out in the sun

January 27, 2013

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Warmer today, with just a hint of some springlike in the air – but we won’t hold our breath quite yet. Folks sitting out, doing a spot of sketching by  Marine Court  . . . . but further along  not a sign of tables and chairs set up outside  The Post Office Tea Room   . . .

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. . . the terrace of The Azur is too exposed for taking a drink out there but below, hardy sailors think it’s time to do a bit of refurb to their dingies. It’s much more sheltered down on the path directly at beach level and thanks to Sidney Little and his interest in reinforced concrete structures, we can enjoy recessed seating alcoves, below the promenade, facing due south.

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A couple of dog walkers – dogs can be on certain parts of the beach in winter – and the more usual inhabitants.

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Still a ‘big’ sea, noisy, frothy and turbulent. A selfish post for me to look back on – one day – and I know it’s the heart of winter as against the second line Neruda’s verse, but the birds are pairing up which signifies the start of a new season.

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The morning is full of storm
in the heart of summer.

The clouds travel like white handkerchiefs of goodbye,
the wind, traveling, waving them in its hands.

The numberless heart of the wind
beating above our loving silence.

Orchestral and divine, resounding among the trees
like a language full of wars and songs.

Wind that bears off the dead leaves with a quick raid
and deflects the pulsing arrows of the birds.

Wind that topples her in a wave without spray
and substance without weight, and leaning fires.

Her mass of kisses breaks and sinks,
assailed in the door of the summer’s wind. Pablo Neruda   The Morning Is Full

à la gare

January 24, 2013

1ground floor

Was glad to get a chance to see this station again. Avignon TGV is a 10 minute bus ride from the centre of town – just 3 euro for a return ticket – and it’s worth a visit even if train travel is not for you. The article by Jonathan Glancey gives a good insight into the design and construction of the 3 new build stations – Avignon, Valence and Aix en Provence – on the TGV-Med Service swooping down to Marseilles. Of course, stations are for travellers so need to function in terms of organization – visit the ladies and see how efficiently Madame manages it – as well as clarity of information and circulation.On a busy morning in early January. there was plenty of room, both standing and seating, for travellers after the holiday break and those travelling for business.

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Some empty space offers the opportunity to appreciate the surfaces both horizontal and vertical. Attractive and practical – there’s plenty of natural light flooding through the curved apertures . . . .

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. . .  the landscape that greets the traveller is also sleek, organised, stylish and seamless. Lines of poplars are expertly topped to give a graphic visual quality interfaced with slower growing evergreen cypress.

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5 poplars

The main view from the station building to the route to the town shows the large classical gates forming a definition to the contemporary water course axis. The canals had just had their winter clean.

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In summer, the water feature looks like this . . . . forms of typha and lilies bridge the decorative look created by large vases of Nerium oleanders.

canal summer

Some areas are more natural like this view to the east. The balance is just right.

south

roof line

The cathedral ceiling emphasises the linear feel. And the current photography exhibition is cleverly hung on the curved walls on the eye line of those using the stairs, elevators and first floor landing which access the platforms.

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On the first floor, travellers can wait in the warm and the dry for their  trains. Admittedly, the timber deck type platform surface was covered in frost. Very slippery – the only problem that I experienced.

waiting

No misdirections in reference to the choice of poem – all plain sailing and very smooth, thank you SNCF (unlike recent trips on Eurostar!).

May they stumble, stage by stage
On an endless Pilgrimage
Dawn and dusk, mile after mile
At each and every step a stile
At each and every step withal
May they catch their feet and fall
At each and every fall they take
May a bone within them break
And may the bone that breaks within
Not be, for variations sake
Now rib, now thigh, now arm, now shin
but always, without fail, the NECK  Robert Graves  The Travellers’ Curse after Misdirection

Just to record today January 20 2013. And also to take a breath of air, so across to the front and look east . . . .

east

. . and to the west.

west

And to look down at the turnstones rushing around on the beach – little dark smudges, poor things.

turn stones

And herring and black headed gulls . . .

gulls

. . being spied on by a penguin! and a friend.

pengiun + cat

market alley

Trudge back along the alley and admire the Euphorbia mellifera doing the best it can opposite the front door. Go inside and read some poems in the warm.

euphorbia mellifera

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. Robert Frost  Fire and Ice

January gives me a dark eye

and a light.

one patched like a pirate,

obliged to look in,

the other squinting out at the park

like a spring animal.

What my dark eye knows

Is the blind underbelly

of the turf.

the brown dog

in the dream that defies gravity.

and, in the premature dusk,

Concorde swooping down from a storm-cloud,

not silver for once

but tar-black, lucid

as a galleon in the hieratic spread

of its sails.   Alison Fell  6 January  Lightyear

modern collection

I like spaces in galleries and museums that feel like living rooms – relaxing into an easy chair, picking up a magazine, book or sheet of notes relating to the exhibits brings a whole new dimension to the experience. In the Fondation Calvet, the 20 C collection is hung in the Victor Martin room with  Vlaminck, Soutine, Chabaud well represented together with a quite lovely Bonnard ‘Jour d’hiver’. Crisp morning light floods the rooms, bouncing off glass and perspex surfaces to multiply shapes and colours in other dimensions. The only three dimensional form is a Masque Iba from Nigeria with a dramatic headdress or maybe just a skilful coiffure . . .

mask

. . the sculpture gallery with double aspect and marble floor is 18C. It provides an environment for the neo-classical figures with a fragile quality. Touch it or make too loud a noise and it’ll shatter. A graceful staircase carries the visitor to the first floor of this once privately owned mansion in Rue Joseph Vernet in Avignon. The gallery and sumptuously grand 19C salon house an eclectic mix of paintings and sculptures . . . .

