Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Old French Cars

Walking through the Place de l’Horloge on my way to take photos of the famous Avignon bridge, I happened upon a vintage car show that was being held in front of the city hall.  It was part of a week-long celebration of seniors – evidently all kinds of seniors.  Small as the show was, it had some interesting relics.  I have an abiding love of classic cars.  I’ve been to classic car shows and museums, if I’ve got my camera with me, I always photograph an interesting old car on the street, and I used to drive a classic car myself – a 1964 Volvo P1800.

There is more to French cars than old Citroens as I quickly found out walking through the small display.   I am most familiar with the Citroen 2cv which, I just discovered, was made from 1948 until 1990 – 42 years!    It is the icon of French motoring, and is probably the image that comes to mind when any of us think of a French car.  Certainly every American or Brit going native in the French countryside drives one in films. 

And then there is the black Citroen Traction Avant, the first mass produced front wheel drive car.   First produced in 1934, these aren’t as common as the 2cvs, but if you’re an Inspector Maigret fan, you are familiar with them because they used to be the standard police cars and one or more always makes an appearance in any episode of any of the Maigret television series.  (The BBC production with Michael Gambon is great, as is the French series with Bruno Cremer.  If you haven't seen them, you can watch and decide for yourself which is the better of the two.  Both are available at my Amazon store).


There weren’t more than 20 cars in the show and they weren’t all French.  







The one that won first prize was, in my opinion, a fabulous little thing.  I asked the owner what it was and darn, I didn’t write it down, don’t remember what he said, and having scrolled through dozens of old French car photos on the internet, can't find it.  All I remember is that it was a 1954 model.  Renault?  Peugeot?  Do you know?




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Van Gogh Pilgrimage

As is sometimes the case when I travel, this year’s vacation included a pilgrimage.  Most years my vacation base is Avignon.  Avignon is a hub which makes it convenient for visiting other towns in the area, it has some great restaurants, it’s beautiful, provides for some great walks, and each time I go there it becomes more like a second home, so going there is enjoyable and comfortable.  The fact that it was once the papal seat means nothing to me except that it resulted in the monumental Pope’s Palace.

Arles, however, was always special because Vincent van Gogh lived there for 16 months and created 200 paintings and 100 drawings during that short time.  Many of these paintings are among his most famous.  It was where Gauguin came to live with him – a disaster of a visit that ended in Van Gogh’s mutilating his ear and setting off the series of his worst epileptic fits – what became the beginning of the end for him.



 I’ve walked in the Alyscamps, been to what was the hospital where he was treated, walked along the river where he painted his starry night over the Rhone.  Each time I visit, walking into town from the railway station, I pass by the square where his yellow house once stood, and I’ve passed many times by café of the café terrace at night.  What I never managed to do was find the Langlois Bridge – the bridge that he painted four times in oil, once in water color, and drew four times – the bridge that has become an icon.


Clearly the bridge sits across a waterway, but the road directions seemed to take you off onto some sort of highway that doesn’t run along the river.  Since I always go to Arles by train, I wanted to walk to the bridge.  I knew it was no longer in its original location, but I didn’t want to navigate along a highway full of traffic to get to it.  So this time I wrote in advance to the Arles tourist office to ask for directions to get there by foot.

I saved my visit to the fabulous Saturday market for after my pilgrimage, passing through it quickly and then off onto the footpath that followed a canal to my destination.  The nice man at the tourist office said would take 30-40 minutes to walk to. 

It’s 2.7 kilometers from Arles to the bridge, and it took me almost an hour.  But never mind.  It was a lovely walk along a canal and well worth the time.  Maybe it took me so long because I was constantly stopping to take pictures:  of the canal, of the boats and barges, of the fishermen, and of the old Citroens.







Coming around a bend and seeing the bridge from a distance was an “Oh my goodness” moment.    


Inspecting it at close quarters was a real pleasure.  No lines, no barriers, almost no people.  There were two young German families there too, so I just about had the place to myself.






