Monday, April 5, 2010

Of Time and the Riviera

Ah, the joys of the Riviera!  Be it French, Italian, or Mexican, it beckons to us with warm, foam-flecked waters lapping gently at our toes; sun-drenched beaches, strewn with lithe, lightly clad bodies; and tall, soothing drinks, sipped sybaritically under the shady comfort of gaudy umbrellas advertising Campari, Pernod, or Carta Blanca.  Enough of such daydreaming!  The class will come to order for a serious question: why is it called “the Riviera”?

It’s an Italian word, dating from the seventeenth century, meaning “coastline,” ultimately from the Latin riparia (“riverbank”). The first area identified as a “Riviera,” was in Italy, a narrow stretch of land in Liguria, from La Spezia in the east to Ventimiglia in the west.  It includes such famous ports as Portofino, Rapallo, San Remo, and Genoa, which is in the Italian Riviera’s center. 

In the nineteenth century English vacationers flocked to France's Côte d’Azur (or "blue coast"), so named by  Stéphen Liégeard in his 1887 book of that title, in reference to the color of the Mediterranean Sea.  Before long, the name Riviera was applied, not only to the Italian Mediterranean coast, but also to the French, from Menton, near the Italian border westward to Hyères, and including Monte Carlo, Nice, Cap d'Antibes, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez.

While “Riviera” simply means coastline, it came to imply a string of luxurious winter resorts.  Hence the Mexican Pacific coastline, from Cabo San Lucas to Acapulco, including Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta, came to be known as the “Mexican Riviera.”  The connotation of a “string of glittering resorts” may be conflated with the French word rivière, which is a necklace of diamonds.

Caught thumbing through a stack of well-worn travel folders, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who is a real homebody, expressed his latent wanderlust in this ditty:

            If I were on the Riviera,
            Where all the glitterati go,
            I might run into Yogi Berra,
            Brigitte Bardot, or Jeanne Moreau.

            If I were there in Nice or Cannes,
            I might meet that guy Sarkozy.
            We’d sip Champagne, admire Cézannes,
            Reveling in la vie en rosy.

            If I were on the Riviera,
            I’d wear a tiny string bikini,
            I’d feel as young as Michael Cera
            And look as old as Toscanini.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the joys of the Riviera! Even for us oldsters.
    All those lithe, semi-clad bodies. Such a view last summer led me to compose the following:

    Ode to the Bikini

    Bronzed butts and bounteous breasts
    Bouncing along the beaches
    Or bobbling on bicycles
    Barely bound by
    Bitsy bikinis