December 27, 2004

day5-the Fall

There was a Fall which terrified Patrick and which I somehow survived. We were near the edge of a harbor below the cliff, taking pictures of the 13th century fortress nesting on a steep cliff, when Patrick warned me of a big wave coming to splash us. I stepped back to stay dry, and the next moment, I was on the concrete ground two feet below where I had been standing. Miraculously, I didn't crack open my skull, nor did I smash my camera which I was holding in my hand. I only scratched an elbow and a knee, and my camera added a legion d'honour a millimeter off the lens (pfew!). And that was it. Or so I thought. It shocked me nonetheless, so it took me some effort to contain the shake of my knees and put smile on my face in order to assure terrified Patrick that I was all right. "Thank God I didn't kill myself or destroy the camera," I joked. (It was a joke because neither of us believe in Gods or Goddesses of any sort, but the word almost seemed appropriate.) With my sleeve rolled up lest it get smeared with blood from the scratch, we started to climb the long and shady stairs leading to the fortress. From the cliff, seagulls were casting half sympathetic, half mocking gazes of the superior upon the clumsiness of poor wingless creatures that I just displayed.

fortress of St. Marguerite Island
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.

day5-St. Marguerite Island, morning dew, eucaliptus scent, seclusion

St. Marguerite Island was a trap. A beautiful trap one would not regret to be caught in. We ended up spending most of the day in the seclusion of the island, willingly giving up the other destination of the day—the sleepy village of Biot and the Fernand Leger Museum there. Only a few minutes walk on the island was just enough to make us decide to postpone the ferry by two hours, immersing ourselves in the rare treat of sunshine, of sea breeze, and most importantly, of being away from towns filled with people.

The 15-minute ferry ride was in itself a delight, with a magnificent view of snow-covered Alps in the background and the coastal towns in the foreground. Occasional shower of sunlight through the break of the thin blanket of cloud brought a dramatic glow to the white mountain sides. Buoys tucked together with a tie, safety floats hanging on the side of the boat, ropes tied in accordance with the seamen’s tradition, every naval detail on the ferry intensified our excitement. Being in the off-season, there were less than ten passengers on the boat; some tourists, the others seemingly locals, taking a little excursion to the island. The fortress on the cliff still kept its vigil on the Mediterranean, centuries after its construction. Wooden piers on strikingly clear, indigo water received us onto the island.

A signboard at the port was made of pottery, with its roughly textured base terracotta brown and its glaze various tones of blue-green. Complete with streets names curved in on the surface, it was a delightful juxtaposition of function and beauty.

berries with morning dew
A small pond with an even smaller island in the center was found in the Western edge of the main island, where numerous water fouls were enjoying the seclusion of the island. The pond was surrouned by a low wooden fence and bushes of vine plants clinging to it. Green of the tender leaves and reddish purple of the plump but miniscule berries came alive with the sunlight, which shined on the morning dews on these plants.

The moisture of overnight rain also had a beautiful effect on the feather. Resting on a bed of fuzzy leaves, the fibers of the feather had been arranged into a graceful shape by the moisture, seeming almost impossible by any human intention.

savanna on St.Margueritte Island
Inland was a savanna-like pasture with gnarled aleppo pines, tortured for centuries by the incesant wind from the sea. Farther inland, a boulevard of eucaliptus trees were emitting a strong, refreshing fragrance. The smell was so intence and permeating the forest so much that it felt almost artificial to me, who was a shameful child of modern, synthesized chemical products. The scent, though, was probably the most refreshing smell I had ever experienced in my life, even more so than trunks of conifers freshly cut for Christmas trees.

