Vignette de Jour Nº7 Vence Revisited


It’s catch-up time!! Oh boy, are we confused! Four months ago we visited the beautiful and ancient town of Vence in the Alpes-Maritimes department in France. You may remember a couple of posts to that effect – and now we’re in Costa Rica watching blue-grey Tanagers (Thraupis episcopus) nearly drown in a wet seasonal deluge. 

But I promised myself to work up those travel pics if it kills me. By the same token, you’ll have to suffer through them now. Like it or not, it’s back to Vence again!

Once more, we were taking a leisurely walk through town, noticing this and that.  

Have I ever mentioned a lavoir to you? A lavoir is a wash house and as such one large step up from beating ones laundry on a muddy river bank. This one dates from 1861, replacing earlier lavoirs going back to 1811. In Vence, the wash-house was built where the water from two natural springs and three rivers fed a canal system for household water usage established in ancient times. And since settlements here go back as far as Neolithic times, that’s quite some time indeed. A few thousand years later good old Emperor Augustus took the area from the Nerusii and established a Roman Alpes-Maritimes province, after which the Ligurian town of Vinitium, as Vence was called then, began to flourish very nicely. Already under Emperor Constantine III, the new Christian faith had established itself in Vence so firmly, that it was named a diocese under Bishop Severus in 419 CE. The cathedral of Vence was built over a temple dedicated to Marti Vintio, invoking both the Roman God of war & agriculture, Mars, and the Gaulish-Celtic God of the winds, Vintius. Not an unimportant combination in a region depending on olives and vines for a living, where the carefully tended crops, resulting in precious oil and wine, had to be shipped across a dangerous sea. There are after all more than a dozen named winds potentially blowing across the Mediterranean Sea. One needs powerful patronage to survive that challenge!
You’ll see lavoirs in many French towns, presented as pretty landmarks of local pride and for tourism, of course. But wash houses really were the social media of old. Women didn’t just use them to do their laundry, these were important meeting places to exchange the news of the day and disperse some juicy gossip, all the while establishing a pecking order by fighting over the spots closest to the water source. Kind of like collecting followers on twitter these days …

This isn’t a mosque, it’s a church dating back to 1614. It was built in an eclectic, provençal style with polychrome glazed tiles. It’s one of many chapels of the Brotherhood of White Penitents in France. These brothers were not connected to anybody wearing bedsheets with hoods. They were confraternities, whose members dressed in white habits signifying their desire for purity. They pledged themselves to do penitence, including wearing hair shirts and whipping themselves and, yes, wearing pointy hoods with eye slits on occasion.

The Brotherhood of White Penitents in Vence, going as far back as the 12th century, was dedicated to fighting poverty in the region and caring for the sick and dying. In today’s language, we would say it was a non-profit doing charitable work while atoning for the sins of mankind in very personal and rather painful ways.
Horsehead sketch by famous artist Rérat in a contemporary art gallery window
Husband admiring the colorful façades in this street – not! In actuality, this is the pose of a long-suffering spouse, resigned to wait ad infinitum for pictures to be taken …
Please note the gorgeous old ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) at the end of the street. It gave its name to the business in the corner building, where you also find this tiled sign:
Allopathic & homeopathic potions & pills have been dispensed here
in the service of public health since 1744
It is, in fact, the oldest known pharmacy in the Alpes-Maritimes department.
You may have noticed this pharmacy before. The “Pharmacie du Frêne” appears in my original Vence post last April. You’ll find it in the ‘A red dog’ picture, with a little bit of the frêne (ash) visible, too.

Husband waiting again, this time inadvertently reflected in the shop window of
the bakery across the street, which bears his name

Underwear for amazons in one house and laundry decorating another one, a flower shop in between, such a lively street!

In need of a little loving care, but lovely nonetheless
As much as the house above needs help, this one has already received it. Such a splendid monastery! Yes, this is the modest convent of cloistered Dominican nuns. I believe, it also served as a high school for girls at one time. This freely adorned painted lady sits right next to a plain, white minimalist house of prayer. You can just detect its wrought iron cross between the palm and the butter-colored nunnery.

You see, Vence is home to a very important example of contemporary religious architecture, La Chapelle du Rosaire, more often referred to as The Matisse Chapel. It’s located a little way outside the center of town and you have to hike up into the hills to be rewarded with this great artist’s vision. Or not. Unfortunately, the chapel was closed, when we got there, allowing only this one outside picture, shot through the fence, and some huge disappointment. 
The Matisse medallion over the stained glass window seemed a little creepy to me

Luckily, there is the Internet to provide us with the Matisse images we missed in reality.

Near the chapel, one can catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea, or one can just look bored
And back at our exchange home, we rested our tired feet near this gorgeous hedge and other soothing vegetation, to gather strength for our next adventure, a fancy birthday dinner …… 

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