HER LAST FRANCE/ Risako Tominaga

Mama loves France. “Mama” for me means my mother’s mother since she inculcated in me not to call her “Grandma.” I will keep her age a secret here because she would be mad if I told anybody. She is very good at singing chanson, French songs originated from the Middle-age and Renaissance, playing the piano, and cooking, which welcomes me with the variety of delicious food in artistic potteries that are kept for special occasions when I visit her place. One of the most significant things that makes her life today fruitful is to visit France. Although every time she leaves for France, she tells me and my mother “This is going to be my last visit.” We know that it is not and that she will say “I’ll try another visit,” after she comes back, but this time, her saying “my last visit” sounds serious. “I feel my energy decline, and you know, Papa (my grandfather) is going a bit senile,” she says. She is worried about him being home by himself during her absence. “So this is the last chance for me to go to France. I need you to come with me if you don’t mind.” Mama says that she had been waiting for me to grow up for such a long time to take me there and to support her trip with my English. “I have tons of things to show you there.” She looks so happy. Since this is going to be my first and her last France, I have to keep my eyes wide open to absorb the places she loves to be in, the arts she loves to gaze at, and the language she loves to hear.

I gratefully become a part of her last view of France which is different than my first exploration of France. Her memory of my childhood, me playing outside, and the landscapes that never change in her mind, finally has made a connection. Here is her itinerary and the diary of our trip.




Côte d’Azur et Paris                                              Companion: Risako       

Date Day City Place, schedule, hotel, etc.
Sep. 21 Thu.  1 Nice


Sunrise: 7:26

Sunset: 20:04


7-hour time lag

KIX Departure 10:30 (AF 291)

Paris Arrival 16:15

 “Departure 18:15 (AF 7008)

Nice Arrival 19:45. The Japanese driver will pick us up and we’ll arrive at Westminster Hotel in 30 min.

Soon we walked along the beach (the Promenade des Anglais). Good music, people selling their paintings and dancing tango. I was impressed by the artistry and beauty of Côte d’Azur! Risako loves beaches, so she says she wants to walk there early tomorrow morning!



Sep. 22 Fri. 2 Saint Paul de Vence


Fondation Maeght





1. Gorgeous breakfast (the point of this hotel) with the ocean view before walking along the beach with no people.

2. To Saint Paul de Vence by the bus (1H, 1.5)

  After missing the stop etc., we arrived at the village where the essences of the Middle Ages remained. 15-min. walk from the village to Fondation Maeght. We came across the biggest painting of Chagall.

3. Cheers to Nice with Socca and beer!


As soon as we wake up, we receive the bliss of having the first morning in Nice, and head down to the restaurant at the basement of Westminster Hotel, taking the glazed elevator newly built in the middle of the characteristic spiral staircase. The paintings displayed on the wall encircling the staircase match the wine-red carpet and the gold handrail adding a classical taste on the pictures. “I have long wanted you to have this most beautiful breakfast ever with me!” An elderly couple is having breakfast as we go into the terrace looking at the Promenade des Anglais. The blurred sunlight is lighting the east edge of the horizon with tender orange gradually coloring the dark blue. I squint at the Mediterranean like I have opened my eyes for the first time as a new born baby to know how big the world is. The contrast between this breathtaking landscape and the locals running, walking dogs and cycling to work in parallel with the horizon is just a paradox to me. Mama cannot help herself from giggling at them. All kinds of bread, cheese and ham decorate our table. Mama keeps taking photos of me while I am loving this rotation of putting the cheese and then a slice of ham on a piece of grain bread and biting it. As the outside becomes brighter, more ladies and families come in for the start of the new day, and we patiently stop eating here for the rest of the day when the sunlight has reached the west edge of the line.

