The train at a station en route – Arnot.

 

Each day a ‘vintage’ (built in 1977) train ploughs its way down narrow guage railway tracks between Digne-les-Bains and Nice and back – four times to be exact. Tourists and locals flock to use the service. A full trip takes 4 hours but we like to stop off at Entrevaux a medieval village at the half-way mark; have a lunch in the village square and then re-board to get back to Digne by sunset.

The price is 16.50€ per person for this trip and WELL worth it. It’s great fun and the scenery is,well, spectacular.

Chugging along the tracks – the view from the driver’s cabin.

Spring and Autumn are great times to do this trip when the scenery, foliage and weather are at their best. The trains are not air-conditioned!

Something to do in Entrevaux – a vintage motorcycle museum.

For more information: click here.

 

Over the past three days, we’ve been showcasing a wonderful garden near Tarascan in the Bouches-Rhone Department of Provence. Just dow nthe road from this amazing spectacle is their provider of flower blooms and plants – when you consder the plant 10,000 narcissi in a year, they have big needs!

We’re indebted to Julie Mautner of Provence Post (www.provencepost.blogspot.fr) for this article:

There’s no shortage of beautiful flowers in Provence…or places to buy them. Just about every outdoor market has a vendor selling brilliant blooms at reasonable prices. But there’s something very special about buying them at the farm where they were grown…and meeting the people who grew them. And wholesale prices don’t hurt either!

Ferme Fleurie, located halfway between Tarascon and Graveson, is a large flower farm that exports 95 percent of its harvest to Holland. Yep, a big truck comes anywhere from two to seven times a week and carries away massive containers of flowers, all of them measured, clipped, bunched, refrigerated…and ready to be sold at auction. But a certain number of stems are always held back for local sale…and anyone who wants to can pop in to shop.  For export the flowers are cut “green,” which means the buds have yet to open, but for local sale the flowers are ready to be enjoyed tout suite!

The flowers available each day are scribbled in chalk on a sign out on the road…just like the flavor of the day at your favorite ice cream stand. Many top hotels and restaurants in the region buy direct from the farm regularly.
Back in the day, you just pulled into the parking lot and if no one came out to greet you, you honked. But now that Marcel and Debbie van Eenennaam have opened their sweet new boutique on the property, there are convenient set hours…and a Facebook page where you can see what’s in season before you head over. The shop opened in early April.
So how is it that this charming Englishwoman and her Dutch husband came to be among the largest flower producers in Provence?
Born in a small town near Amsterdam, Marcel and his late wife Julie came down to Provence and established the farm in 1999. Julie lost her battle with cancer in 2013.
The following year, Debbie—who comes originally from Whitstable in Kent, England but was living in Istanbul at the time—arrived in Provence to visit friends. Among their guests at dinner one night was the charming flower farmer who lived just next door. And over that long, laughter-filled meal, Marcel and Debbie connected.  They stayed in touch and before too long, Debbie had chucked her life in Turkey, moved to France and moved in. The couple married on the farm in September 2015.
Ferme Fleurie operates year round. What can’t be grown reliably in the ground is raised in one of 27 greenhouses, some of which are climate and humidity controlled.  To help get everything picked, packaged and shipped off on time, Debbie and Marcel have a fantastic team of Moroccan workers, a group that swells to 35 people in the height of the “short and intense” six-week peony season.
While anemones constitute a large part of their production, it’s the peonies for which the farm is best known: gorgeous fluffy blooms in colors including Bowl of Cream, Sara Bernhardt, Duchesse de Nemours, Pink Sunset and many more…in both “single” and “double” varieties. The farm’s 130,000 stabilized peony bushes will produce roughly one million pretty stems this year.  Normally available until the end of May, the peony harvest started two weeks early this year and the flowers are being picked, at a frantic pace, right now. So if you want ‘em, come and get ‘em…they’ll be gone, most likely, by mid May.
Debbie and Marcel also grow daffodils, lilies, roses (600 bushes), tulips (20 varieties), allium, glads, viburnum, sedum, lavender (6000 bushes) and more.
“Marcel is Dutch and likes to plant things,” Debbie says with a laugh.
If you come for flowers, you’re welcome to stroll around the 14-hectare farm where you’re likely to be followed by two sweet, inseparable black dogs named Poppy and Zazoo.  Poppy likes to swim every day, year round, in a small pond out back, while Zazoo runs back and forth on the shore.
You’re also likely to see geese and chickens; on a recent visit I spied a funny looking chicken that Debbie explained was a bit of a breeding mistake.  “I wanted to buy Silkie chickens but they were €45 each!,” she says, “so I decided to make them myself.  But I bred a furry one with a regular one by mistake. He’s ugly but we really love him.” In the barn the day I visited, a huge pig named Adele was crashed out in the hay, snoring loudly.
The Boutique at Ferme Fleurie is normally open from 10 am to 12:30 and 3 pm to 6 pm (weekdays) and from 9 am to 12:30 (Saturday).
During peony (pivoine) season, the hours are extended, as shown in the photo above. As of Monday May 15, they’ll be back on normal hours.
In summer, the boutique is likely to open just one morning and one afternoon a week…so check the Facebook page.
The farm is a bit tricky to find and you’re likely to miss it on your first try. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you see the large blackboard telling you the fleur du jour; turn right just before it or left just after. (If you’re coming from Graveson, you’ll turn left right after a small bridge; from Tarascon look for a cross on a pedestal on your left and then turn right immediately.) After the turn you’ll see a sign for the Mas d’Avieux…then just follow that road along the white fence, through three gentle curves, and you’re there. The farm and its GPS coordinates can also be found on Google Maps (as Ferme Fleurie SCEA Tarascon).
Ferme Fleurie, 4583 Route d’Avignon, 13150 Tarascon, France.

