Posts Tagged ‘ art ’

Toulouse: Rugby country

Next stop on my tour of France was Toulouse.  There were a few cities in the area that sounded interesting, but there was one thing that I wanted to do in Toulouse that made me come here rather than Montpellier or somewhere else.  At the moment I’m thinking that I should’ve stayed in Marseille though as it was the first rainy day of the holiday yesterday, thankfully today was reasonably sunny though.

I started off yesterday morning with a trip to Tourist Information and then a walk around town.  The first thing that hit me was that Spanish is definitely the second language here, everything’s in French and most things are written in Spanish, then if you’re lucky there’ll be an English translation, and it’s tough being German or Italian.  The tourist information signs around the city are all translated to Spanish, the street names are in Spanish and the station names are announced in Spanish on the métro too.  I found out later that the city was where Spanish revolutionaries escaped to when General Franco was in power, so the ties with the the country are still strong.

I made the now routine stop at one of the city’s Basilicas, Saint Sernin, which is very austere with the only thing brightening it up being a set of completely unintelligible modern art which depict scenes from Jesus’ life, allegedly.  When I left a small flea market was being set up outside, with a guy selling used bikes, another selling pots and pans, but what caught my eye in a pile of junk was a red heart shaped “Just Married” cushion, and it made me wonder who would buy someone a second hand Just Married cushion?  I didn’t hang around to find out.

The only other interesting thing that I saw before lunch was in the Notre Dame de la Daurade church which was on my wandering path.  There’s a wooden statue inside of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, but they’re black and no one’s sure why.

toulouse notre dame de la daurade

Black Virgin Mary

After lunch I saw that there were Oxfam charity collectors out on the street, and I managed to avoid one by blurting out “Je ne suis pas Français,” which worked.  Ten minutes later though another one came up to me and said something about my shoes which I didn’t understand.  I told her that I wasn’t French, but she said “Ah, but I speak English too!” Touche!  So we ended up having a chat in French about the weather, Scotland and the fact that Oxfam isn’t known in France but is in the UK.  Maybe I should’ve had a chat to the first woman too, as it was actually quite nice!

The only big thing that I did yesterday was to go and watch Stade Toulousain play rugby against Brive, which I’d bought a ticket for a couple of weeks ago.  Getting to the stadium was a bit of a trek, they have two stadiums and it was in the smaller one, not Stade Toulouse, which is further out of town.  First you take the métro out of the city, the a shuttle bus from the métro station, walk along a stony canal path then cross a pontoon bridge to make it to the stadium.

The game itself was very close, 9-12 at half time and Toulouse eventually won 23-22.  It was the first rugby game I’ve been to without anyone with me to explain what was happening, but I got on OK although there were a couple of decisions that I didn’t understand.  The atmosphere was pretty friendly between both sides too, at least until Brive scored the last points of the game through a controversial converted try near the end.

toulouse rugby

Toulouse in Black, but Brive were way stronger at the scrums

By the time I made it back to the centre of the city it was after 4 o’clock, so I went to explore the shops and squares in the centre.  The almost-pedestrianised zone at the heart of the city is actually really nice, and I was surprised that I saw the same number of small independent shops selling cool and interesting things in one day in Toulouse that I have in 7 months on Paris.  I think they’re just better hidden in Paris, but in Toulouse they’re more prominent alongside the bigger chains.

Today I had another art gallery day, starting in the morning at Les Abattoirs, which is a strange name for the modern art museum.  I suppose the original use of the buildings may have been an abattoir, but they could have named it something else.  I’ve decided to start playing a game of “guess what it is” whenever I see an untitled piece of modern art, as it should keep me amused for hours.  I need to work on my out-of-the-box thinking, but my favourite one is below.  Even titles of some pieces don’t help me at all in trying to decrypt the meaning behind them.

toulouse zombie dog

Untitled. Zombie dog?

Second stop was a museum dedicated to photography called the Château d’Eau, which is a pretty small looking place.  It used to be a water tower for the city from the year 1823, hence the name, but fell into disuse after some years.  1823 was the same year photography was developed, which is the link to why it’s now a photo gallery.  I didn’t know what their exhibition was before I got there but it turned out to be of a Lithuanian photographer that I’d never heard of, Antanas Sutkus, who took photos of life and people during Soviet times.  All of his photos were in black and white and didn’t really follow the rules of composition that I’ve been told, but I’ve also been told that the rules are meant to be broken.  Some interesting photos, some that were a bit mundane, but it was pretty good.

