The first face of Le Coitat can be seen high above the sprawling buildings & resorts that spread along the Mediterranean to the east of Marseille. A dozen or so gantries & cranes hold up the sky in the distance and become more impressive as the old ship building yards are approached. This is where proper big ships were built with huge keels and propellers the size of tall men. Now the rusty remnants stand as hanging idols to a glorious past and grasping fingers fight rusting decay against a blue sky.
These guardians of history stand tall around the tightly formed, compact, old town, the second face. Here the narrow streets & faded tall buildings would have offered protection from Saracens & Turks & pirates. Crusaders must have walked her once on their way back from the Holy Land. Nowadays the tight darkish streets offer shade & respite from the burning sun for locals & visitors alike.
The final face of Le Coitat comes out as dark approaches & stays until the early hours. Hundreds of stalls start to appear and like candle flames start to attract an increasingly busy crowd of holiday makers who feed the umbrellered hives with Euro pollen. The streams of bustling shoppers turn to rivers & then a flood around the once picturesque quayside of the old port. When morning comes all is as before and the night is forgotten until it all starts again as each day ends. Like the seasons the Night Market comes seven nights a week – beware!!! Well in July & August anyway!
A short skoot from the Var, through the golden delights of Nice brings me to Villefranche- sur-mer. Once, a beautiful small fishing village with a secure harbour and a protective citidal built in mid 1500s. Now surrounded by typical Côte d’Azur developments: villas, properties, apartments & hotels and the tall, 21st galley- the dreaded cruise ship although to be fair, other than a few northern accents the presence of its cargo of UK tourists went barely noticed.
Down on the quayside tourists meet bars meet yacht owners meet
pizzas meet oyster restaurants meet beer meet rosé. A delightful atmosphere in the cool of the evening. Take my frame, place it around the old town, add a bit of cool salsa played in a bar, distress the plasterwork and shutters and ignore all the buildings outside it – you could be in Cuba.
Some of that history & local character still remains whatever the tourists try to do to the place. You can see why I had to include one of my frames!!!
Enjoy the smell of the sea and the sight of glistening white yachts & sailing boats of all sizes bobbing at anchor on a turquoise sea.
It’s hot, hot, hot!!! So, from the shade of the olive trees in the garden, this would be a good opportunity to share with you my new, six step technique to taking images of the people around me. For this I have to thank my pal Chris for constructing my portable picture frame and also to the lady at the Seillans brocante who sold me three small, empty frames for one Euro.
Step 1 entails putting together the frame.
Step 2 requires an approach by me to the subject & asking them, in my best French, if I may take their portrait for my gallery.
Step 3 is the handover when the subject agrees & holds the frame in front of them and peers through.
Step 4 is the taking of the photo with the frame.
Step 5 is the closer picture through the frame.
Step 6 involves me sharing the image with the subject.
Great fun is had by all. Truely!!!
A brocante market is held on the small open ground at the top of Seillan. Up here, overlooking the glorious surrounding hills I try out my new approach. These are all images of some of the stallholders and I have the choice of including their portraits with the frame or without it. What do you think?
Leaving behind the layered hills of the Cevenne and carrying warm memories of time around Barjac exploring the streams & rivers, jumping off rocks in the Ceze, picnics amongst boulders and stones on the banks of the Silver River amongst the Fools Gold & the scrubby oak woods, learning to swim & dive & snorkle & jump from high places (adults & children), of families & friends that leave & arrive & leave again and it is time to make my way back through Provence to the district of Vars and a small hilltop town called Seillans, near to Grasse in the nice hills above Nice. In the space of a few hours the scenery changes from limestone scraggy outcrops & stunted oak trees protecting an agricultural landscape to a more developed, modernised panorama where the clean, hilltop towns peer out from tall cedars that spread over all the hills like a thick carpet of green spikey hair following the contours & undulations of the pointed scarps & ridges & newly built or renovated homes are scattered amongst their foliage just presenting a hint of affluence to any observers on the opposite slopes.
Seillans boasts itself as being ‘the most beautiful village in France’. It is hard to dispute this. From the approach by the main road, the village spreads upwards and its flat, cardboard box houses are attached to the hillside with mastic.
The road narrows to single file in the centre & from the little cafe opposite the pizzeria it is only possible to climb to the centre on foot. Narrow, cobbled streets are lined by tall townhouses with faint painted clues on their facades suggesting what business they might have housed in the past. One narrow set of cobbles & steps leads to the château dating from the 13th century, another leads up under arches & buttresses, past the Mairie’s office to the small square with seating for open air concerts & then through to the smart restaurant at the top of the village.
All paths seem to lead to and spread from the shade of the trees that cover the tables of the Restaurant du Glorie de Mon Pere. It seems it was the site of the village boulangerie and when the baker died his son converted it into a restaurant under the two huge plane trees and named it in memory of his father. He is still there supervising his young staff from the top of the slope as they scurry around the tables waiting on the punters with an excellent menu, good humoured banter & efficient service. Reservations are recommended!!
It feels like time has stopped, the world is at peace. Even the cicadas have gone on their holidays and the silence that then remains calms the soul & raises the spirit.