Madame fell hopelessly for this cherub.

Part of the manor house fronted by Plantane trees

Simply beautiful.

Statues abound

Not a bad place to have lunch!

A view from inside the manor house out towards the front garden

We were privileged to visit a private garden, near to the the Bouches-Rhone village of Tarascon.

A preview …..

 

The fourth artist from Ménerbes…

Finally the sad fate of the French-Russian painter Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955) further suggests that living in Ménerbes is not sufficient to lift your spirits. The abstract artist bought Le Castellet, the little château at the top of the village, in 1953 but didn’t stay long and committed suicide two years later (the property is still owned by his family).

Nicolas de Stael was in fact Baron Nikolai Vladimirovich Staël von Holstein and was  born on January 5, 1914 (December 23, 1913) in St. Petersburg. He died on March 14, 1955 in Antibes.

The career of Nicolas de Staël spread over fifteen years – from 1940 to 1955 – through more than a thousand works, influenced by Cézanne, Matisse, van Gogh, Braque, Soutine and the wild beasts, but also by the Dutch masters Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hercules Seghers.

His painting constantly evolved. From the dark colors of his beginnings (Porte sans porte, 1946 or Ressentiment, 1947), it leads to the exaltation of colour as in the Large Orange Nude (1953). His canvases are characterized by thick layers of paint superimposed, passing from impasto to knife (Compositions, 1945-1949) to a more fluid painting (Agrigento, 1954, Railroad by the sea, Sunset, 1955).

Refusing labels he worked very hard and was notorious for destroying as many works as he painted. “In his frenzy of painting he constantly meets the abyss, finding chords that no one else had dared to attempt before. Painting tense, nervous, always on the wire of the razor, like the last paintings of Vincent van Gogh that he joins in the suicide “, said an art historian.

Nicolas de Staël died at the age of 41, throwing himself from the terrace of the building where he had his lodging and one of his workshops in Antibes. He is buried in the Montrouge cemetery.

Dora Maar (1907-1997) was one of Picasso’s most influential mistresses and muses. But simply to describe her as that is to belittle a woman who was a successful and acclaimed photographer in her own right.

