Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Starchitects in Provence

Did everyone know about this but me? Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster and Tadao Ando, some of the very biggest names in architecture today, are at work on a new art center, restaurant and small hotel at Chateau La Coste winery in Aix.

A self-taught architect and Pritzker Prize winner, Ando drafted the art center’s master plan and designed its 3,000-square-meter (32,000-square-feet) main gallery. The center, opening next year, features a music pavilion designed by Gehry, a wine cellar by Nouvel, and other structures by Piano and Foster, all Pritzker laureates.

“We’re creating a space filled with water and the gallery will appear to float on top of it,” Ando told Bloomberg.com (which is where I just read it). The location holds special meaning, he says, because “Aix-en-Provence is the home of Paul Cezanne, the father of contemporary art.”

The project, in the French countryside famed for inspiring Cezanne and Van Gogh, aligns with Ando's desire to “create spaces for appreciating the intersection of nature with history and art,” he said. Earlier this year, he refurbished the interior of a 17th-century customs house in Venice, the Punta della Dogana, turning it into a contemporary art museum for Gucci’s billionaire owner Francois Pinault.

The new art center was commissioned by Irish property developer Patrick McKillen, a friend of Bono of the rock band U2. Ando is also designing McKillen's new home on the Irish coast.

Read the Bloomberg story here.

Photo: Chateau La Coste in Aix.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening #1

Born in Hampshire, England, my smart (brainy) and smart (elegant) friend James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over the years, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine, and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs.
James knows everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. And he likes to write. So in this new monthly column, he'll serve up essential month-by-month garden tips... with drinks. It's so obvious, no?
If this all seems familiar to you, it's because you read something similar (by which I mean identical) on AlpillesNews.com, where it first appeared. Without further ado, here's James' thoughts on September.
Column #1: Laws of the Lawn
I always breathe a sigh of relief come September. The major heat of the summer is past and, with luck, I've managed to get to this point without losing the lawn; I don't mean in the sense of having misplaced it, rather that it hasn't died on me. Whether you water by a sprinkler system or by irrigation flooding (the ancient and better way), it's always nerve wracking when you lose patches (and it’s ugly to boot).
It's common sense to water your lawn either late at night or very early in the morning. With the intense heat, the grass, if watered during the daytime, is liable to burn and of course the water tends to evaporate very quickly. I often think how crazy it is to water during a mistral with blasting temperatures--something one does see here in Provence, which constitutes the equivalent of burning money!
I wonder if you’ve noticed what I think of here as a second spring? By mid month, we enjoy a milder heat and what with the abundant water system installed by the Romans, there is a period of growth which is quite surprising. (To quote from the Monty Python film The Life of Brian: "What did the Romans ever do for us?" to which a character replies: "Wine, aqueducts, under-floor heating, roads"...the list is almost endless!)
Lawns in Provence are high maintenance and quite expensive to keep up so I always advise people (if they are determined to have one) to keep them as small as possible. Another tip during the hotter months is not to cut the grass too close but to let it grow longer than you would do, say, in the spring.

I’ve finally progressed to a tractor mower (my pride and joy) and they’ve become far less expensive over the last few years. I find mowing quite therapeutic and it gives me time to survey the garden as I trundle round.

Again, it is best to mow later in the day as the heat declines. The other great thing about mowing is that you can anticipate the coming evening and perhaps reflect on what might be delicious to serve your friends who are coming over to enjoy the cool of the evening on the terrace with you.

Cousin Neil and his delightfully witty wife Becky came to stay last month. Her stunning impression of Skippy the Kangaroo (remember the Australian children's TV show from the early ‘70's?) had people in tears of laughter; she managed to hold herself back when it came to the jumping element natural to that species! On seeing yours truly alight from his orange (YES orange) tractor calling for a drink, this funny lady suggested making a ‘Lawn Boy.' So here’s the recipe for this thirst-quenching cocktail.

Put three handfuls of ice and six shots of vodka in the blender, toss in a handful of fresh mint, blend until smooth, adding sugar to taste; fill with lemonade. Add more vodka if you like! Pour into a pitcher, serve in tall glasses--et voila! As your guests are chattering away, take a second or two to admire your freshly mown lawn (always a satisfying moment). My darling Ma would always say, "Keep the lawn cut and the paths weed free and the garden will always pass as well kept."

How right she was...Have a cool September! Cheers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Todd and Gina's Excellent Adventure: Part #1

The other day I got a terrific email from Canadian journalist Todd Babiak. (Then again, how bad could any email be if it starts "Dear Julie, I love your blog"?)

It turns out that Todd, his wife Gina and their two daughters are spending a year in Provence...and Todd is writing about their adventures for a chain of daily newspapers back in Canada. I read Todd's first column and knew immediately I wanted to share it. You can read it by clicking HERE. Start with the video at the top of the page...it gives you the backstory.

