St Paul de Vence revisited

Of the villages perchés that I have visited in this region Gourdon and St Paul de Vence rank high.

                       St Paul de Vence

But on this visit a shock awaited me.  In the four years since I was there last, the shops have trebled.  The charm of this medieval place though, is intact – the narrow cobbled streets, sometimes with overhanging buildings, the doorways, the disappearing alleyways, the stone arches, stone walls and ramparts, tiled rooves and the Tower, characteristic of these villages in the south of France.

                   Alley way

                  St Paul de Vence Chapel

Painting of a street by Giasiotowski

            Work in an art shop

I went to the cemetery looking for a plaque on D.H. Lawrence who was buried there for some time before being exhumed and reburied in Mexico, according to his last wishes.  What I did find was Marc Chagall’s grave, tenderly decorated with little pepples.  I added mine.

                 Rest in Peace Marc Chagall

It is a place of public art, with works that surprise you as you round a corner.

        Surprise around the corner

I photographed the much-photographed amphora which, I noticed, for the first time, bears the date 1850, ten years before the Côte d’Azur became French.

                     St Paul amphora 1850

My two friends and I then had a pavement picnic while the unceasing lines of tourists arrived and left.  This will enter the archive of my special memories.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

 

Images

My photographs

 

Dedicated, with gratitude, to Graham and Elna

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Fondation Maeght revisited

I rendezvous-ed with my two South African friends in Antibes and was spirited off to St Paul de Vence, north-west of Nice.  I told them of Fondation Maeght and before long we were motoring up the hill into the forest where this gallery perches on a cliff overlooking the Côte d’Azur.

This gallery, inaugurated in 1964 by André Malraux, was designed by the Catalonian architect Lluis Sert (no, that double l is not a typo).  It was my third visit and for the first time I saw (I think I saw) the motif in the form of the building:  it is the head of a bull.

                            Fondation Maeght

At my first visit many years ago I was struck by the quirky creativity of the place itself and the marvelous obsession with art.  The artists, at an invitation, ran full tilt ahead of that white-horned bull – Miro, Giacometti, Braque, Chagall, Léger, Arp, Bonnard, Nash, Calder, Hepworth.  It reads like a Who’s Who of modernist and contemporary art.

Alexander Calder 1963

Jean Arp Le Pepin géant 1956

Marc Chagall mural (detail)

Joan Miro Labyrinthe

There is currently an exhibition by the Spanish artist Eduard Arroyo.  His work is a revelation to me.  From powerful sculptures to his thought-provoking paintings, often cryptic, his styles draw from a bewildering number of sources.

Orroyo painting

Orroyo rhino

Yes, I get lyrical about the place.  A family with the means created something astounding here.  For art lovers it must be like leaping wildly into an icy rushing mountain stream.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

 

Source

Museum pamphlet

 

Images

My photographs

 

Dedicated, with gratitude, to Graham and Elna

ROMANESQUE AND GOTHIC – the human figure

 The human figure in a Romanesque church is small, stylized and, if you look, you see they are busy with something specific in their lives – they drive out demons or flee to Egypt on the back of a donkey.  Bernwards Portal, Hildesheim, Germany, illustrates this memorably.

Bernwards Portal: God gives Eve to Adam

The intention of the sculptor, probably prescribed by the church, is educational and illustrative.  Incidents from the Bible are portrayed.  What strikes me, is how childlike the figures are, almost as if the communities they were intended for, were childlike, eight, nine centuries after Christ.  It is a Europe rising from the shadows of the Dark Ages.  It is as if the search for form is breaking from the post-Roman world, from the world of Byzantine (400 – 600 a.d.).

Romanesque capital: the strange and the charming

There is Eastern influence in the form of the Romanesque figure of the human – monsters, devils and decorative motifs.  Some of the scenes portrayed in Romanesque are deliberately dramatic.  An example is Judas hanging himself.  The incredible variety of figures and forms suggest that sculptors were often left to their own devices.  The world of Romanesque figures is one of surprises.

