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A Basque November

By Franck MAUBERT Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa

On a narrow strip of sand that was gradually becoming visible, there were three young women in swimming suits, one striped, the two others red and green. The body of the tallest woman was twisting and turning, the second was stretched out wrapped in a white beach towel, and the third, sitting, seemed to be taking in the sea air. Blue sky and the vapors of transparent clouds formed the backdrop. The sight of the three young women reminded Valentine of a Picasso painting, “Les Baigneuses.” And the bathers, whose picture hung in the Picasso Museum in Paris, were in fact painted right here, on the Miramar beach. Valentine knew this fact. As in the painting, the big white lighthouse
provided perspective. It was the Pointe Saint-Martin lighthouse, closing the space on the right side of the bay. To keep herself busy, to both pass the time and put an end to the wait, she decided to go for a walk, just as she and Tosh used to do.

Beyond the maritime façade, the city rose in stages. An organized zigzag of stairs, lined with luxurious villas, wound up to Avenue de
l’Impératrice. Tosh had promised her that one day she, too, would have one of these big houses overlooking the sea, and it would be named for her. Now, though, Valentine knew that she would never live in a “Valentine.” She knew the names of all the fancy villas and their prestigious occupants, and with childish pleasure she could list every one: villa Mira Sol, villa Belza, villa Labat, villa Cyrano, villa San Martino, villa Les Vagues, villa Eugénie, villa Bégonia, villa la Roche Ronde… It was pointless to name them all. Valentine appreciated their
disparate styles: neo-gothic, neo-Renaissance, art nouveau, art deco… Everything here is “neo” something, she thought, but the whole produced a je-ne-sais-quoi that gave the place its charm.
One of the villas, the most unusually shaped, reminded her of the extravagant Raymond Roussel, while another one evoked the love story of Coco Chanel and Stravinsky, and still another was linked to the last days of a queen and a grand duke… But these were images from long ago, from a bygone era, and Valentine was not one for nostalgia.

Downstairs in the bright hotel lobby, she found the hotel concierge, dressed in his brown uniform with gold keys pinned to his buttonhole. Monsieur Claude, his eyebrow slightly arched, indicated for her with his smooth voice and somewhat mannered gestures the directions to Rue Constantine. He had never heard of the villa, “La Mimoseraie,” where Picasso was said to have painted his “Baigneuses,” but he knew Rue Constantine. It was the villa, however, that interested Valentine, who was passionate about painting. She thought that these “Baigneuses” had been painted toward the end of World War I, long before the larger ones that were said to be from the Dinard period, done in the ‘20s.
Picasso was living at the time with his wife Olga, who had broken her leg, which explains the famous portrait of her seated. And it was their friend Eugénia Errazuriz who found them a superb villa, “La Mimoseraie.” Picasso had covered the walls with allegorical frescoes, after Botticelli, and painted the ceiling blue with a dotting of golden stars. On one of the walls there was a poem by Guillaume Appollinaire…

Valentine decided to go find the house. It would also help forget Tosh and his lies. She went up Rue Louison Bobet, past the Russian Orthodox church with its gold Byzantine domes, passing luxury boutiques without looking at their displays before turning into Avenue de la Marne, its sidewalks lined with tamarisk.
She advanced at a brisk pace. There were gardens and hedges on either side. Behind them rose great, solid villas with stone walls and half-timbering painted Basque red or English green. Still others were a pretty deep blue. The interior shutters of most of the houses were closed. If the avenue had not been so wide, Valentine might have felt as if she were in a ghost town, as is often the case in seaside resorts in the off-season. A bit further and she came to Rue Constantine…

Valentine looked for a mimosa’s characteristic foliage. Branches of glazed magnolia leaves spilled over the high walls and, above, a eucalyptus with its hippo-skin bark was reaching toward the sky.
Finally, midway up the street, she thought perhaps she had found what she was looking for: In the middle of a lawn overrun with weeds there blossomed a large mimosa. The house was modest, the paint on its shutters chipped, and it had a little garden hut that appeared to be attached. There was no name on the mailbox.
Was this the “Mimoseraie”?

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