Trip to Paris: Part II

It’s rare that one of our trips to Paris doesn’t include a trip to Musée d’Orsay. This one was no exception, particularly as there were exhibitions on Catalan architect Gaudí, Whistler’s painting from the Frick and artist turned sculpture Aristide Maillol.

Gaudí Exhibition

 

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), architect and ingenious creator, made his mark on Spain at the turn of 20th century and still continues to fascinate. For the first time in 50 years, a large-scale exhibition in France is devoted to this master of Art Nouveau. The exhibition shows the remarkable depth of creativity of this singular artist: from his wonderful furniture to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

The Musée d’Orsay is hosting an immersive experience which offers a new perspective of the artist as an architectural genius who practiced in a Catalonia in the midst of social, political and urban upheaval.

 

The exhibition focuses on showing the architect’s creative process at a time of exceptional local artistic profusion linked to “Modernism” or the Art Nouveau movement in Spain. Gaudí’s workshop, his many collaborators, and his sophisticated working techniques are fully explored in the exhibition to articulate his extraordinary inventive capacity.

Through the few surviving drawings of the artist, models and many works of furniture, the exhibition reconstructs what characterises Gaudí’s work: namely space and colour. You are lead through his various creations: palaces, urban hotels, parks and churches, including  the Sagrada Familia. Films, photographs and documents  testify to the vitality of the architect’s career but also to the artistic upheaval he forever imposed on Barcelona.

Whistler Exhibition

At the same time we were able to see James McNeill Whistler ‘s (1834-1903), Masterpieces from the Frick Collection, New York.

Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland (1871), James Abbott McNeill Whistler

The Frick Collection – one of my favourite museums –  opened to the public in 1935 in the New York mansion of industrial magnate and major collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), is one of the most important museums of European art in the United States.

With the closure of the institution for renovations, an important group of works by the American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) have left New York for the first time in more than a century to be presented at the Musée d’Orsay. This exceptional exhibition brings together 22 works, including 4 paintings, 3 pastels and 12 etchings from the Frick Collection which are joined by 3 paintings from the Musée’s own collection.

Born in 1834 in Massachusetts, Whistler apprenticed and began his career in Paris between 1855 and 1859. After settling in London, the artist maintained a close connection with the Parisian art scene, exhibiting alongside the artists at the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of Rejects), in 1863, and became one of the “beacons” of the new Symbolist generation in the 1890s.

In 1891, the French State bought his masterpiece: Arrangement en gris et noir : portrait de la mère de l’artiste [Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother]. Around the same time, Henry Clay Frick built his collection, and in the early 1910s, opened it to the art of the late 19th century. He purchased eighteen works by Whistler – paintings and graphic arts – making this artist one of the best represented in his collection.

The Musée d’Orsay has showcased three large portraits representative of his famous “symphonies in white” and “arrangements in black”: the portrait de Mrs Frederick Leyland (a masterpiece of the Aesthetic Movement), the portrait de Rosa Corder and finally the portrait of the extravagant aesthete Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac. This portrait, one of the last painted by Whistler, is probably the most modern work in the Frick’s collection.

Maillol Exhibition

, Maillol, Aristide

This is the first major retrospective of Aristide Maillol (1861 – 1944) since the centenary one in 1961 at the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Despite the timelessness of his work, Maillol played a crucial role in the early 20th century, during the birth of modernity.

Initially a painter, he then turned his attention to tapestry and decorative arts, only discovering his forte, sculpture, later on in life, around 1895.  Initially he sculpted using wood and on a small scale. But, as he was recognised by his peers, a network developed which was to be important throughout his career.

A meeting with Count Kessler proved decisive who commissioned a number of works from Maillol which now reside in the Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur. Maillol introduced a new classicism and rendered female bodies, with their robust and sensual anatomy, in simple geometric forms. In particular, he moves with ease from the sketch to the monumental, in a continuous back and forth. The impressive Monument à Cézanne [Monument to Cézanne] forms the centrepiece of a section that invites one to dive into his creative process.

