THE STARS BEAR WITNESS – The city of Nice, one year on

The headlines in the morning newspaper Nice-matin tell the story – the event of the 14th July, 2016, when there was a terrorist attack at the celebration of Bastille Day.  Headlines shot through with grief.

Nice-Matin Friday 14th July 2017

NICE FOR LIFE – the leading headline

Nice and France pay homage to their angels.  Angels has been derived from the name of bay surrounding Nice, the Bay of Angels.

“I want to succeed in opening myself to happiness again” – an article by Sonia Caléo-Darwiche who lost her mother, her sister and her brother-in-law on that night.

NICE FOR ALWAYS  − an article by the well-known Nice writer Didier van Cauwelaert in which he speaks of the city as “the ground of welcoming and freedom”.

Nice-Matin Saturday 15th July 2017

ALL UNITED FOR NICE  − the leading headline

Homage to the victims:  Nice beats with one heart

Humanity conquers barbarity  − an article which includes the moving tribute paid by President Emmanuel Macron during the main ceremony: “We owe it to those who died to continue the struggle each day.”

The stars reunite with heaven – an article about the scene of white balloons that were released over Place Massena, where last year fireworks shone.

An image from Paris – an article and photograph of the word NICE formed by the military orchestra in the Bastille Day celebrations on the Champs l’Eysées.

                 …the names …the names …

The stars bear witness – a passionate, moving tribute paid by Pauline Murris to her cousin Camille who died that night and which probably tore France apart:  Is it then of the same light that stars are made?  I dare believe that.  The 86 angels who shine tonight, will bear witness for us.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

16th July, 2017


Source and images

Nice-matin 14th and 15th July 2017





In the balmy late-afternoon they knocked together a makeshift stage and canopy on Place Charles Cros, the square below my apartment.  At seven the musicians arrived – two on sax, two drummers, two guitarists and a keyboard player.

The audience, about 100 strong, sat at tables, on the grass around the flower patches and, like me, on sidepaving.  I imagine this concert was sponsored by the municipality, to lure the crowds back to public performances, especially that of the world-famous jazz fest at Juan Les Pins, the sister city of Antibes.

The musicians got themselves ready, tested the sound system and tuned their instruments.  A singer drew near.  She made me think of a black-satin praying mantis, thin enough to blow away, but when they hit their opener “Summertime” she rocked us with a surprising whisky-and-cigars voice.  Then, “Autumn Leaves”, an upbeat version where the instruments – the saxes, the guitars, the keyboard – each in turn “gossiped” around the well-loved melody. It’s interesting that the French word jaser, to gossip, is often seen as the origin of the word jazz.

The audience clapped and shouted and, like jazz lovers, lost themselves in the jungles of improvisation.  Latino-rhythms, rock rhythms, syncopated rhythms – this tumbled from the mainly elderly musicians and their youthful energy.  The traditional 12-bar blues numbers were beautifully done, music which, I believe, astounded those who listened on the quays of Cape Town harbour from the late-19th-century.  Engaging because the basic form is always there and lends a satisfying inevitability to the chords.  Ah, Dionysus, you would have envied us.

And ten o’clock when the moon appeared over the few cyprus trees, the thin singer, sang the closing song with loving irony, to the great joy of the crowd − “Bad Moon Rising.”

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

12th July, 2017




My heart and soul

Refer too:  Die Blues en die Wes-Kaap,


A stolen poster





You hear the drum and the piano accordions some way off.  And then they’re there – the hubbub of kids with swinging lanterns, grownups, musicians and the dancers.  They form an arena on Place Charles Cros, the square below my apartment.  I canter down the steps with my camera.  This year I’m not missing this fête.

From a distance

The dancers, four couples, are splendid in traditional costume.  They’re ready.  And they’re off, with the music reminding me at a distance of “boeremusiek”, major-key folk dance music in South Africa.  The costumes seem to be Spanish, but they could also be Italian, but this is Occitan, the patois-culture of the Midi, southern France.  The men wore black, broad-rimmed cordobe hats, black waistcoats and trousers; the women, wide embroidered skirts with colourful scarves.

