Monte Carlo is a place that requires to be seen to be believed. There is nothing in the world like it. Monte Carlo is unique, it is amazing; and I am not sure that it is not indescribable. It defies the photographer to do more than hint at a single aspect of its nature, which is as neat, bright, fascinating, small, and various as the kaleidoscope. No one has ever succeeded in painting it, with the possible exception of M. Dufy; but then all M. Dufy’s pictures look a little like Monte Carlo anyway. The essence of its character is fantasy; but it is the logical and ordered fantasy of art. There is nothing ill considered or disordered about Monte Carlo. A great painter once complained that Nature was too green and too untidy. Monte Carlo, in this respect, is Nature’s antithesis. It is not Nature, it is Art. It is above all the supreme artistic expression of the age and the culture that produced it; and as such it must be reckoned among the great artistic achievements of mankind. If size were a prevailing criterion, it would be the greatest of them all; for though it is small for a town, it is very large indeed for the three-dimensional picture that it is. Indeed, there is a sense in which it may be said to have added one to the number of the arts; for the only works of art that are comparable in point of size are towns; and no other town is so perfectly a work of art as Monte Carlo, since no other town has been made so nearly at one time and in one mood, nor been so entirely dedicated to one purpose, as this capital of chance and pleasure. Other towns have grown: but Monte Carlo was created. If it neither sprang, as some have thought, like Venus, shell-borne from the wine-dark sea; nor rose up, silent, swift, and ghostly as the lovely shining fungus from its rocky bed, where nothing ever grew before, on a night when the sky was midnight blue, and the sirocco bore the song the sirens sang; if it was not created at a single stupendous and amazing blow, of the amorous and panting night’s desire, nor of the sun’s heat and Apollo’s seed, in the dangerous brassy hours of Actaeon’s metamorphosis, when the sober sleep, and the waking see strange sights in the torrid afternoonthen a steady purpose and the happy limitations of its environment have given it such unity, and so much of a strange unearthly beauty, that you might be pardoned for imagining that it had known such a miraculous and immortal birth.
What a happy fate is this, to come at last to a place that surpasses all praise and all anticipation. Fantasy one looks for in a city of pleasure that has become a legend. But I expected to find it allied here to a kind of tinsel dinginess that one associates somehow with the idea of a gambling-hell. Beauty, in these circumstances, is something one distils for oneself, by the fire of one’s imagination, in the mind’s re-tort, from the materials of perversity and oddity. Natural beauty I did not expect to see, perhaps because I had been told to look for it by so many who have been wrong in everything but this. And as for the unique perfection of an architecture which is at once gay, charming, elaborate, baroque, romantic, classical, rococo, and absurd, but at which one does not laugh, though the sun does, because its humour far transcends the funny, it is a joke too deep for laughter, and becomes a mode of serious and perfect beauty; as for all this, it is not surprising that I had heard little of it; for I have observed, that while some men have a sense of humour, and others have a sense of beauty, there are very few who recognize the two when they occur together, and In what terms shall I describe this world’s wonder, this phenomenon, this paragon, this masterpiece of nuptial confectionery, which enters into beauty by the narrow portal of the ridiculous? Monte Carlo is the creation of some supremely gifted designer of theatrical decor, provided with resources such as no rival has ever been able to command. Such romantic elegance, such colour, such a deep blue back-cloth, such dramatic lighting, such elaborate and stagey artificiality, have never been achieved in opera, romantic comedy, or ballet, though they have often been attempted. Nature herself here wears a theatrical and artificial countenance, and nominates the very sea and sky to be the materials of a romantically conceived design. It is the mould and pattern for all dreams of romantic elegance. It has the elaboration of the pompous, lightened by the leaven of frivolity and gaiety. It is at once sonorous and trifling, at once serious and flippant. It is the perfect scherzo. In an imperfect world, it is one of the few things that approach perfection. Is it perhaps the only one? There are, to be sure, some few pictures, statues, poems, and such-like knick-knacks in the world, which are generally considered to come somewhere near that quality; but let that pass; there is not one of them that remotely resembles Monte Carlo. Here, where the hot bright water bathes the mountain’s foot, the combination of austere and frowning cliffs, a dazzling sun, a sapphire sea, and the genius of an inspired pastrycook, have produced a beauty that the most superb creative skill and taste could not surpass. Were I to bestow praise on the human partner in this collaboration, who has bent the elements themselves to the purposes of his conception, you would object, perhaps, that, given such a setting, a town could not be anything but beautiful. It is untrue; and should an artist be the less esteemed, because he has for once discovered the perfect field for his talent’s exercise? Jean-Louis-Charles Garnier, who built the fantastic wedding-cake Casino, was the architect of the Paris Opera, which no one has thought beautiful, I dare say, these twenty years. But even if the opinion of these twenty years were the final arbiter, this would not prove that Garnier was a bad architect; but merely that he was a better architect for Monte Carlo than he was for Paris. Had his taste been better, judged by the standards appropriate to a northern capital, he would have done less well here.