Of course, one of the joys of this museum is the depth of its Impressionist collection which we love to revisit.

 

 

 

Wordless Wednesday #122

Wednesday is devoted to photos from Australia on one of my many #adventuresdownunder.

Trip to Paris: Part I

We love regular trips by train to Paris to catch up with the latest exhibitions (and restaurants). Consequently, we never need an excuse to visit but this time we had one, seeing our football team OGC Nice play against Nantes in the French equivalent of the FA Cup final.

We travelled up on Thursday morning arriving – how fortuitous – in time for lunch. We opted to stay near to Gare de Lyon at CitizenM, a small hotel chain we often frequent. Its style is not dissimilar to OKKO though its provenance is Dutch rather than French.

We spent our first afternoon fully exploring 12th arrondissement on foot which extends from the extreme eastern city limits and includes Gare de Lyon, the thriving Bercy neighbourhood, and the very famous market street, Rue d’Aligre.

You may be surprised to learn that 12th is home to plenty of monuments and hidden treasures. Bois de Vincennes is the biggest park in Paris, with romantic lakes and a giant zoo. Place de la Bastille hosts one of Europe’s supreme opera houses. Lively museums are found in Bercy and Porte Dorée. Le Train Bleu  – you know how we love lunching here – is a Belle Epoque historic restaurant. Here are a dozen good reasons to Explore Paris’ 12th Arrondissement.

1. Opera de la Bastille

Opera de la Bastille

The famous opera house was built to commemorate 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989. Located on Place de la Bastille, the modernistic opera house can accommodate thousands of happy opera-goers. Before or after the show there are plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby, or wander into the neighbouring Le Marais Together, old and new happily coexist in Paris.

2. Chic Shopping at Bercy Village

Bercy Village

Bercy, a quartier in 12th Arrondissement, was previously famous for the warehouses used by wine sellers for storing their liquid gold. In recent years there’s been a renaissance in culture and commerce including the modern and pleasing Parc de Bercy, home to many French brands including Fragonard Perfumes, Eric Kayser, FNAC, and Oliviers et Co.

3. Gare de Lyon – A Belle Epoque Wonder

Gare de Lyon clock tower, photo by Mark Craft

Built for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, the Gare de Lyon is considered a classic example of Belle Époque architecture. The large exterior clock tower bears a striking resemblance to London’s Big Ben. The high-speed TGV train station serves routes to southern and eastern France, as well as Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Spain. It’s also a hub for regional trains, an RER line and the Gare de Lyon Metro station.

4. Marché d’Aligre

Marché d'Aligre, photo by Mark Craft

Marché d’Aligre is three markets in one. First, it’s a market street filled with stores like boulangeries, cheesemongers, fish sellers. Second, Aligre also features a daily street market with booths filling the road in front of the stores. Third, Aligre holds one more secret — one of the few remaining covered markets in Paris, with specialty butchers and other delicious food stalls.

Trust me, this is must-see (and must-shop) if you’re interested in food. There’s a vast selection from sausages to shoes, cheeses to poultry, even a roasted pig on a spit. Marché d’Aligre is located on Rue d’Aligre, east of Bastille, between Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and Rue de Charenton.

5. Walk the Promenade Plantée

Promenade Plantée

This tree-lined walkway follows an abandoned railway line. Starting just behind Opera Bastille, it rises 10 metres (30 feet) above ground to afford a great view. Beneath its arches are stores and workshops filled with impressive arts and crafts in a shopping strip called Viaduc des Arts. Over the past few years pedestrian bridges have been built above parkland, plantings and arbors have been added along the path, buildings have “sprouted” on either side of the promenade (more of which next week).

