French Friday #5: Serendipity

Full disclosure: The majority of these photos were not taken by me (you’ll learn why), but instead, were sourced from free stock photo sites on the Webernet. If you relied solely on my photography skills from twelve years ago, this would be a fairly bland post. I want you to see what I’m going to share.

In 1999, I had the opportunity to study abroad in France for a semester. This was nearing the end of the photographic Dark Ages — true, I didn’t have to use a hood and a magnesium bulb, but fancy schmancy digital photography was still in its very expensive infancy — so I, being the poor college student that I was, had to make 8 rolls of 24-exposure film last from January til June. That required some awfully hardcore rationing and several gut-wrenching decisions and, in the end, a lot of regrets.

There I am with the program leader and two other students, standing at the plaza that overlooks the valley below St Paul de Vence.

My actual studying took place in Grenoble, in the Alps, but the program in which I participated had several “excursions” built into the program, the first of which was a long-weekend trip to the Côte d’Azur. Our hotel was in Nice and from there we visited Menton and Monaco, and, in the other direction, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins and St. Paul de Vence. We saw some beautiful sights in each of those places, but my favorite was the little village of St. Paul de Vence. It is located about halfway between Nice and Cannes, back from the coast by several miles, atop a hill standing alone in a vast valley, in turn, hemmed in by rugged mountains. It’s quite an impressive location and no wonder that it was chosen as the site for this medieval town.

St. Paul de Vence

This was my first encounter with a town so old and so inaccessible that there are no cars allowed in the village itself. You can see in this photo there is a parking lot right at the wall and there are a few others like that. Once your car is parked, you start hiking! I saw a tree bearing oranges for the first time in my life and walked along cobbled streets lined by quaint and picturesque buildings. Our group leader let us wander the streets as we wished, so I tried to drink in as much of this Provençal charm as I could.

Typical little street in St Paul de Vence

As I strolled down one narrow street, the right side unexpectedly opened up into a little courtyard. Vines grew up the walls and formed leafy awnings over the doorways. Ancient stone planters filled with colorful flowers lined the base of the walls. Gracefully curved iron grills bowed out from the windows. And there, in the center, was a breathtakingly beautiful little fountain. A spigot mounted on an arched stone trickled water into a basin set into a larger block of stone. Certainly, France is peppered with lovely fountains; the fountains at Versailles are a sight to behold for their opulence. But this, this fountain was perfect in its simplicity. Sheltered by the households that, at one time, probably made daily use of its cool flow. It was removed from the crush of tourists, a welcome breeze wafting through the courtyard, silent except for the sound of the water gurgling in the basin. But, oh! The decisions! I had already taken four photos here in St Paul de Vence, not to mention the several I took in Monaco and Nice, and it was only February! With a pang in my gut, I resolved to commit this perfect little scene to memory, and turned away.

Of course, you know already that not taking that picture was one of my biggest regrets of the whole semester. But what could I do? There was no way to get back. Every time I thought about it, it made me feel a little sick to my stomach. For the sake of one picture! I couldn’t have spared one shot? It sounds so ridiculous now.

Church in St. Paul de Vence. I took a picture similar to this, but this one is better than mine.

I returned to the States in June and, a couple months later, began my senior year of university. After being gone for so long, it was great to reunite with my roommates as we all tried to catch up on each others’ lives. Naturally, most of my stories were about France and all the wonderful and incredible things I had seen and done there. So when Christmas rolled around, one of my roommates gave me a calendar called “365 days in France.” I loved it! It was full of richly colored photographs from all over the country.


I happily flipped through the pages, admiring the variety of photos. When I got to March, I gasped! Could it – is it? I looked more closely and yes! What were the odds? Of all the tiny towns, of all the fountains, of all the fountains in tiny towns, what are the odds that my fountain would be featured in this calendar? (Math is not my friend, so I will never bother to calculate that.) But there it is, in all its tiny glory. Seriously, the picture is about two inches high, but I don’t even care. Now I have a picture of that lovely little fountain and I will never get rid of this calendar. And now, you can see my fountain, too (although, bear in mind, since I had to enlarge this itty bitty picture, the quality is not that great. Use your imagination. 🙂 )

The luck of the Irish brought me a French fountain.

2 thoughts on “French Friday #5: Serendipity

  1. I always enjoy French Fridays! Thanks for sharing. And I’m glad you ended up with a picture of the fountain. 🙂

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