Thursday, 28 February 2013

The sun, the mimosa, the almond blossom

Now I am sitting in the apartment of friends in Follonica (on the west coast of Italy, somewhere near Pisa, Livorno and suchlike places...) and I look out the window across the still green sea, towards the island of Elba, very clear today. Spring really seems to have arrived, temperatures are around 15 degrees Celsius, one could almost eat icecream.
It is very quiet up here, and immensely light. I plan an afternoon's walk along the seafront; you can go a long way following the sea. There is a large bay here, beautiful beaches, curving from Piombino in the north to Punta Ala at the southern tip, where you can just dicsern the small island of Sparviero.
Today is very clear, a slight wind creating patterns on the waters of the bay.
Yesterday I took the train from Torino (Porta Nuova) to Follonica, an impressive journey lasting nearly six hours. First into the Piedmontese mountains where there were still snowy patches, and then down to Genoa and along the beautiful cragged coast, past Carrera where huge slabs of marble lay stacked, while behind the mountains were a patchwork of snow and dark rock.
Hopping back a day: spent a few sunny hours in Torino walking roubnd well-know places and down to the river Po. Here some pix of the weir (barrage?) which we saw being built (and then washed away, and then re-built!) when David and I were living in Turin (Torino). Have put soem pix on another 'page' of blog.
Now it is lunchtime, so of course I must pause.
Later will offer a description of the wonderful Tuscan meals...
Ciao, a presto

Turin (Toriino) in the spring sunshine

 This is the weir across the river Po.

 Above, the Monasterio dei Cappucini, now used as a museum (at least, it was a few years ago...)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Snowy Switzerland, snowy Turin

It had snowed heavily the day before I arrived in Switzerland. The train rides I took through the country, from Geneva to Zurich and a few days later from Zurich to Bern, traversed a landscape of dreamy whiteness. Scenes from Christmas cards. Here a few glimpses of the park in Geneva close to Mary's house, where I stayed.

And then snowy Uster where I stayed a few days with Vreni (friend I have known almost 50 years...).

But the day after I reached Uster the weather became warmer and the sun appeared. Much melting of snow.
So in the brilliant shining blue I made seom walks in and around Bern, in that kind of scene that belongs supremely to Switzerland (though of course other countries have it too).
Spent a couple of days with Edi and Almuth in their house near Bollingen.
My Swiss days were filled with brilliant light and space, good talks, and friendly quiet.

Here are two scenes from our walk up to Alpenblick. There we sat and gazed out to the hazy mountains, the Jungfrau and Eiger, just visible; drank warm tea and rejoiced in being alive.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Chagall in Zurich

This is for the record... Verena and I went to see the exhibition in the Zurich Kunsthaus. It was a Saturday and surprisingly crowded. As we climbed the stairs to the rooms where Chagall's paintings and some of his works on paper were displayed, I recalled the exhibitions about Chagall for which I had translated the texts/catalogues, held in the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam, now quite some years ago. Some of the works in Zurich were the same (the decor for the Moscow theatre, in quiet pastels) and there were some of his very famous paintings, showing purple cows, or Vitebsk in Russia, where he grew up, or lamplit scenes inside small wooden houses. But also ones I didn't know.
Quite overwhelming.
Such variety, from the challenging and sobering painting about war, to the joyous dancing figures, fiddlers on the roof, prancing cows, flying bridal couples...
A French contemporary painter said: 'When ?(I forget which French painter he named...) dies, the only painter left who knows about colour will be Chagall.' (I haven't got that quote quite right.) But the point was about Chagall's splendid use of surprising colours, sometimes reminiscent of Van Gogh.
People at the exhibition were happy, were laughing because some of the paintings were so joyous. Wonderful.
It's been a long time since I visited such a show, so filling the mind with brightness.
Then out into a sunny Zurich, and took the train to Horgen on the other side of the lake.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The lock (ecluse) at Beziers, in summer 2010

This is Beziers seen from the Canal du Midi. And below, the lock gates.

That's Stroemhella (at the time without her mast) leaving the lock at Beziers (one of the deepest...). There is a staircase of descending locks; finally one emerges closer to sea level.
In the summer of 2010 we crossed the south of France from Bordeaux to Beziers. It took two to three weeks, and there were many, many locks! The last series was close to Beziers, and on my train journey up to Geneva in February 2013 I was delighted to pass through the station of Beziers where, in the still-dark of a July morning, Walter, Roberta and I had caught the train to Marseille (and thence to Italy) after leaving Stroemhella. One day I'll get round to posting some pix of that journey...
Here's a small sample:

 My cousin Steve from Vancouver Island, Canada, and his friend Dorothy, who sailed (well, chugged) along with us. Steve in fact joined the trip already in Amsterdam.
 Right: Roberta and Walter at the wheel, me in the back cockpit.

Yes, it was an unforgettable journey. And below, David leads the mast-less Stroemhella through one of the (many) locks.

