Quarry carvings

Posted on November 20th, 2016

The other side of our truffle-oak field, not 200 metres from the house, is a small abandoned quarry. More than ten metres deep, the stone-cutters created a subterranean vault. The quarry was abandoned well over fifty years ago, when the stone seam was exhausted or when accessibility prevented newer, more efficient cutting methods.
Since then, perhaps 30-40 years ago, a local artist created some extraordinary carvings on the walls. Very few know of their existence and fewer have seen them. The artworks include Mexican-style symbols, a recessed staircase to nowhere and geometric patterns. Some are incomplete while others have been traced onto stone walls and never begun. More photos from the quarry can be found: HERE

 

Carrières de Lumières

Posted on November 19th, 2016

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

The Alpilles hills south of Saint-Rémy de Provence are home to many ancient limestone quarries. At the village of Les Baux one former quarry has been transformed into a magical theatre of light where we went to see the current show on Marc Chagall, called Midsummer Night’s Dreams. Chagall’s works have been transformed into moving pictures projected onto many walls of the subterranean quarry. It is a stunning experience, accompanied by dramatic music and followed by a short show Alice’s Land inspired by Lewis Carroll.

Entrance to Carrières de Lumières

Entrance to Carrières de Lumières

Alice in Wonderland at Carrières de Lumières

Alice in Wonderland at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Carrières de Lumières

Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Chagall at Carrières de Lumières

Les-Baux-de-Provence

Les-Baux-de-Provence

Olive harvest

Posted on November 17th, 2016

Today Monsieur Thédonat came to harvest our olives. He is 84 and still farms several parcels of land around Ménerbes for table grapes, wine grapes, asparagus and potatoes. Several friends have held olive picking days, where everybody helps out but most time is spent at a convivial lunch. We have only two olive trees so our crop is far too small for processing, but Monsieur Thédonat can add our olives to his own.
This year many trees have been attacked by the olive fly causing serious damage across southern Europe. The female fly injects her eggs directly into the fruit and the eggs hatch into maggots which eat the fruit. If affected olives have one hole the maggot is still inside the fruit, but a second hole means the maggot has exited. The damage renders the fruit unsaleable as table olives and raises the acidity level of the oil, lowering the quality. Our trees will be sprayed next year.

Monsieur Thédonat

Monsieur Thédonat

Olive harvest November 2016

Olive harvest November 2016

 

A curious throwback

Posted on October 30th, 2016

The rue du Chevalier Saint-George in Paris forms the border between the 1st and 8th arrondissements. It was once called the rue Richepance after a slaver in Guadeloupe but was renamed in 2001 to recognise an Afro-French composer and to honour L’Association d’entraide de la Noblesse Francaise who occupy offices at number 9.
The Association for Mutual Aid for the French Nobility is a curious throwback to former times. In revolutionary days the aristocracy numbered 140,000 from 9,000 families, yet this 0.5% of the population owned one fifth of all land. They enjoyed privileges including hunting, tax exemptions, feudal land rights and reserved senior ecclesiastic, civic and military positions. Nobles owned seigneurial rights over free peasants who worked on their lands, which entitled them to demand a portion of the harvest, to levy taxes and apply banalités for the compulsory use of the lord’s mills, ovens and wine presses. Peasants might be required to work the master’s land for free several days each year, called the corvée. No-one but the seigneur could own a bull or a boar. The nobility also increased their wealth through investments in state-owned enterprise, trading with colonial settlements, real estate speculation, mining, textiles, metalwork and investment in church or French Crown backed bonds and debt. Well-off noble families could expect to make the equivalent of over a million US dollars a year, while the most prestigious families received many times that much. The revolution ended most of these practices and the nobility became subject to the same taxes as everyone else. They were, however, allowed to retain their titles and Napoléon Bonaparte created a further 2,200 titles between 1804 and 1808. Today there are around 3,200 aristocratic families remaining in France.

