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France

The Yellow House in Arles

  Nobody has been able to determine why Vincent van Gogh got off the train at Arles. Almost equidistant from Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence it was known for its Roman ruins and the magnificent amphitheatre in which bull fights attracted the local Arlesiennes. The painting by Vincent is more about the people in the audience and […] Read More

Romanys and the three saints

I’d never been to the Camargue before, the home of salt marshes, red rice, wild horses and pink flamingoes and because I was curious to witness the great annual gypsy pilgrimage to Saint Sara Kali in the fishing village of Saintes Maries de la Mer, I  held my nose and took the dreaded R-Air. Dawdling […] Read More

Hospitality

Hospitable: adj. giving, disposed to give, welcome and entertainment to strangers or guests: hence-ality adv. (OED) In the Odyssey Homer says that  a guest never forgets a host who has treated him kindly but, because hospitality is now widely commercialized to be the cornerstone of the  tourism industry, kindness (which springs out of charity, mercy […] Read More

The dead are with us

“Inspiration is always a surprising visitor,” is a quote from the poet-priest John O’Donohue, a favourite  of the artist Robert Kenny-Smith. Bob offers another quote, this time from Matisse, who spent time on the coast with his friend, Derain: “You must present yourself with the greatest humility- pure completely blank, candid; your brain seeming empty […] Read More

  Will there  be honey still  for tea, or will the masses take to stale cake on Monday? Is honey to vinegar as miraculous as water to wine?             […] Read More

From the ridiculous to something different

Until the age of twenty-two  I had a secret wish to be a sailor. Later, somewhat burdened by my own and others’ expectations, I dreamed of  driving a  a bus. (Routine, predicability, timetable, boredom, then home to write the novel after supper). My ambition was to sail a proper ship that crossed the Indian Ocean, […] Read More

This is the gospel of GBT (Great British Things) according to the Times columnist, chief Sports Writer, Simon Barnes. 1.The Suffolk Coast: reeds, saline lagoons,the volatile, shifting, changing landscape, home of the bitterns, marsh harriers and avocets. 2. The curry houses of Drummond Street. 3. A Dance to the Music of Time. the 12-novel sequence […] Read More

The journey back

The camera was somewhere in the jumble of the car boot, so no pics of Honfleur. In season it’s somewhat like Collioure, on the Cote Vermeille, but now the beguiling vista of drunkenly leaning timber framed houses –some painted duck egg blue- was uncluttered by crowds. Smooth fat rocks cobble the streets which are lined […] Read More

Persimmons

Fifteen years ago I arrived in the valley of the Conflent, Pyrenees Orientales, and lost my heart to this strange, wild, almost-forgotten corner of France- part mountain fastness, part border country- criss crossed with stony trails, highland patches of wild lavender, icy streams- and home to the Catalan people. The valley itself is one of […] Read More

Place de la Republique

Once upon a time the sous-prefecture of Prades, Languedoc Rousillon, was a township of fairly grand houses,  (maisons des maitre) some belonging to Parisians who liked to winter there. I was once given an informal guided tour of a double-fronted mansion with a heavy, embossed wooden door but otherwise unprepossessing external features. Inside was a […] Read More