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  –








Musée Peynet

The drawings of Raymond Peynet (1908-1999) interested me as a child – the little man with his round black hat (a Chaplinesque bowler?) and spikey hair and his girlfriend, demure and lovely – the essence of romance, a mix of innocence and risque.

The artist came to live in Antibes, acquiring a place for him and his wife in the neighbouring town of Biot.  He and his wife, people say with envy, were married for more than 50 years and her name, appropriately, was Damour.  And there is greater affection for his memory than for that of Picasso. A small museum to honour him was set up on the Place de la Republique.  Hand in hand, Claudie and I did our pilgrimage to it.

Les Amoureax

Most people associate Peynet with the commercialising of his work.  It is often seen as sentimental, saccharine, cute, but it’s more subtle than that.  Les Amoureux (The Lovers) are the chief focus and the variations on this theme since the 1930s are bewildering – he’s even done a series on the astrology icons with the lovers!

Les Remparts drawn by Peynet

In the museum they had an exhibition too, with the work of other caricaturists – Ronald Searle; Honoré Daumier and others.  One painted caricature that really impressed me was of different types of cheese in the uncanny form of Charles de Gaulle’s profile.  The idea, of course, comes from Acrimboldo.  This caricature probably refers to De Gaulle’s statement as the president that it is difficult to govern a nation that has more than 246 cheeses!

Humour conquers all, a wall legend in the museum by Paul Klee tells us.  What strikes me with Peynet is that all he does is inhabited by a smile.  With the pain, anguish and tragedy of life, there is someone who will relentlessly seek out human warmth.

Raymond Peynet

On the way back, strolling through the Saturday crowds, I saw what I had previously missed when I went that way out of the vieille ville – the monument to the martyrs of the French Resistance, an image that touches, but it couldn’t quite banish Peynet’s doves that alight on the little man’s black hat as he cradles his beloved.

What remains with me too, is the plaque in the museum informing us that, in 1995, with the 50th annual memorial service of Hiroshima, the Japanese unveiled a bronze depicting The Lovers at the site of one of humanity’s greatest desolations.

© Will v.d.Walt

Samedi  14 Janvier 2012

Image Sources: by Will and

Cannes: Finding a Grail

You may say that I won’t find a grail in Cannes, but I know it’s there.  I’ll get it.

I take the crowded ‘bus from Antibes to Cannes and a young man gives up his seat for me.  It turns out that he and his girlfriend with another couple are from Khazakstan.  And this figures – the French, I’m told, would not be so gracious as to give up a seat.  My day is blessed and my pilgrimage begins.  But as other pilgrims find from time to time, the going isn’t easy – you have to love the large, heat-struck, slightly confused tourist crowds, the traffic, the heat, and, at the Festival Hall complex, the extensive and noisy and dusty construction work and the heat.

Festival Hall, Cannes

Around the Festival Hall, a striking modern building of sloping glass and generous stairways, there are handprints of the famous in the pavement – some single hands with the name signed; some, double.  And the tourists bundle around – this will be the closest they come to those they have seen on the silver screen, admire and adore.

Le Suquet

Above the bubbling hub of the city, on a little rise, there is the stone watch tower and a rampart. This is the medieval quarter, Le Suquet, and if it were human, it would frown:  the hurry and tinsel and bustle below shows no respect for the medieval relic.

Beyond the long fringe of palms on the promenade named La Croisette, the hotels loom – The Splendid, Majestic Barriere, The Carlton International and the Martinez, to name a few.  Each of them is architecturally interesting and each, one can be sure, has its stories:  at the Carlton, Grace Kelly met Rainer III of Monaco in the 1950s; Alfred Hitchcock shot a scene here; the Nazis occupied the place in World War 2 and Hollywood has invaded those 343 rooms since the 1940s with each film festival.

I go into the cool colonnaded foyer of the Carlton.  Will this sumptuous palace yield the grail that I’m looking for?  I ask, May I take pictures?  They say, Non.  I leave.  The grail is not here.