With marvelously complex steps, arms high, swinging circles, radiant faces, they had the crowd clapping and yelling their wonder and appreciation.  I looked on, drifting into ecstasy.

                        And they danced

What I was looking at is old, as the books will tell you, older than Christianity and probably celebrated by the ur-Celts and, who knows, those before them.  The Catholic Church, wary of anything heathen, soon appropriated the feast, naming it after John the Baptist who was born, according to tradition, six months before Christ.  It is then, a midsummers night festival.

                  She who dances

On either side of the arena of people two men held up flaming torches, a reminder of how the festival had been celebrated in centuries past – giant bonfires through which the dare-devils of the community would leap.  Next to the piano accordions and the lady beating the drum were two girls holding colourful maypoles which also have distant echoes in history.  This feast is celebrated each year in different ways from Eastern Europe to Ireland, and it is enormously popular in francophone Canada.

The maypole, echoing over             millennia

I think of other folk dancing that I have seen, of my intense joy, especially too, as this is an experience that is not mediated – the Klopse of the Western Cape, Bulgarian and Russian folk dancing, Zulu dancing and the sacred folk dances of Korea.   That stays with me.

                        Under the harvest moon

Can you believe it?  At the height of the festivity, the evening clouds thinned and a full harvest moon glowed over us.

©  Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

8th July, 2017


Wikipedia :  Feast of St John


Photographs and drawings – mine






LA BELLE OTERO – cracked crystal

The kings of Europe, the presidents, the high and mighty, even the czar of Russia, looked upon her with lust.  Poets and playwrights became lyrical about her.  Two men duelled for her.  Two more committed suicide about her.  I speak of La Belle Otero, the first dancer of note to be filmed.  This was in 1889, five or six years after the medium of film appeared.  It gave her more of the star status that she already had.

La Belle Otero 1890

She was a product of the Belle Epoque, the time of peace and progress before the First World War, a time of sensuality, scandal and sumptuous behaviour, especially for the aristocracy of Europe.  And we don’t know that much about her, except that she was born in pinched poverty in the backstreets of Valga-Galicia, Spain.  One thing is certain:  she rose like a meteor with the talent she had into the limelight of the Folies Bègere in Paris.  Artists made posters featuring her.

Gypsy mystery


When a better offer beckoned, she made her way to the south of France to conquer the Côte d’Azur.  Her attractions became a fine art, both on and off stage.  Her unusually dark eyes and the smouldering gypsy passion made her irresistable.  She could choose.

But the crystal had a crack.  She could have no inhibitions because she was barren, having been raped as a child.  She could dish out her charms, when and where she pleased.

In her late-forties, at the end of the First World War, she withdrew from the wild side and, living in an expensive home in Monaco, took to the gambling tables.

I thought of her when I visited Monaco, curious to see the casino, and on raising my camera to take the finely-decorated arches of the foyer roof, was smartly shown the door.  I got the pic, though.  Did La Belle Otera haunt this place, here where many made and lost fortunes in the 150 years since Gustav Eiffel designed the building in 1860?

The Casino

The forbidden pic

As the trickle of her money became thinner, she left her luxurious home to stay in a second-rate hotel in Nice.  The bosses at the casino decided to award the lady a pension.  Quite rightly,  coming from them.

The star paled.  In the years that followed much has been written about her and in 1954 the film La Belle Otero was released with a Mexican actress in the main role.  After this the interest dimmed.  I saw some footage of the old woman moving carefully in the streets of Nice and I found it hard to picture the exotic creature that she had once been.  When she died in 1965 at the age of 97, Caroline Otero had long since been a fallen star.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



Wikipedia:  la Belle Otero

Sites, France 2 television


Receuil des commémorations nationales 2015

La Bello Otero – Païva – Liane – de Pougy.  JDD papiere.