 

Romanesque – a world of surprises

The churches with their rounded arches are to a human scale.  What they built, was houses of God, not cathedrals.  The pillars, the panels of art, everything is within easy reach, with you.

The wind changes direction from the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Western culture.  It is a renewal that would, in the centuries to come, be reborn in different forms.  The need to make a greater statement with churches yielded to the concept of cathedrals of monumental dimensions.

Notre Dame de Paris – monument to Gothic

This is Gothic.  Even today contemporary architects stand amazed by what was achieved.  So too, the form of human figure changed.

Chartres Cathedral Portal

I am referring specifically to the portals of Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres Cathedral.  Here the human figures lose their caprice.  Now the figures, as part of the new architecture, form a uniform community of believers, rather than individual figures busy with something specific.  The figures stand formally next to one another.  The vertical line dominates in the design.  The figures are static in their ecstasy.  They are focused on the coming life, a choir of figures untroubled by this world.  My interest comes from limited experience, but I will not forget the figures of the portals of Chartres – stone that radiates.

A radiance from stone

 

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

www.loertoer.wordpress.com

 

Images

Bernwards Portal – studyblue.com

Romanesque capitals 1, 2  –  Pinterest

Notre Dame de Paris – sacred-destination.com

Chartres Portal and detail – chartrescathedral.net

 

 

 

France, Germany  

 

 

SIX BROTHERS – a true story

“Hercules,” André Brink writes in his book Midi, “was the first famous traveler in Provence.”  We read this with irony – is it myth or legend?  Then too, we hear of accounts that feel forced, that editors would regard with a fatherly smile before they reject them, stories that are in fact true.  We know by now that fact can astound us more than fiction.

My partner Claudie’s married name does not sound French, as she is.  She told me that her late husband’s ancestors were from Alsace Lorraine, that part of France that has moved between German and French possession, with people sometimes feeling more German or more French.  And the region has produced some remarkable individuals – Albert Schweizer, theologian and missionary, and Kurt Schwitters, artist and poet, to mention only two.

Claudie’s late husband had a half-brother who paid us a visit, relating how the surname he shares with Claudie, lost the diaeresis on the “a” which in German would have had the sound of an “e”.

But it is the split nature of this region that interests me and Daniel related to us the story of his grandfather’s uncles, six brothers.  Three of these brothers, the older ones, were born and bred in the French town of Épinal.  The other three were born and bred in Strasbourg.

                Strasbourg, city with two faces

The former were French-speaking, while the latter were more inclined to German – in one family!  When World War Two was declared, the French brothers joined the French army, while the three German-speakers joined the German army.

                         Germans occupiers 

In May, 1940, Petain surrendered to the Germans and the first three returned to their former lives, feeding chickens, delivering post.  By 1942, the tide was turning for the German invaders.  They had been defeated in North Africa and Stalingrad.  The second group who had joined the Germans felt disillusioned and deserted the German army.  For various reasons, Daniel told us, they had begun to find a French identity more attractive, even envying their older brothers.  One of them was caught and by a miracle not executed, spending the rest of the war in prison in the little town of Bacara.  The remaining two slipped through the German lines and joined the French Resistance in the Pyrenese mountains.

              French Resistance

The last irony in this story is that the symbol of the French Resistance, the cross with its double horizontal beams, was chosen by Charles de Gaulle and which is close to the hearts of the French, takes its origin from Alsace Lorraine.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

 

Source:  with thanks to Daniel M.

Images

Strasbourg – iha.fr

German invasion – ushmm.org

French Resistance – Getty images

(Photograph of De Gaulle monument, Antibes – mine) 

 

 

 

JACQUES DOLLE

They argue about his name.  He is not Jacques, they insist, it’s Joseph.  He is worthy of the attention:  he left his mark on the city of his birth, more than a mark.  Born in Antibes in 1650, he is considered by some as a master sculptor.  The work he did in the Cathedral of St Mary, the main cathedral in the city, bears out this opinion.  At the portal you see what he was capable of, as intriguing a character, as he was mysterious,  in the history of Antibes.