The awakening of the Third Estate

The awakening of the Third Estate

But let us return to L’Association d’entraide de la Noblesse Francaise, the ANF. The association exists to provide admirable services including scholarships, job search guidance, annuities for needy nobles and counselling in business and other walks of life. But then its published goals become decidedly murky. The association website criticises what it sees as:
“….the uniform world that is trivialised, egalitarian with unbridled social diversity…..a contemporary world that exalts the individual man with no memory of his past, no family history…….. A younger generation less cultivated because of the shortcomings of current education”, and the association promotes “a sense of values that give the nobility today its true purpose…….. quality linked to birth is to admit that part of ourselves is predestined”.
A constant theme is family honour, together with loyalty to religion, even to the extent of suggesting that religious obligations rise above military duty. The connection with the church is evident in the claim that nobles are twenty times more prevalent in the clergy than are the general population. But the real goal here is preservation of privilege:
“To ensure the sustainability of socially recognised families through economic wealth and land, social heritage and symbolic heritage…….. Understandably the centuries-old possession of a name, a fortune and a major castle used to establish his social identity for all to see…….. This social capital is obviously transmitted almost exclusively by family or kin, but may be strengthened by attending certain schools or institutions such as the Order of Malta, the Jockey Club, the Society of Cincinnati, or this Association”.
Exclusivity is central:
“We express our admiration for all those worthy to belong to the elite by their sacrifices, their taste, their talent and altruism……..  the value system of noblesse oblige…….. heritage notions such as honour, name, lineage, seniority, contracted alliances, family gatherings, exalted memories…….. Primacy at birth…….. This heritage is undoubtedly the most important and most precious because it is the essence of the nobility and cannot be taken away”.
Each June the titled of France assemble for mass at the private cemetery of Picpus in the Paris 12eme to honour nobility executed during the revolution 220 years ago.
Marriage is seen as an alliance of two families, so marrying outside the nobility is gently frowned upon:
“In the mad evolution of our society, the present danger facing noble families is the dilution of identity”.
Yet the association seems encouraged that noble families have a higher fertility rate, between 3 and 4, which is helping to offset the falling number of families as male-only lines die out.
The ANF has close links with the secretive catholic Order of Malta with whom they hold a joint members ball each year, presumably because many adherents are members of both organisations. Nobility is a key criterion for membership of the Order with over 40 percent of  membership from Europe’s oldest and most powerful Catholic families. Serious wealth, hard-line Catholicism and sworn allegiance to defend the Holy Mother Church are the other prerequisites.
The Order of Malta also operates as a charity assisting the needy – which may explain why it assisted Nazi war criminals to escape to South America after the war, including Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons”.  In more recent years the Order has maintained strong connections with the CIA and assisted in anti-communist activities.
And so the common links between the French nobility and the catholic church are manifest. Both share an unswerving belief in self-worth and entitlement, reactionary convictions, the distrust of democracy and a covert approach to power and influence. Neither is a force for good.

Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. – Carl Sagan

I am the Third Estate

I am from the Third Estate

It was different in 1944

Posted on October 28th, 2016

The chapel and memorial at Saint-Anne, top left, with the town of Cadenet below

The Chapelle Sainte-Anne de Goiron, dating from the 11th century, stands on a high hill behind the village of La Roque d’Anthéron south of the Durance River. The hilltop enjoys commanding views in all directions, the Alps to the east, the Mediterranean to the south, Mont Ventoux to the north and the Alpilles to the west. It is a haven of peace, where the only sounds are goat bells jangling on the hillsides below.

It was different in 1944.  “Méfiez vous du toreador!” (Beware of the toreador) was among the coded messages broadcast from London on 5th June, calling for the mobilisation of 400 members of l’Armée Secrète from surrounding villages. Their meeting point was well chosen. Weapons had been parachuted into the area over previous months and the hill of Sainte-Anne enjoyed an excellent look-out over the countryside below, with escape into rough garrigue possible in all directions.
Unfortunately there was a traitor in their midst. French officer Maurice Seignon de Possel-Deydier, the adopted son of an established Marseille family, was parachuted into the area in May 1944 as agent “Noel”. Trained in Algeria in sabotage techniques, Noel’s role was to instruct the resistance in preparation for Allied landings. Seemingly embittered by a lack of career advancement and the perceived failure to recognise his skills, Noel soon contacted SS-Obersturmführer Ernst Dunker of the Gestapo in Marseille to offer to betray resistance leaders in return for 5 million francs, around US$1.4 million in today’s terms.
On 10th June Noel, known to the Germans as agent “Erick”, betrayed to Dunker all he knew about the resistance fighters amassing in the hills. The next day three thousand German troops encircled the hill of Sainte-Anne in preparation for an attack on the morning of the 12th. Paradoxically the assigned German Brandenburg Division included French volunteer units active in counter-resistance. During the battle the maquis inflicted heavy losses on the Germans but ran out of ammunition and were forced to disperse. Those captured during the ensuing manhunt were interrogated, tortured and shot. In all, perhaps 80 resistance maquis were killed. Their average age was 28.
The next day, 13th June, 28 fighters were shot at the nearby farm of Le Fenouillet. They had been arrested four days before the battle, again the result of betrayal.
Postscript:
Obersturmführer Ernst Dunker continued his successful crackdown and was able to report that resistance activities were almost completely paralysed. Following his trial and conviction for torture, execution and deportation, Dunker was executed in June 1950 in Marseille.
Maurice Seignon, agent Erick/Noel, continued his collaboration with Dunker across the region, being responsible for the deaths of numerous patriots, most notably at Signes, where twenty-nine resistance leaders were shot on 18 July and a further nine on 12 August 1944. Four of the dead remain unidentified. By this time Dunker had lost trust in Seignon and had him arrested. On 8th August 1944, during Seignon’s transfer to the prison of Baumettes, Dunker ordered  guards to shoot him. At Dunker’s trial, he said of Seignon: “I disliked this traitor. He was a despicable individual”.

