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Showing posts from July, 2011

William Ewart Gladstone and Alfred Morgan

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William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) was British Prime Minister on four occasions as well as the country’s oldest serving prime minister at 84 years old. During his various ministries he introduced the secret ballot into the British electoral system, oversaw the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and in 1886 tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill through parliament to allow devolution or Irish Home Rule. He was known by the appellation G.O.M., which stood for ‘Grand Old Man’ to his friends and supporters, and ‘God’s Only Mistake’ to his lifelong rival Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone is also remembered for the bag that bears his name and for using the longest word in a British parliamentary debate: antidisestablishmentarianism.


Alfred Morgan (1862-1904) was an English painter. His extensive range of subjects included portraits, flowers, animals and landscapes, as well as historical and biblical scenes. In 1885 he completed a portrait of William Ewart Gladstone in a work entitled ‘An Om…

Théâtre Antique, Orange

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"Have you ever drunk your weight in red wine in a restaurant while waiting for your meal to be served, staggered back to your hotel, fallen down in the shower while fully clothed, and spent the night lying in a crumpled heap on the floor in dripping wet clothes and a pool of sick and vomit?"
I posed the question to a fellow traveller who thought I looked a bit hung-over as we waited on the platform of Orange railway station in Provence.
"I haven't", he replied, "and I don't know anyone who has, either".
"It must just be me, then", I said.


It all happened too many years ago to recall, but I still have the leaflet from my visit to the town's Antique Theatre, the main tourist attraction. That's it above, a bit moth eaten, like its possessor, but still in one piece. The weather that day was superb, I still remember it, but the omens weren't good. I'd had an altercation with a French bureaucratic bank clerk while cashing some trav…

Isle of Skye - the magic island

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“The sun, his golden helmet shimmering in his brow, has scaled the walls of the glittering east, and now, proud and majestic, hangs like a pendant in the welkin’s eye.”
So said a passenger (or words to that effect) as our ferry cast off its mooring in Mallaig and headed for the open sea and the short journey to the mystical isle of Skye.
“Not many people aboard”, the passenger added. “A lot less than I would have thought”. “A lot fewer”, I corrected him.
I thought he was going to hit me, but he just walked away. I looked at a forlorn looking lady sitting in a corner. An unstamped letter, I thought, lost and abandoned in life’s sorting office.
We were quite a collection.
Skye is the home of the MacDonalds, most famously Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the isle after the failed Jacobin revolt.  
“Och, wee Charlie, hoots mon, dinnae tarry, will yu get yur wee backside i’yon boatie, mon?”
The journey over we clambered on a bus for Portree. “You married?” the passenger aske…

La Promenade des Anglais, Nice by Raoul Dufy

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The French artist Raoul Dufy (1877-1953) painted colourful, cheerful pictures of the French Riviera including the Midi's most beautiful avenue, the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Some of his paintings are on display in Nice's Fine Arts Museum. The artist is buried in Nice in a grave close to that of his fellow fauvist Henri Matisse. Here are some of his depictions of the la Prom and the Bay of Angels....








Double Dutch with a Dutchman, or The Mystery of the Missing Euro.

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Travelling once on a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam I recounted the following riddle to a Dutchman….


Three men have a meal in a restaurant (more of a snack, actually, a cheese sandwich and a milk shake) and the bill comes to 30 euros. Each man gives the waiter 10 euros and the waiter takes the money to the head waiter. But the head waiter notices that the bill should only be 25 euros. So he gives the waiter back 5 euros and tells him to return the money to the men. But on his way to the table the waiter thinks to himself: “Hang fire a minute. They don’t know that the bill was only 25 euros. I think I’ll just give them back 3 euros and keep 2 euros for myself”. So he slips 2 euros into his back pocket and gives 3 euros back to the men, 1 euro to each. Therefore…


Question: How much did each man pay for his meal?
Answer: 9 euros.
Question: 3 times 9 euros equals…?
Answer: 27 euros.
Question: How much did waiter slip into his back pocket?
Answer: 2 euros.
Question: 27 euros plus 2 euros equals…

Louis-Ferdinand Céline : grand écrivain français

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-- Vous vous dites en somme chroniquer?-- Ni plus ni moins!...                                                       [Nord L-F Céline]

Pour avoir un tableau complet d’un homme il faut tout considérer, ses contradictions aussi, une tâche formidable lorsqu’il s’agit de l’écrivain français Louis-Ferdinand Céline, homme à la fois de droite et de gauche, pacifiste qui s’est engagé volontairement à deux réprises, et philosphe et pamphlétaire sans aucun message à déliverer.

Céline est devenu célèbre en 1932, l’année de la publication de son premier roman Voyage au bout de la nuit. A travers une langue virulente et plein de colère il raconte les aventures de son héros, un nommé Ferdinand Bardamu, de 1914 jusqu’au début des années 1930. A mesure que son voyage avance, d’abord à la guerre, qu’il considère une «vaste universelle moquerie», puis à la colonie de la Bambola-Bragamance, où il observe le fonctionnement pervers de l’administration coloniale, ensuite aux États-Unis, le royaume du roi Dol…

Place de Clichy, Paris

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I first heard the name of the Place de Clichy, or simply the Place Clichy, in Louis-Ferdinand Céline's celebrated novel of 1932, Journey to the End of the Night, which begins on the square in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War.