The city, like Lyon, was pretty quiet on Sunday.  There were people on the streets, and the bars and cafés were open as well as the museums, but as usual almost all the shops are closed with only some food shops opening.  I saw my first “statue guy” of the holiday today when I was walking around.  He wasn’t bad (well, he wasn’t moving much) but no one seemed very interested in him and walked straight past.  I felt a little sorry for him, but I did the same thing too.  He was standing on a quiet street though, and I think if he went and stood in the Place du Capitole, the main square in the city, that he might’ve found an audience.

Last thing to do before making it to the train station was to follow the Toulouse Resistance tour around the city, which points out locations in the city where resistance activity took place during World War 2.  It was good but standard stuff, like the resistance press and the organisation of the movement.  One of the differences in Toulouse was that because they’re close to the Spanish border, they helped people get into and out of France over the Pyrenees mountains which sounds like it would be a terrible journey, but better than not going.

And now I’m on the move again…


Leaving Marseille

I finally moved on from Marseille earlier today, after 4 days it’s definitely time to do something new but I’ve enjoyed myself here and it’s been nice relaxing in the sun shine.

Yesterday I went to the Art of Africa, Oceania and Amerindia and the Mediterranean Archaeology museums which are in the same building.  They were OK, nothing to special other than the scary masks in the Africa, Oceania and Amerindia museum, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend some time.

marseille african masks


At lunch time I met up with a friend of a friend called Justine who’d been living in Marseille for the last 6 months.  She didn’t know me at all, so it was very kind of her to take some time to have lunch with me and explain a little bit about Marseille.  We went for couscous in a small restaurant where people were all sitting shoulder to shoulder.  The food was good and incredibly cheap, and we just chatted and got to know each other.

After lunch we went for a wander in Marseille, which seems to be what I do every day, and she explained a little about the city.  The area we went for lunch in is called Belsunce, and it’s one of the more downmarket areas on the south side of Marseille, south of the train station.  It’s full of narrow streets crammed with little shops, and Justine told me that the mayor had been trying to get rid of the people who lived and worked there for a while to renovate the area and make it more in keeping with the rest of the city centre, but he hasn’t succeeded yet.

From there we walked along the coast on the south side of the city which is called La Corniche.  It has really nice views over the city and the sea, but has a busy road right next to the pavement so there’s the constant buzz of traffic whizzing past you.  On the way there’s the Palais du Pharo which is a huge residence built by Napoleon, and eventually ended up being owned by the city.  The building itself is quite pretty, but at the back of it away from the road is a small paved area and paths where you can see the sea without all of the distractions (boats, tourists – like me, buildings) that you get when trying to look at it from the Vieux Port area.

We joined all the other people looking out to sea, and Justine noticed that there were two small boats at the entrance to the harbour, then she remembered that she’d heard something about a strike by the port workers, so those small boats were actually blocking the exit and stopping any ships from leaving or coming in.  This was the first that I’d heard of it, so we kept watching and talking for a few minutes then saw a medium sized cargo ship moving towards the barricade.  Everyone around us was staring at the boats and trying to figure out what was going to happen.  There was no way the cargo ship was going to stop in time, even if it wanted to, but the port worker’s boats were holding firm too.  At the last minute when we thought there was going to be a collision the blockade was moved, but there couldn’t have been more that 2 or 3 metres between the cargo ship and the boats.  Justine told me that the Marseillaise were crazy, but they stood up for what they believed in.

After the excitement on the high seas we kept going along the coast and Justine remembered she’d found a pretty little area of fishermen’s houses when she’d been exploring the area, so we tried to find them again.  She told me that she had a photographic memory of the place she was trying to get to, but the actual route to take to find that place was a little more of a mystery.  It’d taken us 10 minutes to find the couscous restaurant that she goes to regularly, but she was on form with the fisherman’s houses as we found them first time.

