience, I recommend a visit if you are ever in the area.
    (Long time lurker and admirer of your work!).
    Regards, Rachel

  3. sounds like an idilic holiday. Gold stars all round on the hill climb, not too sure I'd have managed the daily climb. St Paul de Vence is beautiful and I loved it whan I visited.

  4. Sounds like a wonderful holiday, apart from the lack of Matisse in the museums and the steep hill! I don't grow tomatoes, but would look on twitter for recommendations (if you tweet it, they will come...and I'll RT for you!) and I'd also recommend Beechgrove Garden (Sunday mornings, BB2, I think) as they do a lot about veg growing and I'm fairly sure they keep their tomatoes in the greenhouse all summer. I know my nanna used to...

  5. I do si love reading your posts! You write so beautifully. I especially liked the comment about buying vegetables in other parts of Europe - whenever we go to France we always buy fruit and vegetables in great bulk at the market, something that you do much less frequently in England as it just isn't as appetising! I also love your pouches for English paper piecing. I tend to carry mine around in old ice cream tubs (or whatever else is on hand in our Tupperware drawer when I start a new project!) which makes it a lot harder to carry around with you, especially when your family members are the only ones with bags and don't count English paper piecing as being a priority item to take!

  6. I so loved reading about your trip and laughed out loud when I read about the hill! Sorry... I bet it lost it's humor very quickly, climbing up and down! I hate packing for trips but have found since I made a "suitcase list" (I also have lists for toiletries, tech items and work-out bag!), I don't dread it as much. Anyway, thank you for posting about your trip. It was such a pleasure reading about it.


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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