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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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The Sixties as we all know were the years that changed society radically, or, as this new hors-series from La Provence explains, ont mis le monde cul par-dessus tête.

There were the worldwide events: the first man on the moon, the Vietnam war, the Algerian conflict, the assassinations of JFK, Che and Martin Luther King;  there was the explosion of music, the sexual revolution, and political action on the streets; and meanwhile the consumer society was tempting us with telephones, washing machines, short skirts, cars, record-players, 45s and colour TVs.

But what was happening down here in Provence?

All of the above was having an effect of course, as elsewhere in Europe, but the magazine shows some startling areas of change, especially in Marseille which was changing fast.

The tunnel under the Vieux Port was opened in December 1967, after 4 years work.  It replaced the old transporter bridge which carried 200 passengers and 1 vehicle across in a minute and a half.  The new tunnel was capable of handling 100,000 vehicles a day.

A little further along the coast, the corniche JFK was under construction, a road widening from 6m to 23.5m from the plage des Catalans to the Prado; it also incorporated a long concrete seat and pedestrian promenade stretching for 3km.

The Parc Borely area – today a park with cafés and play areas and sandy beaches – was a camping site just across the road from a narrow rocky shore line.  Leading into town the autoroute Nord was extended, in 1967, to reach the Porte d’Aix; interesting that today massive roadworks are taking place, a marche arriere, to liberate the Porte d’Aix from all the polluting traffic.

I was astonished to read that Marseille had a bull-ring (see photo); this closed in 1962.  Also astonishing the condition of the lovely Vieille Charité which, having been a barracks, was squatted and in an appalling state. The restoration started in 1968 and the building today houses a museum and galleries for temporary expos.

The lovely cours d’Estienne d’Orves was filled, in 1965, with a nasty concrete multistorey car-park which thankfully got demolished 20 years later.  Now the square is full of sunny café terraces and the cars are all underground.

Here is a link to some more photos of 60s Marseille:

http://www.laprovence.com/diaporama/marseille-dans-les-annees-60?idx=0#top-diapo

The magazine covers lots of other interesting things: favourite names of the 60s (Philippe and Nathalie), the building of Marseille Airport, the impact of the 1968 protests in Provence, the growth of Cadarache, the digging of the Canal de Provence, the death of Tommy Simpson on Mont Ventoux – so much.  It’s 2,80€ which has to be the bargain of the week!

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This is the new hors series from La Provence which brings lots of info on unmissable monuments in our area. 

Each of the 45 monuments they have chosen has photos, a  history, a description and then a panel with practical details on how to get there and its opening times.  There are chateaux, abbeys, a synagogue, Roman remains, Mary Magdalene’s cave, the docks in Marseille, the aqueduct at Roquefavour – right up to Le Corbusier’s Cité radieuse and the Vélodrome.  So much to see and remember, the Journées du Patrimoine are coming up so many will be free and have special tours and displays.

The magazine also has a 1:30hr walk round 15 fountains in Aix, and a 3 hr trip round 15 statues in Marseille, sadly not a women among them.

Not a bad investment for 2.80€ – currently at the kiosks.

By the way, if you want more ideas for outings, I have gathered all the past posts on the subject under a new heading Exploring Provence.  There’s also a heading for Books and I’ve included all the restaurant suggestions  for Eating in Aix. 

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