“To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.” – Henri Matisse
A couple of weeks ago, I went to keynote a conference in Monte Carlo-Monaco. Well known for its Formula One Grand Prix, it is the home of Prince Albert, Rainier’s heir. An ultimate play ground for rich and famous!
In a rare occasion, on this trip my wife and our little boy was able to accompany me. We had a bit of (much needed) down time. Over ten days, in between my conference calls, speaking, and other mandatory work stuff, we managed to move around the French Riviera, known in French as the Côte d’Azur. We took lazy strolls through St. Paul de Vence, Nice, Eze, and St. Tropez while driving through other parts of this breath-taking region.
Eze is a medieval village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The ancient village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century fortified castle (torn down in 1706). This ‘must-see’ view from the top is spectacular, and the village of Eze is one of the most picturesque spots in the region.
Saint Paul de Vence is a charming hilltop medieval village in Provence, filled with art galleries, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. Even if you’ve never been to the South of France you may well have come across photos of St. Paul de Vence and/or its famous fountain. The town has come to symbolize the beauty of the Côte d’Azur.
A very good French friend of mine came down from Paris one of these days, and took us to St. Tropez. He is great company. Over the years, among other things, he has been teaching me a lot about French culture and lately about northern Africa. You cannot help but have great times when you are with him…
The world knows all about St Tropez. Once a tame fishing village, it is now most associated with the harbor lined with fancy yachts, the fine foods of the terrace cafés, and the parades of strolling tourists and slow cruising expensive cars.
But enough about the Côte d’Azur…
We also took half a day to roam around San Remo, Italy. It is the capital city of the Italian Riviera, and is known as la Cittá dei Fiori, the City of Flowers. We spent most of our time here in the old Saturday morning marketplace…
Perhaps walking through this open market with my little boy was one of the most memorable times of this trip. When I was young, my father used to take me to the markets in his village in Bangladesh. He forced me to buy meat, fish, and produce. I never appreciated the smell of a fresh mango then, nor did I care for the idol chitchat with the local people. Little did I know then how big of an impact it would have on my worldly view later on in my life.
On this particular day in San Remo, I walked all over the market with my little boy smelling peppery pancetta and big chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano mixed with fresh basil, giant pears, and warm focaccia. It is in places like these where you get to know the soul of a culture, the people, the food, and their daily lives! Places that I crave to visit every time I go somewhere new.
Speaking of culture, I have always been a big fan of eastern philosophy. Japanese culture has always fascinated me. Their age old pursuit of perfection is perhaps no where more reflected than in authentic Japanese gardens. One such garden exists in Monaco.
The Japanese Garden of Monaco was designed at the request of Prince Rainier who thus fulfilled a desire Princess Grace had expressed during her lifetime. The garden was designed by the landscape-architect Yasuo Beppu and has 7,000 square meters. Its construction took 3 years, and it was inaugurated in 1994.
I was especially awed by my son’s fascination with this place. He insisted on visiting this place twice in the course of our 5 days in Monaco.
The surface of a Japanese garden is the mere reflection of the psyche of an ancient culture. Japanese gardening is an art that goes beyond the arrangements of vegetation, water and stone and is full of symbols:
– Koko — the veneration of timeless age;
– Shizen — the avoidance of the artificial;
– Yugen — imply the mysterious or subtle;
– Miegakure — the avoidance of full expression
The perception of nature is different in Japanese culture from that of European culture. Instead of viewing nature according to a man-made ideal of beauty, the Japanese developed a close connection to nature, considering it sacred (with flow and joy — in a similar philosophy as Native American culture).
We all get fully wrapped up in the hectic pace of our lives, and when we travel we focus on the usual sights and sounds. Yet, it is the courage and the desire to look at common things from a different perspective that often brings unique and unforgettable experiences.
I don’t know if I’m ever going to slow down. I don’t know if I will ever be able to walk around in a slow, peaceful zen state of mind every day. But on this trip I did experience states of bliss, grace, and causeless joy on those few occasions (walking through the Japanese garden and the market in San Remo).
May your own journey be lived with ease, flow and joy…
“Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice within yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things.” – Dogen