Uzes is literally a gem of a town about 30 minutes drive from Barjac. It is like one of those large graphites that look completely uninteresting from the outside until it is cracked open to reveal its hidden cave of coloured, glistening angles of sparkling delight. Around the nugget centre tree lined streets surround the old town walls. These house the ordinary day to day shops & offices with tabacconists rubbing shoulders with bars & banks & bakers & butchers & candlestick makers.
Narrow alleys duck under the stone work to enter the market place revealing a space filled with restaurants, cafes & milk shake bars, classy fashion shops and bustling tourists & locals going about their business. At night the lights in the trees & musical buskers add extra atmosphere to the smell of good food and the hum of happy conversations.
The Pont du Gard carried water for the Romans to Nimes to service their baths & villas. Amazing to think this aquaduct has settled here for two thousand years. It seems unbreakable as visitors scuttle around its pillars & arches which stand grand and proud between the tall banks of the Gard. Canoes like colonies of maggots wriggle their way along the river & under the clutches of the Roman guards as they make their way downstream scraping their bottoms on the stones & rocks of the near empty waters. It has been a long time since any rain fell in the region. Maybe they should resurrect the aquaduct & pipe it in from the north!!
Every Friday the market comes to Barjac. Colour & smell & shapes & sounds all come together to represent the nation in the eyes of the world, as they do in every French town & village. These images display the wealth of French life better than any words. I love the products, the sampling, the range of faces, the colour that is attached on every stall and the busy tempo as stall holders try to sell & the punters jockey for position around the stalls, handing over grubby notes & coins before placing their purchases in large shoulder bags & wicket baskets. Macho men & glamorous women & young tatooed mums & grizzled, aged grandma’s & large bellied, vested granddad’s balance baskets & baguetes & wraped salamis with wine bottles & leads of dogs of every shape & size. The siren sounds at 12.30 to mark the end of trading and the world returns to normal, the stalls are packed away, the vans leave for farms & studios before setting up again the following day in another town as has happened every week over the centuries.
The fun of the fair hits Barjac on our first weekend. They set up under the trees and gradually everything comes to life as dusk comes & darkness falls. The fairground families leave their Mercedes & motorhomes & Beamers & wander up and wind up the children’s dodgems, the candy floss, the shooting arcades, the octopus Whirler, the duck grab, the gentle plastic cars, the sexy chair rides. Excited children & bored mums & posing gigggling teenage girls showing off to nervous insecure boys & dads showing off with the mallets to be the strongest strong man all mingle together through the smell of chips & burgers & tomato sauce. Healthy living at its best!!! Enjoy life and bump & hoot & scream & munch together.
The potters’ market is held on the last Thursday in July. Now the classy artisans display their wares and a new type of more cultured buyer congregate amongst the leafy arches to ooh & arh & comment & appreciate.
The finale to our stay in Barjac is the bull run which is held over the first weekend in August. Large grids are positioned on either side of the main Street and the local cowboys & youths prepare to show off to the young girls & visitors. A few bulls are released from cattle trucks at the top of the town. Local cowboys herd them in to charge down the street & past waiting youths who time their run, grabbing onto tails to pull the beasts back or racing alongside the menacing horns. Everyone seems to enjoy it, except the bulls maybe. The Barjac Horns of Plenty accompany the proceedings keeping up a ratter tatter, ump pa pa, boom bang a bang the whole time.
Leaving Provence I cross the Rhône and drive to Barjac to spend two weeks with family & friends in the most amazing château dating from the 16th century. Monsieur Flemal welcomes me into the cool shuttered darkness of huge rooms & shaded stairways & corridors whilst the heat of the day tries to unsuccessfully batter its way in. In the gloom of the huge rooms Louis 14th cabinets & tables stand to attention around regal carpets. In two rooms of the top floor a skin of a large bear and one of a huge boar lie down in prayer to guard any sleeper who dares use the four poster bed in each. Only open windows/shutters manufacture a breeze to keep the heat at bay at night!
Barjac is a small market down where past memories are updated. Tall plane trees stretch out over the main street like the vast roof timbers of a ancient cathedrals, providing shade & shelter from the blazing sun, to the markets and fairs that settle beneath their imposing branches. A few cafes share the street with the haberdasher, the fishing tackle shop and the odd restaurant. Disappearing up the narrow lanes small eating places & pizzariers with countless tables crammed onto the narrow streets jostle for space & shade with the omnipresent tat shop, the up market pottery & gallery, the two aisle minute supermarket. Elegant townhouses hide their secrets behind shuttered windows in battered facades of plaster & brickwork. Occasionally an open shutter reveals the glass which act like golden mirrors reflecting back golden, distorted images from across the street. Old men clack their boules together as they decide on their next shot in the dust under the plane trees. Pedestrians squeeze past diners in the balmy evening as the clink of cutlery & glasses & muted conversations try to out-chatter the cicadas & roosting swallows & bats.. The sun sets, the temperature drops, slightly, the wine flows, the children yawn and all is at peace. Contentment spreads into the dusky silence of a town at peace with itself.