Books have the power to choose us. I believe it. Before heading off to the French Riviera, I put in my suitcase a book that have been eyeing me for the last couple of years, but I never took the courage to actually read. The book is “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund De Waal, winner of the Costa award in 2010. It is the Ephrussi’s memoir, once a very wealthy European Jewish banking dynasty, centered in Odessa, Vienna Paris, England and peers of the Rothschild family. I put it on one side for a couple of years: novels about Jewish families living in Europe during the twentieth century are sad and the book is over 400 pages. Then I decided to move it from the bookshelf, pairing it up with “The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism” by Max Weber. I read it at university, but I do not recall much of it.
The book by De Waal is gripping from page 4. It is the wonderful and tragic story of the Ephrussi family for the last 100 or so years. I really recommend it to anyone who loves art, history and families sagas. If you do not like at least two of these ingredients, I would suggest leaving it on one side, without any guilty feeling. As Daniel Pennac said few years ago, the reader has the right not to read.
During my holiday on the French Riviera, I ended up – unintentionally and without trying – following the footstep of the Ephrussi’s family. Looking at the horizon from the little port of Villefrance, I said to the Lord: I would love to see inside one of these amazing villas that are dominating the sea, with flourishing gardens and private access to the sea. Then the destiny knocked at my door again: upon arrival at our hotel in Saint Raphael, we picked up a brochure. And the brochure featured the museum Villa Ephrussi De Rotschield at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the same villa mentioned in the gripping book that I was reading, the same villa I was looking at with dreamy eyes just few hours before! The Lord loves these sorts of places. We didn’t even need to tell each other, the visit to the villa was going to be our cultural moment of this holiday.
And here we are. The villa is stunning. Add to the fairytale feel, musical fountains spring from the large pond like a grand aquatic ballet, surrounded by several garden styles: Italian, Japanese, French, tropical, rose just to name the most prominent. The interiors are magnificent and reveal a refined taste for art, collecting and enjoying the good life, the sort of good life that is possible exclusively in this part of France and in certain parts of Italy.
The nature is lush and it is not difficult to understand why this part of the world inspired so many great artists. Even few pictures give a pretty good feel of what a magnificent and exciting place this is, dominating the gulf of Cap Ferrat and Nice.
While we were there, the Villa was getting ready for a hospitality event: people lifting Great Gatsby-styled chandeliers and playing classical music in the background. We got a taste of what being a guest of those glorious parties, in those ritzy and mundane days, might have felt like.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/missha/434222764/”>missha</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>