Monday, February 16, 2009
Rick surprised me with a Valentine getaway to Menton. This little city is just about at the end of the road where France borders Italy. It is another little gem along the necklace of charming places that make up the Côte d'Azur. But unlike Cannes (glamour), St. Tropez (faded glamour) and Nice (big city), Menton had more of a residential yet touristy feel. Very much like our hometown of Ashland. Menton is built up on a steep hillside but has plenty of flat area close to the sea. The beaches are rock, much like Nice, and give the water its fantastic azur hue. The climate is the best in France because the town is tucked into these hills, protected from the wind. I commented I could live here, and I think Maggie could too! While it had its share of ports and expensive boats it is also intimate and friendly. For example, our room service breakfast was delivered and the woman walked right in, not blinking an eye that Rick only had his pants held up to himself. She laughed as she got a glimpse of his buns, muttering nothing was new to her, and something about a 16 year old granddaughter. What?!! I can't remember if she wished us a happy Valentine's day.
What drew Rick to plan this weekend here, however, was war. Yes, even though it was Valentine's. (We believe love always wins in the end.) Our friend Edouard (he produced the ad with Rick's voice over) made a film about soldiers from Madagascar and Senegal who came to fight for France during World War I. They trained in Fréjus, as it most approximated their home climate, before being sent to the cold northern fronts. Menton became a receiving place for the many who were injured, ill and/or died. Beautiful old buildings that had previously housed visiting European royalty were turned into hospitals to treat TB, wounds, or psychological injuries. The soldiers would arrive in the dead of night, as the Mentonaise had virtually no previous exposure to Africans. To treat facial injuries a new technique in rhinoplasty was developed. The recuperating soldiers participated in some of the local agriculture production. They wrote or dictated touching letters home, never complaining about their injuries or pain. The Cimitière du Trabuquet has dedicated space for these soldiers, hundreds of whom died fighting for France métropole. In the picture you can see the various religious symbols. I learned from Edouard's video that these Malgache soldiers were often stacked 7 or 8 high underground. We accessed the Cimitière by climbing the many winding stairs and passageways that snaked through the old town. The views are amazing. The Cimitière accommodates numerous graves, as it has many terraces. In addition to the soldiers' memorial we saw numerous Italian families, some Germans, some graves in English, some in Russian. Menton is very international.
Photos of city and cimetière.
This lively Garden of Eden is proud of its citrus. We were lucky enough to catch the start of the annual Fête du Citron. This was the 76th year of celebrating lemons, and other citrus fruits. This year's theme was celebrating world music. Up in the cemetery we picked some oranges, which were extremely sour and would have made a good marmalade. The night we arrived we strolled around an illuminated garden featuring giant size citrus sculptures, within various themed musical areas, and tastings of local lemon products. We weren't there long enough to attend a parade but from what we could gather this is a smaller scale version of the Rose Parade. On Valentine's night we attended a concert--act 1 was Russian singers and dancers, act 2 was an all-girls high school marching band from Japan. They also included some cheerleading moves but no majorette. Photos of Fête.
We ended the weekend with tastings of Limoncello, a lemon liqueur, and purchases of various citrus products.
It's always fascinated me how France came through 2 devastating world wars. This country has been razed and decimated but has returned with pride, and much to be proud of. Many believe de Gaulle to be responsible because of the strong positions he took in post-war planning. I believe a bigger force are the French citizens themselves. War heroes are honored with street names; military cemeteries are beautiful; every town has their own war memorial thanking their fallen sons. And with all this life is celebrated and savored, sometimes with something as simple as a lemon.