Ferdinand Bardamu, the novel's hero, is sitting in a café with fellow medical student, Arthur, discussing President Poincaré, who is due to inaugurate a dog show. (The French presidency in the Third Republic was almost entirely ceremonial.) Arthur calls Ferdinand an anarchist, and Ferdinand responds by reciting a poem he has written, 'a kind of prayer of social vengeance'. They discuss the unsuspecting war slowly creeping up on them, and Arthur declares that if his country asks him to shed his blood then his is ready to do so. Ferdinand is less enthusiastic, but when a regiment comes marching past rounding up recruits, it is Ferdinand and not Arthur that joins the procession. They march on to the cheers of the crowds bombarding…

Sink me! It's Lyon! (& including grape picking and cuisine lyonnaise)

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As a teenager I shall never forget seeing an explorer on a TV chat show. He sat on a couch, wearing a bush hat and safari jacket, saying "Sink me!" at any and every moment, while delighting the studio audience with the witty and sparkling accounts of his daring-do adventures. Whether in the desert wastes of the Sahara, the icy wastes of the Arctic, the remote mountains of Peru and the malarial jungles of Borneo, doing battle with severe heat and extreme cold, with crocodiles and alligators, with poisonous snakes and spiders, he emerged from it all with a "Sink me!" and a smile on his suntanned, handsome face.


I was so impressed that there and then I made a solemn vow to myself that one day I too would become an famous explorer, and it is a vow I would have kept but for one thing - I just couldn't find a decent safari jacket anywhere! So I 
thought instead of wearing my grandfather's old shooting jacket and knee-breeches with matching stockings, and perhaps a …

The Protestant Cemetery - 'the holiest place in Rome'

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"It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place".                         Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Protestant Cemetery in Rome, or more accurately the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome (il Cimitero acattolico di Roma), is located near to the Aurelian Walls, the defensive structure constructed by the Emperor Aurelian in the third century AD to protect Rome from the barbarian hordes; and to the pyramid of Caius Cestius, dating from between 18 and 12 BC. It is close to the Porta San Paolo, the best preserved of the gates of the Aurelian Walls.


The cemetery came into existence from a need to create a burial place for non-Catholics in Rome, who, under the ecclesiastical laws of the Catholic Church, were not permitted to be buried in the consecrated grounds of Catholic churches. It began to be used around 1730, when it became known as the English Cemetery because of the large number of English people buried there, t…

Colline du Chatêau, Nice

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La Colline du Chatêau, or Castle Hill, is one of the main visitor attractions of Nice on the Côte d’Azur.  It was a military fortification from the 11th to the 18th century, and was the last bastion in the siege of Nice in 1705 by King Louis XIV of France.  After several weeks of siege the town surrendered, but the castle held out until it was reduced to rubble by 113 canons and mortars.  The king ordered that what remained of the bastion be destroyed by explosives, so that nothing of the original structure is now in place. 
Access to the summit is by a lift inside the cliff face; by the tourist train (le petit train); or by a hard slog on foot. But once there you can enjoy a landscaped garden where the castle once stood; panoramic views over the old town and the Cours Saleyawith its celebrated flower market;  expansive views of the equally celebrated Promenade des Anglais and the Bay of Angels; and gaze down on the busy port with its luxury yachts and watch the yellow ferries weighing…

Cours Saleya, Nice

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The Cours Saleya is the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the old town of Nice and the location of one of the main tourist attractions of the city - le Marché aux fleurs (the Flower Market).


The space was originally known as la Marina, then, from 1714, the term Palco was used. The name Cours was first used during the Napoleonic era, and it adopted its present name of le Cours Saleya at the beginning of the 20th Century. Wikepedia France


The Cours runs parallel to the Quai des États-Unis and the bay, and is overlooked by the Colline du Château(Castle Hill) the ancient fortification which dominates the old town.


In 1839, in one of the houses in the Cours, a literary salon was established by one Benoit Visconti, and for more than 50 years it remained an important point of reference for art and literature lovers around the world. It became a place at which the devotees wanted to be seen. Other attractions at the Visconti residence were musical concerts and illuminated noctural festivals. Wikep…

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

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Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born in Livorno (Italy) in 1884 and died in Paris in 1920 at the age of 35.


At the age of 14, sick with typhoid and in a delirium, he raved that he wanted to visit the famous art galleries of Florence. On his recovery his mother fulfilled a promise to take him there, and on their return to Livorno enrolled him with Guglielmo Micheli, one of the leading painting masters in the city. He studied landscape painting, portraiture and still life, and also the nude, his particular favourite. Fellow students said that when not painting young women he was pursuing them. He also won the sobriquet from his teacher of Superman. 


He was a dedicated and promising student, but after two years (1898-1900) his studies were brought to a premature halt when he became sick with the onset of tuberculosis. 


In 1902-1903 he studied in Florence and then in Venice, where he began to smoke hashish and spend time in the less reputable parts of the city. Then in 1906 he moved to Paris,…