Sunday, 19 August 2012


Yes, a busy week of painting.

So, I missed a week because we’ve been very busy holidaying.  The skipped week was full of painting – I managed to finish 10 paintings in 10 days and I’m very pleased with them (they’ll be on show at Aux Petits Jouers, 59 Rue Mouzaia, Paris 75019 from the 20th of August until the 7th of September, with vernissage/finissage drinks from 19h30 on the 4th).

After all the painting we caught the train down to Montpellier for the start of our Summer Holiday:

We stepped off the train into the dense, sticky heat of the South, the colonnaded station swarming with tanned holiday makers in the midnight darkness.  Our good friends had come to collect us and we were whooshed through the winding streets to their little villa in the village of Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone.  It was dark and the suburban streets flew past inn a sleepy blur.

So followed several days of sun, swimming, sightseeing and seafood.

The heat was intense but we would sit in the peaceful shade of the mulberry tree at a long table eating delicious long lunches with glasses of rose sparkling in the sun.

Every year our host and his friends sail out onto the Mediterranean to collect mussels which they then barbeque on the beach – this year we tagged along.  In the early morning heat we headed to the Marina - a dense, sun-bleached forest of masts and apartment blocks – into the boats and started out towards the open sea, a mixed bag of shellfish lovers.  The sea, immediately beyond the shelter of the marina was a choppy rollercoaster-ride of salt spray.  We were like a little toy in a child’s bath, it was a rollicking ride but no one could stomach it all the way to a big lunch so eventually we admitted defeat and headed to one of the party’s house for 25kilos of market-bought mussels.  Delicous!  One huge platter of mussels followed another, the wine flowed freely and between courses everyone jumped into the bright blue waters of the mosaic-ed pool.  And despite the constant sweltering heat, no third degree burns – go Ozone layer!

Another time, the beaches of the Mediterranean spread out as far as the eye can see, thick with the multi-coloured sprinkles of beach umbrellas and sunbathers, the waters warm, salty and free of any threat of jellyfish.  The sand burning underfoot.  To reach the beaches one must cross the marshes – vast expanses of smelly water, thick grasses and meandering flamingos.  In Villeneuve, only a narrow causeway connects the beach to the mainland, at the end of the causeway a Medieval Monastery and vineyard, still in operation, nestled amongst the grasses for some eight hundred years, sheltered from the squealing children and their games by a rusty chainlink fence.

Another time, a vast lake high in the hills, a reservoir surrounded by tiny hamlets clinging to the steep ground.  The earth as red and dry as Mars, the waters as blue as the sky, and yet more holidaymakers frolicking in the heat.   The blue of the water’s an illusion – up close it’s brown but cool as ice and so refreshing.

The remarkable gargoyles of the saintly king
Another time, the Medieval port of Aigues-Mortes (The Dead Waters), established by Louis the IX (the saintly one - possibly XI, can never remember) in 13-something (I think) to serve as his only sea port, he was forced to pay people to move to the barren marshland.  Now landlocked after centuries of silt, but still safe behind its high stone walls.  We strolled through the narrow medieval streets, whispered through the rough-hewn cathedral, sheltered in the cool shade of the little square with its cafes and plein trees.

Later, the town of Arle – Roman capital of the Three Gauls and inspiration to Van Gogh (amongst many others) – a gorgeous Roman town of winding alleys, dilapidated buildings, tree-shaded (and seemingly random) little squares.  Van Gogh’s famous cafe sits on one such square, its walls a bright canary yellow in honour of his painting.  A lunch of Aioli – one potato, one swede, one carrot and some beans all boiled to within an inch of disintergration, sea snails and salted cod, all served with copious amounts of garlic aioli.  Strong enough to kill.  Beside us a whale of a woman in a brightly patterned mumu, her magenta-painted lips lost in a roiling mass of sun-redenned face.  A well-worn straw hat painting a line of shadow across her narrow nose as she slurped down sea snail after sea snail.  But she smiled warmly as we tried to trudge our way through our plate.

Cold, refreshing ice creams after, wandering the labyrinth of the little city.

Montpellier, now vastly outgrown the ancient Roman capital - a glorious, car-free place of gleaming Belle Epoch (possibly, I’m a bit sketchy on all that) apartments surrounded by the bustling traffic of the rest of the city and its grimy buildings and sweat-gleaming citizens.  The oddness of seeing beggars sporting the glowing face of a perfect Cote d’Azur tan.  An aqueduct near the palace, stretching from the heat-hazed distance to the plaza that Louis XIV deemed should forever be the highest point in the city, and which still is.  The aqueduct leads to a Classical temple of carved sandstone which it is explained to us is simply the water tower.  The columns of the temple/water-storage-area are thick with hundreds of years of graffiti and you can see penmanship degenerate before your eyes.  Grass grows from cracks in the sun-baked asphalt but the gilt on the arc de triomphe shines as bright as ever.  Enormous statues of chubby angels cavorting with lions flank the entrance to this Royal plaza and in the shade of the tree-lined promenades couples canoodle.  One bench sports three friends each lost in the world of his i-phone, each slightly shorter than the last (or taller, depending on which end you start at).

Then we must leave.  A Casablanca/Generic Holywood moment in the boiling concrete mass of the station – our train is delayed and arrives exactly when the next train should have – half the waiting passengers say the train is to X and half to Y.  We push through the throng, steam rising (but it’s probably just heat haze), everyone shiny and sweaty, until we finally reach a uniformed guard.  This is our train we confirm as the last whistle pierces the twilight and we throw ourselves through the nearest little door as it hisses shut.

It’s been a very enjoyable week – I even got a tan for grudsake.

Also, our hosts’ dog, little Enzo, must get an honourable mention for being such a lovely guy – y’all know I’m more of a cat person normally but Enzo won my heart.
Mr. Enzito

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