Listening to the wonderful noise the pebbles make as waves rolled them along the shore, we wandered the island, feeling liberated and envigorated. A shady, eucaliptus-scented boulevard took us to the fortress overlooking the pier we disembarked earlier. We had about an hour before the 2pm ferry would leave the island.

day5-ambitious plan defeated, Cannes ferry port

We woke up with an ambitious plan—way too ambitious, as it would turn out, unfortunately. Despite the fact that we had gone to bed past one last night, we were aiming at the 9 am train to Cannes, where a ferry to a secluded monastery island supposedly were leaving every hour. According to my ambitious plan, we were going to one of the “hawk’s nest” villages of Coat d’Azul, so called because of their location on top of rocky mountains, overlooking the Mediterranean, in order to avoid attacks from whatever the enemy they had at the time of the construction. From about a dozen attractive “hawk’s nest” villages around Nice, our attention had been drawn to Biot, which had, described my guide, “a peaceful and quaint feel of a sleepy village life and a burst of vibrant colors found in Fernand Leger museum located just outside of the village.” If we could catch the 10 am ferry and come back on the one at noon, we would barely make it to the lethargic village and the cubist museum, accessible by local bus from a station somewhere between Cannes and Nice.

Upon accommodating ourselves in the seats, Patrick fell asleep. A terrible toothache kept him awake all night, with his heartless, cold-blooded girlfriend fast asleep, only murmuring some suspicious sympathy to his misfortune in her half-consciousness. I also had to fight against the slumber devil lest we miss the Cannes station. To keep myself awake, I wrote this belated travelogue—I had been too busy and tired to keep as good an account of our trip as I should have. The train ran through the typical seaside scenery with occasional small resort towns, abundant palm trees, beaches of white sand, and lash mountains pushing the railroad right onto the ocean. The narrow strip of land between the mountain and the ocean was reminiscent of Japanese coastal towns on the Pacific. Only thing that was missing from the scenery was the signboards of hot springs… Consecutive days of rain had washed off every single particle of pollutant from the air, allowing the sky to glow crisply with generous sunshine, with the calm ocean throwing back the blue hue. It was going to be a lovely day, in fact the first lovely day we would have in cloud-covered winter of France.

Cannes was a smaller yet livelier resort town than our adopted hometown Nice. The shorter walk from the station to the seaside cut through a busier, but less corporate and more relaxed commercial district, compared to that of Nice, adding to the local charm of the town. It was far from Cannes in my imagination, gleaming with celebrities walking on an obscene red carpet, bathing the shower of camera flashes. Down-to-earth modesty of local everyday life had replaced the ephemeral, frivolous grandeur we would associate with the town of the international film festival. From a friendly pharmacist willing to help us clueless tourists, Patrick purchased a package of aspirin to cope with the persistent toothache.

Ferry port was hidden behind a fair ground. It was so well hidden that they had to put up a booth on the way from the station to guide helpless tourists to the port. On the backdrop of a makeshift stage for a nightly comedy show, drops of water retained the whole miniature universe of fair ground: the purple airplane perfect with red throttle, saddled white horse with silver mane, gleaming Harley Davidson with orange flame. We, and a few seagulls were the only disturbance in the moist, silent stillness of the fairground waiting for the evening when it would open again to entertain a new set of excited children and dreamy lovers.

The ferry port was at the very end of the fair ground, around the corner of a popcorn stand, covered with a vinyl sheet for the night. We found out that the ferry to the St. Honorat Island were not leaving until noon, placing the final “rejected” stamp on our plan to go to both the island and the “hawk’s nest” village. The other, more commercialized St. Marguerite Island, to which there was a 11 am ferry, became our compromise destination. Being in an off season, there was a fair prospect of finding some secluded natural scenery even on the larger island, we consoled ourselves as we opened a bag of pastries from a bakery on our way to the station in Nice. Patrick’s gigantic (atypical for a French pastry) chocolate brioche was mediocre (in French standard, that was), but the apricot pie I had was excellent with tartness of fresh apricots (obviously not from a can!) blending with the buttery crust and sweet glazing. Taking pictures of the boats and the port in a soft light coming through a thin layer of cloud quickly filled the twenty minutes we had to wait.

waterline, Cannes
Originally uploaded by uBookworm.