We are taking the 400 bus to Saint Paul de Vence. As we reach the top of the mountain which took about 45 minutes from the bus terminal in Nice, a modest village with a brick church in the middle appears. Quite a few tourists are walking in the direction of the church, and we decide to follow them. People are enjoying playing petanque, talking over coffee and having lunch under the sun. Going through the gate of the rampart protecting the village, stone-paved allies are seen spread from the main street surrounded by colorful artisan potteries, clothing and paintings of this town. All kinds of flowers and plants put a good accent on the light beige walls of the old houses. Whichever alleyways I look at gives me a discovery of picturesque views like the paintings I have seen displayed along the street, sometimes with a slight sight of the Mediterranean sending a gift of a breeze from a far distance.


Sep. 23 Sat. 3 To B & B


Cap Ferrat






1.     Again, after the beautiful breakfast, the driver took us to the B&B.

2.    Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild (the 3rd time)

This villa became a museum, which has amazing gardens from all over the world! Risako who was looking at them quietly was walking like her childhood!

3.     Musée Marc-Chagall and Musée Matisse

The same driver on the way there, and the Monsieur of the B&B picked us up. I was surprised to see the dog of the café in Chagall Museum trained in Japanese!

4.     The 71 & 73 year- old couple at the B&B were very humorous. Risako was talking with them in English over coffee and I performed 3 chanson songs. We enjoyed the night very much! (The monsieur was familiar with opera, and the two sang with me. The madam wept by listening to my singing. I’m looking forward to having a great breakfast in this house like a museum on the hill of Nice!)


Satisfied with repeating the same rotation during breakfast with a cup of coffee and orange juice, we checked out of the hotel and arrive at Villa Mezzo Monte. One of the main destinations of this trip, a B&B run by a lovely retired couple, which is a yellow house on the top of an expensive hill in Nice. Mama found this on a guidebook, “A traditional French house with Madame’s garden and paintings inside like an art gallery” it says, “Bonjour!” Georges in a T-shirt saying “nonbei” meaning “drunk” in Japanese, the man of the B&B warmly welcomes us, and Christiane, his wife, is giving us a cute smile from the garden. She is excited to show us the guest room and the terrace. Aged furniture creates the image of a “traditional French house” with the madam’s sophisticated care. Mama stops at everything she sees, and expresses her impression of them.

Still attracted by spectacular paintings in Chagall’s museum, we come back to the B&B at around 18:00. Georges asks “Le thé, café, vin?” I understand what he is asking, recalling the menu I saw in a restaurant. While he happily starts making espresso for us, we start talking about what we have seen today. Mama tries to speak French, and so do I. I try to somehow connect what I hear with English and some German words that I know, but I cannot hide the comfortability in speaking in English. I like the stereotype that French people keep speaking in French to tourists because they try to express the beauty of their own language that has been existing throughout the history, and I do feel it.

Mama suddenly goes to our room to get her voice recorder so she can sing chansons as a gift for having us. She introduces the songs she is going to sing tonight, which makes the couple already start singing them. Everyone has become one, harmonizing the songs in French and in Japanese lyrics at the same time. This unity could not be formed with my English conversation with them. Georges is swinging his body and humming while Christiane is quietly weeping. After Mama’s one night little recital, we talk about our families. It is already 22:30.


Sep.24 Sun. 4 Eze

Château Eze





1.     The monsieur gave us a ride to Eze. My longed dream to come to the restaurant, Château Eze, with the landscape I love the most in Côte d’Azur finally came true. My gratification toward the starred restaurant, food and time I waited for, until Risako grew up…! MerciJ
Sep.25 Mon. 5 Gourdon




Haut-de Cagne

1.  The Japanese driver took us to the village, taking more than an hour. He drove back roads so that we got to see Chagall’s mansion. The village reminded me of one scene from “Les Misérable.”

2.  The village I loved had become a little lifeless…

3. I finally got in there after having encountered its closed days twice. Olive trees thrillingly overwhelmed me. The scent of the painter seemed to remain there.



Sep.26 Tue. 6 Depart Nice






1. Saying good-bye to the couple in tears, we headed to the airport. When I talked about my favorite village, Pérouges, they told me that they used to play there in their childhood. Their marriage comes from becoming old friends in Lyon!

2.  Paris Arrival 11:05 (AF7705)

Arrived at Dauphine Saint German Hotel near Pont Neuf around noon, and left our luggage.