About Monte Carlo one moves in a perpetual daze, confusedly aware that one is living in a world of fantasy, the world of a dream. The Caliph Haroun al Raschid, who, in the intervals of spying on his subjects staggered them by the magnificence of his public entertainments, lacked the resources of the Societe des Bains de Mer, the cynically titled corporation which directs the activities of the Casino and the town. On the landward side of the Casino are the sumptuously exotic gardens in which, in the romantic novels, gamblers walk to cool their fevered brows. Trees which have an unreal and metallic stiffness in the hot bright sunshine rise from a smooth carpet of turf that grows by edict of the company, at fabulous expense, from a subsoil of solid rock. No human foot has ever trodden on this grass. Small paths, a few inches wide, are provided for the gardeners to walk on, and a system of tiny gangways, like miniature ladders laid horizontally, enables them to approach the flower-beds. At night, when these gardens, and the facade of the Casino, are floodlit, the effect is only paralleled by childhood’s conceptions of Aladdin’s cave. It has all the fantastic beauty and supreme artificiality that belongs peculiarly to Monte Carlo. The grass glows with an intense viridian brilliance such as was never seen before on sea or land; the palm-fronds are upheld against a sky of that deep blue which seems to be of a darker tone than black itself. The gaudy flowers gleam like gems whose authentic beauty is made meretricious by the too emphatic blaze of a jeweller’s window. It is almost impossible to believe that one is out of doors, that the sky is anything but a cloth hung above one’s head, disguised by clever lighting, or that there is depth behind the shining face of the Casino. Staring at the amazing leaps and turns, the coloratura variation, figures, trills and runs, of its rococo roof, one seeks a precedent. One’s mind goes unbidden, and as it were idly, to the spiked turrets of Carcassonne; and one remembers that Gamier was a pupil of Viollet-le-Duc.
But if one penetrates behind this bright facade, to the too solid reality that lies there, one discovers a less light-some and more sinister grotesquerie. The contrast is like that between the middle and lower portions of one of those products of an earlier surrealisme which portrays a medieval conception of Heaven, Earth, and Hell. The scenery of this Inferno tends towards a ponderous and intimidating bawdy-house gentility. The decorations incline to the slightly seedy and tarnished magnificence which is inseparably linked to vice. There is no sun here to redeem the elaborate pomposities of gilt and tinsel. The place is too hot: the air, which is thick and heavy, is impregnated with the emanation of a sort of sad and angry futility that is allied to repressed hysteria. This atmosphere could only belong to gaming-house or brothel.
