Days out: Chagall exhibition

We were recently able to combine a trip to one of our favourite towns, Aix-en-Provence, with a visit to a Chagall exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont (pictured above), lunch at a nearby hotel (Hotel Le Pigonnet) with a gorgeous garden and watching our first live cycle race of the season (stage 4 of the Tour de la Provence) in which a number of our friends were riding. I call that a definite result!

It was a pleasant 90 minute drive in glorious sunshine from home to Aix. The scenery was magnificent: from the rusty-red rocks of Roquebrune to the stern grey of the Sainte Victoire, the mimosa provided flashes of gold among the dark evergreens while the vines were just starting to emerge from their winter pruning.

We left the car in the hotel car park after availing ourselves of the hotel’s facilities and enjoying a coffee ourdoors in its garden. We wandered into town and purchased some goodies from its Sunday market before returning to the hotel for a leisurely and delicious lunch, after which we visited the Hotel du Caumont to see its Chagall exhibition.

I’ve visited the museum in nearby [to Nice] Cimiez devoted to his works several times but am always keen to learn more about someone whom I  consider a local artist. A Franco-Russian by birth, he moved to Vence in 1949 and then, like many of his contemporories, settled in Saint Paul de Vence until his death aged 98 in 1985 – a good innings!

This is an interesting exhibition that sheds light on an unexplored dimension of Marc Chagall’s work. He was celebrated as a master of colour by the artists and critics of his day but this exhibition, which is devoted to the latter part of his career, highlights his change of style in the period from 1948 until his death.

Over 100 works (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, engravings, washes, gouaches, and collages) reflect Chagall’s artistic exploration of monochrome (black and white) and his mastery of particularly luminous, intense, and profound tints. After spending the WWII years in exile in USA, he adopted a bolder artistic approach, in which the study of volume led him to explore the world of light, shade, materials, and the transparency of black and white. The study of the chromatic and luminous subtleties of black and white resulted in the use of intense and bright colours that gave his pictorial oeuvre a completely new dimension. It was an illuminating exhibition in a gorgeous location.

 

Days out: Alfred Sisley exhibition

As I was driving past Aix-en-Provence the other week on the way back from the start of stage five of Paris-Nice 2018, I was reminded of a lovely day we had spent there last October. When we stayed in Aix-en-Provence in July to watch two stages of the Tour de France, we noted that Aix’s Hotel de Caumont had an exhibition of the works of Alfred Sisley. I resolved we’d return to Aix to see the exhibition before it closed in mid-October. We duly set aside a day in our diaries to visit both the exhibition and the town. It was a truly glorious day with temperatures peaking at 29C in Aix!

After a trip to the market for some fruit and vegetables, we headed for the exhibition on the assumption it would be quieter over lunch. Our assumption was correct, the museum wasn’t crowded. The exhibition of some sixty works, not all of which have regularly been exhibited in public, retraced the various stages in the development of Sisley’s works by focusing on some of the painter’s favourite locations – very appropriate for a landscape artist – and works from his entire career.

Although we’ve admired his work, we really didn’t know too much about him other than he was brought up in France by British parents. We discovered that, more than any other Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley utterly devoted himself to painting landscapes, and remained faithful to the movement’s founding principles of painting the scenes in situ, outdoors. Said to be inspired by John Constable in his approach to painting landscapes based on rural motifs, Sisley would carry out a systematic visual analysis of precise places based on his knowledge and experience, exploring them in every direction, noting down the differences between the scenes with the changing light, weather and seasons.

We both love his way of capturing the effects of the light dancing on the surface of the water, the brightness of the winter sun on the snow and the ice, the movements of the trees in the wind, the depth of the rural scenes, and the immensity of the skies which produce moving works worthy of peaceful contemplation. Archive photographs of the landscapes Sisley observed are exhibited alongside his paintings to illustrate the specific methods he adopted to analyse the scenes and takes the visitor from one favourite location to the next; from those where he lived—Louveciennes, Marly-le-Roi, Sèvres, Veneux-Nadon, and Moret-sur-Loing— to those where he stayed for short periods, such as Villeneuve-la-Garenne and Argenteuil, Hampton Court and the south coast of Wales.

Feeling much more knowledgeable about his work, we departed before the hoards returned to enjoy a late lunch in the open air. It’s rare to visit an exhibition where I’d be happy to have any of the artists’ works on my walls – I should be so lucky! – but I could honestly say that of this beautifully curated exhibition. It may now have departed Aix but I’m sure it’ll pop up somewhere else soon enough.