Dora Maar photographed by Man Ray

Born Henriette Theodora Markovitch in Paris (her father came from the former Yugoslavia), Maar studied art. She became a busy photographer with her own studio, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean Renoir, Man Ray and Georges Bataille. Pictured: Dora Maar photographed by Man Ray in 1936.

Her own work was inspired by surrealism and also political activism; she captured haunting images of the poor in Barcelona, Paris and London. Then she met Picasso in 1935.

During their nine-year relationship Maar photographed Picasso at different stages of the creation of his masterpiece, Guernica and was painted by him, often in tears as the model for his great Weeping Woman cycle. Their relationship was stormy.

Female bather by Dora Maar

Many critics feel that Picasso wrecked Maar’s career by encouraging her to give up photography, at which she excelled, and to focus on painting in a pale imitation of his own style.

Like Camille Claudel the sculptress and mistress of Auguste Rodin, she was overshadowed and diminished by her more famous lover. Maar realised this herself, once saying, “I wasn’t Picasso’s mistress, he was just my master.” Pictured: Female Bather by Dora Maar, circa 1935.

When they split up she suffered a nervous depression, was hospitalised and psychoanalysed by Jacques Lacan, before finding comfort in the arms of the Catholic church. Perhaps out of vestigial guilt or an attempt to continue to control her, Picasso bought her a large, beautiful 18th century house in Ménerbes.

Maar divided her time between there and Paris, living as a virtual recluse while continuing to paint. The images she produced there were much bleaker than those of Eakin or Downing. After her death this house was bought by Nancy Negley, an American philanthropist and resident of Houston and Ménerbes, who established an art foundation there.

Dora Maar house in Menerbes

Administered by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Brown Foundation Fellows Program provides residences of one to three months for painters, scholars and writers and opens its doors to the public at intervals for them to meet the visiting artists.

Newsflash: 16 May 2017: A portrait of Dora Maar, painted by Picasso sold for $45m yesterday in Christies New York. It had many years ago been in the hands of the Nazis but had found its way into the ownership of a NY industrialist, who has now parted company with the piece.

Source: www.marvellous-provence.com

 

The American painter Jane Eakin (1919-2002) lived in Ménerbes for 40 years and now her blue-shuttered house in a steep, narrow street, the montée Sainte Barbe, has been turned into a charming museum, the Maison Jane Eakin.

Left much as it was when she was working there, the house is jam-packed with her sun-drenched paintings and personal effects and is convincing proof – if proof were still needed – of the tonic effect of moving to the South of France.

Eakin married a distinguished New York journalist, Robert Kleiman, who was based in Paris in the 1950s but, expected to give up painting and become a society hostess, Jane was ill at ease there.

After her divorce, she had a long relationship with the violinist and conductor Isaac Stern, but this too eventually ended when she was unable to give him children (the couple remained close, however).

Nude in an Orange Hat by Jane Eakin

Eakin was understandably feeling low when a friend and neighbour, her fellow-artist Joe Downing, told her about the hill village in the Luberon where he had a house. She went down to see Ménerbes, and was sold.

She left the sophisticated and glamorous circles she had known in Paris to spend the rest of her life there as an active and popular member of the community. Pictured: Sylvie with Grapes (top left) and Nude in an Orange Hat (right).

When she died, Eakin left her house and paintings to the village she loved. About a hundred of her pieces are on display there in every available corner; the Town Hall owns about twice as many again, which are currently kept in store. Some members of the Jane Eakin Foundation which runs the museum, knew her personally and will be delighted to talk about her to visitors.

The ground floor of the Maison Jane Eakin has an introductory area with photographs and souvenirs in her former kitchen, filled with fruit and flowers just as the artist liked it. Next is a room of posters of her early exhibitions, simply marked Eakin in case anyone was still prejudiced against female artists. Her Paris paintings are here too.

These are unsurprisingly rather gloomy, but the later work on the upper floors – impressionist portraits and landscapes glowing with colour and light – shows how Eakin’s art bloomed when she arrived in the South.

