Sun. Dec 15th, 2019

Stories of the French Riviera

In the French and international imaginary, the Riviera (also known as the Riviera) represents the Mediterranean climate, the sun and the sea, the joie de vivre, the glamor and tourism (first sophisticated and then masses). But this environment also has an intense and extensive cultural link, which dates back to the eighteenth century and develops especially throughout the nineteenth and twentieth. Painters arrived there, such as Bonnard and Picasso, pursuing their light and the pleasures of life, where the famous Cannes film festival was set up and innumerable writers, both native and foreign, sought out, according to the preferences, of tranquility or partying, meditation or love affairs.

The novel of the French Riviera by the Turin Giuseppe Scaraffia is not a novel but a cultural chronicle of the most stimulating. It focuses mainly on the adventures in these places and over three centuries of great writers: the eighteenth century Casanova and Sade, the nineteenth century George Sand, Gogol, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Chekhov, Wilde, the historian Michelet, Stevenson, Maupassant, Flaubert , Verne, Henry James, Kipling, Rimbaud … and authors of the XX as Fitzgerald, Aragon, Elluard, Malaparte, Remarque, Thomas Mann, Gide, Camus, Joseph Roth, Zweig, Valéry, Simenon, Huxley, Katherine Mansfield, Gombrowicz, Walter Bejamin , DH Lawrence, Colette, Cocteau, Jean Giono, Nabokov, Neruda or Françoise Sagan among others. But its pages also show artists -Picasso, Duchamp, Man Ray … -, musicians -Mérimée, Stravinski, Poulenc, Cole Porter … – or film people: Marlene Dietrich, Chaplin, Roger Vadim, Brigitte Bardot and Otto Preminger on the set of the adaptation of Bonjour tristesse.

Full of anecdotes and even gossip, this delightful book captures the relationship of a territory with literary and artistic production, the way in which a way of life seduced people from the culture coming from the big cities and landscapes impregnated their creations. The history also appears in these pages – the nineteenth century travelers, the crazy 20s, the tense 30s, the war … – and the arrival of the wealthy foreign visitors. Jean Lorrain wrote already in 1902: "All the crazies, unbalanced and hysterical of the world come together here … They come from Russia, from America, from Tibet and from southern Africa. And often a bunch of princes and princesses, marquises and dukes, true or false … "

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Among the foreigners the English in search of the sun had special relevance, which ended up giving name to the famous walk of Nice: the Promenade des anglais. The pioneer was Lord Henry Brougham, a former running mate of Byron, who arrived there by chance on his way to Italy and was amazed by the beauty of Cannes. The Costa Azul became synonymous with sophistication and exclusivity, the small fishing villages and farmers were transformed with the construction of sumptuous villas, mythical hotels such as the Negresco de Niza or the Carlton de Cannes emerged, while Marseille grew as a large port with its sordid and rogue side.

With all this material, Scaraffia has written a scholarly and very entertaining book, which calls more to the leisurely tasting than to the reading. Since it is organized by populations and includes an extensive roster of guest stars, the only thing that is missing is an onomastic index that helps to navigate through its pages. However, any reader who loves worldly and cultural pleasures will find more than enough reasons to delight in this work.

Giuseppe Scaraffia

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The novel of the French Riviera

Peripheral translation Francisco Campillo. 430 pages 22.5 euros

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