Through snowy Switzerland

But first from Bordeaux to Geneva by train. Wonderful trip -- I actually arose at 6 a.m. and Dany and I drove through the dark until dawn streaked the eastern sky as we approached Bordeaux. A pink dappled sunrise, very beautiful. Waiting at the station, a croissant au beurre and black coffee, ah vive la France. The train went along the coast and I was delighted to pass through the town/city of Beziers once again (last visitied in 2010 on the trip along the Canal du Midi).

After following the Rhone valley the train climbed through ever-hillier countryside and finally (becasue of an hour-and-a-half delay at Avignon) we reached Geneva after dark.
Great to see my former tenants, Matteo and Ella, now living and working in Geneva, and of course Matteo's mother, Mary, whom David and I first met in Esfahan. There it turned out we had many mutual acquaintances, in the UK, the US and the Netherlands.
So here is Mary in a park just across the road from her house in Geneva,
And here a couple of pictures of the snowy scene there.

Leaving Geneva I took the train to Zurich, via Lausanne and Freiburg. More wondrous snowy landscapes. And multi-lingual listening: at one point on the train I could hear (and almost follow them all (!): English (Manchester vowels); French; Zwitser-Duits; High German; Italian; Spanish. I believe inside my head there was an English dialogue going on ...

Ah, old friends. Vreni and I met almost 50 years ago. Good to share memories and also think about the future... Here a couple of pix taken from the upstairs window in Vreni's house in Uster.

Making plans for tomorow: there is a Chagall exhibiton on in Zurich. And old friends from Manchester days who live close by in Horgen. And of course, lots of snowy scenes to admire.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Europe's largest sand heap...

The Dune de Pyla

And it changes every year, formed and shaped by wind and water...
At the mouth of the gulf of Arcachon, opposite Cap Ferret.
Dany and I drove there today, beneath grey clouds and spitting rain; but quite a few people were already climbing, undeterred by a little damp (and chill, it was 7 degrees Celsius...).
So here you go, talk about the overwhelming forces of nature (Nature?): this is certainly one impressive sand pile!

 After our eyefull of the awesome, we descended in search of food and found a splendid restaurant on the seafront in Arcachon. Fish soup, of course. And I permitted myself a creme brulee. AAAH, no supper for me tonight.
Outside on the promenade stood a hundred-year-old carrousel, still working -- to the delight of several children who mounted the horses and elephants and circled slowly whilst accompanied by their parents walking on the ground. Dany remembers having rides on it when a small girl.

Then a drive back to Ares, along narrow roads with frequent roundabouts, past fine eighteenth-century Mairies and Ecoles de Filles separated from the boys' schools (nineteenth-century I assume) and many one-storey stone cottages mingled between new wooden houses and three-storey flats. Lots of construction going on. Everything changing. But we found the house where Dany was born, in Gujan-Mestras. House still the same, narrow road still quiet and not all the shutters closed...
Pause to muse, as so often, on Time, Change and this extrordinary compelling notion: Progress. We snort gently...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

On the Atlantic coast of France

Much to do in Amsterdam, but for about 90 percent I successfully accomplished all on my "to-do" list...
Perhaps a little wearying, having to look after two houses and plan many travels through several continents, but then, if I didn't do this, what would I have to write about in my blog... ?!
Rising early in the morning, 4 a.m. to be precise, I wheeled my handy suitcase through the still-dark but very crowded streets of Amsterdam on Saturday night. Wild life, shows me how long since I had been out at such a time Saturday till Sunday... The youth of Amsterdam (and its suburbs) dressed in boots and mini skirts and not a tie in sight. Not too many signs of inebriation.
Bus swung through the shadowy streets and out to Schiphol airport. Very crowded.
The flight was via Barcelona and thence to Bordeaux. All on time and easy, and I slept as much as possible. Not really useed to rising in the wee small hours.

Met Dany at Bordeaux airport and we drove to help celebrate the birthday of one of her granddaughters. And I began speaking only French... sometimes it all goes a bit fast but as the days pass I understand more and more and a great deal returns -- words I hadn't used for many years. Curious and most satisfying, the linguistic ability.

We drove to the nearby sea one day, at Cap Ferret, admiring the lighthouse and the blossoming mimosa. Much wind. Temperatures not in double figures (Celsius).

Lots to do here, and I join Dany in her activities. This morning went with a group of "oldies" doing Nordic walking: I was given a pair of walking sticks and instructed in their use. We marched along determinedly, past the river swollen with rain and lipping the sandy banks, over a slippery wooden bridge, through pine woodland, and covered about five kilometres with great vigour. Much French elevated conversation. I listened carefully, trying to memorize new phrases.
This evening I join Dany with her small choir, singing Basque and Spanish songs. Well, maybe it will be listening rather than singing... I still have a slight cough, picked up in the polluted air of Amsterdam.
Here the air is wonderfully clean, the light streams though the cloud masses, we eat fish and steamed vegetables and feel horribly healthy!
The air is scented with pines and the salt sea. A most realxing and invigorating place to be.