 

Trip to Aix-en-Provence

 

We spent much of last week-end in Aix-en-Provence, principally to catch a couple of stages of the Tour de France but also to enjoy some time in one of our favoured spots. Typically, I meet up with friends in Aix a couple of times a year as it’s pretty much the mid-way point for both of us and we have an enjoyable day out.

Friday we drove to the centre of Salon de Provence, the finish for 19th and longest stage of 104th Tour de France. We were billeted in a sports centre, 500m from the finish line, which did not have air conditioning. It was mighty hot and humid. On the plus side, it had refreshments, toilets and television. We avoided the press buffet by lunching beforehand at a restaurant near one of our dental clients on the outskirts of town.

It’s always much warmer inland as it doesn’t have our cooling littoral breezes. The stage from Embrun passed through some idyllic countryside, much of which we’ve cycled on previous trips to the area. My mission was to deliver cakes to the riders I know who are still in the race. I confess my projected bake had been much pared back (sadly) due to abandons. One team is down to three riders. I think you can guess which one that is. Their cakes (gluten free organic brownies and organic vegan banana loaf) should last with ease until the final stage in Paris.

Salon is famous for being the home of the French Red Arrows and we heard them buzzing overhead while we sat melting in the heat. We could certainly have used one of those ice vests which we saw the teams using in Saturday’s individual time-trial. I did have some ice-packs but they were keeping the cakes cool.

After dropping off the cakes at the coaches, watching the sprint finish followed by an aerial display – probably practising for Sunday in Paris – it was with some relief we returned to the air-conditionned car to drive back to Aix-en-Provence where we were spending the next two nights.  Our hotel is right in the centre of town, overlooking the Cours Mirabeau. It too has air conditioning, a necessity in this weather.

After lunch, I wasn’t overly hungry and neither (unusually) was my beloved, I blamed the heat! Instead, we elected to have cocktails and nibbles at our hotel before a long stroll around Aix. Okay, the shops are all closed but I do enjoy a spot of window shopping.

After a really good night’s sleep we woke at 08:30 and walked to the market to buy vegetables for Sunday’s meals. Aix has a brilliant market and I buy tons (slight exaggeration) of different coloured beans and masses of fresh herbs. The perfume of the basil is positively heady, I’ll make an avocado/basil pesto dressing for the bean salad. After a leisurely breakfast, I have to explore the two bookshops in Aix, one either side of our hotel. Both have an extensive selection of cookery books but none that I absolutely had to add to my collection.

We left Aix to drive to Marseille to watch the penultimate Tour de France stage, a short individual time-trial starting and ending in the Velodrome, home to Marseille’s football team. We noted with some amusement that the route visited the best bits of Marseille. When going to a stage start or finish, you have to follow a certain route, usually well sign-posted and just when we despaired of finding the right road, we chanced upon it and the Velodrome.

Despite the heat, there’s a fantastic atmosphere ahead of the final stage of the La Course, the ladies’ two-stage race, being held before the men’s time-trial. We cool off in the press centre which, this time, is blissfully air-conditioned. We’re now reluctant to leave and settle down to watch the racing only popping out from time to time to catch it live and encourage our friends, none of whom are entertaining any thoughts of winning this particular stage.

It’s also an opportunity to catch up with friends among the press pack and check who’ll be at the Clasica, the one-day race in San Sebastian the following week-end. Many are facing a long drive to Paris for the Tour finale. Others are heading home. The time-trial threw up some surprise performances with the winner having to sit tight in the hot seat for almost three hours and one of the podium contenders hanging onto his third-place by a single second.

We swiftly exit the Velodrome and drive back to Aix. The town’s buzzing, it’s a very popular tourist haunt. We eat oysters at one of the well-known restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau, allegedly a favourite haunt of Cezanne, before a relatively early night – spectating’s tiring!

The following morning my beloved enjoyed a relaxing breakfast in the sunshine while I wandered round taking photographs with my iPad – so much easier when there’s fewer people around. I adore all the honey coloured stone buildings with wrought iron canopies and balconies. I love wandering up and down its cobbled lanes. There’s a massive architectural dig in the centre of town which has revealed more of the town’s Roman origins and I note there’s an art exhibition which I’d like to see before it closes mid-October.

