Every cloud has a silver lining!

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(The Castillet, the only remaining tower, housing one of the main gates to the former walled city of Perpignan. This building has become a symbol of the modern city)

Being back home in England after a summer spent in the south of France comes as a bit of a shock! Today the skies have been overcast, the wind has been blowing and the temperature is so different from what I was experiencing this time last week! Still, holidays cannot last for ever, nor can the summer, and I know that I am more fortunate than many in having been able to spend some sixteen weeks at our house in Canet-en-Roussillon this year.

Most summers spent down by the Mediterranean in the past have been long hot summers with the occasional storm, helping to clear the overpowering heat and bringing a little fresher air! Not so this summer. Don’t get me wrong, we have had some beautiful days in June, July and August, and one day in August the temperature reached 37 degrees Centigrade. However, September was a different story. One day sunny, another day wet, followed by wind and much lower temperatures. No two days were the same, until just before we came home, and then the weather settled!

So days lazing around the pool or going to the beach were limited, outdoor eating in the evenings was curtailed. We had to find other things to do, things that I have described in my recent posts, and you may have read them here. Certainly my days looking around museums, art galleries and photojournalism exhibitions in Perpignan when the Mediterranean sun was hidden by clouds meant that I discovered beautiful buildings and hidden parts of the city that I never knew existed. Yes, every cloud does indeed have a silver lining! So, as a last look at the south of France for this year, allow me to share some of those places with you.

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(The Castillet, on a brighter day, with the roofs of the old city, and the Cathedral bell tower, left of centre. I took this photo from the recently opened roof terrace café at the French department store, Galeries Lafayette)

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(Just inside the old city walls behind the Castillet, one of the many squares with Le Grand Café de la Poste. This ancient entry to the city is called La Porte Notre-Dame, and you can see the statue of Our Lady above the arch)

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(Another square in the old city – La Place de la Révolution Française. The steps on the left lead to the former Dominican Convent which housed part of the recent Photojournalism Festival, which was very busy on the day we visited, due in part to the bad weather)

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(The old city is full of narrow pedestrian streets. This is the rue des Cardeurs)

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(After a very heavy shower, the sun came out and shone on these lovely old apartments in La Place Hyacinth Rigaud, lighting up the early evening)

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(One of the beautifully restored salons inside L’Hôtel de Lazerme, which is now part of the city art gallery, and where Picasso stayed when he visited Perpignan)

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(The central atrium of the opulent Hôtel Pams, built by Pierre Bardou, one of the founders of the JOB cigarette paper company, and then transformed  in the 1890s into an elegant mansion by his son-in-law Jules Pams, who was a Senator – or member of the upper house of Parliament – for the Perpignan region. It now belongs to the city)

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(Believe it or not, this is the garden just off the first floor of the Hôtel Pams in what I think is now one of the less salubrious parts of the city. Stepping into this garden with its olive trees and a banana tree, is like stepping into another world)

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(The narrow city streets are often very dark, and behind some of the huge wooden doors you often find beautiful little courtyards. This one, in the rue de Mailly, housed an excellent coffee shop which we visited on more than one occasion)

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(This wonderful stairway took us up into the former Jewish quarter of the city, and to an area behind the cathedral and the Campo Santo, a fourteenth century cloister cemetery, and the massive Convent of the Minimes, which is now an exhibition space)

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(And so we leave the South of France, but we leave it on a sunny day with one of my favourite views of Perpignan – the illuminated fountains which play throughout the day and early evening between Cours Palmarole and Boulevard Wilson)

Au revoir Perpignan, et Canet-en-Roussillon. À bientôt!

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The 29th International Festival of Photojournalism – Visa pour l’Image

9DE4957B-6A82-4C3C-A9AB-F969690904FDThe Collapse of the Caliphate, Development and Pollution in China, The Spread of Islam in Cuba, Juveniles in Prison, Human Trafficking – The Scourge of Nepal, Berbers in Morocco, resisting and defending their culture, Dreamers – Life on an Indian Reservation, Widowhood – what it means in Bosnia, India and Uganda, Italy Rent Asunder – after the earthquake, and The Battle of Mosul. These were just some of the titles of the exhibitions at The 29th International Festival of Photojournalism, which took place in Perpignan recently.