                 Cathedral Portal

               Portal relief figure

 

               Portal relief figure

These relief figures depict legends and stories from the Bible, detailed work in the spirit of baroque, fitting if one considers too, the classic baroque of the church façade.  In the church we see the pulpit and the baptism font, both his handiwork.

                        The Pulpit

                             Baptism font

He attracted attention, especially if one considers the competition at the time from many Italian sculptors.  The Sun King, Louis XIV, came to hear of him and he went north for a few projects.  In Antibes there is too, his master work The Portal of France, a majestic Gate with a finely-fashioned pediment, that we know from a postcard.  But, the tourist office informed me, it is in a state of advanced neglect, with buildings around it making it virtually impossible to see.  On the reverse side of building, as a kind of compensation for the neglect, a pediment in full view of the street has been constructed, but the detail, I’m told, is clearly inferior to Dolle’s original work.  To add insult, it is recorded in the archives that he was never paid for this work.

It is also a story of creeping hatred.  For certain reasons he was not popular amongst the aristocracy, perhaps because of his humble origins.  Badmouthing poisoned his life.  He was stained with supposed paranormal activities.  One piece of scandal had it that, in the garden of a wealthy marquis, Dolle trafficked with white female spirit.  It was subsequently found that the “white spirit” had in fact been a marble Venus figure, from the time of the Romans.

His health deteriorated and he withdrew from life to the Monastery of Laghet where he dedicated himself to God.  Shortly before his death, − it was the year 1730 − he returned to Antibes, to the white marble figure in the garden of the marquis, the Venus that he had never forgotten, the figure that haunted him yet.  The next day they found him lifeless at her feet.

                                       Venus

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017

 

Source

Pierre Tosan : Dictionnaire d’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins. HEPTA Antibes, 1998.

Images

Portal panels – my photos

Pulpit, baptism font – Dictionnaire d’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins

My drawing.

 

SARACENS IN PROVENCE

What did they leave behind?  They were in Provence for at least two centuries.  Some say not much.  Perhaps the name Maures Mountains, 80 kms west of Antibes.  But there is much more.

                        Maures Mountains

From the seven hundreds to the nine hundreds they were a formidable force along the coastline of Provence.  To the north there were epic battles with Frankish forces.  It is said by some that, if Martel’s battle with the Saracens at Poitiers in 732 had not been successful for him, Europe would have become Muslim.  Other historians question this.  That a large part of Spain was under the control of Saracens until 1492 did not make things easier for the populations of France.

                            Bay of St Tropez

The Andalusi Saracens from southern Spain invaded what is today the Bay of St Tropez.  The year was 889.  1,155 years later the Allied Forces would also invade Provence through the same Bay.  The Andalusis established Fraxinet (near today’s La Garde-Freinet) and this would serve as headquarters for various activities, one of them, the piracy in the mountain passes of the Alps.

We think these days of great national units and find it hard to grasp the political splintering of that time.  Halfway through the brief history of the region in his book “Midi”,  André Brink writes, “Wait, it only gets worse.”

                 Medieval portrayal of Saracens

To cut a long, convoluted story short,  the Saracens of Fraxinet were defeated in the Battle of Tourtour in the year 973 by William, Liberator of Provence, as he is known.  The Muslim dream of establishing colonies in the south of France was dashed.

Did the Saracens leave anything behind?  Europeans called them moors and today French surnames like Mouret, Maurin and Mauron bear witness to that.  The Andalusis of Fraxinet were not only warriors:  they brought, amongst other things, buckwheat to the shores of France.  The rounded towers characteristic of the buildings of that time in Provence are architecture from north Africa.

     Vestiges of architecture from north Africa

In Mougins, 20 kms north west from Antibes, there is still the Saracen Gate from which Christians kept a watch on Saracens in the area of modern-day Cannes where, for 80 years, they had a foothold.

The Saracen Gate, medieval quarter of Mougins

In Antibes there are street names that speak of Arabic presence across the centuries – Chemin de Maures, Avenue de la Sarrazine.  The iconic tower at Les Remparts was called Le Tour Sarrazines, also serving as a look-out.