Todd's column will appear weekly in Canada and, hopefully, on Provence Post as well. If you'd like to know more about Todd and his work, go to www.toddbabiak.com or email him: toddbabiak@shaw.ca.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this first installment as much as I did!

Avia (left), Esmé (middle) and Gina Babiak in the Roman ruins of Vaison-la-Romaine. Photo by Todd Babiak.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jan and Janet's Excellent French Adventure

Jan Lipes, an American physician and painter, and his wife, Janet, are looking for a handicapped-accessible Provence rental for one month (May, June or September) in 2010. They'd like an apartment or small villa with 3+ rooms, plenty of air and light. They don't need a pool but they do need a garden or terrace. They're looking anywhere between St. Remy and Villefranche but prefer the St. Remy, Avignon and Aix areas. Jan speaks French and is eager to meet people, so the Lipes prefer to rent something not too isolated.

Jan's paintings, by the way, are wonderful to begin with but even more so once you know his story. He has lived with multiple sclerosis since 1979. After he left medicine in 1993, he began painting (with no training), using his left (non-dominant) hand because his right arm had stopped working well. "My whole story is quite serpentine, mysterious and ultimately life-affirming," he tells me. "Meanwhile, if there is anything I can do to help this effort to get back to my beloved France next year, I'll do it! I may be a New Yorker by birth, but my soul is French!"

You can see more of Jan's work at www.janlipes.com. Pictured above is Summer New Hope.
If you have or know of something for Jan and Janet to rent, please email them at jklipes@comcast.net.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Willy Ronis 1910-2009

Photographer Willy Ronis died Saturday, aged 99. Best known for his portrayals of life in post-war Paris and Provence, Ronis, a contemporary of Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson, remained "bright and spirited till the end" despite dialysis and being confined to a wheelchair, said Stephane Ledoux, head of Eyedea Presse, owner of Ronis' agency, Rapho.
"We have lost the last of the great men," Ledoux said.

In an interview with Agence France Presse last July, the photographer celebrated for his emblematic black-and-white 1957 shot of a couple kissing with Paris at their feet, said: "Just as I was about to shoot the picture, the young man kissed his girlfriend on the forehead."

"I never ever went out without my camera, even to buy bread," he added.

Born in Paris to refugee parents from the Ukraine and Lithuania, Ronis took over his father's photography studio before deciding to close shop in favour of greater photographic freedom by joining Rapho in 1946 along with Doisneau and Brassai.

In the post-war years, his assignments ranged from feature stories to fashion to industry and were commissioned by some of the best magazines of the times, including Life and Vogue.

But his special passion through the late 1940s and 1950s was the portrayal of everyday life in Paris, its streets and its people, and particularly the working-class districts of Belleville and Montmartre.

"I never went to the rich districts," the staunch leftwinger told AFP. "I was interested in popular life."

Some dubbed him "the photographer of Paris par excellence" or a "humanist photographer", and his work featured in Edward Steichen's seminal "The Family of Man" exhibition in New York in 1955.

In a tribute, French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand called him "one of the great masters of photography" and said he had "immortalised the poetry of our daily lives."

In the late 1950s he switched to fashion photography, teaching in Paris and Provence, where he made his home (in Gordes) until returning to the capital in 1983.

Above: Petit Parisien, 1952, by Willy Ronis.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Taste of France in New York

The French Institute/Alliance Francaise (New York) will host its fall festival, Crossing the Line, Sept. 12th to Oct. 3rd. The schedule includes so many great events (concerts, performances, shows and more) it would be impossible to list them here. The kick off is an afternoon dance party/picnic in Central Park's East Meadow tomorrow (Sept. 12), with choreographers from France presenting a new take on the bal populaire, creating short dances to be taught section by section to the public. There will be tastings of cheese, chocolate and bread...while a brigade of top chefs from both France and New York will offer up modern bento boxes. Or, bring your own picnic. This is a free, family-friendly celebration. For all the info, click HERE or call 212-355-6100.

Monday, September 7, 2009

French Drivers and Other Mysteries

Vicki Archer, author of My French Life, has a blog called French Essence and it's great fun. Her post last Tuesday, about French-driver syndrome , was priceless. To read it, click here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gorgeous Antique-Filled Home for Sale

It's always fun to see someone you know in the paper, right? I met antique dealer Thomas Kerr in cooking class at La Mirande in Avignon...and later found we have mutual friends. Now I see he's selling his spectacular home near Isle sur la Sorgue--and everything in it--so he can move on to other projects. (I've been there, I've seen the house. Trust me...you could do worse!) This is an amazing opportunity for someone who loves antiques but doesn't have the eye...or the time...or the patience to acquire their own. Click HERE to see the article about Thomas and his house that just ran in The Telegraph.

Photo by Clara Molden via The Telegraph.