In the noon heat that drums on the skin, I stroll along the promenade chewing my apple and my banana (for which I paid  three euros or R30),  thinking about Cannes.  This place, once occupied by the Saracens, now seeks desperately to keep the flow of tourists by any means.  Along the promenade there is a series of large reproductions of photographs by well-known photographers – Jeanloup Sieff; Heuer; Diego; Toll and so on.  The theme is beautiful models and some of the shots are really inventive.  There are posters for a Picasso exhibition, a retrospective on the films of Romy Schneider and a pyrotechnics festival.

Image by Diego

The beaches are crowded out with rows of neatly-placed blue canvas deckchairs and yellow umbrellas.  You can hardly see the sand, something which South Africans, used to endless stretches of empty beaches, would find mildly horrifying.   Through the day’s shimmer, sleek cruisers bob soporifically on a waveless Mediterranean.

Through the palms I see the Martinez, a hotel completed in 1929.  It is pure déco, named after the original owner, a man of Sicilian-Spanish origin.  My heart beats faster.  I approach.  Inside there are two officials behind the warm glow of the softly-lit reception counter.  I hesitate.  I take the law into my hands.  And there, before me, is the grail – a remarkable déco staircase that I saw in a book on Provence.  I won’t ask for permission.  The receptionists are busy with clients.  I take the picture.  It’s not quite as beautiful as I thought it would be.  I look back.  The receptionists are watching me.  I feign innocent interest.  They look away.  I walk to the staircase and look up the stairwell, four storeys… It is magnificent.  I take the picture and walked smartly out of the Martinez.  I have my grail.

The grail – the art déco stairwell, Hotel Martinez

Returning to the ‘bus terminus, I cross through a park area where there are pétanque courts.  Playing this game of bowls so characteristic of the south of France, groups of men cheer or bemoan their accuracy as they toss the grey steel boules.  Nearby is a statue of a fat, happy man overseeing the game:  he is clutching a boule to his heart and is perhaps the patron saint of pétanque.

At the pétanque courts

Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi  6 Juillet 2012

Image Sources:  Photographs by Will

Two Museums in Nice


Musée Masséna

A museum like Musée Masséna encapsulates an important vein of the history of Nice. I thought it would be worth seeing and was pleasantly surprised. It was built between 1898 and 1903 in the style of the First Empire, a style that celebrated the Napoleonic era and its achievements – at its height, the First French Empire in the early-19th century had 44 million subjects.  Jean André Masséna (1758-1817) was a military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, a character with a mixed reputation.  His Italian name tells of the French-Italian aspects of the city’s history  – Nice became French as late as 1860.


Bay window roof in Musée Massena

The same style enjoyed different names elsewhere – Biedemeier in Germany; Regency in England.  Somehow the egalitarian spirit sweeping through the politics of Europe at the time had no effect on the sumptuous, highly refined approach to architecture, objets d’art and decorative aspects.  Musée Masséna is impressive.  It suggests that splendour is almost an inevitibility with those who can afford it – Greek friezes, ornate baroque mirrors, magnificent marble floor inlays, classical figures and gold-inlaid furniture.  Perhaps the mining magnates of Parktown in Johannesburg and the steel magnates in the USA at the fin-de-siécle were doing the same thing.  One hundred years later the president of Zimbabwe has ventured on this tradition himself – the irony spirals.

I went through it all, knowing, once more, that I am a modernist in my taste and a minimalist.

I left, going through the gardens that have won awards and that give onto the Promenade des Anglais, where the most expensive hotels in Nice are.  It was a long and tiring walk, the last part up a hill, before I entered the grounds of the Musée des Beaux Arts.  In this private mansion, built by a Ukranian princess in 1878, there is art spanning four centuries – religious icons in the Russian style and, amongst others, an interesting collection of large Vanloo paintings that cover the era before the Revolution and after it.  There is a rather beautiful landscape by one Théodore Rousseau, together with sculptures by various artists of varying interest.  One, a haunting image of a woman draped in gossamer by Anonymous… how do you create gossamer with marble?


Head by an anonymous sculptor, 19th-century

Then, la cerise on top… two figures by Rodin.  One was The Kiss. 