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staircase 2

staircase

1st floor

. . . views down to the courtyard show the usual, simple and correct contained landscape. Fussiness in planting is not required with such stylish architecture. So the role of the garden is for tree planting to provide shade under which to relax in the hot Provence summer sun and  . . .  mentioned by Stendhal as ” large trees of the garden”  in his Memories of a Tourist.

c yard

To the north, the humble arched portal of a side access is dwarfed now by more recent bâtiments.

exterieur

The foundation contains objects, paintings, tapestries, faïence, bronzes, books, coins and decorative metalwork accumulated by 2 enlightened benefactors, Esprit Calvet and Marcel Puech. Calvet also collected ancient Egyptian artefacts. The solemnity of the aura surrounding the display of these was broken by a party of young school children doing a lot of colouring in on fact sheets. Giggles, some tears and general hubbub of teaching and maintaining order passed around the cased mummies until suddenly, just before midday, the little people made a fast exit leaving a sense of calm to re-establish once again.

mummies

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Small alabaster urns have their own presence set neatly within recesses as do the monumental vases in the entrance.

urns

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The winter sun is low and hardly touches the ground plane of the calade pebbles from the Rhone bed. Laid as a decorative carpet using only stones with brown tones.

front

How the light invades the Romantic room where the painting that was the talk of the 1850 salon is hung.

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It sounded as if the Streets were running

And then – the Streets stood still –

Eclipse – was all we could see at the Window

And Awe – was all we could feel.

By and by – the boldest stole out of his Covert

To see if Time was there –

Nature was in an Opal Apron,

Mixing fresher Air.    Emily Dickinson

wall 1

Place Pie is one of Avignon’s main squares bordered by churches, many bars and restaurants, shops and the covered market, Les Halles. The market is on the ground floor of a 5 level parking garage which forms a portion of the north facing side. This facade has a most decorative finish.

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Running through the slanted 3 dimensional swirls of planted crocks, resembling cliff side terrain, runs 20 m of Iris japonica. Inside, early morning, there’s an opportunity to delve into more sumptuous delights also beautifully and skilfully laid out. The French are masters at presentation. Regular and perfectly formed shapes . . . .

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. . . and the knobbly and irregular forms of organic produce.

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Poor picture I’m afraid of the display of hats above the boulangerie stall.

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salade 1

Fresh leaves from the countryside and hams and salamis from Italy . . .

italian

. . the spice stall smells as good as it looks – full of eastern promise with cones of colourful,  dry and grainy powdery textures – great contrast to slippery shells on the coquillages stall.

epices

coquillages

To finish the meal, fruits confits and calissons from down the road in Aix en Provence.

fruits confits

calissons

Back outside, th dry seed heads float in front of the high roof. It’s a green tone landscape in early January . . .

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. . . but three hundred different species are planted on the 600 sq.m. surface. The image below shows the newly planted vertical garden. The wide expanse offered up an opportunity for Patrick Blanc to flex his artistic muscles and create a stunning horticultural canvas. Surprisingly dwarf conifers are included in the palette along with more usual suspects – cistus, helianthemum, salvia, dianthus and cytisus – now meshed together as the small leaved micraflora of algae flourished along with mosses and ferns.

wall just planted

Two alcoves on either side conjure up the effect of a rocky labyrinth as against a piece of flat tapestry style planting.

wall summer landscape

wall summer

When over the flowery, sharp pasture’s
edge, unseen, the salt ocean

lifts its form-chicory and daisies
tied, released, seem hardly flowers alone

but color and the movement-or the shape
perhaps-of restlessness, whereas

the sea is circled and sways
peacefully upon its plantlike stem.    William Carlos Williams  Flowers By The Sea

street of the water wheels

January 8, 2013

rue des teinturiers 6.jan 201301

The street of the water wheels also called street of the dyers (teinturiers) runs from the ramparts into the old town of Avignon. Plane trees cast shade in summer over a street where restaurants and many small fringe theatres are situated – especially lively and humming at festival time but quiet on a Sunday afternoon in early January. Some locals were making a direct path to one venue where a performance of Provencal music was scheduled and I’m sorry now that I didn’t accept the friendly invitation to stay and listen. Dommage. River stones from the Durance form the road surface and pieces of carved stone prevent parking in some places and also offer places to perch.Annoyingly I can’t find any information on the provenance of the carvings . . . .

