Every cloud has a silver lining!


(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.


(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)


(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)


(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)


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


(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)


(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)


(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)


(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)


(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)


(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)


(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!


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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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


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)


(Boy playing with a lorry, painted in 1953)


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


(Man with barretina and other sketches)


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

Perpignan’s Art Museum Hyacinthe Rigaud


(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.


(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)


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


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


(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.


(Retable de la Trinité 1489 by unknown artist)

Downpour to Heatwave!


(This is the view of Canet that we normally see on our approach to the airport in Perpignan – but not on this occasion! Thick rain clouds meant we saw nothing at all)

To say it was raining is an understatement! As we came into land on our Ryanair flight from Birmingham, the skies over Perpignan were full of thick dark clouds. It wasn’t just raining, it was pelting down, you could hear it on the fuselage of the plane, you could see it pouring down the windows in rivulets. When the steward opened the front door of the plane to secure the steps he was absolutely soaked, despite wearing his raincoat, and the captain announced that no one was getting off in the next few minutes. Despite all that, thankfully the landing was pretty smooth, although there was one almighty flash of lightening as we touched down. What a welcome to the south of France!

We’ve been here a week now, and it has got a lot better, thankfully! In fact by the time we reached our house in Canet half an hour later, the sun was beginning to peep through the clouds, and the second downpour that we had experienced on the road from the airport had ceased. By the evening, when we went out to a local restaurant, everywhere was dry. Dinner on this first night was to be in a restaurant we have known well for the past twenty-four years. Back in 1993 when we first came to Canet, we stayed at a place called Malibu Village, a holiday resort made up of Timeshare apartments, rentals and owner-occupiers. The restaurant in those days was very good, but has gone through difficult times of late. We had heard that it is now very much on the up, and we were not disappointed. Carefully prepared and beautifully presented dishes were put in front of us by friendly and attentive staff. We both started with Escalivade, a Catalan dish of roasted vegetables, served here with asparagus and a Parmesan Crisp, which we followed with Gambas for my partner and Sea Bass for me.


(Escalivade with a Parmesan Crisp served with Black Olive dressing on a glass plate)


The dessert, one of my favourites, was Tartelette Citron Meringuée.  A good helping of really local red wine ensured that we passed a very pleasant evening.

Sunday was spent working in the garden, which during our absence over the previous two and a half weeks back in the U.K. had burst into colour. There was lots to do, cutting back the creepers, and thinning out the vine, to ensure a good crop of black Muscat eating-grapes in late August and early September. That done we made our way to Perpignan where we were going to attend the evening Mass of Pentecost at the Cathedral.


(The Sanctuary of the Cathedral in Perpignan prepared for the Pentecost Sung Mass)

As the weather gradually got better during the week, much of our time was spent organising the outdoor furniture and getting the swimming pool (la piscine) back into operation. Our regular pisciniste arrived on Monday and did the major cleaning work after removing the winter cover, cleaned the filter, checked the ph levels, and reset the timers and the heater. All done within an hour, and all we had to do was wait until the temperature was at the level we like it. Within two days the water was crystal clear again, without the use of chemicals. In the pool house there is a UV lamp over which the water constantly passes, removing any impurities and thereby doing away with that awful smell of chlorine! Thanks to the summer cover, which is like thick bubble wrap, and the efficient heater, the water temperature is now 28° Celsius, or for those who work in Fahrenheit, a very pleasant 82°. With the aid of the sun, (and this weekend we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave down here) it will soon be over 30° or a mere 86°. A bit like a luke warm bath!


Yesterday we marked a personal event, and took ourselves off to Saint-Cyprien, the next town south along the coast, to celebrate in style at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by friends. Saint-Cyprien is one of the largest pleasure boat ports along this coast and also has a fishing harbour, so the fish is always very fresh in the restaurants there. Before our meal we enjoyed a Mojito in a bar on the edge of the port called Le Bateau Ivre, (The Drunken Boat), and since I was driving, mine was non-alcoholic, I hasten to add. It’s known in French as a Mojito Virgin!


At the restaurant, L’Hidalgo, once again we were not disappointed. Our starter was a rather large platter of Tapas. Being so close to the Spanish border, tapas is very common in these parts and is often found on menus. Ours consisted of a selection of cold meats, Manchego cheese, white anchovies, razor shells, squid, crispy chicken and a fried fishy doughnut, called acras de Morue. We were able to take our time over all this with a good bottle of red wine from Collioure, a beautiful fishing port and wine producing area two more town further south along the coast towards Spain.


(Platter of tapas, with the inevitable, but delicious bowl of Aioli in the foreground)

Then came our main courses: my partner had chosen to have Parillade de Poissons, a mixed grill of fish and seafood which he very gallantly made his way through!  Mine was a  Cocotte d’Agneau façon tajine, a slow cooked North African Lamb Tagine, which was not too spicy, but very flavoursome. I did leave room for another of my favourite desserts which I have mentioned in a previous blog, Un Café Gourmand, a selection of four tiny desserts, including a Crème Catalan, and another tiny Tarte au Citron Meringuée, with an espresso coffee. Sitting facing the harbour, watching the moon rise, with not a breath of wind, was a lovely end to the evening.

We have really kind neighbours here. Four days ago, the neighbour on one side brought us a huge bag of cherries, which her cousin had picked up near Vinça, about twenty-five miles away. They were beautiful and we have enjoyed some every day since. Then two days ago, the neighbour on the other side brought us a bowl of apricots which she had just picked from the tree in her garden. They were delicious. Not many food miles involved there! Thank you Nicole and Suzanne!

And so our first week here in Canet-en-Roussillon has come to an end, but not without a little sadness. Just above the covered terrace outside the kitchen there is a decorative water spout, which serves no purpose, it’s just there to add symmetry to the look of the terrace,  but over the past few years it has become home to nesting birds who have successfully reared their chicks there, and we’ve watched them coming and going to bring food, and eventually see the young fly the nest. This year, sadly things have been different; first on Wednesday, then yesterday, and now this morning, we have found three chicks on the floor below. Did they fall, or were they pushed? We shall never know, and we cannot interfere, nature has to take its course. But it is still very sad to witness, and we are wondering if there are any chicks still in the nest?

What started with a downpour has ended with a heatwave, but better that way round as today the French are voting again. Just over a month ago they held Les Présidentielles when Emmanuel Macron was elected President, and today is the first round of Les Législatives, when members of parliament are elected. Personally, I’ve had enough of elections, but that is another story, and not one that I intend to get into here!