Monday 3 May 2010

Travels - inspiration - Côte d'Azur

I have no overarching theme here - it's all about the byways and discovery.
One of the reasons I go back to the Côte d'Azur so often is that inspiration seems to come so easily there.  These posts are a short journal of images, notes and observations that will lead to new paintings and some projects that I will be sharing with you on decorative papier-mâché.  Springtime is especially delightful as there are not too many visitors and life can continue in it's own way. The scent of jasmine is on the air where-ever I go. It grows wild, it grows and spreads, covering old stone walls and faded corrugated plastic fences with the same exuberance as on the most elegant villa.
Shutters are thrown open.  Children are going to school and buses and trains are not too full.  It's easy to get around.  Following the theme of flowers and the celebration of nature I capture images, a kind of personal aide-mémoire. May 1st is a National Holiday and is marked by giving a small bouquet of Muguet, Lily of the Valley to family, friends and loved ones and as I found out, to perfect strangers too!  As no permits are needed to sell them on this one day, there are stalls offering them on every street corner and bunches on shop counters. 

St Paul de Vence is a place that I prefer to avoid in the high season when the streets are so very, very over crowded. It's a little hill top town that has been a refuge for people for centuries. It's so well known now that it's the third most popular place visited after the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. There's a story that goes a little like this - Once upon a time there was a young man, a military engineer named François de Mandon, who was in charge of the fortification of the nearby village of Broc. As he was on his way from St. Rémy, through the village of St. Paul de Vence, he met a young lady and fell instantly in love with her. Being unable to part from her, he sent a courier to the king urging him to fortify St. Paul instead of Broc so as to thwart the departing armies of Charles the Fifth coming from Nice and so that he could stay with her!   Once his mission was completed however, the King called him back. So he had to leave his love behind after all but he also left the Ramparts, the wall that surrounds and protects this village and his beloved, as a magnificent proof of his devotion. Now national monuments, the Ramparts, when seen from one vantage point, appear to be in the shape of a heart!
The roads are cobbled with different coloured stones have been carefully chosen and arranged in patterns of swirls and flowers, even the drains have a strange attraction! In the Middle Ages St Paul de Vence was already well known for it's artisans, for it's weavers, stonemasons and woodcarvers, as well as troubadours and minstrels. This village has always had a certain style and ambiance all of it's own.  Nowadays there's every kind of artist imaginable, all trying to temp you to buy. Wander off the beaten track and you can easily imagine you are living in another age.

The view from my window in Villefranche sur Mer is of the harbour - a safe place to return to after days of exploring the old towns, winding pathways and secluded places that I have come to know and love.
I love to sit on the edge of the harbour and muse!  That's such a lovely old-fashioned word and I find myself doing it quite a lot. The dictionary defines musing as – “to dream, to ponder, to contemplate, to gaze meditatively.” All the kinds of things I tend to find myself doing by the sea or the river. Sometimes the Muses are thought of as water nymphs, as it was said that Pegasus, the winged horse, when once touching the ground with his hooves, created sacred springs from which they were born. In Ancient Greece, they were thought of as being the source of all knowledge and inspiration. The sound of the water lapping against the boats and sunlight reflecting faded colours lull me away from the everyday.
I'm never without a camera and always on the lookout for images and colour combinations, glimpses of magic where sunlight makes beautiful for a few passing moments something that up until then had been viewed as drab and perhaps insignificant. The stern of a simple boat for example as above, an image that I recreated in ink and metal leaf under resin as jewellery.

Jean Cocteau  lived where I stay at The Hotel Welcome on the harbour at Villefranche sur Mer. A man who also loved to sit and muse.

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