Mission on the Riviera By James H...

A MEMORABLE PLACE A

June 11, 2000|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

A mission on the Riviera

By James H. Bready

You can have a guidebook, speak the language, know the very street number and still be baffled. Abroad, the best help may be a friendly local stranger.

Last year, my wife, Mary, and I went to Menton, on the French Riviera. Royalty used to winter there. Now Menton draws summer vacationers, too. My quest was to trace an uncle and aunt, George and Fedora Bready, a New York architect and a concert recitalist. On retirement in the mid-1920s, they had joined the international colony -- the Romanov generals, British barristers, Belgian gentry and others who had congregated there for reasons of health or politics. My uncle died in 1933, my aunt in 1934.

Burial space on that narrow strip of Alpine shoreline is at a premium. My father's relatives spoke of a system of seven-year grave leases, after which bodies would be transferred to anonymity in a potter's field. But might not the Bready house still be standing? On old mail, the return address was 21, rue du Fossan. So there I stood, at the stretch between Nos. 15 and 23--- a cliff where no house had ever been.

Then help arrived, in the form of passer-by Cathy Caia, who was happy to be of assistance. Knocking on nearby doors, she learned that Fossan had been renumbered. A half-mile away, with an old photo in my hand as confirmation, I beheld Uncle George's house, looking splendid. It was closed, the current owners reportedly on vacation. I photographed the exterior.

Caia next steered us to Trabuquet, Menton's modern cemetery, high above the Mediterranean. We walked past her father's grave to where the international colony is entombed. No sign explains this striking row-atop-row of square, same-size, white slabs -- these 150 or so foreigners who lived and died in Menton between the two world wars.

But there, at last, were the two Americans I sought. Caia explained the small code letters on the white stones: For the Breadys, a 100-year lease. Here and there a slab was blank, the original coffin having been removed; either the descendants were unknown or they failed to renew the lease.

Earlier, in New York, on West 42nd Street, I had had a look at the 24- story, 1912 Candler Building, designed by Willauer, Shape and Bready. The entire block, both sides of the street, is being torn down as part of a massive renovation project -- except Uncle George's proudest work, the Candler Building.

Now if some later generation will just have the francs to pay for continued grave rent, come 2033.

James H. Bready lives in Baltimore.

MY BEST SHOT

Virgin Islands magic

By John Ciesielski, Manchester

Even after a half-dozen visits to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, its magic never seems to fade. When you step onto its white-sand beaches and splash in its crystal waters, you get the feeling that time has some-how overlooked this place -- that development and commercialization have graciously sidestepped the island and left it uncomplicated.

READERS RECOMMEND

Tuscany, Italy

Barbara A. Kitt, Pikesville

"Turning 60 was a wonderful experience for me last year. My sister and her husband treated me to a trip to Tuscany, Italy, where we stayed on a working olive and wine grove farm. I was fascinated with the golden hue of the old stucco homes. I saw the statues in Florence that I had marveled at in art books. The people were friendly and all seemed to know -- and wanted to share -- the history of their country."

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Lenora Gentry, Perry Hall

"This past summer we went to Saratoga Springs. The racetrack there is the oldest in the United States. What a great place to have fun with your family or just enjoy the area. The track and grand-stands are in excellent shape, along with the grounds, which are well groomed with plenty of shade trees."

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