6. Bois de Vincennes

Bois de Vincennes

2,500 acres of parkland make Bois de Vincennes the largest public park in Paris. To give this some perspective, it’s three times the size of NYC’s Central Park. Thanks to the initiative of Emperor Napoleon III (in mid 19th century), it’s an important hub of leisure activities, with the recently refurbished Paris Zoo, four lakes, a botanical garden, a horse-racing track, a velodrome, a 14th-century castle (Chateau de Vincennes ) and  Parc Floral de Paris, one of four botanical gardens in Paris, and the Jardin Tropical de Paris.

7. Jardin du Bassin de l’Arsenal

Jardin du Bassin de l'Arsenal, photo by Mark Craft

At the lower end of Canal Saint-Martin (between the Place de la Bastille and the Seine, where the canal comes up from underground) is Bassin de l’Arsenal, built on order of Napoleon Bonaparte. Because it links to the Seine, it’s used as a harbour for yachts and excursion boats. In 1983, the City of Paris developed the east bank of the Arsenal into a very pleasant garden park, promenade, and lively green space.

8. Lafayette’s Tomb at Cimetière de Picpus

Cimetière de Picpus

Cimetière de Picpus is the largest private cemetery in Paris. It was created from land seized from the Catholic Church during the French Revolution. Just minutes away, at Place de la Nation, a guillotine was set up and kept very busy — the cemetery’s 1,306 victims were executed between 14 June and 27 July, 1794. Only descendants of the original victims are eligible to be buried here.

Here you can visit the tomb of Marquis de Lafayette (1757 to 1834), a French aristocrat who fought in the American Revolutionary War. His close friends were Thomas Jefferson, Alexandre Hamilton and George Washington. An American flag always flies here (thanks to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution). Although Lafayette died of natural causes, his sister-in-law and mother-in-law were beheaded during the Reign of Terror.

9. Palais de la Porte Dorée & Aquarium

Palais de la Porte Dorée

It’s a palace, it’s a museum, it’s an aquarium all rolled into one. Originally built for the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, the Palais de la Porte Dorée now houses the History of Immigration Museum as well as a tropical aquarium. There are intricate bas-reliefs on the exterior of the Palais that portray scenes from man and nature, complete with antelopes, elephants and zebras. While the Dorée Tropical Aquarium features 5,000 creatures in an array of tanks.

10. Concerts at Bercy Arena

Bercy Arena

Its official name is AccorHotels Arena and we’ve seen a number of artists here, including Lenny Kravitz. This large indoor sports arena and concert hall has a distinctive pyramid shape, and its exterior walls are covered with a sloping lawn. This is the venue where many big concerts and sports events take place in Paris.

11. FunFair Museum – Musée des Arts Forains

FunFair Museum

Bon vivant and antique collector Jean Paul Favand has filled a museum with his amazing collection, dating from 1850 to 1950 and including restored carousels, retro fair stalls, and hundred-year-old bicycles. Here you can watch an Italian opera performed by automata in a Venetian setting or go for a ride on a gondola merry-go-round in the Venetian Lounges.

The Fairground Art Museum is a tribute to 19th century funfairs.It’s all part of what’s called Les Pavilions de Bercy, set in former wine warehouses.

12. Musée de la Cinémathèque

Musée de la Cinémathèque

Lastly a museum whose building was designed by the iconic, sometime controversial, Canadian born architect, Frank Gehry. The Museum of Cinema celebrates the French love of film with thousands of posters, drawings, photos and films.

More than enough to keep us busy for a couple of days………….

 

Musical Monday: Eurythmics

I’ve seen both the Eurythmics and Annie Lennox (one half of the duo) in concert. So here’s a bit about them and some examples of their work.

Eurythmics were a British pop duo consisting of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart who were both previously in The Tourists, a band which broke up in 1980. The duo released their first studio album, In the Garden, in 1981 to little success, but went on to achieve global acclaim when their second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), was released in 1983. The title track became a worldwide hit, topping the charts in various countries including the US.

