It always does things to me to walk where they walked, the ones who changed history.  To see what they saw, perhaps with similar feelings.  The Trocadéro in Paris, overwhelmed by the Eiffel Tower, the specific place where Hitler and his colleagues had the well-known (or infamous) photographs taken, to stand in Picasso’s studio where in the Provencal summer he painted barechested.  Then too, there is a legend that St Paul himself walked these streets, something not unlikely at all.  Somewhere in the back of my head is the possibility that in this region, in a caved-in grotto, yet to be discovered, is the Letter to the People of Antipolis (later Antibes), written by St Paul.   What a shake-up that find would be.

"Le Maitre de l'Europe"

                   “Le Maitre de l’Europe”

Now it’s Napoleon Bonaparte, barely 223 years ago, that strolled these street as I do, saw what I see, but without doubt not with the same thoughts and feelings.

He came from an aristocratic family in Corsica and was trained in the military before the Revolution of 1789.  But he picked up serious problems with a political leader in Corsica and fled with his mother, brothers and sisters.  In Corsica there is a tradition of solving problems in a non-verbal way.  In Nissa (later Nice) he impressed Massena who led the army.  In the meantime his mother and the small tribe of siblings arrived at the Château Salé and this ushers in a time of joy for Napoleon, especially in the meeting of Pauline, the Borghese princess.

Chateau Salé, Antibes, today

                Château Salé, Antibes, today

The young captain was imposing with his Corsican accent, slim, almost thin, stiffly attired in the dark blue uniform of the artillery regiment.  The sharp intensity was channeled into energy.  He was briefed to reinforce the coastline from Nice to Marseilles against attacks.  On the Île de Lerins in the bay of Cannes I came upon Napoleon’s cannon supports in the forest, steps against royalist or other enemies, especially the English.

Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

                  Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

In Antibes itself he had the battery Graillon on the cap d’Antibes and considered it as a solid defence point.

Batterie du Graillon, Cap d'Antibes

                 Batterie du Graillon, Cap d’Antibes

But the Revolution in Paris had begun to devour its own and Robespierre was guillotined.  Since Napoleon had had considerable contact with Robespierre and his brother, he was suspected of conspiracy and arrested.

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Wikipedia has it that he was detained in Nice.  The historian De la Souchére says it was in Fort Carée in Antibes, a moment in history that the Antibois are rather proud of.  The tour guide at the Fort smiled wryly at me when I asked him.  To tell you the truth, he said, we don’t really know.  The incarceration lasted all of two weeks.

Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

        Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

His life, one historian has said, was “stuff of legend”.  His legacy is, according to the same historian, the attempt to reconcile right and left with a Bonapartist thread that runs through the politics of the 19th-century to the leaders of 21st-century France.   Even if he met his Waterloo after astounding military success in Europe, he had established the secular state, amongst other things – the list is long – not only in France, but it took root elsewhere as well.  The impact was immense.

The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

                   The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

He died in 1821 on St Helena, where he had been incarcerated for almost six years.  After his death the legend, some say apotheosis, about him began to escalate and his tomb at Les Invalides in Paris is one of the biggest in the world.  It’s interesting for me to think that he and I had something in common, well, while he was on St Helena – Constantia wine from the Cape.  And fascinating for me is that Napoleon had a sort of court jester on the Island amongst his entourage.  After Napoleon had died, this man went to the Cape and settled there.  His descendant was my neighbour when I lived in Stellenbosch.



 © Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017



Elena Dor de la Souchère :  Antibes 2500 ans d’histoire.  Maisonneuve & Larose, Ville d’Antibes. 2006.

Cecil Jenkins :  A Brief History of France.  Running Press, Philadelphia. 2011.



“Le maitre de l’Europe”  –  napoleonbonaparte.pagespersa –

Chateau Salé  –  plus;

Cannon support – my photo

Batterie du Graillon  –

Napoleon in prison  –

Fort Carée  –  my photo

“The Exile”  by Turner  –

Bonaparte  –








Parc Phoenix, Nice

It is a place that makes you want to scamper around like a child and explore intriguing nooks, hide from friends and make discoveries  –   a park geared for the enjoyment of children, a place of fountains, foliage, trees, rocks, pathways and peace.  On the one side you see the striking backdrop of l’Arenas, the skyscraper showcase of post-modern architecture.  On the other, the beginning of the Promenade des Anglais, and beyond it, the sea.

Parc Phoenix

Parc Phoenix

At a menagerie under the umbrella pines, there are kangaroos, ostriches, owls and seals, the latter diving in a glass tank.  There is also a hothouse of exotic plants, a steaming rainforest, towering above the landscape of trees.

Hothouse, Parc Phoenix

Hothouse, Parc Phoenix

Exotic plants

Exotic plants

Adjoining the hothouse, with its playful, even ironical, block of Inca ruins, there is a huge display hall looking like an aeroplane hangar.  Along the walls was an exhibition of ink-on-tiles graphics by Gérard-Philippe Séllès, treated photographs of cracks in pavements, cement surfaces and so on.  Each one was something I could live with, elegantly rough and striking.

A graphic by Séllès

A graphic by Séllès

It was a day of sun and crisp cold.  Throughout the park there are figures from Chinese folktales, slightly smaller than real life, each with a little plaque explaining the expression or posture of the figure.  One was of a grumpy old man with the description that he was such a cantankerous teacher that his students had all left him, but today there was a new student.  Another figure, standing in the shimmer of the fountain, holding a mirror to her face… Meijuan’s husband had retired and she had started a fabric shop for fashionable ladies.  I suspect that the Chinese embassy, together with their involvement in the AsiaticMuseum, had placed these figures, each one the beginning of a story.