Maurice Seignon de Possel-Deydier, Agent Erick, Agent Noel

Collaboration: SS-Sturmbannführer Bernhard Griese, (Superior of Ernst Dunker), Antoine Lemoine (Prefect of the Region), SS Sturmbannführer Rolf Mühler (Commander of the Security Police Marseille), René Bousquet (secretary general of the Vichy police), Pierre Barraud (Mayor Marseille).

Ten metres from the chapel - and only eighteen

Ten metres from the chapel – and only eighteen

Memorial to thirteen partisans shot here 12 June 1943

The memorial at Saint-Anne

The memorial at Saint-Anne

 

Catholic Madrid

Posted on October 23rd, 2016

José Gutiérrez Solana, The Bishop's Visit, 1926

José Gutiérrez Solana, The Bishop’s Visit, 1926

Our recent visit to Madrid recalled the country’s devotion to Catholicism. The churches are fabulous and the museums replete with religious art. Both cost a great deal, which prompted me to explore how the Spanish church could acquire such wealth.
From very early days, Spanish priests enjoyed great power over their uneducated flocks, representing the only pathway to heaven. Opposing the church could lead to denunciation as a heretic and being burned at the stake. It was vital to keep the priest happy. A tithe of 10%, the diezmo, was paid to the church on all agricultural production, supplemented by additional tolls on harvest primicias (first fruits). The tithe was not abolished until 1841. Moreover you were expected to work on church land for free several days a month, yet the church owned 20% of all land and paid no taxes. Subjects paid for church baptisms, marriages and burials, without which entry to heaven was denied. Church collections were monitored. Wealthy families paid large sums to have relatives appointed to high church positions, thus expanding family influence and securing salvation. Revenues were also raised through the sale of indulgences, fleecing pilgrims and the trade in officially sanctioned relics, such as pieces of the cross, dove feathers and manger straw, all promising nearness to Jesus. By 1660 the archbishop of Toledo was the richest man in Spain after the king and the wealthiest Catholic prelate after the pope.
The church also profited handsomely from colonial exploration. In 1493 the Pope divided the world between Spain and Portugal, drawing a line down the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal was awarded the “old” world, including Africa, while Spain was assigned the “new” world, including the Americas. The church was a majority investor in Spanish exploitation of gold, silver and sugar resources, worked with slaves bought from Portuguese African colonies.
And so the money flowed in, the clergy enjoyed opulent lives, great churches were built and fine art commissioned, all to impress and intimidate those who continue to pay for them.

An autumn morning walk

Posted on October 20th, 2016

Saffy

Saffy

This morning Saffy and I go walking, a beautiful autumn morning walk. We do this together every day, choosing different paths direct from the house, never repeating the same walk more than twice in a week. Today we head east along the colline, through the woods to Lacoste, down through the village into the valley below, then back up the hill for a total of 8km. It is a typical Provencal autumn day, clear blue skies cleaned by the early signs of a mistral.
First we meet a hunter in the forest. Both he and his dog are concealed, motionless and we would have passed them by except Saffy scented their presence. He shows me a wood pigeon he had shot and I learned the prized bécasse, or woodcock, will not return from its summer breeding grounds in Russia until November. Soon after we encounter three hunting dogs who rush by, totally engrossed in following the scent of sanglier, or wild boar. A beat must be in progress but we do not see the hunters. At these times Saffy wears a bell and I wear an orange fluoro hat for safety. After nearly an hour we emerge at the top of Lacoste village, next to the castle, the former 18th century home of the Marquis de Sade. We pass down through the old cobbled streets of the village, where the oldest house, La Maison Forte dates from the 9th century. Below the village the path follows the course of Le Vieux Chemin de Lacoste, the Old Lacoste Road, where the ancient paving between stone walls is no longer open to traffic. Close to the valley bottom we stop for Saffy to drink from a stream serving an old stonework water storage bassin. Several substantial farmhouses and bastides dot the area, now extensively renovated as summer homes for those who do their banking outside France. One has a beautiful private chapel. We return up the gentle hillside via the Lavoir de Font Pourquière, where Saffy can drink again. Here we discover the first warning notice of a wild boar hunt, long after we have passed through the hunt area. Then we climb back up the steeper hillside, with expansive views east to Apt and north to Goult village and Mont Ventoux. Soon home for a late breakfast. More photos from this morning: HERE