The duo went on to release a string of hit singles and albums before they split up in 1990. By this time, Stewart was a sought-after record producer, while Lennox began a solo recording career in 1992 with her debut album Diva. After almost a decade apart, Eurythmics reunited to record their ninth album, Peace, released in late 1999. They reunited again in 2005 to release the single “I’ve Got a Life”, as part of a new Eurythmics compilation album, Ultimate Collection.

The above track No More I Love You’s was the first single released by Lennox from her second studio album, Medusa (1995). The song features slightly altered lyrics from the original version and added background vocals that can be heard around the 2:50 mark of the song.

Lennox’s version was a commercial success, topping the singles charts in a number of countries. In 1996, the song won Lennox the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, the first to be awarded to a British artist.

The duo have won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 1984, the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1987, the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 1999, and in 2005 were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. 

French Fancies: SMCP

For the last couple of weeks I’ve featured sister brands Sandro and Maje. Evelyne Chetrite and her husband founded the former in 1984 and her sister, Judith Milgrom, created her Maje brand in 1986. Ilan Chetrite, Evelyne’s son, later set up Sandro Homme, a men’s ready-to-wear brand.

The story continues

In 2009, the sisters acquired the Claudie Pierlot brand, after the death of its founder of the same name, which led to the creation of the SMCP group in 2010. An umbrella holding company for the three not too dissimilar brands, to aid their plans for overseas expansion, particularly in US and China.

To fund this expansion, the original shareholders sold a majority holding (51%) to L Capital (LVMH) and Florac. The remaining 49% was held by Evelyne Chetrite, Judith Milgrom, Elie Kouby and Frederic Biousse. In 2013, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. acquired 70% of SMCP and Daniel Lalonde, formerly of LVMH and Ralf Lauren, became CEO of the SMCP group.

KKR was planning to float its holding in 2016 but instead accepted an offer from European TopSoho, the Luxembourg subsidiary of Chinese group Shandong Ruyi Technology Group. This conglomerate based in Jining employed around 30,000 people, had more than ten clothing factories, 3,000 points of sale and generated 4 billion dollars in turnover; it specialised in subcontracting to brands similar to those of SMCP.

The following year SMCP filed its IPO with Euronext Paris giving it a value of around US$2 billion. Largely as a consequence of SMCP’s 16% increase in turnover to just under US$1 billion. Thanks to a global e-commerce presence and a network of 1,223 stores, international sales now accounted for over half its business.

At the time of the IPO, Lalonde stated:

This success confirms the relevance of our business model and strategy that aims to pursue organic growth, expand our network in our key markets, accelerate on digital, menswear and accessories.

At the end of 2019, the group announced the acquisition of De Fursac, a French men’s ready-to-wear brand founded in 1973.

But our story doesn’t end there. Shandong Ruyi had wanted to become the Chinese LVMH and had started purchasing labels in 2015, a buying spree that would see it acquire London-based suitmaker Aquascutum, Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, Paris-based fashion house Cerruti 1881 and SMCP.

But it struggled under the weight of debts resulting from those acquisitions and defaulted on some bonds, exchangeable into SMCP shares, which resulted in a group of bondholders, including asset manager BlackRock and an affiliate of private equity firm Carlyle, becoming the largest (albeit unwilling) shareholders. These unwilling shareholders have succeeded in ousting all of Shandong Rui’s former associates from the board of SMCP and prevented it from transferring its remaining holding to an offshore vehicle. 

Going forward

At the end of a tumultuous 18-month period, Daniel Lalonde stepped down as CEO, a role now assumed by the former CEO of Maje, Isabelle Guichot. At the company’s most recent AGM, she advised that despite the upheavals over ownership, performance has continued to improve despite numerous constraints related to Covid-19 resurgences around the world (resulting in both store closures and a strong impact on mobility and traffic), enabling SMCP to be back on a par with its pre-pandemic activity levels.

I suspect that the on-going involvement of the group’s original founders and some long-standing, experienced management has helped the group weather the storm.

Such involvement has also allowed the management team to influence the group’s commitments and values.