La Belle Otero home page  

Casino exterior, Casino interior – my photographs






LEGENDS – the mistiness; the hard facts

My grandmother Lenie, born in the 19th-century, told me that we had an ancestor who throttled a young attacking lion with his own hands.  Is there a pinch of Hercules here?  My grandmother Miemie, born in the 19th-century, related how, at Vegkop, where the Trekkers were put to the spear of impis, a black woman servant fled with a white baby.  That baby was our forebear.

Legends are the mist around their heroes who stride over struggling facts of history.  Such a figure is St Honorat.

If we look at the year of his birth, 350 years after Christ, we see the changing Gallic-Roman world of Belgium.  He and his brother converted to the new, strange belief of the Christians.  Twenty years before Constantine had converted and a mere century before that Christians had still been torn apart by lions for the entertainment of spectators.

After adventures and travels over Europe, Honorat and his followers landed on the islands near modern-day Cannes, Iles de Lerins.  Here he established one of the first cloister-monasteries in Europe, which had great influence.  I was privileged to stay at this cloister for three days, a place of rich history and legends.  I came across one of these legends in the Dictionnaire d’Antibes:

 “The devil had gone, but serpents were still there.  Honorat fell down, begging God to destroy them.  Immediately they were dead, to the last.  But they were so numerous that the remains began to stink, but the holy one did not choke.

“He ascended a palm tree and prayed passionately.  Then the sea whelmed, flooding the surface of the island and washing away the repulsive carcasses of the serpents.”

Legends persist.  For us moderns there is something – the throttling of the lion; Vegkop; the serpents.  Do we always take the serpents literally? Were the people of the dark ages, finding the words for the history of a well-loved figure, not attempting to picture an inner struggle that Honorat was having?  Certainly Greek myths are a rich field for psychologists.

And what value there is for all South Africans in our family legend from Vegkop.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

June, 2017



Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins. Pierre Tosan (ed.)  HEPT – Antibes. 1998

Miemie van der Walt (1881 – 1973)

Lenie Rousseau (1883 – 1963)


My drawings







Perhaps it is necessary for us to look in the old trunk where we hide history, condemned to do it all again because we forgot.

The German occupation of France from May, 1940, left the south of the country neutral – until September-November of 1942.  Then they descended, with the French milice (police working with the Gestapo), on the French cities, towns and villages. It was then the Resistance broke from hiding.  Perhaps this part of France suffered less.  One thinks of the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges, where SS troops shot 642 people on the 10th June, 1944, four days after the Allies had landed at Normandie – to mention but one incident.  But, as the poet says, the death of any man diminishes me.

From the Archives of Antibes, where I find myself, we have a few entries


1st February.  “Fascist businesses” receive threatening letters from the Resistance [“Fascist” might well refer to the Italian troops under the command of Mussolini who controlled parts of Provence until 1942.]

27th February.  Attacks against businesses of collaborators (collabos) with the Germans

4th May.  Arrest of Dr Levy by the Germans

29th July.  Torture and murder of Luigi Rosso, a member of the Resistance.



30th January.  Execution of collaborator

17th March.  Execution of the German “consul” in Antibes

22nd March.  Arrest of two members of the Resistance, Pierre Appolin and Joseph Groffino.

30th April.  Sabotage of the Antibes railway line by the Resistance

22nd May.  Execution of collaborator

{6th June.  Landing of the Allies at Normandie}

10th June.  Execution of two members of the Resistance

15th August.  Landing of Allies at St Tropez and St Raphael

24th August.  Execution of two members of the Resistance. Germans retreat from the Antibes town hall in the medieval quarter.  The liberation of Antibes.

{26th August.  Paris is liberated}

28th August.  Toulon and Nice are liberated.

23rd September.  Execution of ten collaborators at Fort Carré, Antibes

These fragments help me realise the depth of the French tragedy in the Second World War.  I wonder too, about human beings.  The German philosopher Hegel has it that the only lesson history teaches, is that human beings don’t learn the lesson history teaches.

“The death of any man diminishes me”

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017



La Résistance Azuréenne. Jean-Louis Panicacci (ed.) (Nice Editions Serre, 1994)

Grandes dates de l’Histoire de France. Aedis.  1912.

