There’s a mysterious song by John Prine that always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. In it he sings about Lake Marie, where, ‘standing by peaceful waters’, he would camp with his girl, catch a few fish and grill sausages on the barbecue. A place of simple happiness. But then, in the last verse, everything changes: watching the TV news he sees that the naked bodies of two girls, their faces horribly disfigured, have been found on the shore of Lake Marie, and suddenly:
All the love we shared between her and me was slammed,
Slammed up against the banks of Old Lake Marie!
That’s just how I feel this morning, hearing the terrible news from Nice, a beautiful city by the sea where the two of us have spent several joyful vacations – a love passed on to our daughter who goes there most summers, and will be there again in a few weeks.
A lifetime ago, in the late seventies, returning from a camping holiday somewhere in the Dordogne, the Tarn or the Auvergne, those beautiful, unspoilt regions of la France Profonde, we would stop in some small town or village on the 14th of July and watch as the fireworks lit up the night sky and the locals celebrated their national holiday.
That past seems like another country now. This morning I grieve for Nice, for France, and for humanity. Ordinary people living their ordinary lives have always been casualties of war, but since the start of the twentieth century wars have placed civilians more than soldiers in the gun sights. Whether it be by the technology of total war or the tactics of the suicide bomber.
Nice: posts on this blog
Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool brings together fifteen paintings from the Tate collection to provide an overview of the artist’s work across five decades. Its centrepiece is The Snail, the largest and most popular of Matisse’s cut-out works; after this show closes, it will never travel outside London again. Continue reading “Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing”
Fortuitously, my recent trip to France was bookended by visits to exhibitions that showcased Matisse at the beginning and at the end of his career. Towards the end of the first day I visited the Musee Matisse in his home town of Le Cateau-Cambresis, which houses an astonishing collection of his work, including striking examples from his younger years. Then, on my way back through London, I went to Tate Modern to see Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, an unparalleled gathering of 130 of the joyous, exuberant works made by Matisse in the last decade of his life: a period which he regarded as a second life, a gift of time. A period in which he turned to painting with scissors. Continue reading “Painting with scissors: Matisse’s cut-outs at Tate Modern”
Many towns have grown up around rivers which have later been covered in (Liverpool and London included). Beneath the city streets, waterways continue on their ancient courses in underground culverts. Nice was once such place, where the Paillon, a river fed by mountain streams that flood each year with the melting of the snows, for much of the 19th century divided old Nice from new, poor from rich, servant from master. Then, in 1883, the Paillon was culverted, paved over, and became an unknown presence.
But last October, in a dramatic beautification of the city landscape, a new, linear park – the Promenade de Paillon – opened following a major urban renewal project that restores, at least metaphorically, the Paillon to its original place in the heart of the city. Continue reading “Nice: a river runs through it”
The last time we were in Nice – last September – a summer-long celebration of Matisse was just drawing to a close, so we spent a lot of time in galleries. This time was different: armed with John and Pat Underwood’s sublimely-titled Walk and Eat around Nice we spent a good part of our stay taking advantage of the excellent public transport system, travelling out of the city to experience some of the Underwood’s recommended walks.
The first walk we embarked on began at the hilltop town of La Turbie, followed the north side of the Grande Corniche crest with superb views of the snow-clad Mercantour mountains before crossing the shoulder and heading for the medieval hilltop town of Eze. From there we dropped down to the sea, following an old mule track known as the Nietzsche Trail. There were magnificent coastal views and a profusion of springtime wild flowers. Continue reading “Walking in Nietzsche’s footsteps”
When we last visited Nice – on the occasion, last September, of my 65th birthday – I posted a celebration of the city under the title A new state pensioner’s salade Nicoise. We’re just back from another few days in Nice, so here’s another mixture of flavours and colours that recall our short break. There are strong opinions as to what should or should not go into a Salade Nicoise – residents of Nice are horrified at the English tendency to add potatoes, and tinned tuna or anchovies are (surprisingly) acceptable, but both together are not. Furthermore, they don’t use French beans as we tend to: a classic Salade Nicoise should be made with fresh fava beans.
Which is merely a preamble to this eclectic selection of memories of the four days we spent in Nice. We had found an apartment at the top of the Old Town (the very top, in fact: our building was actually located just inside the wall of the Château gardens. From the balcony we had stunning views across the rooftops of the Old Town, and across the bay to the airport. Continue reading “Another fine salade Nicoise”
Back in Nice again, we headed up to Cimiez to wander in the tranquil gardens of the monastery and, of course, revisit the Matisse Museum. First, though, there was something I wanted to see that I had overlooked on previous visits: the artist’s last resting place. Continue reading “Matisse: his last resting place and resurrection”
If comprehending the span of time in thousands or tens of thousands of years is hard, how much more difficult is it to imagine human existence that spans hundreds of thousands of years? Writing yesterday’s post about Steven Mithen’s book After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000 – 5,000 BC reminded me of a chance discovery we made during our trip to Nice last September.
We had climbed to the top of Castle Hill in the warm morning sunshine and stood for a moment, looking out across the port where a flotilla of sailboats were heading out of the harbour on the last day of the Nice regatta. We noticed an information board that told a little of the history of the site and suggested a visit to the Terra Amata Museum of Prehistory, situated in the port below. Continue reading “Before the Ice: the first inhabitants of Nice”
The Chagall The Matisse Museum isn’t the only space dedicated to a great artist on the leafy hill of Cimiez overlooking the city of Nice. In 1973 the Chagall Museum was inaugurated, funded by the French state and designed partly by the artist himself. It now hosts the biggest collection of Chagall’s work anywhere in the world. We made our second visit to the gallery during our recent trip to Nice.
We arrived as the museum celebrates its 40th Anniversary with a special exhibition of Chagall’s self-portraits called Chagall in Front of the Mirror with over 100 paintings and drawings assembled to explore how his self portraits reflected Chagall’s personal life and struggles, and the times he lived through. Continue reading “The Chagall Museum in Nice: a dream of all humanity”
Music and colour may appear to have nothing in common, but they follow parallel paths. Seven notes, with slight modifications, suffice to write any score. Why is it not the same for the visual arts?
Our recent short break in Nice coincided with the final days of a city-wide tribute to Matisse – Un Ete Pour Matisse – that consisted of eight exhibitions celebrating his work and legacy presented in museums across the city. I wrote in my last post about two of the three shows we managed to see; this post is about the third – Matisse: The Music at Work at the Matisse Museum (which was also celebrating its 50th anniversary). Continue reading “A summer of Matisse: the colour of music”
When we landed in Nice for a long weekend, a city-wide tribute to Matisse – Un Ete Pour Matisse – was just drawing to a close. Comprising eight (yes, eight!) exhibitions celebrating his work and legacy, we managed in the short time we were there to see just three. Continue reading “A summer of Matisse: Palm trees, palms, and the rhythms of jazz”
We arrived in Nice for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday just as a summer-long tribute to Matisse was drawing to a close. Nice 2013: A Summer for Matisse brought together many of the city museums to celebrate the artist who chose to live in Nice for more than thirty years. 2013 also marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Musee Matisse in Nice. Continue reading “Matisse in Nice: through an open window”