More than ever, our actions are aimed at fostering a responsible, ethical fashion industry, in line with our values. As a driving force in accessible luxury, season after season, we strive to make Parisian chic sustainable by developing increasingly desirable and responsible collections while protecting the Planet and People.

In line with this vision, in late 2020, the group joined the UN Global Compact.

All images courtesy of SMCP

Silent Sunday #102

It’s Sunday, it’s time for a photo from France.

The Musette: 13 Best Cocktails To Make With Aperol

When I mention the word Aperol, you know I’m talking about an Aperol spritz. However, I have recently discovered that this Italian apéritif has a lot more ammo when it comes to cocktails – who knew?

While I love a good Aperol spritz, I’m going to show you there are plenty more drinks to enjoy where that came from. I scoured the internet to find the best cocktails to make with Aperol. So get that bottle (or two) of Aperol at the ready.

1. Division Bell

Recipe: Division Bell | The Alchemist

The Division Bell is a newbie having been created in 2009 by bartender Phil Ward in New York City for the opening of the East Village’s Mayahuel Mexican cocktail bar. The bar is known for its vast mezcal selection (with more than 60 to choose from), which makes sense why this is a mezcal-infused cocktail.

But you don’t just have to pull a seat up at this bar to enjoy the Division Bell. It can be crafted at your home bar, too. You’ll need mezcal, Aperol, and Maraschino, a “liqueur obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries” that goes back to 1821. Shake the ingredients together with ice and strain them into a glass. For the final touch, add a twist of grapefruit peel for the perfect garnish.

2. Paper Plane

6 Things You Should Know About the Paper Plane

This is yet another recent creation from bartender Sam Ross for a bar in Chicago called The Violet Hour. Ross got the idea thanks to the popular song at the time — you may have heard of it — called “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. And for his garnish, he used an actual paper plane.

Create this drink at home by listening to some M.I.A. and collecting your ingredients: bourbon, Aperol, Amaro and fresh lime or lemon juice. Shake everything together, but don’t overdo it since you don’t want it to be too watered down and diluted. And if you’re feeling extra whimsical, garnish with your own paper plane.

3. Aperol Spritz

Classic Aperol Spritz Recipe - Cookie and Kate

The Aperol spritz is the traditional drink to make with Aperol. And it’s all in the flavour combination (one that’s both orange and bittersweet), making for a light and refreshing drink. It was originally thought of as the ideal aperitivo in Veneto when paired with appetizers before a meal. Nowadays, it’s a favourite at any time of day and has become the new brunch cocktail (move over mimosa) and is pretty easy to make.

The main ingredients here are simple: Aperol, Prosecco and a splash of sparkling water. I like to garnish mine with a couple of ice cubes and a slice of fresh orange.

4. Aperol Punch

Aperol spritz punch recipe

Most enjoy a good punch (of a beverage, that is). They are tasty, easy to make, great for a crowd and can be made in a variety of guises using anything from Prosecco and port to good ol’ fashion rum and pineapple. But punch can also be made with Aperol, making the possibilities endless. Mix Aperol punch with any spirit and then add a variety of fruity additions to freshen it up.

My sister reckons gin and sparkling wine mixed with Aperol creates the ideal punch, especially when using fresh grapefruit juice for a gorgeous-looking cocktail with a refreshing taste.

5. Negroni

Aperol Negroni | Umami

The Negroni is a classic cocktail that was created in Italy in the 1860s. Typically,  it’s made from gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, garnished with an orange slice. However, Campari can be swapped out with Aperol which adds more of a delicious orange flavour.

Make this drink simply by mixing all the listed ingredients with ice and stirring before pouring it into a glass and garnishing it with an orange peel (perfect to make along with an Aperol spritz where you garnish with an orange slice).