Concerning the occupants of these oppressive halls, one’s first impression is of advanced decrepitude. The Gaming Rooms present themselves as a retreat for superannuated strumpets, and for old, old gentlemen who ought, at this hour, to be drinking a sustaining bowl of gruel before re-tiring to an early bed. Of those who have secured seats round any of the roulette-tables, it appears that the majority are over sixty. From time to time an incredible old trot, whose girlish frock reveals the grisly yellow mummy-flesh of back and arm, leans forward to place a counter on the table; after each throw she scrawls an addition to the list of clumsy, illiterately written figures over which she bends occasionally in pitiful pretence of scientific calculation. Aged men, the rakes of thirty years ago, grotesque puppets whose costume joins the fashion of to-day with that of the last decade but two, in whom all passions, save this one, have burnt down to the cold stub of memory, and for whose old sour flesh the worms already gape, extend their crabbed and shaking hands to place a bet with the dithering hesitation of senility. But as one looks further, one sees that though the old are in the majority, there are all sorts and conditions of people present. To Monte Carlo come representatives of all classes but the largest, of all tastes, all nationalities, all callings: Germans, Chinese, Turks, Norwegians; tradesmen, artists, lawyers, men of fashion; poets, lovers, scholars, independent spinsters; people like you and me, who are here to see, to enjoy, to roll a strange sight on the mind’s tongue, and perhaps to lose a pound or two, not in the hope of gain, but for amusement. Those who remain to haunt these rooms are the mad, the foolish and the weak, the idle or the unfortunate: discarded mistresses, remittance-men, retired bawds, all those who have done well in illicit trades, rejected lovers, divorced wives, the black sheep of families. Such may fairly be presumed to be the most regular, though not the most profitable, habitues of the Casino. In the admirable new building of the International Sporting Club the high play at baccarat takes place; and here a section of the fashionable world and half-world, whose patronage Monte Carlo has been almost alone among the resorts of the Riviera in retaining, may be studied in due season. From the profits of these two establishments is derived almost the entire revenue of the Principality, out of which are paid all national and municipal expenses, including the stipend of the sovereign. It is not a very savoury way of making money; but as ways go today it is no worse than most, perhaps. Which would you rather be in the modern world, do you think: a brothel-keeper, an armaments-manufacturer, an enterprising journalist, a lawyer, or the proprietor of a gambling-hell?
If the Societe des Bains de Mer despoils the foolish, it rewards the wise. The old days of the Grand Dukes, vast profits, and stupendous festivals, are gone. But Monte Carlo is the only pleasure resort in Europe which still has a season in the old sense, during which it pays its visitors the compliment of assuming that they have a taste for intelligent amusement, and can distinguish between the first-rate and its trashy substitute. The Societe is one of the few bodies of its kind which pays for something besides jazz. There is scarcely a musical executant of international eminence who has not performed at one time or another in Monte Carlo. To Monte Carlo come great conductors, stars of opera, instrumentalists and singers, from the capitals of Europe, actors of the Comedie Francaise; so that from December until April there is rarely a day on which some entertainment is not given which at least will not insult the taste of the educated visitor. In catering for the pleasure-seeker Monte Carlo sets itself a standard which was at one time that of every considerable resort, but from which all others have declined. It aims at the best. I do not pretend that it always attains it, since the number of first-class entertainments available is obviously limited; and not all of them would appeal to a varied audience. But everything in Monte Carlo is done with a certain style.
One of the charms of the town is the sense of intimacy that arises from its smallness. The Casino with its theatre, the Cafe de Paris, and the hotel of the same name, are all grouped round a single place. The International Sporting Club is next door to the last of these. A few yards away are the Post Office, the Cinema des Beaux-Arts, which is also used as an occasional theatre, and the Thermal Establishment, combining a Turkish Bath, a swimming-pool, and a gymnasium. There is no limit to the resources of this institution: here you can be massaged black and blue by fearful and wonderful machines, be X-rayed, drink the waters, or be drenched with mud, light, electricity, or the vapours, at your pleasure. At the other end of the Casino gardens, in the Boulevard des Moulins, you can buy a diamond ring, a pair of braces, or a book called (in English) From Voluptuousness to Lasciviousness, or Ginette’s Night of Love. Should you wish to go afield, you may do so by taxi; but it is more probable that you will take one of the little open horse-drawn cabs which bring back to the memory the dear departed days before the world killed itself, and which assist to preserve them here, as in a kind of three-dimensional and animated album of tiny, colourful, enchanted views.
