Sunday, 5 December 2010

Eze and the Earth Goddesses

Earth Goddess Isis

In France they talk of the 'thousand peaceful cities', 'les mille villes tranquilles'. Not because there are a thousand peaceful cities, simply that 'mille', 'ville' and 'tranquille' are the only substantive nouns in the language ending in ille in which the L is pronounced.

However, if there are 1000 peaceful locations in France, the beautiful village of Eze will not be one of them, as it carries the distinction of being the highest perched village in Provence, and therefore a magnet for tourists, as I was to discover when I visited the village on a hot day in June 2008.

I took the short train ride from Nice to Eze-sur-Mer, from where there is a bus to Eze Village. I am not usually lucky with buses, in fact I have a recurring dream waiting for them, but on this occasion no sooner had I left the station that one arrived.

There were just four of us on the bus as it made its way up the mountain road and I had hopes that we would have the village all to ourselves. But no sooner had the bus rounded the last curve in the road than I saw the coaches disgorging their tourist cargoes from the four corners of the globe.

We all disembarked and the bus continued its journey. The village was perched above us, just as a perched village should be, and that was the direction in which I headed. 

I followed the Avenue du Jardin Exotique, until I reached the single road that winds its way up through the village, hardly more than a few yards wide, mercifully too narrow for motorised traffic. Beautiful stone buildings lined the alley, no longer residential but converted into souvenir shops and restaurants. 

I joined the patient game of waiting for a gap in the flow of tourists to take a snap with my camera. Tourism book photographers must do the same thing, whether in villages or on beaches, in order to give the illusion that you (the visitor) will have the whole place to yourself.

The splendour of Eze, the jewel in the crown if you like metaphors, is the botanical garden at the very top, le Jardin exotique. The garden was opened in 1949 and is home to over 400 exotic plants from Africa and the Americas. It is protected by several Earth Goddesses, whose statues are scattered around the garden. Among them is Justin or Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility. Each statue is accompanied by a poem, that to Isis as follows:

You have recognized me…
I am the same
And yet different.

Is that a paradox? Or an oxymoron? 

The garden also affords magnificent and panoramic views of the Mediterranean 1400 ft below, as well as air which is almost fit to breath. At the summit there is a ruin which is apparently haunted by living bats.

I stayed about half an hour and then decided to leave the garden and the village to the tourists and the bats. I caught another empty bus to Eze-sur-Mer, where the driver wished me 'Good morning' as I got off. I took the first train back to Nice after one of the best excursions I'd had in Provence. 

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