6. Aperol Margarita

Aperol Margaritas - The Cookie Rookie®

A classic margarita is made with tequila, lime juice and Cointreau. This staple cocktail is perfect as is, so why even try to change it, right? Well, that is unless you add Aperol to the mix to get two delicious cocktails (a margarita and an Aperol spritz) in one. An Aperol margarita is allegedly a nod to another drink, called the Dead Man’s Handle. Simply swap out the Cointreau with Aperol and combine with tequila and lime juice. Perfect for a Mexican feast.

7. The Boulevardier

Aperol Spritz Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

A perfectly smooth drink that goes all the way back to the Prohibition era and was Erskine Gwynne’s drink of choice — an American writer who lived in Paris in the 1920s and the editor of a publication called “The Boulevardier.” It’s typically made with bourbon, Campari, and vermouth with either lemon or orange garnishes. However, similar to so many other classic cocktails, The Boulevardier can also be changed up a bit by swapping Campari for Aperol to so that the overall taste is less bitter. Mix the ingredients with ice, stir and pour into a glass before rubbing lemon or orange peel along the rim and dropping it into the drink.

8. Aperol Sangria

These Aperol sangria sprizters are the perfect summer cocktail, refreshing, light, and a cinch to make. | Aperol, Sangria, Perfect summer cocktails

There are a lot of cocktails out there that have been around for a long time. But probably not as long as the original sangria. This fruity drink dates back to 200 BC,  with the Romans enjoying punches made with Spanish red wines they soon called sangrias. Later on, Europe picked up the trend, and fruit was eventually added to the wine-based concoction.

Making sangria with Aperol can instantly turn it into an Aperol spritz sangria — perfect for a big group which enjoys something fresh and fruity (you can use both orange and grapefruit juice along with sparkling water for additional bubbles). Party perfect, right?

9. Bird of Paradise

Pineapple Jungle Bird Recipe | VinePair

This cocktail is typically rum-based and made to be colourful and  fruity. Sip on one of these and imagine you are chilling poolside with a warm breeze in your hair and sunshine on your face, even if you are home on your sofa in the dead of winter. This version is a play on the Jungle Bird (made with Campari) but here you add rum, Aperol, pineapple juice, lime juice and a simple sugar syrup into a shaker with ice before giving it a good shake and pouring it into a glass with ice.

10. Aperol Cosmopolitan

Aperol Cosmopolitan ( Aperol Vodka Cocktail ) - Basil And Bubbly

Renowned for its many appearances in “Sex and the City,”  it has been around much longer than that although its exact origin is unclear. Potentially it comes from a 19th century drink called “Daisy.” However, it wasn’t until 1987 that the drink went by the name we know today. Usually made with vodka, cranberry juice, lime and Cointreau (or triple sec), it is both sweet and tart. Using Aperol instead of Cointreau creates  smoother balance of sweet and tart flavours, and it’s less alcoholic!

11. Morrison Mule

Morrison Mule Recipe - Benton Bourgeois | Food & Wine

A Moscow mule is made from vodka, ginger beer and lime – an oldie but a goodie. There’s also the Kentucky mule, which is made from whiskey instead of vodka. The Morrison Mule was named after Jim Morrison after he stayed at the New Orleans hotel where the drink was created from bourbon, ginger beer and Aperol.

12. Bitter Peach Bellini

Cocktail Bellini de Venise – dolceterrafrance

Thanks to Giuseppe Cipriani from Harry’s Bar in Venice, the Bellini has been around since 1948, made from sparkling wine and peaches. Change it up by adding Aperol into the mix which helps to not only enhance its colour but also adds just a touch of bitterness to help keep things from being overly sweet.

13. Little Italy

Little Italy Cocktail Recipe | Cheers Mr. Forbes

The Manhattan is truly a one-of-a-kind, well-crafted drink that won’t let you down — when done correctly – has been around since the late 1800s and is usually crafted from whiskey and sweet vermouth but has been known to be tweaked over the years by mixologists serving it at their establishments. One tweak is adding in Aperol to get what is called the Little Italy. With its deep colour and cherry garnish, this drink looks a lot like a Manhattan. However, it’s a tad different as it includes three staple ingredients, rather than just the two, as well as a hint of bittersweet flavour.