In Monte Carlo one can never lose for long this sense of living in an unreal and fantastic world. It is daylight now; but the emerald grass still gleams with an unnatural, artificial brightness, and the flowers look as stiff and hard as if they were cut out of painted tin. In front of the Casino stands one of the Carabiniers du Prince, in a gorgeous uniform that belongs to comic opera. This air of unreality is increased by the phenomenal immaculacy of the streets. The whole scene has the clean, hard brilliance of a brand-new toy. There is no litter anywhere; and any trifle that may threaten to destroy this spick-and-span effect, such as a cigar-end, or the body of a suicide, is swiftly pounced upon and swept away by a vigilant official. Every circumstance in Monte Carlo contributes to the prevailing atmosphere of fantasy. I have allowed myself the licence of referring to the ornamental gardens in the centre of the Boulevard du Casino, and those adjacent to it, as if they were all one. Actually the latter, which are by far the larger, are distinguished by a greater variety of vegetation, and a more advanced exoticism, from those whose scope is limited to the provision of a splendid vista. In these, the dull green outlandish cereus, with its air of the parched desert, springs from the bright grass, and strange trees cast their shade on seats which an inspired taste has caused to be painted scarlet. But even these, though I think more beautiful in their composed artificiality, are less remarkable than the Exotic Gardens near the western frontier of the Principality. Here on a series of narrow ledges extending down on the dizzy face of a cliff some hundreds of feet above sea-level, grow such monstrous vegetable creatures as occur in the unchancy desert quarters of the globe. There are single trees and groups of giant cacti, twelve feet high, whose distorted and uncanny limbs one dodges with a shudder; others which bear gaudy flaring flowers and extend crustacean claws. There are plants like india-rubber lettuces, and plants like hedgehogs; plants that devour insects, plants that mimic them. It is impossible to imagine any vegetable symbolism better fitted to express the bizarre and exotic character of Monte Carlo.
The same appropriateness is to be found in the aquarium of the Oceanographic Museum, with its purple and magneta fishes, crimson fishes striped with primrose, fishes that have pigs’ snouts and fins like feathers, and are striped with olive-green and black and yellow, loathsome cuttlefish, the writhing octopus, and creatures that come from the sunless depths, four miles down. Here, in these tanks, is Monte Carlo in microcosm; for here are gathered all the grotesque and sometimes lovely freaks and oddities, the orchids and the cacti of the sea.
Monte Carlo is the most easterly of the three townships which make up the independent sovereign state of Monaco. The Principality has a population of twenty-three thousand, and covers an area of about eight square miles. It has its own police force: those gorgeous Carabiniers du Prince, who are police and military too. And within its frontiers you must put the stamps of the Principality on your letters; otherwise you must go all the way to France to post them, which may mean a walk of several hundred yards. The Principality is long and narrow. The houses on one side of the Boulevard de France are in Monaco, those on the other side in France. From any point in this street a good golfer could reach the sea in two shots, traversing the whole width of the state; though I must add the traditional qualification respecting the houses in between, and point out that in any case this is no way to behave to states. But west of the Casino the Principality is wider, while from the western to the eastern frontier is a distance of about three miles.
Near the western frontier, in an area discreetly hidden from the pleasure-quarter of Monte Carlo, and left blank on the plans issued at the travel agencies, are concentrated the more commercial and unpicturesque activities of Monaco. Here are the brewery, the railway sidings, and the cemetery. Monaco denies that life is real or that life is earnest, but would be very ready to agree that the goal is not the grave. At the other end of the Principality are the Bains de Larvotto, the Sporting d’Ete, to which the activities of the International Sporting Club are transferred in summer, Monte Carlo Beach, and the lawn-tennis courts of the extremely urban Country Club. These represent Monaco’s bid for the summer patronage which post-War fashion has brought to the Riviera. An extension of her season has been made particularly necessary for Monte Carlo by the recent legalization of roulette in France, which enables the croupiers at the Casino, who are not allowed to gamble there, to spend their spare time on a busman’s holiday in Nice.
The Phoenicians had a temple on the jutting headland which is called the Rock of Monaco. The Greeks associated the place with Heracles. In the tenth century the Genoese family of Grimaldi took possession of the territory, and held it successfully through the centuries. For more than seven hundred years the inheritance passed in the direct male line; but early in the eighteenth century it went, for lack of a male heir, to the daughter of the previous sovereign; and on her death, her husband, who was Count of Malignon and Thorigny, took the name of Grimaldi and succeeded. In 1793 the National Convention annexed Monaco to France; but its independence was restored in 1814 by the Treaty of Paris, and confirmed on the annexation of Nice in 186o. Until 1848 the Principality included Roccabruna and Mentone (now usually called Roquebrune and Menton); but in that year, the Year of Revolutions, they decided to have a revolution of their own, and succeeded in establishing their independence. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century there was nothing at Monaco beyond the palace of the Prince, a few houses near it on the Rock, and a tiny fishing-village. The first gambling-house seems to have been instituted in 1856 on the Rock itself; but it was in 1861 that Francois Blanc obtained from the Prince the concession which led to the fantastic growth of Monte Carlo from the barren surface of the Rocher des Spelugues. A territory which throughout history has been a byword for its unproductiveness has during the last half-century produced perhaps a richer harvest than any equivalent area of the world’s surface.