                   Avenue de la Sarrazine

Le Tour, also called The Saracen Tower

In the Rabiac cemetery in Antibes there are Muslim graves, those who died alongside the French in World War One.  In this cemetery there is a monument to the Hakis, those who aligned themselves with the French in the Algerian war in the late-1950s and, with the outcome of the struggle, fled to France.

               Muslim graves, Rabiac cemetery

     Monument for the Hakis,                 Rabiac cemetery

The complexity of the situation reaches its highpoint in the terrorist attack on Bastille Day in Nice, 2016.  The very first of over 85 victims was a fifty-five–year-old woman with the name Fatima Charriki, a dedicated Muslim and lifelong a French citizen.  It is estimated that nearly a third of the victims had Arabic ancestry.  From this there has appeared the book “Ma mère Patrie” (My Motherland)  by Hanane Charriki, the daughter of Fatima.

 

                            Hanane Charriki

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules,  Antibes

July, 2017

 

Sources

Wikipedia:  History of Provence

Article:  Robert W. Lebling: “The Saracens of St Tropez” (Aramco World,  2011)

Dictionnaire de la Provence et la Côte d’Azur (Larousse, Paris 2002)

Blanchet, J-M. Turc, R. Venture : La Provence pour les Nuls (First Editions 2012)

Images

Maures Mountains – visitvar.fr

Bay of St Tropez  –  golfe-saint-tropez-information.com

Saracen soldiers  –  artsymbol.wordpress.com

Round tower   –  terreetpasse.blogspot.com

Saracen Gate, Mougins – my photo

Le Tour – my photo

Avenue de la Sarrazine  –  my photo

Rabiac Muslim graves  –  my photo 

Hands Monument  –  my photo

Attack in Nice  –  leplus.nouleloms.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIONYSUS

 

       Bronze mask of Dionysus

Here he is – dramatic, arresting, with his beard like spokes radiating to the world … a bronze mask of Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, his hair alive with bunches of grapes.  The eyes still have the gravity of the ancient cult, a seriousness that has been lost in our popular culture.

This mask, displayed with pride in the archaeological museum, was found in 1980 in the remains of a shipwreck in waters around Antibes.  It is estimated that this ship, heavily laden with amphora of wine, came to grief between 80 and 60 B.C.  The mask was saved from the plunderers.

                                      Amphora

Homer names him a lesser god, but Dionysus, even though his mother was a mortal, was part and parcel of the Greek pantheon, the greatest soap opera in the world.  And before too many centuries had passed the cult was bursting at the seams.  By 300 b.C. the cult was widespread and had a vast following.

Dionysus in British Museum. Note the people.

Dionysus is linked to fertility, agricultural and human.  He is the patron of theatre and the creative arts.  He embodies ecstatic religion, strongly promoted by his status as the god of vineyards, wine-making and, probably, the intake of wine.  Under him there is a hierarchy of personages, some of them beautiful and sensual, not wearing too much, others sporting horns from their foreheads and who play the flute to gazelle.  Still others are half human, half horse.  Interesting company.

                                      Bacchus

With the rise of the Romans, Dionysus not only gets a new name, but a smaller hat.  Another few centuries and dour Christians would put a stop to all this jollity.  Two millennia later his bronze mask would be lifted from the seabed around Antibes.

Here he is and I don’t know why I think of it now, but a long time ago, before I was a teen, and long before I knew about Nietszche’s thoughts on Dionysus, I wondered how it would be if they pushed the pews aside in the church.  And danced.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017

 

Sources

Delaval, R. Thernot : Objets d’Antipolis. (Mémoire Millénaire, Antibes. 2011

Delaval, R. Thernot (ed.): Aux Origines d’Antibes (Musée d’Archeologie, Antibes.

M. Cazenave (ed.) : Encyclopédie des Symboles (La Pochothéque, Műnchen, 1996.)

Wikipedia  

Images

Dionysus photo of poster – Will  

Dionysus head  –  Wikipedia

Bacchus image –  crystalinks.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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