If Rodin was the father of modern sculpture then the thoughts that underlie the creating of this work must be part of the reason.  Completing it in 1889, Rodin said that he was paying homage to women and their bodies, women who do not merely submit to men, but are full partners in passion.  Having been part of the larger concept of The Gates of Hell, The Kiss was inspired by a story associated with Dante’s Inferno, a story of illicit love and tragedy.  I have seen it before. I find I have to walk around it to appreciate each angle.  It is almost as if one has to swirl with the curve of her spine to arrive at the moment of the lips… with Michaelangelo’s gap between the fingers of God and man, this gap must rank as the most significant… yes, one can get passionate about Rodin’s Kiss.


The Kiss

When I stood in the crowded enviebus back to Antibes, through dense summer traffic, the rather jaunty ‘bus driver was whistling Albinoni’s Adagio.

Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi  6 Juillet 2012

Image Sources:

Bay window roof;  Anonymous sculpture – Photograph by Will

Rodin’s The Kiss –


It was a Provençal meal, the more so for having Italian touches.  Simone Bottero, Claudie’s friend, and who had Italian parents, invited us to lunch.  She lives in Le Cannet, the name which probably means Little Cannes, a suburb.  For those not familiar with Provençal cuisine and for future generations, I would like to record the details.  As an aperitif we had vin des oranges, sweet and piquant, which was homemade.  We began with pisaladiére, slices of bread with marinaded onion.  It can be served with anchovettes as well, but we didn’t have that.   This was followed by a tomato salad on a blue ceramic plate with yellow salad tongs and strips of white goats milk cheese – a treat in primary colours.  This had a parsley vinaigrette dressing.  Next, there were slices of cold pork and gnocchis,  little pasta balls, with a pimenté sauce.   We brought it to a close with sorbet and Tanzanian arabica black coffee.  There now, even if this is not archived, I won’t forget it.


Self-portrait, 1889

I then had the pleasure of going to the Pierre Bonnard Museum in Le Cannet.  A starkly modern place for which you pay 7 euros (R70).  But I pleaded that I was A. a tourist guide and B. a pensioner and I got in for 3 euros.  And – I had a little audio gadget that purred about the paintings softly in my ear.

It might be pretentious to say that one discovers a painter, but, I confess, it was a little of that.  From the late-19th-century, Bonnard (born 1867) weaves his way amongst the other greats – Matisse, Monet, Vuillard.  It’s difficult to pin him down because he echoes the impressionists and there is a hint of the Fauves to come, works that have abandoned perspective and embrace new ways of using colour.


The Dining-room Table


La petite fenetre, 1946

In this museum there is currently an exhibition of his la fenêtre works, amongst others, together with paintings by Monet, Vuillard and Matisse.  The la fenêtre or window motif was often used by artists.  Even Picasso eventually succumbed.  In 1952, Matisse said, Les fenêtres m’out toujours intéressé car elles sont un passage entre l’interieur et l’exterieur  (Windows have always interested me because they are a passage between the interior and the exterior).  The landscape beyond is seen through additional framing structures. This motif also serves to contrast the inner objects, a kind of still life, with the openness outside.

Two of these paintings in particular will, like the Provençal meal, remain with me.  One, Nature mort et paysage, done in 1930, is a muted winter scene through a window above a ballustrade with pale greys and blues of the sky.  In the foreground, there are the warm fruits of the interior in generous bowls.  The other, Petite fenêtre, shows trees in a lilac haze, the suggestion of distant hills and in the foreground sun-yellow flowers – the inner and the outer in balance.  Both paintings are images of peace, the latter done the year before his death in 1947.

Looking at the many works he did in this museum, in books and on the internet, I have the impression that there was contentment in his life.  There is unmistakable warmth in what he does, a muted joie de vivre. Yet, the series of photographs of him in his last years shows a sad face.  The peace in his work was not necessarily the peace in himself.  In 1944, he wrote, Celui qui chante n’est pas toujours heureux – the one who sings is not always happy.


Self-portrait, 1940s


Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi  20 Juillet 2012

Image Sources: La Petite Fenetre – & Self-portrait 1940s –  

Vieux Nice

La Fontaine de la Soleil

It has often been said that the old part of Nice carries the most charm of the city.  D’Accord, I say.  From the Place Masséna, considered by some to be the central square of Nice, you are, within a few strides, in the vieille ville, the medieval quarter.  Heralding this is the La Fontaine du Soleil with a very white classical figure (Heracles?) brooding over the Place, from an exuberance of fountains.  In the spray there are bronze figures surrounding Hercules, each with an animal, each with a story:  vide the ubiquitous Mediterranean bull brandishing horns.

