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

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017



My photographs


Dedicated, with gratitude, to Graham and Elna


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

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017



Museum pamphlet



My photographs


Dedicated, with gratitude, to Graham and Elna


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.



© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017



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


Portal panels – my photos

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

My drawing.



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

Les Semboules,  Antibes

July, 2017



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)


Maures Mountains –

Bay of St Tropez  –

Saracen soldiers  –

Round tower   –

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  –









       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.


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.


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

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



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.)



Dionysus photo of poster – Will  

Dionysus head  –  Wikipedia

Bacchus image –







Portrait of a kiss as a windscreen wiper

From my puppyhood I learnt you kiss Daddy.  In that second decade, the use remained and yet not.  I began to see that there were different practices in different families and then different regions, cultures, other countries.  I think about this here in France where people kiss one another like windscreen wipers, and yet not everyone.  The social codes seem to dart around – understand me if you can!   I notice that the President of America (Obama) applied this windscreen wiper to diplomats and politicians in the Middle East.  I wonder if it is catching.

                  Windscreen Wiper Left

                  Windscreen Wiper Right

I’m adapting.  (That’s me with the white hair.  The man is Stéph, Claudie’s son.)  After some years, I wonder how long it takes.  These customs have been scrutinized in academic circles for quite some time.  The Anglo-Saxon cultures find the Latin encroachment on their proxemic space difficult to accept.  In my years teaching township children I was force fed.  There, the concept of “space between people” is entirely different.

The windscreen wiper in France between men will probably be judged as taboo in South Africa.  When my friend fetches me at Cape Town airport, he can relax after the barrier of a handshake has been set up!  Interesting how cultures can diverge on such basic things.  For the Frenchman and the Spaniard (to a lesser extent) the windscreen wiper greeting is part of the day, part of the centuries.  The Anglo-Saxon has dark associations with it  −  it is simply not a manly thing to do.  It will be interesting for me if Norwegians, Swedes or Danes could prove me wrong.

The world is a big place.


©  Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



My curiosity.



Photographs taken by Claudie Mader  and used with her permission.




TWO STREET NAMES – the curious and the more curious

In the centre of Cape Town, off Barrack St, there is a small alley with a curious name.  This alleyway was probably named early in the 19th-century and it is difficult to know if the widow after whom it was named was English-speaking or Afrikaans or something else.  The name is Kromelbow lane.  I wonder:  is a skew elbow being suggested or is the name Kromel with the English word bow attached?  Well, if we find Katzenellenbogen for one of the wings of the Castle, not far away, then this would be possible.

                             More curious

In Antibes, within walking distance from where I stay, is another curious street name – Chemin des Âmes du Purgatoire, the Way of Souls in Purgatory.  Probably not that strange for someone who has been reared in a Catholic country, but for me distinctly curious.  What would be reasoning, the history, for naming a street in this way?

             A modest monument

The answer comes in the history of the early-16th-century battle between Francois I and Charles Quint, against the backdrop of the political chaos of rivalry in the south of France which lasted a few centuries.  The loss of life in this battle was greater than the liberation of the Côte d’Azur in August, 1944.  The outcome of the battle was as outcomes of battles usually are – celebrating leaders and weeping mothers.   The count of Nice wanted to compensate for the losses of the tragedy and to name a chemin, a way, for the dead.  This way leads off the Rue de Grasse, the main route from Antibes to Grasse.  Where the two streets meet, on the corner, we can see the small, even inconspicuous, monument with a prayer engraved:

                                                                       Pray to God for the souls in purgatory

                                                                                  and  they will pray for you

                                 The prayer

Soldiers who died in the battle were probably bound for heaven, according to Catholic theology, but had to be purified in the intermediate stage.

The Protestants in Antibes (Hugenots), probably not a large number of people, found the little monument blasphemous and in the year 1560 they damaged it, breaking down the cross.  But this part of the community gradually shrank and the monument was restored in a later generation.

When I went there, investigating, I found that the cross, not strongly visible, is now made of steel. Behind thick glass there is a painting of Mary in a nun’s habit with the fallen Christ on her lap, a pieta.

                       The Pieta

The date 1702 appears and there is uncertainty if this is the date of reconstruction.  Who was Nicolas?

                    The restoration date?

The modest monument is on the corner of the busy Rue and I wonder how many of the commuters are aware of this piece of their history.  Human suffering, the poet says, always happens in an unnoticed corner.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins.  Pierre Tosan. HEPT, 1998

Wikipedia :  Purgatory

Cecil Jenkins :  France. Running Press, Philadelphia. 2011.

Refer W.H. Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts”



My photographs.






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