I have been coming to this part of France for some time, but this year was the first opportunity that I have had to visit this internationally renowned festival and exhibition which takes place in the first half of September every year. In ten different venues spread throughout the city, thousands of photographs are on display, the work of photojournalists from around the world. Add to this a further ninety smaller venues, where locals and others from around the world display their photographs in cafés, shop windows, bars, business offices, hotels, convents and hospitals, and you begin to see the scale of this event.

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(Perhaps the most impressive of the many venues, L’Église des Dominicans)

It was Salvador Dali who, when stepping out of the railway station at Perpignan and surveying the city, declared that he was standing at “the centre of the world”. I have always thought this a very strange statement, but over the past two weeks he would have been right; Perpignan was indeed at the centre of the world of photojournalism, and tens of thousands of people have visited its exhibitions and hopefully been inspired by the photo essays and stories that stir our consciences. For these photographs are not “breaking news”, these are photographs that tell in story-form man’s inhumanity to man, that tell of racism and fanaticism, that speak to us of some of the forgotten people of our planet, and pictorial essays about the damage we are doing to our world.

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(Berbers in Marocco, resisting and defending their culture, part of the exhibition of photographs by Ferhat Bouda)

The exhibition was a real eye-opener for me, and the friends who were with me. Had we heard before how Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were funding the spread of Islam in Cuba? Did we realise that between 1980 and 2000, women accounted for 20% of all deaths and disappearances during the period of terrorism in Peru? Did we know that they were murdered, or compelled to be part of subversive groups, or forced into unwanted marriages and sexually abused? Or did we know that in the USA, the richest country on earth, that the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is said to be the poorest place in America, with 85% unemployment, and the country’s worst life expectancy, 47 years for men, and 52 for women? I certainly had not realised that in parts of Bosnia, India, and Uganda, widowhood can mean social death for a woman, relegating her and her children to the fringes of society. Like everyone else, I have seen television images of the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, sanitised for public consumption; here they were realistic, personal, and horrifying.

It would be impossible to describe all of the exhibits, but one which had a profound impact on me, and the friends with me, was the outdoor display in front of the Palais des Congrès, entitled Night falls over Europe, which documented the plight of refugees fleeing for safety to Europe, only to be faced with the closing doors of our continent.

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(La Nuit tombe sur l’Europe, describing Europe’s shameful policies towards refugees)

This festival and exhibition is now a firmly fixed event in the life of the city of Perpignan, and one that is well worth a visit. There is so much to see, and so much to learn. I consider myself to be reasonably well informed on world events, mainly through reading a quality newspaper, and watching television news bulletins, but so much of what is happening in our world is not considered newsworthy by those who bring the news to us. This exhibition draws our attention to so much more than the mainstream media offer us. I shall certainly make sure that I am in this part of the world next September for the 30th International Festival of Photojournalism.

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(Photos from the exhibition, Crowds and Solitude in Africa, by Marco Longari who has been observing Africa for many years)

The Circle of the close friend

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Many times during the early 1950s, Pablo Picasso came to stay with friends in Perpignan. His hosts on those occasions were Jacques and Paule de Lazerme, whose beautifully spacious home is now the city’s delightful Musée d’art Hyacinthe Rigaud. He brought with him his close family, and many intellectuals, artists, writers and poets were attracted to stay there too. These friends became known as Le cercle de l’intime, or the circle of the close friend, a group of friends whose intellectual and artistic talents has shaped the cultural life of this Mediterranean city which lies close to the border with Spain.

To celebrate the reopening of the art museum, a special exhibition has been mounted to display pictures of Picasso’s intimate circle and to describe his frequent stays in the city, which appealed to him, not just as an ideal place to rest with friends, but also because of the Catalan nature of the city, Picasso having spent his formative years in Catalan Barcelona on the other side of the border between France and Spain.IMG_0064

(Picasso with some of his intellectual circle of friends at the Hôtel de Lazerme)

These friends were able to provide a protective environment for Picasso who was going through difficult times in the 1950s. His marriage was in crisis, and he was unable to return to his home country across the border since the implementation of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. Being in Perpignan was the closest he could go.