The original bridge was built in the first half of the 19th century as part of a project to expand the networks of canals that go to the Mediterranean.  That was replaced in 1930 by a reinforced concrete bridge that in 1944, along with all but one of the other bridges along the canal, was blown up by the Germans.  The only surviving bridge was moved in 1959 to the site along the canal, a little outside of Arles, where it now sits and where people like me come to pay their respect.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

More Than Just Toys

For anyone who enjoys, toys, antiques and nostalgia, the Museu del Joguet (Toy Museum) in Figueres is the place to go.    Housed in a grand building dating from 1767, the collection is based on the donation of a local collector in 1982.   Since then the collection has grown with donations from many others.  In a way it is a personal museum where you can find among the ancient toys, vintage photos of some of the people whose toys were donated through the years and some who are sitting or playing with their toys.  Even if you live here, you might not be familiar with many of the people in the photos.  But some – including the present and former Presidents of the Catalan government – are familiar to everyone here.

Dolls are often weird.  Toy cars are great.  Miniature stage sets where you could stage your own play are delightful.  Stuffed animals are eternal.  Army and war toys are unfortunate, but a fact of life.  The photos of Catalans, some of them famous, taken when they were children, are priceless. 


A whole display case of caganers 






Not just any bear, this once belonged to
Anna Maria, Salvador Dali's sister
Salvador Dali, age 6
Carles Puigdemont, President of the
Generalitat of Catalunya

Artur Mas, former President of the
Generalitat of Catalunya

Either the father and uncle or grandfather
and great uncle of one of my friends
from the dog park!

There were two photos that were especially moving.  One was of Salvador Puig Antic, a young Catalan anarchist, born in Barcelona, who, in 1974, at age 25, was executed in Barcelona by the Franco regime, having been accused of killing a Guardia Civil.   His photo sits alongside his model train set that his family donated to the museum.





The second photo is of Muriel Casals i Couturier.  In it, at age six, she is sitting and reading Babar.  Muriel was the President of Omnium Cultural, a Catalan cultural organization for several years and became a household name when she became one of the two main driving forces – together with Carme Forcadell -- behind the grassroots Catalan independence movement.  Beloved by many people here, she died tragically in February 2016 after having been struck by a bicycle in Barcelona.  


More Than Just Toys

For anyone who enjoys, toys, antiques and nostalgia, the Museu del Joguet (Toy Museum) in Figueres is the place to go.    Housed in a grand building dating from 1767, the collection is based on the donation of a local collector in 1982.   Since then the collection has grown with donations from many others.  In a way it is a personal museum where you can find among the ancient toys, vintage photos of some of the people whose toys were donated through the years and some who are sitting or playing with their toys.  Even if you live here, you might not be familiar with many of the people in the photos.  But some – including the present and former Presidents of the Catalan government – are familiar to everyone here.

Dolls are often weird.  Toy cars are great.  Miniature stage sets where you could stage your own play are delightful.  Stuffed animals are eternal.  Army and war toys are unfortunate, but a fact of life.  The photos of Catalans, some of them famous, taken when they were children, are priceless. 


A whole display case of caganers 






Not just any bear, this once belonged to
Anna Maria, Salvador Dali's sister
Salvador Dali, age 6
Carles Puigdemont, President of the
Generalitat of Catalunya

Artur Mas, former President of the
Generalitat of Catalunya

Either the father and uncle or grandfather
and great uncle of one of my friends
from the dog park!

There were two photos that were especially moving.  One was of Salvador Puig Antic, a young Catalan anarchist, born in Barcelona, who, in 1974, at age 25, was executed in Barcelona by the Franco regime, having been accused of killing a Guardia Civil.   His photo sits alongside his model train set that his family donated to the museum.





The second photo is of Muriel Casals i Couturier.  In it, at age six, she is sitting and reading Babar.  Muriel was the President of Omnium Cultural, a Catalan cultural organization for several years and became a household name when she became one of the two main driving forces – together with Carme Forcadell -- behind the grassroots Catalan independence movement.  Beloved by many people here, she died tragically in February 2016 after having been struck by a bicycle in Barcelona.