The original concession was for a period of fifty years; but in 1898 the Societe secured its renewal until 1947. The ruin of thousands at the tables, and the suicide of many, may be thought to entail a heavy moral responsibility on those who might be represented as having sold their country for a gambling-hell. But some credit must be given for the insertion of a clause in the concession which provides that no Monegasque shall ever be admitted. to the Casino. Nor do the inhabitants fail to receive their share of the plunder. They live almost entirely untaxed. The social services are organized on a scale of lavishness attained by no other state. There are no slums in Monaco, and there is practically no poverty. There are no strikes, for the simple reason that the Government forbids them. There is practically no crime, either: the Government forbids that too. These prohibitions are less naive than they appear. The loss of the privileges attendant on Monegasque nationality is a prospect no inhabitant could bear with equanimity; and the threat of effective banishment is enough to bring the most recalcitrant subject to his senses. As for visitors who do not behave themselves, or are considered undesirable, they are simply asked to leave the Principality. In the seven years that the new Palais de Justice has been open, only one criminal case of importance has been tried there.
Since 1911 Monaco has been governed as a constitutional monarchy. There is a National Council of twenty-one members, who are elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years; and you may see election posters pasted on the public notice-boards of Monaco, urging electors to vote for a candidate who is pledged to safeguard the Italian interest, or whatever his particular platform may be. The legislative power is vested jointly in the Prince and the National Council; and government is carried on by a Ministry, assisted by a Council of State. Since the interests of everybody must come very near to being identical, and the Societe des Bains de Mer pays for almost everything, this may be regarded as a model constitution. The present sovereign is His Serene Highness Prince Louis II of Monaco, who was born in 1870, and succeeded his father, Prince Albert, in 1922. He has one daughter, Her Serene Highness Princess Antoinette, Hereditary Princess of Monaco.
On the Rock stand the palace of the Prince and the apricot-pink town of Old Monaco. Some of its eighteenth-century buildings are very lovely; and their architectural excellence makes their beauty, as it were, absolute, by which I mean that it is independent of romantic associations or the fantasies of Monte Carlo. The palace mingles half a dozen styles; but in certain aspects, and particularly at night, it takes on an extraordinary romantic beauty. The face it presents to the wide square or terrace called the Place du Palais is not unimpressive. On each side of the gateway stands a sentry-box, painted with the scarlet-and-white harlequin design of the Monegasque escutcheon. Before them parade two sentries dressed in the dark blue, white, and scarlet of the Carabiniers du Prince. About the terrace are symmetrically arranged neat pyramids of cannon-balls; and from its western extremity a row of eighteenth-century cannons looks out across the waters of the Anse du Canton, ready to give a warm welcome to the navies of France, Italy, and Great Britain, should they dare to threaten the independence of a sovereign state.
Between Monaco and Nice, accessible by the Basse Corniche, are Cap d’Ail and Eze-sur-Mer, which are colonies of hotels and villas; Beaulieu, extraordinarily sheltered, and reputed to be one of the hottest places on the Riviera; Cap Ferrat, universally known for the beauty of its situation and its sumptuous villas; and Ville-franche, with a wonderfully sheltered harbour, which is a naval port and a place of less consciously exotic aspect than its neighbours, than which it is certainly not less attractive. In the other direction there are Roquebrune and Cap Martin, of which everybody has read a hundred accounts in the romantic novels and elsewhere, The whole of this stretch of coast is admirably symbolized by bougainvillaea and roses, with the addition of a peasant picturesqueness in the case of Roquebrune. Everywhere the views of sea and mountain are of an overpowering romantic loveliness, such as must convince the most obstinate cynic that reputations are not always undeserved. Menton is an agreeable town, magnificently situated at the base of majestic mountains which protect it from the mistral. In England it has the reputation of being visited entirely by retired colonels and old ladies in black velvet; but I am assured by those who are well acquainted with the place that this is an entirely false conception. In evidence of its mild climate, Menton sends to market vast and incredible quantities of lemons. It is an excellent centre for the exploration of the Alpine foothills. And it has a picturesque Old Town of narrow hilly streets.