The exhibition gives us a glimpse, through the many photographs taken between 1953 and 1955, of this group of friends sitting talking, visiting various sites around the city, spending time with his children, and painting some of this close circle of intimates. The whole thing is beautifully displayed and includes some of his sketches done here in those years. The permanent collection at the Musée Hyacinthe Rigaud also contains several original work by Picasso, including some ceramics. Our visit, which I described in my last post, was very enjoyable. The permanent collection alone is well worth a visit, but to have this temporary exhibition about Picasso in the city, was indeed the icing on the cake.IMG_0059

(Portrait of Paule de Lazerme in Catalan dress, painted in Perpignan in 1954)

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(Boy playing with a lorry, painted in 1953)

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(Peace Dance, painted in September 1953. The figures are dancing the Sardana, the local Catalan dance, performed in a circle)

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(Man with barretina and other sketches)

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(Pablo Picasso photographed by Raymond Fabre at his studio in Perpignan)

Perpignan’s Art Museum Hyacinthe Rigaud

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(Louis XlV in his Coronation Robes, painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1701)

Every French schoolchild learning of the history of their nation will have come across the portrait of Louis XlV, the Sun King, in his coronation robes, and those of us who have been in the Louvre Museum in Paris will have seen this huge portrait, or have recognised the copy of it which hangs in the Palace of Versailles. What I had not realised until recently was that this painting was executed by Hyacinthe Rigaud who was born in Perpignan, and who gives his name to the Art Museum in the city, and who was the most famous portraitist in the royal court at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries.IMG_0047

(Self portrait of Hyacinthe Rigaud with a turban)

Last week I made my first visit to this museum which has recently reopened after massive renovation and extension work. Since 1979 the museum was housed in part of the Hôtel de Lazerme, one of the grand town houses in a city which had many such buildings. This had been the home of the Lazerme family, and home also to Perpignan intellectual life, and a refuge for writers, artists, musicians and poets, as well as a centre of resistance during the Second World War, and it was here that Pablo Picasso often stayed with the family when he visited the city during the 1950s. The massive building works were made possible by connecting this town house with another, the Hôtel de Mailly, thus creating a huge L shaped museum facing two different streets. The result is quite spectacular, and this relatively small city in the far south of France is now home to one of the most beautiful museums in the country. The space for its permanent collection has increased threefold, and it now provides six times more space for its visiting temporary exhibitions. The opening temporary exhibition is called Picasso in Perpignan, which I shall be writing about in a few days time, and which is proving to be a huge success.

Perpignan, and this region, was home to many famous artists, Georges-Daniel de Monfreid, Gustave Fayet and Pierre Daura, and the famous sculptor Aristide Maillol, many of whose works are exhibited here, along with works by Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Joan Miró. The permanent exhibition is divided into four sections displaying works from the Gothic, Baroque, and Modern periods in the life of the city, and work from today’s artists. Below are some of the works which interested me but there is so much more to see here, and if ever you find yourself in this region, the Musée d’Art Hyacinthe Rigaud is certainly well worth a visit.

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(A few of the two hundred and eleven small framed works by various artists bequeathed to the museum by a local lawyer. One is by the Catalan artist Joan Miró)

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(Cadix – an oil painting by Jean Lurçat painted in 1924)

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(A work in bronze by local sculptor Aristide Maillol from Banyuls-sur-Mer, created in 1907 entitled Le Désir – Desire)

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(Self portrait of Pierre Daura as a soldier, painted in 1938. He had joined the Republican militia in 1937 to fight against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War)

And finally my favourite from the whole permanent collection was this altarpiece by an unknown artist, which was commissioned in 1489, by the five consuls who administered the trading port of Perpignan, and which was placed in the chapel of the Loge de Mer, or maritime consulate. Recently restored, the piece is quite stunning, and dominates the room in which it is displayed.

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(Retable de la Trinité 1489 by unknown artist)

A little bit of history!