3. Soon went to Musée d’Orsay, and had lunch in the restaurant like a palace.

4. We went by a crepe at the best creperie in Paris and had a rest on the bench in front of Saint-Sulpice Church. Going in there, we saw Delacroix’s famous Fresco, and were overwhelmed by one of the most prominent churches in Paris.


Looking for a place to sit and have the crepe while it is hot, we encounter an outstanding building. We realize it is Saint-Sulpice Church which is famous for the film location of the Da Vinci Code. “Let’s sit in front of the chapel. That lady is eating there too.” I opened the box of sugar crepe that I got at L’atrier. The smell of rich butter explodes from my lap. “I’ll look closer at the statue in the fountain, while you enjoy your crepe.” The flavor does not deserve to be swallowed. I am spending the longest time ever finishing one crepe at the most sacred place ever to have a crepe. “People are going in there. Maybe we should see the inside,” Mama excitedly says. As we go into the chapel with a little nervousness, my whole body trembled. The ceiling looks as far as the sky, and the stained glass seemed like it is leading someone to the longed place. Mama whispers “Hey, that’s Delacroix’s!” “Is that…?” His paintings extended from the bottom to the top of the wall, which were too big to see the whole at once. Jacob Wrestling with the Angel and Heliodorus Driven from the Temple silently but vigorously lead visitors to the sacred world. After we look at the spectacular paintings that depict scenes from the Bible, I recognize the statue of Maria. She is holding drowned Christ with a warm but sad look. I have no words.


Sep.27 Wed. 7 Paris





Petit Palais

1.  Musée du Louvre   We looked for the two paintings Risako wanted to see first, and then saw sculpture. I expect to come here 5 more times.

2.  Musée de l’Orangerie   Risako seemed blissful  for getting to see Monet’s paintings of Nymphaea expanding the whole room!

3. Petit Palais for the first time!   It was so elegant that I felt like I time traveled to the 19th Century! And then we walked to Saint Chappelle along the Seine. Heard young people perform songs on the bench.


Walking in the middle of Jardin des Tuileries, we hurry to Musée de l’Orangerie. People are reading books, chatting, and having a nap on the benches. Art and people’s lives coexist here. They see the detailed sculptured walls of the Louvre daily and the garden that many great painters loved has been loved by people of all generations. They spend the time that people in my society would use to look at smartphones to appreciate the olds.

In Orangerie, 360 degrees of Nymphaea were blooming. The closer I look at them, the vaguer they look. While the brushing remains strong, the colors that I have never seen before comprise every single leaf and petal that float on the water. I know too little of the world to name these colors. Downstairs I unexpectedly meet the girls playing the piano who I first saw on the book of Renoir’s picture. Gifts from Papa (my grandfather) were always a book of some painter’s pictures until I entered junior high. Young Girls at the Piano, a girl in a pink dress leans on the piano which the other dressed in a white dress plays. I remember I wished to have a sister that can teach me piano like this with such a tender depiction of the girls of my age when I first looked at it. Having visited Renoir’s house in Nice, I grasp something that I could not when I received that book.


Sep.28 Thu. 8 Paris

Musée de Marmottan Monet

 Notre-Dame in the morning, and then took Metro to Marmottan Monet Museum. Opera Garnier was closed! The museum was in a very quiet residential area near Bois de Boulogne.


9   Paris Departure 13:25 (AF292)

Walked on Pont Neuf early in the morning, and got a fresh apple pie.



10   KIX Arrival 8:15

Risako’s parents picked us up.


“You made my dream come true. Thank you so much for following an old lady like me, Risako.” I tried to look for the best words to tell my full of thanks to her for taking me to the place she loves the best in her life, but could not come up with words better than “Thank you.” She continues, “I felt like I went back to my teens because you looked exactly the same as I did when I was a teenager.” She indeed looked like a teenage girl in France.  Looking out the taxi window with nostalgic eyes, she says, “You know, I think I can come back.” Her ‘last France’ never comes. I knew it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s