Once again it was a really pretty area, not on the tourist trail, which made me happy that I’d found someone to guide me around a little.  It sounds like I’m repeating myself, but the sea was gorgeous and blue/green again, and the huts looked very cute.  She also pointed out that the rocks along the coast around Marseille were all white like Dover rather than the more standard grey.  I have to admit that I hadn’t really noticed, but now that I’d been told it stuck in my memory.

marseille fishermens houses

Small houses (but not the huts) on the water

Time for a change of scene, so we took the bus to Parc Longchamps.  The bus was packed to bursting but we couldn’t really figure out why until a few stops later when a whole class of little school children got off and there was instantly room to breathe!  A short trip on the métro followed the bus, then Justine told me that we had to find the correct entrance to the park as there were many of them.  So we made it to the right one, and it was worth it as there’s a huge water feature overlooking the street, from there you climb up the stairs to the top and go through to the other side where the park falls away back to ground level, which is actually a little strange.

marseille parc longchamps

The "correct" entrance to Parc Longchamps

Last stop on the tour was La Friche La Belle De Mai, which was an abandoned factory before it became a cultural melting pot for Marseille.  The main building where it’s based is huge and houses an art gallery, a radio station and lots of other things that I can’t remember, and around this there are concert venues, a skate park, a restaurant and more.  We went to the gallery which had collections of art from a number of different local (I assume) artists, all modern, mostly funny, quite political and highly sexed.  It’s the type of thing that you don’t see in a normal gallery and was quite cool to see exhibited.

The most important thing that I learned from Justine was that in Marseille there aren’t a lot of blockbuster tourist sights (which I mentioned once or twice already), but the charm of the city is in the changing areas and seeing the different ways that neighboring areas live.  Seeing the North African and Middle Eastern area, then a few streets further east there’s the more creative Cours Julien, and seeing the Nouveau Riche moving into the Panier and living next to poorer families that haven’t been priced out of the area yet.  I’m a very bad people watcher, but she pushed me into paying more attention to the people that were in the area that I was visiting.

Today I decided to use that new knowledge and sense of adventure to walk somewhere, but without using a map.  I had two and a half hours to spare in the morning after checking out of the hotel, so I went east.  After 90 minutes of walking through some areas that I’d already seen and others that looked totally anonymous, I ended up back at Parc Longchamps.  That might not be considered a success, but it wasn’t a bad place to end up and I had a play with RetroCamera on my phone.

My plan for the afternoon was to take a boat trip out to the Calanques, which are like coves or fjords that have naturally been eroded in the white rock of the coast.  The boat tours take between 2 and 3 hours and take people out to see up to 12 of the calanques.  It’s also possible to hike out to them, but it’d take way more time, skill and effort than I had available.

The first calanque looked nice, and had twenty or thirty houses and small buildings at the bottom of a steep rocky hillside.  Not exactly idyllic or practical, but it did look good.  Most of the calanques looked pretty similar, some of them were little villages, others had boats collected on the waters edge, and one or two were beaches.  There wasn’t a lot of variation between them though, and I ended up taking photos of trees instead.

marseille sormiou calanque

Sormiou calanque

It was nice to head out onto the water to see a little more of the coast, but it felt bitterly cold for the three hours that we were out there.  It was warm in the city, but on the boat even with gloves on and my jacket buttoned up I still had the shivers.  So my top tip is to take a zip up jacket with you when you go on a boat in the Mediterranean.

marseille calanque tree

Gorgeous skies and trees on top of the cliffs

I’m not sure what to make of Marseille

I’ve been in Marseille for two days now, and I’m still not sure what to think of it.  I’ve been endlessly walking about, and the biggest attractions that I’ve found are the sun, sea and fish.  It’s not as bad as it sounds as the warm weather puts you in a good mood, but I wish I could find more things to do that didn’t involve wandering about outside.

marseille fish

Fish being sold at the Vieux Port

Before I even made it to my hotel on Sunday night, I could see that the city had a very different vibe.  Lots of Middle Eastern and North African fast food outlets and people all over the streets.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that my route from the station took me straight through the area called Noaille where the shops are grouped.