How do you like your Aperol? Let me know below.

One from the vaults: The last word

I usually remember my Dad on Father’s Day but I’ve kinda unintentionally neglected Mum. It’s Mothering Sunday in France (29 May) while I’m away though the date seems to be a bit of a moveable feast with different countries choosing different Sundays to celebrate. For example, it’s Mothers’ Day in Belgium and Switzerland this weekend, so I’m revisiting a post I wrote in 2013.

At the beginning of last year,, I was shocked at how much my mother had deteriorated. in such a short space of time. She no longer walked and now spent her days either in her hospital provided bed or in a wheelchair. Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill you but over time the body shuts down and your immune system becomes severely compromised. To be honest none of us thought she’d see the year out. In May she was very weak and dehydrated and we all feared the worse. But she rallied.

My father had long since used the services of a private nursing agency to help get my mother up and ready in the morning and put her to bed in the evening. She’d become so frail and her skin was like paper so that she bruised easily and was prone to bed sores. Nonetheless, it took two people to deal with her and she had a devoted team of six looking after her on a regular basis.

Her condition was monitored regularly by the local health authority, who finally agreed to contribute to the sizeable cost of caring for my mother at home and afford my Dad a bit of respite. This was cheaper for them and assured my mother of round-the-clock care she was unlikely to receive in any institution. In any event, my Dad’s old school, he promised “in sickness and in health” and he’s a man who keeps his promises. He has always been endlessly patient with her, even before the illness took hold.

From time to time, there was the odd glimmer of the woman she once was. But most of the time it was just her fiercely bright, blue, bewildered eyes gazing out at you from a prematurely aged and shrunken face. I last saw her in early October and she seemed in surprisingly good spirits, a condition which persisted in the run up to Xmas. She was irritable over Xmas and we thought it might be as a result of slight changes in her routine and having more visitors in the house than usual.

After Xmas she stopped eating and drinking, something she’s done before but never for an extended period. She also seemed to be suffering from a heavy cold. A childhood bout of pneumonia had left her with a heart murmur and a shadow on one of her lungs so she’d always easily succumbed to coughs and colds, particularly in the winter. She was listless and rather than leave her in her wheelchair, the nursing staff decided to let her stay propped up in bed where she seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. My father rarely left her side, nor did my middle sister and brother-in-law who live nearby. As her condition deteriorated, the doctor was summoned.

He advised that she had pneumonia and it was only a matter of days before she simply breathed her last. He assured everyone that she was in no pain and she was made as comfortable as possible. My younger sister and her husband arrived to lend moral and physical support. Everyone took turns keeping my mother company. My father held her hand and I said I was sure she knew he was there.

My mother was finally at peace in the early hours of a January Monday morning. Mid-morning I got a text message to ring home. I knew even before I rang what they were going to tell me. Yes, it’s sad. But it’s sad that her last years on this earth were spent in some sort of living hell and frankly I can’t be sad that she’s been released from her torment.

When someone dies there’s a huge amount of administrative stuff to be dealt with. A bit of a blessing as it keeps the mind active and prevents it from dwelling too closely on exactly what’s just happened. My brother-in-law, who’s experienced at dealing with such matters, took charge and my two sisters ensured that my Dad wasn’t on his own. For almost sixty years, his life has revolved around caring for my mother in one form or other. It’s no exaggeration to say that he was going to be lost without her.

Plans for her funeral were well advanced. They are by their very nature sad occasions but, when you’ve reached a ripe old age, they should be a celebration of the good times and happy memories. My mother had plenty of both. My middle sister, the Pam Ayres of the family, penned a wonderful poem about her and my father wrote a heartfelt farewell which was read out at her funeral by my beloved. I’d offered to read it because neither of my two sisters felt able to do so but, in the end, I just couldn’t.

