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IMG_7428The sub-title of this ‘La Provence’ supplement is ‘L’Eté en Provence’ and they have grouped their 30 best restaurants for summer dining (more…)

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I have been waiting to find out what the results of the MP2013 European Year of Culture have been locally, as these events seem to have had some truly image-changing effects on some of the cities involved.  For instance, this is a long and fascinating piece on the impact on Derry which was the UK Culture Capital last year: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/29/derry-city-of-culture-reawakened-idealism

IMG_6945Locally, we know that visitor numbers have been up 10%, hotel bookings were up 8% and there was lots of favourable international press. But what was the impact, according to the local tourist offices?  This publication ‘Tourisme: Le Bilan Verité’ tells all and it is fascinating!  Let’s start with the Tourist Office in Aix. (more…)

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Used to the typical British supermarket-scrum at Christmas, I was amazed arriving in Aix at the care and attention that goes into putting together the Provencal Christmas.  My new French friends would recommend this boulanger for the buche de Noel and that cave for the vin cuit.  I also learned about the treize desserts which have graced the table on Christmas Eve from time immemorial. 

But to my surprise this week, I read that these treize desserts are not all that traditional at all.  The current issue of A IMG_6474Table explains that (more…)

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Final post on Arles…and a recommendation to visit this ancient abbey which is showing some very modern art until 3rd November.

Flamboyant designer Christian Lacroix, who was brought up in Arles and loves the whole area, was brought in to curate (more…)

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I love my weekly Paris Match: it helps me keep up-to-date with France, has some good in-depth articles on international news and excellent photo-journalism. The current issue (see cover image) has, along with an article on why Anglo-Saxon women are falling for ‘le French Lover’ (looking at you Madonna, Scarlett, Nathalie and Halle Berry…) a thoughtful piece on Marseille.

What, they ask, is going on in Marseille? (more…)

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IMG_5706Loved the Tour de France, as did Aixcentric petit-fils who, aged 2,  soon got the hang of running for loot: key-rings, hats, sweets and madeleines.  It’s really solid brand-awareness. I remember after the last football World Cup, one of the UK marketing magazines researched brand retention amongst TV viewers and those who had been in the stadiums – and there was precious little recall. I guess that when you have been hit on the foot as I was (more…)

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Today’s Guardian has a two-page feature on Aix: the journalist visits on the new direct train to Aix to try out part of the GR2013….and spends the night in the refuge at the top of the Sainte-Victoire.  Read on:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2013/may/17/aix-en-provence-france-direct-train-paul-cezanne

cezanneThere is also a lovely video overview of Cézanne’s studio: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/interactive/2013/may/17/paul-cezanne-studio-aix-en-provence-france-audio-slideshow  (Thanks to Mike and to Carol for forwarding this).

And finally an interesting new book by British writer Peter Gumbel who lectures at Sciences Po.  ‘France’s Got Talent: the Woeful Consequences of French Elitism’ analyses the stranglehold exercised at the top by the 500 graduates of the top schools.  He argues that French meritocracy is a myth and that Hollande has made things even worse – his ‘old boys’ network’ as a bad as Giscard d’Estaing’s.   Not only are these individuals drawn overwhelmingly from the same upper class background, but they aren’t providing good leadership anyway.  Lots of detail and stats here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/14/france-power-elitism-peter-gumbel?INTCMP=SRCH  or http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/liberte-inegalite-fraternite-is-french-elitism-holding-the-country-back-8621650.html

 (Just in case you are thinking two words – ‘Cameron’ and ‘Eton’ – as I was, apparently this is worse…..)

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Copy of frontcover0001Finally my book, ‘Aix-en-Provence The Inside Story’ is available.

I’ve been working on it for months, pulling together research from all my visits, from books, from websites and from interviews. I embarked on it because there is so little in English on the history of this fascinating town. Guide books are very big on facades and columns but tell us little about the people who lived in the buildings. I wanted to find out more, especially about the lives of women who rarely figure in the history books.

Once the protective power of its Roman founders had dissipated, medieval Aix endured centuries of physical attacks, political upheavals and devastation from disease. What were the social conditions during these times? How did the townspeople earn money and feed their families? In trying to find out, I have uncovered some fascinating detail, but also run into dead-ends.

During the so-called Golden Age, aristocratic Parlementarians and rich lawyers built Baroque-influenced town-houses and brought in Italian artists to decorate them. The book looks where possible behind the doors at the families and also some of the artists working in the town. Such a life-style of course depended on an impoverished working and agricultural class who were about to be unleashed….

The French Revolution had a dramatic effect on Aix. I had little idea of its impact until I started to research it. What with aristocrats running for the borders and the unlucky few swinging from the trees in the cours Mirabeau, plus revolutionaries pillaging the churches and the Hotel de Ville, it must have been traumatic for families trying to survive during these years.

Devastated Aix lost its status as capital to Marseille and spent the 19th century recovering and rebuilding. But local bright spirits like Mignet and Thiers were in Paris helping their native city and Cézanne and Zola explored the Provencal countryside and dreamed of fame. We probably know plenty about them – but the book also introduces Mesdames Cézanne and Zola, long-suffering ladies both, but interesting in their different ways.

Twentieth century Aix was hit brutally by two world wars which, in the way of most conflict, was not of its making. And then, as it had done through the centuries, the town had to pick itself up and rebuild its population, its economy, its morale.  What a story!

I found it fascinating to research and write, and hope readers will find it fascinating too.

From a practical point of view, no French publishers were interested in printing anything in English (I assume – emails ignored). So I have gone down the print-on-demand route and kept to black and white to keep the price down. Perhaps now it is in print, it will find a publisher and we can get a glorious colour version. That would be wonderful!

