Showing posts from March, 2011

August Macke, 1887-1914

A man in Paris went to see a doctor.
“Doctor“, he pleaded, “you must help me. I’m so sad. I sit in my room all day long and the tears flow down my cheeks. I can’t stop weeping, I’m so sad”.
“Tush, tush!” dismissively replied the doctor. “This is nothing! The great clown Pagliacci is in town. Go and see him. He’ll cure you of your sadness”.
“But, doctor”, said the man pitifully. “I am Pagliacci”.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline wondered why we refuse to be cured of our loneliness. Albert Einstein believed that two things were infinite, the universe and human stupidity, though he wasn’t sure about the universe. John Lennon said that he was the walrus, goo goo g’joob. And German artist August Macke loved light, colour and beauty and was killed in the mud of the ‘Great War for the Civilisation of the World’, that universal mockery to human dignity.

Opinion mongers, moral authority & Nice 'la belle ville'

I felt her heaving under me, moving up and down, up and down, and each movement sent a shuddering pulse through my body.

It lasted about ten minutes, then the lady sitting next to me looked at me and said: “That was the worst turbulence I’ve known in 20 years of flying. I’ve never known anything so scary. How about you?”
“Well,” I told her, “there’s was that time I visited the offices of a giant Japanese corporation only to find that the building had been taken over by a gang of international terrorists and I had to save the lives of the hostages wearing only a pair of trousers and a cotton vest.”
“Wow!” the lady said. 
“Oh no,” I said, “what am I saying, that wasn’t me, I’m getting confused, that was Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

The plane stabilised and we continued our journey. Thirty minutes later we were skimming a few hundred feet over the Mediterranean in our approach to Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport. I could see the Promenade des Anglais and the prominent dome of the Negresco. We touched t…

Monet, Zola and the Gare Saint-Lazare

Among the many inventions of the Industrial Revolution, the one which was destined to have the greatest impact on our lives was undoubtedly the railways. For the first time in human history people were able to rapidly travel large distances in comparative comfort. Thus in was that in The Boscombe ValleyMystery Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson could be ’flying westwards at fifty milesan hour’ to the scene of their investigation. If you had the time, and the money to go with it, the world had become your oyster.

To accompany the new innovation magnificent railway stations were built with their unique architectural design. Among them was the Gare St-Lazare in Paris, opened in 1837 by the wife of the unfortunate Louis-Philippe, and enlarged in 1854. It is sandwiched between Rue de Rome, Rue de Londres and Rued’Amsterdam, with a viewpoint on the Pont de l’Europe. Observing the station from the bridge, Emile Zola wrote in his notes: 'The steam emitted from the locomotives is red and black,…

Wandering exiles, Joyce's Dyoublong & custard pie

"So this is Dyoublong?"   [Finnegan's Wake]

I once had a long conversation in a bar in Paris with a man from Lithuania. We talked just for the sake of it, and because we were both fairly drunk, exchanging lies and anecdotes about our various travels. He was an educated man who spoke four or five languages, though, as I impertinently pointed out to him, he wouldn’t get far in the world if he only spoke Lithuanian. 

Among the many things he spoke of was his great admiration for James Joyce, who he lauded as the funniest man that ever lived, and his ambition was to go to Dublin and follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. I’ve seen the bronze pavement plaques on the streets in Dublin marking the lunchtime route that Bloom took from the Evening Telegraph office on Prince‘s Street to the National Library, where Stephen Dedalus holds forth his theory that Hamlet reflects Shakespeare’s rage at being cuckolded. I have also been in the alley off O’Connell Street where …

Matisse in Nice

Cimiez, in the north of Nice, is the home to the Matisse Museum, a grand looking building which houses many of the artist's greatest works.

Matisse moved to Nice in 1917 at the age of 48, to recover from bronchitis. He took a room at the elegant Hôtel Beau Rivage on Rue Saint-François-de-Paule, and rented a flat to use as a studio at 105 Quai des États-Unis . He remained in Nice until his death in 1954.

The museum is located at 164 avenue des Arenes de Cimiez, and to get there I took the number 17 bus which followed the Boulevard de Cimiez with its fine Belle Époque buildings. The museum itself is in a red-ochre, Genoese-style villa decorated in trompe-l’œil, in a small park with centuries-old olive trees, carobs, cypresses and parasol pines. The villa itself is from the XVII century.

The entrance charge was 4 euros, but the lady at the desk had no change, so she let everyone in free and asked if we would pay on our way out.

The villa and its new wing are home to 68 paintings, 236 dr…

Exotic Garden of Monaco

I have visited Monaco on one occasion and passed through it on several. Each time was by train, which, for those who like to savour the approach to a new destination, is not the best way to arrive, as the line is entirely subterranean, the only indication you have that you are in Monaco being the station sign on the underground platform.

But on that one occasion that I got off the train I did so with a mission, to visit the famous Jardin exotique de Monaco, the principality’s Tropical Garden.

My inspiration for going was a photograph that Brassai took in the gardens just after the end of the Second World War. Like all Brassai’s photos it was in black and white, and depicted a party of nuns in black gowns and flying headwear walking away from the camera down a narrow arbour of tall cacti. 

I got out of the train station by the back entrance, and asked a very elderly lady with two heavy shopping bags one in each hand where I could find the Jardin. As it happened, we were very close to the