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. . . the canalised water runs at street level and is now taken from the Sorgue providing pure Vaucluse canal water instead of the original source, the muddier River Durance. The water had to be pure for the clarity of colours used in the silk and calico weaving that made the Provençal fabric so famous.

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Strong, proud architecture forms a back cloth to the canal including the entrance to the Chapelle des Penitents Gris . . . . . services are still held here . . . . there is one next Sunday January 13th. Just 4 of the water wheels remain from the 23 that pumped up the flow to run the mills between the 14th and 19th C. The washing and the rinsing of fabric required a constant replenishing water supply – the energy of the contained  element must have been something to witness and to work with.

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A beautiful magnolia stretches out from one of many old enclosed gardens that delineate the division of the wealthier facades on the canal side to the more humble terraced habitations and shops on the street side. Two important buildings mark each end of the street . . .

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rue des teinturiers 6.jan 201302

. . the church of the convent where Petrach’s love Laura lies and by the ramparts, Maison du IV Chiffre, with the carved chiffres between the first floor windows. Gargoyles lean from the curved corner turrets to disgorge water on those below.

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A street that appears peaceful, calm, quite soft and  limpid – now.Centuries ago, a theatre of  moving, revolving power manipulated by man.

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Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone. Maya  Angelou  Alone

à l’abbaye

January 4, 2013

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A few of the visitors to this blog know that I am house hunting – an occupation that, on reflection, seems to have taken up a good part of my life. Being one of those unfortunates who, whenever they travel and visit new places, decide that this is ‘it’ finally. Whether Africa, the Far East, South or North America or Europe, my initial reaction is to immediately decide to decamp and make a new home as fast as possible (my problem is that I feel a complete and uncomfortable stranger in my homeland).  So, quickly back to the point, I thought to spend time in the Luberon (maybe this would be ‘it’), an area that on paper ticked the boxes, and naturally, see Menerbes. Some friends were quite scathing about this town that benefited? from the Peter Mayle experience and I discovered that my friends have good judgement. Too much gentrification and tweeness mixed up in one decorators pot for my liking ( purposefully no photos here). Also sad to see that someone decided black limestone should be spread over all flat surfaces giving a totally urban effect and with little differentiation to road and pavement. Town councillors of Menerbes need to visit St Remy -de- Provence and Avignon to note good use of materials and craftsmanship. We are great meddlers and consequently, destroyers. But, turning a negative into a positive, just close by the town on the opposite side of the valley sits the Abbaye de Saint Hilaire – the history and narrative of this building and surroundings –  brought back my faith in mankind.

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Ancient man inhabited this wooded land area of cork oaks and now pines  – it’s easy to see why – perfect hidden but confident in the outlook with natural water source and gently sloping land suitable for cultivation – so perfect example of the prospect and refuge theory. The Romans built the Via Domitia close by and there is documented reference to a Carmelite convent built on the site in 13C. Cistercian monks constructed, farmed, and prayed here in the footprint of this building in 15C. A fresco in the side chapel, finely executed stairs and the courtyards remain from this time as do the boulins – holes for the roosting birds – in the dovecote part of the courtyard walls. The monks would also have grown olives, vines and had a supply of fish on hand.

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In the mid 20C, the abbaye was bought by a couple who faithfully restored it to the original 13C layout and construction. Inside the walls, the privy garden retains the original character even if empty of monks in habits doing what they had to do . . . .

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. . . there’s an element of the ‘clipped balls’a la Vezian but that’s to be expected. The spaces are still simple and so easy to absorb, comprehend and enjoy and perhaps the restfulness will melt away in this landscape ?

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Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky. Rainer Maria Rilke

fin de l’annee

January 1, 2013

avignon 31.12.201201

Many of the last hours of the end of the year were spent wandering around Avignon – discovering, admiring, absorbing – and doing some stocktaking. Place Saint Pierre, tucked behind the church, forms the smallest of cross axes and has quickly become a necessary cut through.  Strange window decoration close by . .  macabre

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. . . the bell tower by Place des Carmes is topped with intricate metalwork – fine contrast to the simple architecture and stonework.

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Golden rays surround cherubs carefully transporting the head of John the Baptist to some holy place on the facade of the Baroque Chapel of the Pénitents Noirs de la Miséricorde. More macabre goings on . . . . my last post showed images of the public space by the Place du Palais . . .

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. . . the smallest family member got to grips quickly with the spacious areas here on his way up to the playgrounds in the Rocher des Doms and, hopefully, banked the architecture of  the Conservatory  ( beautiful frontage and originally the Papal Mint) for future reference.

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What we thought were scarecrows in the small Papal vineyard turn out to be installations by local art students – decorative and functional. The magnificent supports to the old pine have the same qualities to my mind.  Returning down to Place de l’Horloge, the Xmas market is still in full swing around the Carousel. The owner is quite grumpy but, all those who try it out and also their proud relations who applaud, smile and make up for his poor attitude. The interior of the roof has salacious scenes from classical myths – a good bit of nudity to warm up minds at this cold end of year – but a little incongruous.

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Final sunset to herald a New Year – looks promising if only for the short term.

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Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky. Rainer Maria Rilke

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