Until then, ‘Aix-en-Provence The Inside Story’ is available at www.lulu.com and is priced at £9.99 or just under 13€, +p&p.  (Once in the website, hit Buy or Acheter and put ‘Aix’ in the search box).

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What does this picture suggest to you?  It is the image on the poster advertising the expo ‘Les Bouches du Rhône – Agnes Varda’, currently showing at ‘Galerie d’Art du Conseil General’ which is just down from Monoprix. Varda is a distinguished film-maker with a long record of success in the cinema, but I didn’t know that she is also a photographer.

I thought that the image above  was just a surrealistic notion until it was explained, when I got inside, that it represents Les Bouches du Rhône!  Of course!  The exhibition plays with place names in this manner with a series of photos taken around Marseille and also includes film recreating photos.  It’s only a small exhibition but if you are in town, very well worth a visit.  Free.  Until 17th March.  9.30-13, 14-18:00hrs.  Closed Mondays.

While on the subject of the Rhône, if you missed the wonderful exhibition of ‘César et les secrets du Rhone’ which was on in Arles and then in the Louvre, all the exhibits can be seen at the Archives et Bibliotheque Departementales Gaston-Deferre

It is a truly moving moment to see these objects which have been raised from the river bed, now on view for the first time in over 2000 years.  Since their initial showing, questions have been raised as to the identity of this bust.  Is it really Caesar?  Maybe we will never know.  But it is a wonderful sculpture of a Roman aristocrat in his middle years showing the cares of life all those centuries ago.  Until 24th March.

In Aix this Sunday remember that the Musée Granet is free on Sunday so you can catch up with the new expo ‘Cadavre Exquis’ which is, shall we say, different – plus there’s the book market in the Place de l’Hotel de Ville where you can browse amongst lots of out-of-print books.  For cycling fans, the season that will bring the Tour de France to Aix (July 4th), there is La Ronde d’Aix taking place in town.  Amateurs start at the Rotonde at 13:15 followed by the professionals at 14:30 or 50 depending on which paper you read!

And finally……….if you want some exercise rather than watching others racing around, there’s the new issue of En Balade.IMG_4719  This time they have given details of hikes themed around famous local writers and painters.  I’m particularly drawn to the ‘hike’ around Lourmarin with a Camus theme – 1.15hrs, completely flat and officially ‘facile’  Sounds good to me!

En Balade is 2.80 at kiosks and a mine of information.

Have an excellent weekend!

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If Aixcentric has been a little quiet lately it is because I have been busy reading two books which should interest lovers of Aix: ‘Taking Root in Provence’ by Anne-Marie Simons and ‘Cézanne A Life’ a hefty new biography by Alex Danchev.

Anne-Marie Simons moved to Aix 13 years ago after taking early retirement from her work in Washington as a translator, teacher, sportswriter (covering Formula 1) and director of corporate communications.  Like so many ex-pats she fell in love with Provence and has worked hard to integrate herself – and her Argentinian husband – by making French friends, perfecting her French and learning as much as possible about this wonderful region of France.  Now she shares it with us in her book ‘Taking Root in Provence’ which, thankfully, is not about doing up an old house and patronising local builders, but is a collection of essays about topics as varied as the Gypsy Pilgrimage, the Avignon Festival, the Carmargue, Summer Festivities and – topically – Christmas in Provence.  I enjoyed this book and learned about some aspects of life here that I hadn’t experienced: villages, fêtes and events I haven’t been to for instance. My favourite was the chapter ‘Surprising Marseille’ which is a beautifully-tuned overview of the positive side of this very visual city.  This strikes me as being a good book to recommend to incoming visitors, to give them context for their visit, or a nice stocking-filler for lovers of Provence.  It’s available from the bookstores in town or from Amazon.

In parallel, I’ve been absorbed in this new biography of Cézanne which has had great reviews in the UK where it has just been published. You may well think that there’s not much left to write about the life of Aix’s most famous artist but this book is unusual in its approach. The author, Alex Danchev, is Professor of International Relations at Nottingham University and he is the author of several biographies as well as writing on world-wide war and conflict. So he brings a very wide-ranging mind to his subject which he examines with the help of other artists’ experiences, and through contemporary writing, drawing especially on the work of Zola. In addition he has had access to diaries and letters to help him fathom the sometimes difficult behaviour of his subject. Cézanne, he argues, created his own persona – the rough Provençal in Paris, and then proceeded to act it out; ‘Performing Cézanne became one of his best turns’.  He describes in great detail his artistic methodology, relying on strong sensations to infuse his painting.

The author examines the paintings in fine detail –  fortunately the book has colour plates so you can follow his thought-processes. Knowing Aix well also adds a fascinating dimension as the reader follows the action around the town and gets insights into 19th century life. 

The Epilogue is devoted to various people’s ‘Cézanne epiphanies’: Rilke, Courtauld, Klee, even Woody Allen…. ‘ he is the teacher par excellence’….’he is the teacher of mankind in the here and now’.  Here I came slightly adrift. The plaudits come from all manner of artists and writers, some comments rather difficult to understand and made me feel I was missing something.  Maybe I’ll reread this last chapter!  I’d welcome any comments from anyone who has read this biography.

And finally back to today.  Anne-Marie Simons has a very good blog – http://provencetoday.blogspot.fr/ It’s a good commentary on social and political happenings in France.  The current post brings us background info on the Fillo-Copé stand-off and the latest on Rachida Dati and her merry men.  Well worth bookmarking.

A bientot!

 

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