Travelogue Europe: Southern France

by E. "Doc" Smith on June 21, 2013

For the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling and performing in Europe with the Wilbur Rehmann Quintet. From the quaint little towns like Fa, Quillan, Eygalieres and Moustiers Sainte-Marie, to the lively centers of Carcassonne, Cannes, Nice and Paris. Tourist season is now in full swing; the French Open is behind us and the Tour de France is about to begin. France has also seen some unusual weather; flooding has closed the town of Lourdes, postponing the annual pilgrimage there.

The French however, are a resilient lot, and will bounce back as they have for centuries. In my next few columns, I’ll describe a few of the amazing places I’ll be visiting; France, England and Portugal, all the while, heeding travel writer Rick Steves’ adage of “getting to know the locals, and straying off the beaten path.”

Toulouse, Carcassonne and Eygalieres

After a rather uncomfortable flight from SFO, non-stop to Heathrow; (with an iPad playing, fidgety child and seats designed to extract more money than comfort), we actually arrived too late to make the French connection due to winds, however another flight was available and before we knew it, we were in Toulouse. Next up, the fortress City of Carcassonne.

The fortress city of Carcassonne…

Carcassonne is one of the largest castles in Europe; Charlamagne gave up trying to take it by staving them out, when a woman named “Carcas” threw a pig over the walls; she told them they had plenty of food, and would outlast any invasion; she was bluffing, but it worked, or so the story goes. Inside the walls are wonderful shops, food and tourist attractions for all. Carcassonne is the real deal, unlike that fake castle winery in Napa.

Our host in Carcassonne was also one of my old bandmates; ex-patriot and bassist extraordinaire; Stanley Adler. Stanley and I had played and worked with both Madonna and Brian Eno back in the ’80s, so this was a real treat to have him for this tour. Stanley showed us the amazing, little known towns of Fa and Quillan; with British, Dutch, American and Australian ex-pat artists and musicians now living in the Lanqueduc-Rousillon region. Peaceful, gorgeous, affordable and idyllic, it’s no wonder these folks have settled there.

We next traveled to the town of Eygalieres for the first of two shows with the full quintet. Eygalieres was even more beautiful; they were making a movie about the “Mistral” with Jean Reno; the owners of Le Cafe de la Place were wonderful and the French musicians who joined us were superb. Despite my terrible French; we were able to communicate through music; we all spoke the universal language of jazz and our vocabulary consisted of words like Monk, Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. One of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had and will truly treasure.

Cannes, Moustiers Sainte-Marie, the Gorge du Verdon and Nice

After Eygalieres, we were off to Cannes and Nice. The film festival had just ended and the “Croissette” was teaming with people. Our hosts were also ex-pats; musicians and artists. After some recording and some great jams, we traveled a mere 2 hours away to the beautiful town of Moustiers Sainte-Marie and the Gorge du Verdon; the Grand Canyon of France. The blue-green waters of the gorge is like nothing I have ever seen; caused by a combination of the clay, the micro-algae and natural fluoride. If you love Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, you will love renting a kayak or canoe as we did, and paddling up the gorge for some of the beautiful scenery.

The Gorge du Verdon, the Grand Canyon of France…

With the gorge behind us, we drove next to Nice; a vibrant, coastal mecca with food, music, French-Italian history and shops galore. You can play tennis, volleyball on the beach, hit the clubs or sun yourselves on any of the public, (free), or private beaches. Between Cannes and Nice was the Musee de Picasso in Antibles, with works also by Joan Miro and many others.

Picasso lived in this old castle, now converted to a museum, for 4 months following the events of World War II, and entered into an artistic “period of light, optimism and celebration.”

There is also a Chagall and Matisse museum in Nice, well worth visiting if you are a fan of their works. After a lovely dinner with more friends and ex-pats, (there are a lot of them in Europe), it was time to bid adieu to the south of France, if only for a little bit. Next up, Paris, London, Kent, Cambridge and Wimbledon.

The Musee de Picasso in Antibles near Nice

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart and many others. He is also the Arts & Entertainment editor for Beyond Chron and inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick.

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