Showing posts from August, 2011

Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille

Atop the highest point in the city, overlooking the Vieux Port (Old port), stands Marseille's most striking landmark, the majestic neo-Byzantine basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde.

Arriving in the city by train, your first sight of the edifice is from the top of le Grand escalier, the broad steps that lead down from the station to the city spread at its feet. From this viewpoint the basilica is a mere silhouette on the horizon, and between you and it, hidden in a cove, is Marseille's Old Port and the site of the original Greek settlement from circa 600 BC.

Descend the steps with their striking sculptures and follow the Boulevard d'Athènes until it reaches a crossroads with La Canebière, the famous road which English sailors in the early 20th century dubbed 'the can o' beer', by virtue of the large number of bars that could be found there. La Canebière leads straight to the Vieux Port, and then onwards and upwards to the 'guardian and protector of the city'…

"Quick! Quick! The Mona Lisa. I'm double-parked!"

Whether or not the Louvre art museum in Paris is the best in the world is a matter of debate and local pride and prejudice, but it is apparently the most visited, and many visitors will be there for one reason only, to see it's most famous attraction, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

It was painted some time between 1503 and 1519 and is variously known as La Gioconda, La Jaconde, and Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Though now regarded as the most famous painting in the world, it was not generally known until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, since when its reputation has soared, and is now an unmistakable icon of western art.

In 1911 the picture was stolen and suspicion fell on two of the leading artistic figures of the time, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the painter Pablo Picasso. In the event the culprit was discovered to be someone much more banal, a certain Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee at the Louvre and an Italian patriot who wanted to …

Biker Babes Goin' Wild in Valence

A look at Valence (Drôme, France) from a political, economic and social standpoint, and definitely not dumbed down.

In order to respond to a mean, nasty, malicious and low-minded comment that this blog is dumbing down, we are now presenting this wholly serious posting on the French town of Valence, where I once spent 15 miserable hours due to the rain which never stopped the whole time, with the result that I left the place as ignorant as when I arrived.  So I'm now going back, digitally speaking, with the help of information and images graciously borrowed from the Internet, for a serious look at the socio-politico-economic activity of this important and vibrant community.

We'll begin with the geography. Valence is a commune in the south-east of France and a prefecture in the department of the Drôme in the Rhône-Alpes region. It is the fifth most populated commune of the region with a population of 64,484 at the 2008 census. It is often referred to as 'the gateway to the Sou…

Piccadilly Circus, London

They used to say that if you stood at London's Piccadilly Circus long enough then you would bump into everyone that you'd ever met in your life. It is not only the centre of London (though technically this is the nearby statue of Charles I mounted on a horse on the south side of Trafalgar Square), in former times it was also regarded as the hub of the Empire.

Of course one thing that you won't find there is a circus, at least not in the modern sense of the word, viz. a travelling company of performers. It is a circus in the original Middle English sense of a rounded open space where several streets converge, and which comes from the Latin for 'ring or circus', with echoes of an ancient Roman arena for equestrian and sporting events.

At the centre is the Shaftsbury Memorial Fountain with its famous statue of Anteros, in Greek mythology the god of requited love, though  the figure on the fountain is popularly known as Eros, the god of sensual love, known to the Romans …

Toulouse-Lautrec by Maurice Guibert

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec photographed by Maurice Guibert (1856-1913)

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948).

Kurt Hermann Eduard Karl Julius Schwitters was a German artist whose career spanned Dada, Surrealism, sculpture and graphic design, though he is best known for his Merz Pictures collages and his Merzbau.

He started out as a post-impressionist until his work assumed a darker tone and moved towards expressionism. His first collages appeared in 1918 constructed of everyday objects. He gave his work the word Merz, a meaningless word which he derived from the German kommerzbank (commercial bank). He produced a periodical, also called Merz, with each issue devoted to a specific artistic theme. And he wrote poetry with the emphasis on the sounds that the words made rather than on their sense or meaning.

His most famous work, and one of the legends of modern art and which the artist himself described as his life work, is his Merzbau (Merz building), an architectural-sculptural project which extended over several room of his house in Hanover. He began the project in 1923 and continued working on…