Saturday 3 May 2014

(Not quite Gallipoli, but) Menton

Warm and grateful thanks to Mandy Hager (current recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship) and Brian for looking after me so well in Menton - you can read more about their experiences of settling into French life on Mandy's blog - the good parts, as well as the more challenging bits!

The airport bus from Nice gives a brilliant introduction to this part of the French Riviera; on the motorway as far as Monaco, then hugging the cliffs above the sparkling Mediterranean, winding through small towns and villages, and streets that seem even narrower than Wellington ones. 

We spent the first afternoon wandering round the old part of Menton, all cobbled courtyards, steep lanes and pastel coloured houses with shutters and rows of washing hanging from the windows.

Dark clouds started to gather as we explored the cemetery – final resting place of many who must have come, as Katherine Mansfield did, to seek a cure for consumption; some inscriptions are in English, others in Russian or other European languages, and many of those buried there were born elsewhere and died young. Other graves were family plots, some looking sadly abandoned, with weeds sprouting amidst cracked concrete. (William Webb Ellis, founder of the game of rugby, gets a statue as well as a grave.) The storm finally broke, with fat raindrops starting to fall and thunder rumbling around the hills – on and on and on – like a very atmospheric setting for a story!

Amazingly, the Italian border is only 5 minutes away from Mandy and Brian's flat – cross a small bridge, and you’re in another country.

There are several tiers of roads here: the smaller ones wind along the coast while higher up, under limestone cliffs pitted with caves, the toll motorway crosses viaducts and dives in and out of tunnels. So many tunnels – we didn't keep count, but there must have been dozens between Menton and Genova (or Genoa.) The toll road is a marvel of engineering, but it looks incongruous against the backdrop of villages, old houses, castles and church spires. We had lunch in a small town called Imperia, at a pizza place popular with the crews working on the boats in the nearby marina. Afterwards we carried on to Genova for a wander round the Old Port area, and on the way home, bought bottles of local red wine for 2 euros each.

Mandy and Brian in Genova
Ten minutes in the other direction is another country again - Monaco - where the palace is fairytale-perfect, the cars and boats are gleaming and expensive, there are defibrillators on every corner and  all the stands are being set up ready for the Grand Prix in another few weeks. 

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