I went to the Tourist Information centre yesterday morning, and they gave me a map, a city guide and a shopping/eating booklet.  They’re not bad, but also not really helpful, and I don’t have much else to go on.  A friend of a friend lives in Marseille, and she’s been giving me lots of information to work with too luckily.

When I looked out of my window yesterday morning I decided to take my sunglasses with me, and it was a good decision.  The first sight I went to visit was the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica which is 150m above sea level, which made it a good look out point in the past as it has a great view over the sea and pretty much everyone in the city can see it.  Unlike Lyon there wasn’t a funicular railway to take me there, so I walked.  By the time I got to the top it was sunny and hot, and I ended up in my t-shirt and sunglasses with my jacket slung over my bag.  Second church of the holiday, and it was OK but very different to the Fourvière Basilica in Lyon.  The interior is very busy with lots of memorial plaques and model ships which make it look quite messy, and it’s also pretty small.  I suppose it only serves a small part of the city that live close to it and can get to the top of the hill.

marseille basilica

Interior of the basilica where the walls are covered with messages

A colleague once told me that he wished that he had a gigapixel camera, but unfortunately neither he or I do.  There were some great views over the city and I hope they won’t go too fuzzy in my memory.

The city feels really laid back.  I’m not sure if that’s what happens to life when you live near the Mediterranean or if it’s the large number of people who seem to live and work on the streets.  There are lots of men, young and old, who are sitting around in squares smoking and drinking, so guess there’s more unemployment here than the other cities that I’ve visited but I haven’t really looked into it.

In the afternoon I went for a walk around the Panier, which is the Old Quarter of the city.  It’s filled with narrow streets and old buildings, and also lots of churches.  I walked past one at the end of a funeral ceremony, and saw that the priest was quite young and was wearing thick black glasses (as is the inexplicable fashion at the moment) and a goatee, and I found it hard to take him seriously.  Would you like a guy with glasses like that overseeing your funeral?

My overriding memory of the Panier was avoiding all the crap on the streets, I feel like I spent more time looking at my feet than at the stuff around me, and someone else agrees.

marseille merde

"Pavement of shits"

Today I went to visit two areas that were recommended to me by my friend of a friend, Noaille which I already mentioned and La Plaine which is the artistic or creative area of the city.  The first view of Noaille that I had this morning was of the market that takes place on the Longue des Capucins which looks just like a normal market taking place in a city square, except that a majority of the shoppers are North African or Middle Eastern.  When you start walking into the side streets you begin to notice that all of the shops are selling Moroccan or Lebanese or Algerian food, and they cover quite a big area.  I’ve been to Edgware Road in London lots of times, but there it seems that Middle Eastern shops mix with general shops, but that’s not really the case in Marseille.  I didn’t take many photos when I was there as I’d read that it wasn’t such a safe area and that there were dodgy people around, and when you’re told something like that you begin to see people acting strangely such as the guy who had 2 packs of cigarettes hidden on top of a tourist information sign, which was bizarre.

Afterwards I went to the neighbouring La Plaine area where I started off by walking along Cours Julien which is a wide pedestrianised street.  I realised it was the first place in Marseille that I really liked.  It was quiet and clean, had cafés opening out onto the central area and a nice looking water feature.  All the other people around me were also enjoying it, and maybe they were exiles from the dirty, noisy parts of the city too.  The streets coming off it were different but still interesting as they had the feel of an artistic area, with lots of graffiti and ‘modifications’ to the standard street furniture and some alternative shops.  Lots of restaurants too, but most of them were closed even in the early afternoon which was weird.  If I get a chance I’ll head back there in the evening to see if it’s a bit more alive.

marseille cours julien

Lunchtime on Cours Julien

marseille la plaine

Shops in the La Plaine area

After lunch I ventured out of the centre of the city to an area called l’Estaque which is around 30 minutes away by bus.  It was apparently an inspirational place for artists and writers such as Paul Cézanne, George Braques and Émile Zola, and I can imagine that it was a beautiful little town built on top of a rocky seafront.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) at the turn of the 20th century satellite dishes, television antennas, cars and telephone poles were not common landscape features so they don’t appear in the paintings inspired by l’Estaque.  Even if they did exist back then, artistic licence can remove things that shouldn’t be in a composition, but with photography it’s a little more difficult unless your Photoshop skills are up to removing things.  Now you can see that it’s still a beautiful place, blue sky, terracotta roof tiles, boats in the marina, but technological progress has blotted the landscape.