Prior to the funeral, to give her some food for thought, my sister asked me to jot down everything I could remember about my mother because 1) as the eldest I’ve been around a bit longer 2) I had a good relationship with my mother and spent plenty of time with her prior to her illness and 3) I have the memory of an elephant. When I started to compile the list, I realised just how far back I could remember and just how much. There was plenty of fodder, much of it very amusing!

At the cycle club Galette des Rois last night, one or two members who also have relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s  – some of whom had met my mother – kindly asked after her. When I replied that she’d died the previous day, they looked mortified. I said they shouldn’t apologise as they weren’t to know and my mother was finally at peace.

I had been surprised that she’d managed to see out the year but I like to think she did so in order prove us all wrong and have the last word. She so loved having the last word!

Thursday doors #154

Here are some new Italian doors from our most recent stay in Piedmont.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Dan’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

[Yet another] Postcard from Alassio: Part II

As a child aged 8 I spent a wonderful holiday in Laigueglia, Italy, with my family. My fondest memories are of the guys selling warm jammy donuts on the beach, sadly no longer in evidence. Amazingly, the small, family-run hotel we stayed in is still there. Nowadays, Laigueglia is a place to which we stroll from nearby Alassio and it’s one of the quieter, more traditional resorts along the coast.

Photo of Laigueglia

It is believed that Laigueglia was named by the Romans as the name comes from word aquila (eagle). The black eagle was a symbol of the Roman legions and nowadays it’s the town’s symbol. However the first, written proof of the town’s existence comes from 12th century when it was a part of the Republic of Genoa. Then between 12-13th centuries, many Catalonians (Spanish) came here to work, gathering coral. During this period, the town flourished which was why it was so often attacked by Saracen pirates.

The arrival of Napoleon put paid the the town’s burgeoning trade in wheat, wine and olive oil. Then, after Italian unification, it became once more a sleepy fishing village until the arrival of the train and tourism.

It’s a pleasant place to wander around starting with the seafront Piazza Marconi,  with its handful of cafes. You can walk along the paved rock pier on the seafront, both for the views out to sea and also for the best view back on the town itself.

The sandy beach in the centre of Laigueglia is next to the pier, and you can also follow the promenade along behind the beach. While it is true that the buildings behind the beach are not of any great architectural importance, this makes for a pleasant stroll and there is the occasional cafe or ice-cream shop to divert you………

The rest of the historic town centre is largely pedestrianised and contains a couple of small piazzas and narrow streets lined with small local shops and restaurants.

The large church dominating the centre of Laigueglia is the Church of San Matteo (Saint Matthew). This church was built in the second half of 18th century in the Baroque style and is unusual in having small towers with decorative majolica domes to either side of the main facade. Inside the church there are some notable 16th-17th century paintings by local artists and a 16th century marble font.

Next door to the church is the Oratory of Santa Maria Maddalena which predates the church by about 150 years and also contains various notable artefacts and artworks.

Laigueglia | Ufficio Turismo Laigueglia

Another interesting monument is the round tower on the seafront, which was built in 16th century to help defend the town from pirates. Originally there were three of these towers but the other two were demolished under Napoleon to allow other building works to be carried out.

Laigueglia is located in the stretch of sea enclosed between Capo Santa Croce and Capo Mele. The beach is a narrow strip of fine sand, sloping into clear and shallow water – ideal for swimming and diving. Furthermore,  a few metres off the coast of Capo Mele, it’s possible to dive down to the wreck of the steamship Ravenna, torpedoed and sunk during WWI which nowadays plays host to marine flora and fauna typical of the Gulf.

Santuario di Nostra Signora delle Penne - Cosa vedere a Laigueglia, Savona

Looking down on the village, is the chapel of Madonna delle Penne, built by the Catalan coral fishermen during 17th century. Here towards Colla Micheri, you’ll find the home of the famous Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, helmsman of the Kon Tiki raft. This is a lovely area for walking and mountain biking.