Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Creativity of Jean Cocteau

At night-time, the new Musee Jean Cocteau looks like some predatory alien on the seafront at Menton.

I was never greatly ‘into’ Jean Cocteau – until I visited Menton many years ago.

At that time, a building, called ’Le Bastion’ (once a customs house on the town’s harbour) housed a number of his works. Alan’s cousin, Marcel, had once built a float in the shape of the ‘Bastion’ – entirely of oranges and lemons – for the annual ‘Fête du Citron’, for which Menton is famous.

Looking towards Menton from the museum.
But it was the construction of a new museum on the sea front - specifically to house a collection of Jean Cocteau’s work – from drawings and paintings to theatre design, films and imagery, to his first love, poetry, that encouraged me to learn more about him.

Cocteau did it all – painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, cinema, theatre, novels, poetry, song, jazz drumming, choreography, fashion design – even training boxers – you name it!

The museum, which opened only about five years ago, sits like a predatory multi-legged spider on the sea front, not far from the old covered market hall. I’m sure he would have loved its design.

Born in 1889, Cocteau developed an early love of cinema, drawing and writing poetry, publishing numerous books of his poems. He mixed in elite company, including Proust, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, artists such as Braque, Derain, Picasso, Gris and Modigliani.
Cocteau in 1929 by Germaine Krull.

In the 1920s he moved to the south of France. He loved Menton, but also the entire region. He has works all along the coast including an outdoor theatre he designed at Cap d’Ail, murals at Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat.

Cocteau designed not only the murals on the walls and ceiling of the ‘Wedding Room’ at the Menton Town Hall, but also conceived the carpet with its leopard motifs, the red velvet upholstered chairs and the wrought iron candelabras.

He sketched portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, created posters for the Ballet Russe, undertook newspaper illustrations, many self portraits – often together with randomly-placed words which he sent to friends as letters. He also collaborated with other artists.

Cocteau’s last film, ‘The Testament of Orpheus’ – an almost surreal film – was partly shot in the quarries at Les Baux with photographer Lucien Clergue. Cocteau had a lifelong fascination with the legend of Orpheus.

Although the museum holds 152 of his drawings, Cocteau always saw himself primarily as a poet.

He died on October 11 1963, only hours after hearing of the death of Edith Piaf earlier the same day.

The Musée Jean Cocteau houses Cocteau works collected by Séverin Wunderman and is open every day except Tuesdays.
LEFT: Innamorati, The Sleeping Fisherman 1961 by Jean Cocteau.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Transition to Var

Leaving Victoria for Var today made me think of things I will miss about Ballarat.
Gracious buildings in Ballarat's city centre.
Pink cliffs on Black Hill.

1. The cool, clear late autumn light. Recent days have been perfect, illuminating the gracious buildings in the city centre, reflecting the shimmering surface of the lake and bringing a glow to the town's red brick houses and churches.

2. Our 'Frenchified Fridays' - with thanks for that description to my friend, Janelle Gould, ( ) - where I join a group of local francophiles and spend the morning chatting about everything under the sun - in French.

3. The artistic inspiration I receive from the group of creatives in my 'burb - the Soldiers Hill Artist Collective ( ) - who have recently introduced the amazingly successful Art Walk.

4. Strenuous walks up and over Black Hill, where, despite its name, you find pink rocks in the midst of the pine trees - a legacy from gold and quartz mining days.

Lake Wendouree.
5. The calm beauty of early-morning and late afternoon (in fact at any time!) walks around Lake Wendouree followed by a stroll back home through streets that boast a stunning variety of domestic architecture.

Les Arce-sur-Argens.
. . . but the alternative will be summer in our little town of Les Arcs-sur-Argens in the Var, meeting old friends in the town and welcoming visiting friends from home.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Short trips from Les Arcs-sur-Argens

These are on my mind at the moment as we will have some friends visiting us this year.
St Tropez from the park below the Citadel.
I want to show them something impressive, but also take them to off-the-beaten track places that few Aussie tourists see.

The five trips I would suggest are unmissable include:

  1. St Tropez.
    An absolute ‘must’. Just because it is so iconic – with its Haute Couture boutiques, tiny galleries, the high view over the town from the Citadel, Le Senequier (for a coffee and patisserie and to watch the glamourous world go by), the wonderful Musée Anonciade, the port with its fabulous yachts and the artists lining the seafront, the market at the Place du Lices  under the shady plane trees – and just the wonderful feel of strolling the narrow streets. You don’t need a car to get there. A bus takes you from Les Arcs-Draguignan station to Ste Maxime, then take one of the speedy Les Bateaux Verts to cross the gulf to St Tropez.
A round trip taking in Port Grimaud – Grimaud – La Garde Freinet.
A bridge arches over a canal in Port Grimaud.

Port Grimaud, at the far western end of the Golfe de St Tropez, is France’s answer to Venice – though this town is modern (built in the 1960s) – and well worth a walk or a canal trip through the streets.

From there, climb into the foothills of Les Maures to the original town of Grimaud – once owned by the Grimaldi family (of Monaco) with its ruined chateau above, a functional windmill with canvas sails, and exquisite hillside village.

Then back home, high across Les Maures to the hilltop town of La Garde Freinet and the BEST ice creams in Var! You can climb to the old fort above the town and gaze down on the terracotta roofs, or wander among the enchanting little boutiques, before travelling through spectacular scenery on your way back home.
The Gorge of Verdon.

The Gorges of Verdon.

Dubbed the Grand Canyon of Europe, (but nothing like the American one), it is special in its own way.

The sheer limestone cliffs either side of the Verdon River, splits the Var from the Haute Alpes. The river feeds out to the vast Lake Ste Croix at the western end of the gorge, where you can hire boats.

Drive along the lip of the gorge on roads with hairpin bends and high bridges that seemingly float in space. You can stop for a break at a restaurant where the balcony juts out high above the canyon, or clamber down steep steps to the river below with its cool waters and smooth river stones.

It’s necessary to drive, but on the way you pass through some beautiful Provenҫal hilltop towns, which are well worth a short stop to explore.  

A view of La Motte, one of our local towns.

A beautiful and typical Var town nestled below high, bare cliffs.

It has a flourishing weekly market and a long town square surrounded by interesting shops and restaurants.

You can walk up high above the town for some incredible views across the countryside.

I could equally have suggested towns like:
Salernes – famous for its distinctive enamelled tiles;

Lorgues – with its grand church in the centre and brilliant market;

or La Motte – with its expensive and delicious rosé, the deep river gorge that divides the town in two and its narrow streets that wind up high above the town centre. 

A round trip taking in Ste Maxime – Les Issambres – St Aygulf – Roquebrune-sur-Argens.
Summer art market in the centre of Roquebrune-sur-Argens.
A heady drive along the coastal road – the turquoise Mediterranean on one side and a hillside dotted with ochre and terracotta houses nestled among low trees on the other – makes you feel like a 1950s movie star.

You can browse the seafront market at Ste Maxime, or pull over and take a dip from the white sands that stretch along the bay below Les Issambres and St Aygulf, then turn inland towards the giant red rock and pull up at Roquebrune-sur-Argens for the twilight art and craft market and enjoy a meal at my favourite restaurant – or one of the many others than open on a warm, summer evening.