If you go there, start with the Cours Saleya, the open-air market, with tableware, clothes, pottery, leather goods, vegetables, fruit – and the most audible sounds of the Nicoise entrepreunerial spirit.  Warm-hearted and adamant, the buxom saleslady tells you in the local patois exactly why her pan bagnat (see Afterthought) is the best on the row.  I bought mine later, deeper into the narrow streets and slow moving rivers of tourists.  A trio of young girls with double bass, drums and sax were most rhythmically crooning Cole Porter’s Night and Day.

Towering above the tents, tables and tourists is the façade of La Misericord, 17th-century baroque cathedral.  It is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful baroque edifices in the world, though its doors were locked and barred.  But this vieille ville will not disappoint you if you are interested in this era of architecture – there are several masterpieces within a few minutes’ stroll from one another.  These churches, cathedrals, perhaps, follow the architectural tradition – a pedimented, two-tier façade.

St Reparate Nice

Sainte Reparate on Place Rossetti was completed in 1650, a time when the Catholic Church was working hard on the Counter-Reformation with a building form distinct from gothic-romanesque.  In the 19th-century, an imposing bell tower was added.  The saint after whom the church is named is the patron saint of Nice.  She was a teenage matyr in the Holy Land in the year 250 c.e.  The interior, as with St Jacques, the other church I saw, has the typical baroque elements – a way of letting in light from the roof, a departure from the solemn gloom of the older cathedrals; the dome above the centre point of the church; the opulent use of colour; stucco ornamentation and the deliberate fragmenting of traditional forms like the pediment.

I bought my pan bagnat at one of the cafés that honeycomb the narrow streets. I sat chewing and watching the tourists.  There were large numbers of Americans, but you also hear Italian and German, and if you’re sharp, anything else there is to hear.  Nice is the second most visited city in France.  Above the susurration of the stream, I heard a piano accordion and saw a man in a beret playing, fulfilling one of the biding images one has of this country.  Near him a gull pranced haughtily on the head of a statue of a dolphin, as a few drops of rain plonked down.

Place Masséna

I returned to Place Masséna where I saw the ongoing and extensive alterations to the area that includes the Museum of Modern Art.  There was an advance on the Theatre Nationale de Nice, a massive block of a building that looked as if it had been covered with fine gossamer in its entirety, a la Christo.

And then, I marvelled again, as I had done previously, at the oddest art statements in a large public place that I have yet seen – six aliminium poles, probably 25 metres tall, on which there are beige ceramic naked male figures sitting, clutching their knees, staring into the middle-distance.  I have no idea who the artist is, but I assume that this is a precursor to the completion of what will be called The Art Park.  There they are, naked amidst the Belle Epoque splendour of Avenue Felix Faure and the rest of Nice.

©Will van der Walt

Vendredi  6 Juillie 2012

Afterthought with an aftertaste

 Source – Wikipedia – “The Pan-bagnat (Occitan: pan banhat for wet bread) is a sandwich that is a speciality of the region of NiceFrance. The sandwich is composed of a circle formed white bread around the classic Salade Niçoise, a salad composed mainly of raw vegetableshard boiled eggsanchovies and tuna, and olive oil (never mayonnaise). Sometimes balsamic vinegar, ground pepper, and salt will also be added. The name of the sandwich comes from the local Provençal languageNiçard, in which Pan-banhat means “wet bread”. It is often misspelled “pain bagnat” which, with French pain rather that genuine local pan, produces a hybrid term reflecting neither the pronunciation nor the spelling used in Nice. The Pan-bagnat is a popular lunchtime dish in the region around Nice where it is sold in most bakeries and in most markets. The Pan-bagnat and the Salade Niçoise (Salade Nissardo), along with Ratatouille (La Ratatouia Nissardo in Provençal), Socca and Pissaladière are strongly linked to the city of Nice, where they have been over time developed out of locally available ingredients”.