France. People, History and Culture. Cecil Jenkins (Running Press, Philadelphia. 2012)

Occupation The Ordeal of France 1940-1944. Ian Ousby. Pimlico, London. 1997)  

John Donne: “The death of any man diminishes me”


My drawings.







Table Bay, etching 1683

For me Table Bay is a Cape Malay bredie* of images and thoughts.  Table Bay and, of course, the Table Rock, were what magnetized me from the rural landscape to become a Capetonian.  And this bredie … Table Bay calls up for me the desire for a bigger world, a refusal to settle for suburban answers.  These Westerners … was the bad they brought in equal measure to the good?  In the shimmer on Table Bay history clashes swords with the sun … Wolraad Woltemade and his horse in the curve of a wave; the postal stones; ships sinking, ships arriving; the noon cannon;  bearded sailors staring at the Table Rock; Adamastor that you hear in storms if you listen; the Castle, the Amsterdam battery, the Chavonnes battery; the pain and anger of the Flying Dutchman …

The Flying Dutchman, ghost ship

… the murmur of the beach-combers; gulls; Robben Island, smear on the ocean;  musicians on the deck of a ship full of freed slaves dancing and playing the banjo, bringing the blues back to Africa …

Then the second bay, the Bay of Angels.  This Bay, the Côte d’Azur in France, stretches from Menton, near the Italian border and ends near Cannes.  They tell me there were human beings here four-hundred thousand years ago.  I smile.  Where I come from, South Africa, we start at two million years.  Still, history hums in the Maritime Alps that guard the Bay.  Here the Celt-Ligurians, a civilization of thousands of years, erected their forts and grunted under monoliths.  In Antibes (then Antipolis), where I find myself, their remains from 600 b.c. have been brushed open from under the Cathedral with its proto-Christian history.

Nomade sculpture ponders the Bay of Angels

Then came colonial masters, the Phonecians.  For them, the Bay of Angels was a lesser part of the larger establishment of Massala (today Marseille).  The Greeks arrive with an It’s our turn.  Monaco, Nice and Antibes all had Greek names originally.  Whether there were epic battles after some hundreds of years when the Romans marched in is uncertain.  Another handful of centuries.

In this time Roman soldiers regarded the mists of Scottish mountains and the rivers of Northern Europe.  After the assassination of Julius Caesar the coastal town along the Bay, Fréjus (the Forum of Julius), was honoured with his name.  His descendant Augustus had La Trophée built, today a sad, proud ruin, above Monaco. He instituted a census in the Empire, even to the far-flung town of Bethlehem in the Middle East.

Trophée of Augustus at La Turbie

Antibes has a legend that Paul came to the city.  Not unlikely when one thinks that Rome is but two or three days by boat.  Somewhere in the hills here there is a cave, its entrance collapsed and hidden.  In that cave is the Letter to the People of Antipolis written by Paul.  How would that be, if it were true?

At Juan-Les-Pins, the coastal town adjoining Antibes, there are few waves.  Here the Bay of Angels, or the Mediterranean Sea, often feels like a lake.  Over the shimmer on the water you see two islands, Ste Marguerite and St Honoré.  These islands, closer to Cannes, were occupied by the Romans and four hundred years after Christ, St Honoré and his following landed here, to establish one of Europe’s first Christian cloisters.

The islands of St Honoré and Ste Marguerite

These whispers across the water, music from distant times; strange instruments, lyrics unknown … they move over the creased sea … Table Bay and the Bay of Angels, two worlds, people who went before me, some of whose genes I carry … they saw what I now see and, perhaps, felt what I now feel.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017

 *bredie – A Cape Malay dish of spiced curry, dangerously addictive



Pierre Tosan (ed.) : Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins (Hepta, Antibes. 1998)


Flying Dutchman –

Table Bay – etching by Allain Mallet in 1683, from “Hoerikwaggo”

Nomade, sculpture on the ramparts of St Jaumes, Antibes –  my photo

Trophée d’August – Côte d’Azur Tourism 

View of islands – my photo






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