The Marquis de Sade

The Marquis de Sade

Lacoste village

Lacoste village

The Old Lacoste Road

The Old Lacoste Road

Private chapel

Private chapel

A well-earned drink next to an ancient stone bassin

A well-earned drink next to an ancient stone bassin

Country lane

Country lane

Lavoir at Font Pourquière and warning of a wild boar hunt

Lavoir at Font Pourquière and warning of a wild boar hunt

 

A deadly legacy

Posted on October 19th, 2016

55 Atocha Street, between the two red facades

The Massacre of Atocha took place on 24th January 1977 at 55 Atocha Street, in central Madrid.
General Francisco Franco had died fourteen months before, ending 35 years of fascist dictatorship. Spain thus entered a struggle for democracy known as La Transición. Franco had nominated King Juan Carlos I as his successor to continue his legacy, but Carlos, a quiet follower of El Caudillo during his final six years of power, soon began the transition to a constitutional monarchy. If La Transición to democracy was to be successful it required extremists from both sides to abstain from violence. Some did not.
Haunted by the spectre of the Civil War (1936-39), Spain remained split between right-wing Francoists championed by the military and the Republican left, ever suspicious of a dictator-appointed king. Hostile to the direction Spain was taking, far-right Falangist-Carlist-Catholic groups commenced violent attacks. Principal targets were the trades unions, along with underground communists.
On that day in January 1977 three assassins entered the offices at 55 Atocha Street, looking for Joaquin Navarro, a communist leader who had called for a strike against the “Franco mafia” and the government-approved trades union. Unable to find Navarro, the gunmen lined up eight trades union lawyers and shot them all, killing five. Their funerals were attended by over 100,000 people and the massacre led to the legalisation of the Communist Party in April 1977.
Confident they would enjoy political protection, the killers did not even bother to flee Madrid. One of the three, Fernando Lerdo de Tejada, was personal secretary to Blas Piñar, leader of the far-right Catholic-Falangist party Fuerza Neva, or New Force. The murderers were sentenced to a collective 464 years in prison. Lerdo de Tejada escaped from prison two years later, fuelling suspicions that he had friends in high places, particularly the security services. Revelations from former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti also suggested the involvement of Italian Carlo Cicuttini from the NATO Gladio anti-communist network who had fled to Spain following a 1972 bombing in Italy.
The violent legacy of Franco eventually subsided, but not before a failed coup attempt on 23rd February 1981 led by Lieutenant-Colonel of the Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero, an admirer of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Tejero’s son later described his father as “a sincere religious man who was trying to do his best for Spain”.

Memorial to the lawyers murdered in Atocha Street

Memorial to the lawyers murdered in Atocha Street

Defenders of liberty

The Museo de Sorolla, Madrid

Posted on October 9th, 2016

The Museo de Sorolla is a delightful small museum in the former house of the artist in Madrid. Joaquin Sorolla was born in Valencia in 1873 but only two years later his parents both died, probably from cholera. He was adopted by his mother’s sister and her husband, a locksmith. Sorolla began art studies at the age of fourteen while serving as an apprentice locksmith in his uncle’s workshop. Between 1885 and 1889 he lived in Rome and Assisi, but then married and settled in Madrid in 1890. Considered the leading Spanish “near-impressionist” of his day, he was renowned for his extraordinary ability to capture the effects of light. In the United States he achieved fame through fourteen monumental canvases, Visions of Spain, on display at the Hispanic Society of America in New York. This series of massive paintings depicts scenes from each of the provinces of Spain. In Madrid the museum concentrates mostly on his captivating plein-air paintings. Joaquin Sorolla died in 1923 and was buried in his native Valencia.