Images Sources: Photographs by Will

Museum of Classical Art at Mougins

Musée D’Art Classique à Mougins

Three ‘bus rides and a gruelling trek up the hill to the vieux village – I went to see this museum, worth every centime and bit of energy.  It was opened in April, 2011, and has been made possible by the British entrepreneur and art collector Christian Levett.  I submit that this is what bankers need to be doing with their millions instead of the other nefarious things we have heard of recently.

The museum aims at highlighting the classical influences on artists from Rubens in the 17th-century to the contemporary British sculptor Gormley who has cast two male figures standing at the entrance.  The work is called Reflection and recalls the myth of Narcissus.


Museum entrance, with Gormley’s “Reflection”

By the reception desk there is an immense hollow steel cast of the head of Michelangelo’s David, but it has been sabred into sections.  This was done by Arman in the late-90s. I heard with disappointment (again) that no photographs were allowed.

The museum, a tasteful interior of glass, chrome and marble, is housed in a traditional building and is not spacious.  Most of the busts are Roman and between the 1st- and 3rd-centuries c.e.  They crowd together, but each is a marvel.  The subtle detail achieved at that time makes one realise again, as one writer put it, that art does not improve; only its media change.  Beyond this era of Greek and Roman sculpture, art has seldom achieved the same level again.  Of these busts one is of Nero, done in 59 c.e. at the time he was alive – a young, flabby face.


Hermes and Ariadne, st century, c.e.

Another is a janiform bust with a severe Hermes on the one side and a gentle, expressive Ariadne on the other.

Everywhere are the works of modernist and contemporary artists, powerfully juxtaposed with the classical – Chagall, Picasso, Léger, Calder, Klein, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Dali, the list goes on.


Picasso’s Profile of Jacqueline, 1956

One Roman bust, a sneering, hard-faced emperor from the 2nd-century was copied by Henri Matisse when he was a student – the bust is next to the 19th-century drawing of it.  Yves Klein produced a neon purple Venus de Milo which kind of screams at you.  Raoul Dufy’s painting Orpheus charming the animals (1939) is playful, frieze-like.  Chagall’s Bacchanalia (1964) is a series of falling and climbing figures, raucous in a way that contrasts with the solemnity of his spiritual works.  Warhol’s Venus rising (1960s) is a lurid copy of Botticelli’s Venus.


Mariani’s Transformation (1998) and Rodin’s figure “The Gates of Hell”

Carlo Maria Mariani’s Transformation (1998) in its way sums up the purpose of the museum.  The work is a painting of a bust with its nose broken, something which happens more often than not to statues from antiquity.  But below the broken nose emerges a nose that is real and the lower half of the face is naturalistic – a strange, surreal double image, but one that says it all:  from the art of the past we have built modern and contemporary art;  we are inspired by you; you are our soul, even as we struggle with our primary-coloured despair and stumbling spirits.


Four Pyramids and the Sun by Calder (1973)

The Egyptian floor has, as with the other floors, a simple explanation of the exhibits:  this culture, it says, has exercised the most fascination for people past and present.  There are two sarcophagi, more than 3000 years old, that are striking – one was for a temple chantress and is decorated extensively and beautifully with autumn-coloured hieroglyphs.  The face above the folded arms is a purity of sad serenity.

The top floor is given to Greek and Roman helmets, breastplates, spears and swords, the most extensive collection I’ve seen.  And there are objects of rare beauty, lovingly wrought, for the purpose of great destruction, getting power and keeping it.  I saw the words of Heraclitus (505 – 475 b.c.e War is the mother of everything.  I don’t understand this, not in a place like this, one of great creativity.


Greek helmet, 5th-century b.c.e.

I had a less ambivalent reaction to the words of Tite-Live (27 b.c.e. – 40 c.e.) –   Mourir pour son pays est, je l’admets, une chose glorieuse.  Had this Roman writer, a contemporary of Christ, read Wilfred Owen’s poem which describes a man dying from a mustard gas attack in WW1, he would not so blithely have believed the Old Lie: To die for one’s country, I admit, is a glorious thing.  

I trekked down the hill from the vieux village in cicada heat, got lost, eventually found the ‘bus stop and disappeared in the traffic moving in the direction of Cannes.

Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi   13 Juillet 2012

Images Sources:

Images from MACM booklet are used with permission

Photo graphs of Gormley’s Reflection by Will 

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