The Italian frontier is not at Ventimiglia, as so many people seem to think, but a short distance beyond Menton, at the Pont St Louis (or Ponte S. Luigi, according to the side of it on which you find yourself). Should you cross it, you may amuse yourself by noting divergences of national temperament revealed by differing procedure at the French and Italian frontier stations. The thrifty French make only the most cursory passport examination, but bend all their resources to ensuring that not a bunch of flowers shall cross the frontier without the proper duty being paid. The Italians make little of the customs examination, but scrutinize one’s papers with the greatest care, and stamp the passport both when one enters and when one leaves the country. A short distance across the frontier, at Mortola, are the famous gardens of Sir Thomas Hanbury’s villa, characteristically referred to by French cartographers as the Villa Hambury.
There is another direction in which one may leave Monte Carlo. The mountain railway to la Turbie has for some years been disabled following an accident. But a bus twists up the zigzag road to that village, perched on the cliff-top sixteen hundred feet above the town, and goes on to the golf club at Mont Agel. Through la Turbie goes the Grande Corniche, which passes at a great height above Eze and Beaulieu, descends to the Col des Quatre Chemins behind Villefranche, and curls round Mt Gros before coming down to Nice. This road and the more modern Moyenne Corniche below it have been called the most remarkable in Europe; and they probably deserve the title.
One goes to la Turbie to see the Trophy of Augustus, erected during the first decade of the Christian era at the highest point of the Roman road into Gaul, to commemorate the subjection of the neighbouring tribes, and inscribed to that effect. “This inscription,” says the account in the nearby museum, with equal felicity and aptitude, “is the first page of French history.” If the miniature reconstruction of the trophy here exhibited is accurate (which is, on the face of it, exceedingly improbable), the barbarians who at-tempted to destroy it are to be congratulated on their good taste. But, whatever its original form, its position must have given it an extremely impressive look.
A short distance to the west, a road goes to the little mountain village of le Laghet. Notre-Dame-de-Laghet is a favourite object of pilgrimage by the devout of Nice and the locality. It is particularly associated with preservation from the consequences of accident; and its walls are covered with votive offerings, which usually take the form of pictures representing the accident in respect of which the offering is made. These pictures are executed either by the donor himself, or by some peasant artist. Some of them are exceedingly ingenious, and a few have considerable artistic merit. Here one may study the work of a hundred neglected masters of the primitive. Nearly all the pictures are amusing and expressive, and in the latter respect the average standard must be admitted to be much higher than that of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition or the Paris Salon. The majority are concerned with such incidents as people being squashed by bicycles, kicked over precipices by mules, and falling out of windows. In one, a pony harnessed to a trap has stepped over the parapet of a bridge, and dangles by the reins. The driver plays it like a fish; while, of the two ladies in late Victorian costume who accompany him, one remains seated in an attitude of well-bred composure, while the other is decorously handed out by the gentleman who completes the party. In another typical example, a man falls out of a fifth-floor window with the sickening deadness of a meal-bag. A woman sitting below escapes, miraculously warned by a child’s cry, and her chair is smashed to pieces. What the patron saint of the man who fell out of the window can have been thinking of is not explained. Not all the pictures, however, deal with accidents. One, bestowed by a pious youth in gratitude for the attainment of his baccalaureat, depicts him undergoing the no less fearful perils of his viva.
From such excursions among the pleasant groves and occasional vineyards of the lower Alps, one returns to the fantastic artificiality of Monte Carlo. One halts on the ter-race to watch the arrival of the Paris train at Monte Carlo station, situated, with the oddity of everything in Monte Carlo, just below, and connected by a lift with, the Casino. A little to one’s right is the jutting platform of the Tir aux Pigeons, underneath which runs the road that goes along the shore to Monte Carlo Beach. In front, the Mediterranean glitters blue and gold. In the harbour, among many smaller craft, are two or three great yachts, the maintenance of which accounts each day for as much as would keep a humble family for weeks. Beyond, the Rock of Monaco rises against a hot sky. Behind one are the grey cliffs of limestone, rising almost vertically for fifteen hundred feet. Away to the left is Italy.