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It’s hard to believe, but we have lived in this house for nearly twenty years! Situated on the east side of the city centre, it’s not like  the districts to the west of the city, which have some lovely old houses, many of them quite grand. But it does have its good points. A friend once described this house and others in this road as faded Edwardian splendour. The Edwardian is not quite true as the house was built in 1913, making it just over one hundred years old, and strictly speaking it was built in the reign of King George V. As for the faded splendour, well that makes it sound a bit like Satis House, the home of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, and I assure you it is not!

But it is a good place to live. The local Residents’ Association works hard to improve the quality of life for all of us in this corner of the city which includes Gosford Park, Stoke Green and Stoke Park.

It’s a place full of history too. Just a couple of hundred metres from this house is Gosford Green! And it was there in the fourteenth century that a famous incident took place which involved single combat between the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Hereford. I quote from the website of our Residents’ Association: The dispute arose after one of the dukes was said to have uttered treasonable remarks against King Richard ll. Large numbers, including up to 10,000 soldiers, gathered to witness the event on Gosford Green, but at the last moment the king halted the duel and both dukes were banished.

The Duke of Hereford, otherwise known as Henry Bolingbroke, (remembered in a local road name) returned, took Richard prisoner and forced him to abdicate. The king was subsequently killed and Bolingbroke took over the monarchy as King Henry lV. This treacherous act led to the Wars of the Roses and during this period Parliament sat in Coventry.

Henry lV‘s son, Henry V, in later years won the Battle of Agincourt. So the duel that nearly happened at Gosford Green in Coventry proved to have a significant part to play in English history.

We can see Gosford Green from our house, and it is fascinating to imagine those thousands of soldiers gathered where this house now stands, and the importance to the history of the Succession of the English Monarchy and British history in general that this little corner of Coventry has played.

The photographs shared from the website of Gosford Park Residents’ Association show something of the very attractive nature of the place that I am pleased to call home, and are reproduced here with permission. Just click on “Pictures” below, and you will be taken to the GPRA website.

Source: Pictures

Pray for Manchester

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London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul, Nice, New York, Saint Petersburg, to name just a few.

Then there are cities and towns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the list goes on.

Now the city of Manchester is added to that list.

I have no words to add to the thousands already spoken.

Just thoughts and prayers for those who have died.

For those who have suffered bereavement or injury.

For those who are confused or traumatised.

When will it end?

I simply share the words of this prayer that I saw on Facebook this morning.

Lord have mercy,

Lord have mercy on the people of Manchester,

Lord have mercy on all caught up in the bombing,

Lord have mercy on all who are injured and traumatised,

Lord have mercy on all who are bereaved and bereft,

Lord have mercy on all who are providing care and solace,

Lord have mercy on those who must investigate what has happened,

Lord have mercy on us all as we struggle to understand why this can happen,

Lord have mercy. Amen.

Listening to the news reports today, we should also be grateful and proud for that spirit of coming together that the people of Manchester have shown, as well as the spirit of defiance in the face of evil and terrorism. It is the same attitude that has been shown in cities around the world, and is the only thing we can do. We have to continue with our daily lives because we cannot allow evil to win.

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Paris is a Beloved City

Having recently returned from a five day visit to Paris, and with thoughts of that beautiful city still buzzing inside my head, I want to share these words from a fellow blogger with my readers, to share her love of the city, and to share her sadness for what has happened.

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I am very sad about yesterday’s shootings in Paris. It is such a beautiful, magic place, populated with wonderful, friendly people who enjoy life and rich with history, architecture, art, cuisine and culture.  My heart is heavy for the victims of the shootings and their families, and for all Parisians as they struggle to recover from the shock and horror of the violence.

My tiny contribution to the healing process and return to normalcy is to reinforce the positives. Today’s post is just a quick couple of photos I snapped on my iPhone as part of a texting dialogue with my son while I was walking along the Seine. He traveled with me to Paris 5 years ago and we had an amazing experience, but that is literally another story (click here for “The Thankful Foreigner”).  He has great memories of Paris, and longs to return.

Me:  “I’m at the…

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