I also read that there are two types of food that are unique to l’Estaque, and maybe I should have taken that as a warning, Chichi Freggi (like a doughnut the size of half a baguette and covered in sugar) and Panisses which are fried chickpea paste disks.  I decided to try the Panisses because the Chichi Freggi looked *huge*, like eating 4 or 5 doughnuts I imagine.  The Panisses were odd and I can understand why they haven’t caught on anywhere else.  They taste like salty chickpeas, imagine falafel with more salt and without all the lovely coriander and other herbs and you’ll be close.  They’re not bad, just not very good.

I escaped l’Estaque a couple of hours after I arrived, and went to buy a little present for my mum.  I started speaking in French to the woman who ran the shop for a few sentences, but when I went to pay it turned out that she was American.  She said that she used to live in Paris but had moved to Marseille many years ago, but there wasn’t much to do here and she missed the cultural life that you get in Paris.  That pretty much echos my view of Marseille so far, although maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow.  I also mentioned to her about shops and restaurants being closed, and she just replied by saying that Marseille was like that and didn’t explain any further so it’s still a mystery.

Finally I had Aioli for dinner, which is like a French-Mediterranean ploughmans lunch, with cod, mussels, potatoes, green beans, carrots and cauliflowers all cooked separately and put on the plate, and it’s served with lots of garlic sauce which is the part that I would normally call aioli.  I still feel stuffed 3 hours later and it’s time to go to bed…

Larry Clark retrospective

I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself today, so I had a look online to see the exhibitions and other events that were going on around Paris.

Eventually I saw that the Musée de l’Art Moderne had an exhibition on with photographs by Larry Clark called Kill The Past Hello and the name sounded familiar.  After reading the description I saw that he was the director of Kids and Bully, two films that I’d seen years ago, which were both about teenage guys and girls who were a little out of control.  I has no idea he was a photographer too, but that seems to be what he started out doing before becoming a film maker, and this was a retrospective of his work.

If you’ve ever seen the film Kids you can imagine what the exhibition was like.  In the film he cast normal kids from the streets of New York to act the scripted parts in the film, and as I said before, the kids are living in the inner city and doing what teenagers do.  Rebelling.  They spent most of their time drinking, taking drugs, stealing and having sex.

The start of the exhibition was a little strange, as it had photos taken by Clark’s mother, which were of children and dogs transplanted into normal children’s situations like a school classroom.  So some nice uncontroversial photos to start with.

The earliest of Larry Clark’s photos were taken in 1963 and had similar themes to Kids.  Kids who weren’t well off and some who it could be seen were poor.  The were bored and just looking for some fun and excitement, and they got this through taking drugs, drinking and sex.  What I didn’t know at the time that I saw the photos was that the early ones (the Tulsa collection) were actually of Larry Clark and his friends.

Unlike the film where the main character was a guy but there were also important female parts, the main focus of the photo collection were young men.  The girls who were photographed were mostly only there because of what the guys were getting up to.  Also the film shows the family life of the kids that the story follows, but there’s no sign of parents in the photographs, only teenagers.

The photos had a sense of machoism running through them, with young guys being proud of who they were, their bodies, and what they were doing to them.  They’re very intimate (and explicit) photos too, the kind that you might look back on 10 or 20 years later and regret, but I guess I’ll never know if that’s actually the case.

They’re also difficult to look at, unrelentingly harsh and “real”, and you know that despite the confidence the guys have the way they were leading their lives might have lead them into trouble or death.  I guess that’s a wise(r) head talking, and maybe if we were in that position we would do the same thing that they did.

A Larry Clark website shows a few of the photos and a quick bio explaining how and why they came to be. He sounds like quite an interesting guy.

Here are some of the safer photos from the (first) Tulsa collection that I found online:

Larry Clark - Tulsa 1

Larry Clark - Tulsa 2

Larry Clark - Tulsa 3

And a couple from the second Teenage Lust collection:

Larry Clark - Teenage Lust 1

Larry Clark - Teenage Lust 2