Meijuan looks at her mirror

Meijuan looks at her mirror

As I left, a huge turkey (yes, real, live) accompanied by two hens crossed my path, gobbling and pecking.

A turkey in Parc Phoenix

A turkey in Parc Phoenix

Vendredi  1 Fevrier 2013

Image Sources: Images by Will

Reflecting on Buildings at L’Arenas, Nice

Returning to L’Arenas, the showcase of post-modern architecture, I was struck again by the achievements of the place.  And the reflections in the acres of glass cladding.   I share some of what I saw.

( I didn’t note what the buildings are, so there are no captions.)

L'Arenas 113.jpg

L'Arenas 112.jpg

L'Arenas 115.jpg

L'Arenas 114.jpg

L'Arenas 116.jpg

L'Arenas 117.jpg

L'Arenas 118.jpg

© Will v.d. Walt

Vendredi  1 Fevrier 2013

Images: Will



Musée d’Arts Asiatique, Nice

This museum, small, compact and minimalist, is situated in PhoenixPark on the outskirts of Nice. It is inspired by the two simplest elements of architectural design – the line and the circle.  The water of the small lake laps underneath its shimmering purity.  Ducks float through the striking reflections.  Completed in 1998 and designed by Kenzo Tange, it houses works from China, Japan and Cambodia, both traditional and contemporary.  It is the most uncluttered museum I have yet seen.

Musée d’Arts Asiatique

On entering, even before I was aware of the exhibits, I was riveted by the spiral stairway – a white swirl that scoops your gaze to the first floor.

The spiral staircase

The spiral staircase

 The exhibits themselves rest on glass sheets  –  a charming ceramic horse;  a traditional kimono; two styled cows communing;  a tapestry in dancing primary colours.

Ceramic Horse from Japan

Upstairs there is a current exhibition called “The Routes of Buddha”, tracing the growth of Buddhism across Asia on large maps.  On the circular wall there are striking photographs of landscapes pinpointed on the maps.  On the inner circle there are several Buddha figures from India, Cambodia and Japan, chosen, I imagine, to illustrate how great the variation on this theme can be.

Jade disc 5000 years old

In a side room there was a glass case with a perfect jade disk larger than a plate with a perfect hole in its centre.  It had a delicate yellow-green hue and it is 5000 years old.   What does this tell us about the aesthetic sensibilities of the East?  This object has become the icon of the museum on its poster.

Two cows communing

 The tall, ceiling-to-floor windows filled the spaces with light.  Because the museum is built over the lake, I was constantly aware of water.   The silence of the place – there were almost no other visitors – made an experience somewhere between Taoism and Zen. The memory burgeons.

 © Will v.d.Walt

Vendredi  1 Fevrier 2013

Images: 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 –

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

Footloose at l’Arenas

As you approach Nice with the sea on the right buffered by the airport, you see one or two modern buildings on the left, but they only peep out as the enviebus flashes by.

Probably from the late-1980s the area called l’Arenas was developed as a city hub.  To have done this within traditional Nice would have been a disaster, but older cultures appreciate this and protect their own.  The place is a marvel and it never ceases to amaze me that I have known of the tips of icebergs, but, on walking there, under the sky-daring edifices of this quarter, I find the true extent of it.

Banks, insurance houses, upmarket hotels… there’s nothing small in this urban development, buildings that create a series of les places or large piazzas.  It is a panorama of post-modern architecture with a sense of having the gargantuan bases of the buildings scattered there, instead of lined up neatly.  Strangely, it pays respect to the scattered quality of the vieille ville in each medieval city, the parts that rose up before anyone had thought of urban planning.  The design dwarfs the tradition of three, four storeys in old streets – see Antibes, see Nice, see Paris.

And glass… entire facades of these sky-reachers are huge panels of reflecting glass.  It lends at once a lightness that sheer granite would not and at the same time you look at the opaque burgundy of sunglasses:  what happens behind these vast facades is private.  The immense reflections fascinated me – the buildings reflect each other in bloodless cameraderie. The flambouyance of the 19th-century, the grace and twirl of the beach front hotels on the Promenade des Anglais, famous in the world, have evaporated. This is all square.

Overlooking the largest of the Arena spaces, a step-terraced park area, there is an artwork of l’Enfant fou  –  a rough ceramic disc with a text on the one side and on the other, a strange child-within-child image, almost cherubic baroque in style.  The text reads:  the child sees through the eyes of the mad child… An odd moment in this landscape of human rationality.                                                                                                 

It was hot and I had one more building to see, one that was along the Promenade.  I walked (and walked).  The wind was lashing the sea, flecking it with seahorses, as my mother used to call them, very different to the still sheen of last December when I walked along here.  I reached it – perhaps the last of the starkly modern buildings before the traditional hotels begin.

It is called the Spada, or, at least, that is what I’m calling it.  A striking design, it is a glass-clad rectangle next to a glass-clad wedge.  It looks for all the world like pieces that have been cleaved apart.  It is interesting to see what a sloping line like that does to the entire feel of a large building.  It never ceases to move somehow.

Will van der Walt ©

Mardi 12 Juin 2012

Image Sources:  Photographs by Will 

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