“I have hugged life to me and had the joy of feeling life hug me back,” Eakin wrote the year before she died, and you can certainly see that in her art.

Her work wasn’t just about an idyllic, almost fantasy vision of Provence. Other displays show Eakin’s brief early flirtation with cubism or a book of wryly satirical New Yorker-ish cartoons about a woman’s lot with the self-explanatory title I Do All The Work Around Here (and an introduction by Danny Kaye). Watch out, too, for vivid portraits of a watchful Jean Seberg, playing an artist in the 1963 film In the French Style and of a dowager-like Alice B Toklas.

Jane Eakin studio in Menerbes

On the first floor are Eakin’s open-plan bedroom, an office with furniture brightly painted by her and the guest bedroom, now a screening room where you can watch a film (subtitled in English) about the artist. On the top floor her airy studio, pictured, overlooks the mountains.

This is a typical hill-village house, narrow, steep and troglodyte (built into the rock-face) and so the visit isn’t suitable for anyone with restricted mobility. Eakin herself became bedridden and couldn’t cope with the stairs at the end of her life.

The Maison Jane Eakin is open every summer from May to October and organises a lively programme of cultural events both at the house itself and at other venues in Ménerbes such as La Maison de la Truffe et du Vin.

Source: www.marvellous-provence.com

2017 marks the 10th anniversary of Joe Downing, an acclaimed American painter’s death. Jo made Ménerbes his home.

Joe Downing (1925-2007) lived in Ménerbes even longer than Eakin. Born in the small town of Horse Cave, Kentucky, he served in Europe during the Second World War and settled in Paris and Ménerbes soon afterwards.

Downing first studied optometry and, after he decided to become an artist, specialised in brilliantly coloured abstract pieces that draw on that training to play with refraction, colour and light. Pictured: Untitled (1973), Musée Unterlinden, Colmar.

Untitled by Joe Downing

He also loved to paint on unusual surfaces such as old doors and windows, ceramic and terracotta tiles and even leather.

Different though their styles were in most other ways, his luminous palette was, like Eakin’s, inspired by Provence, “Some artists paint death and violence – two facts of modern life,” Downing said at the opening of one of his shows. “I paint the sunshine”.

His work – praised by Picasso among others – hangs in galleries around the world, including the Smithsonian in Washington, the Museums of Modern Art in New York and Paris, the National Fine Arts Gallery in Sydney, Australia and the Musée Calvert in Avignon.

You can’t see it in Ménerbes (unless there happens to be a special exhibition on) but Downing is honoured with a tiny garden in his name opposite the Dora Maar House.

Source: www.marvellous-provence.com

Note: During the summer of 2017, there will be an exhibition and homage to Jo Downing at the Ménerbes Maison de la Truffe et du Vin – details to follow.

We’re back – sorry for the hiatus……

48 hours of frost has wreaked havoc over large parts of France’s precious vineyards. Here in the Luberon, certain estates have lost up to 80% of ths year’s crop.

Here’s an amazing sight – in Chablis, hundreds of oil heaters warming the crops.

We’ve been watching this statue of Pan for 6 years at a stone vendor in Cavaillon, at the mouth of the Luberon Valley. Will they sell now at a ‘reasonable’ price, or won’t they? Negotiating with a Frenchman is an interesting experience, you would think he would want to move his stock! But, then maybe no!

In Greek religion and mythology, Pan  is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs.His name originates within the ancient Greek language, from the word paein meaning “to pasture”; the modern word “panic” is derived from the name. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. With his homeland in rustic Arcadia, he is also recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of spring. The ancient Greeks also considered Pan to be the god of theatrical criticism and impromptus.

In Roman religion and myth, Pan’s counterpart was Faunus, a nature god who was the father of Bona Dea, sometimes identified as Fauna; he was also closely associated with Sylvanus, due to their similar relationships with woodlands. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Pan became a significant figure in the Romantic movement of western Europe and also in the 20th-century Neopagan movement.

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