The train from Ventimiglia, which a moment since was a thin streak, and a wisp of cotton-wool, comes into the station, and lets forth a puff of steam into the shining air. An orchestra is playing on the upper terrace outside the Casino. Borne on a light wind, the music drifts down, distant, thin, and sweet, and, half unheard, but troubling the senses with a faint unease, is carried further, over the bright sea, to lose itself beyond the headland’s point. The train departs for Paris, for the real world, leaving one, until this diet palls, to eat the Lotos in this sterile Paradise and on this barren shore, where Time slows, and one no longer hears his chariot.
I went back to Aix by the forests of the Esterel, and the valley route they call the Chemin des Peuples, because it is the natural and traditional route of migrating peoples into Gaul. From Cannes the road wound inland, climbing steeply among lonely woods, in part destroyed by forest fires, and past great slopes of broom and heath. Through le Muy, Vidauban, and le Luc, I passed north of the Chaine des Maures, along a sparsely inhabited but well-tilled valley, planted with olives, vines, and mulberries (silkworms’ diet), lying between two hilly desert regions. Beyond Brignoles the landscape began to take on the familiar look of the rich Aixois countryside. But in my absence the season had made a giant’s step towards its consummation. The sun burned with a fiercer heat, the chestnuts had burst into flame. There was always a mountain on the horizon: and at last the mountain was Ste Victoire. In the plains below, through which I passed, pursuing Marius defeated the Teutonic hordes, and gained the overwhelming victory but for which there would have been no Latin Europe. The invading host, which had swept down from the northern forests of the Baltic and the valleys of the Bernese Oberland, is said to have numbered twelve hundred thousand, of whom more than a third were fighting men. Marius fought a fierce engagement west of Aix. The barbarians retreated through Tholonet and Chateauneuf. Marius followed, came up with them in the shadow of the mountain, and inflicted the most punishing defeat of history. No mercy was shown to those who were considered unamenable to civilization or the benefits of ordered government. The invaders were slaughtered without regard to age or sex; and the field was piled with corpses, so that their corruption gave its name to the place, and it is called Pourrieres. I came by here, through Maximin and Pourcieux, towards evening on a day of blazing sunshine, when Ste Victoire was the pale blue of myosotis, and the shadows underneath the trees were indigo and violet. I arrived in Aix; and a few moments later I was shaking hands with the waiter at my hotel, according to the custom here, where no one knows it could occur to any one to think there might be either loss of dignity or condescension in this pleasant gesture.
From this time it was hot sun and picnic weather without interruption. The rest of my stay in Provence is the tale of hot days in the fields, and the sun’s blaze on one’s skin, till one is glad to crawl into the shade to cool down like a basking dog. It is the glint of the olive orchards in the hard clear light, and the shrilling of the cigales in the noon-tide heat; and walking in the Cours Mirabeau, in the plane trees chequer’d shade. At Tholonet I met a farmer and his wife who remembered Cezanne well, and told me he had often left his materials at their house overnight when he was painting in the neighbourhood. He was a very pleasant gentleman, they said, but not what you would call friendly; and in the village, near which he had sometimes stayed, he had the reputation of walking about the roads at night. They made me taste their wine, and a kind of custard made from the cream of goats. It was full spring, which is what we call high summer in the north, when I left Provence. Yet even in this gorgeous tonic heat one sometimes feels a faint nostalgia for another scene, and the cool slap of the stream against a punt.
I stopped at Avignon to look at the Palace of the Popes and the towers of Villeneuve across the Rhone. I shivered in Paris, I longed for the wine and the sunshine and the red earth of Aix and Tholonet, or the blue seas of the Cote des Maures. And I met the spring, which I had left behind me with the mimosa in Perpignan and Narbonne, the foaming blossom in the fields of Elne, and the ripening summer in Provence; I met the spring in Kent with a grey sky and the early bluebells and a storm of rain.