Aix, a bit like Alassio, is the perfect spot for a few nights away. There’s plenty to see and do, it’s pleasurable to wander around, there’s plenty of bars and restaurants and it’s just a 90 minute drive away. The hotel had pretty much my perfect hotel room (post on that coming soon) and was a charming blend of old and new. It was a very enjoyable couple of days and we’ll be back to sample Aix’s delights again soon.

Just call me Florence

Our days have quickly settled into a routine which totally revolves around my beloved and the treatments for his broken leg.  It starts with a good breakfast before an hour long physio session at the nearby hospital during which I go food shopping. After all I have to cook him three square meals a day to aid his (hopefully swift) recovery. Back home we ready ourselves for the daily visit from the nurse for his anticoagulant injections and change of dressings. Lunch and then a short nap for my beloved which allows me to get on with some work work, rather than house work.

My beloved stirs in time for a cuppa and checks on his emails. I start to prepare dinner and tidy up. While I’ve not been able to get out for a ride, I’m getting plenty of exercise being at his beck and call 24/7. He’s moving around well on his crutches and the swelling in his leg is subsiding. He is supposed to give it plenty of rest, particularly after the punishing physio sessions. This means I am chief fetcher and carrier for someone who’s not renowned for being patient. Our evenings are generally spent catching up with work before an early night.

While everything appears to be progressing well, there have been side effects. The anticoagulant injections affect the kidneys which means he’s popping to the toilet more frequently. Consequently I’ve allowed him to use my en-suite. A huge concession on my part given cleaning his bathroom usually sees me donning a haz-chem suit.  It’s also given him gout in the big toe of the broken leg. He’s suffered from this in the past but we’ve not had a flare up since 2012. All of which has meant much searching on the internet, quizzing of nursing staff and speculation as to whether I should run him to the GP for something for the gout. Fortunately, it’s starting to subside.

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Yesterday, after his stitches had been removed, I was given time off for good behaviour. Yes, just over two weeks since the accident, I’ve been allowed out to catch up with one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since we were eight years’ old and have kept in touch since being at grammar school for five years together. She lives in Austin, Texas but summers in the Luberon where she has a lovely honey stoned house in the pretty village of Gordes. She comes over in spring to ready the house for the summer season and was going to stay with us but, because of my beloved’s infirmity, we’ve opted for lunch in Aix. I’m taking my sister with me as she’s over here enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.
It would have been nice to spend the whole day in Aix particularly as there’s so much to see and do, including a fabulous market in the mornings. We arrived just in time for lunch at my chosen venue – you don’t honestly think I’d let anyone else pick the restaurant, do you? We dined in the beautiful enclosed, walled garden just a stone’s throw from Aix-en-Provence’s Cours Mirabeau.
My menu choice was somewhat limited, sea bass with mashed (with olive oil) potato and a green salad, but then I’d gone for a break not the food. My sister and my friend fared rather better. The other guests slowly departed and we went for a gentle stroll round the garden before enjoying a quick dash around Aix. It was my sister’s maiden visit and I wanted to show her the gorgeous town if only to encourage her to re-visit.
All too soon we were chugging back down the A8, remarkably free of traffic until we hit the toll in Antibes and the evening rush from whence we crawled home. I had had already prepared dinner – carrot and sweet potato soup with smoked paprika – so my sister dined with us before I dropped her back at her flat. My beloved claimed he was exhausted from looking after himself, so we opted for an early night. Today I was back to same old, same old……………

Ennui

Given that most of the northern hemisphere is snowed in, it hardly seems fair to mention that it was wet and damp on Monday and Tuesday, confining me indoors to get on with a myriad of chores. Today it’s been cold again but gloriously sunny with a clear, bright blue sky. Near lunchtime, my beloved and I escaped from our workload to ride several times around Cap d’Antibes. The cough has almost, but not quite, disappeared and I made far fewer snot stops than last week.

We’re now in dangerous territory. We’re entering the third week of my beloved being at home, albeit he has now returned to working in the home office. I can sense that I’m getting fed up with the routine of cooking/preparing three square meals a day. Indeed, yesterday my beloved went for a lunch time swim and on his return found me still glued to my office chair. Sensing that enquiring what was for lunch would be unlikely to find favour, he foraged in the fridge for sustenance.

Wisely, he’s hired a car and is going to visit a French client near Aix tomorrow. So we’ll have a day apart. He’s just advised me that on account of the severe weather conditions, he’s cancelled his trip to Germany next week. This means he’ll be home for yet another week. The week after that we’re going to the UK together by which time I’m hoping the snow will have disappeared and we’ll still be talking to one another.