Picture credit: St Quentin la Poterie
Sunday morning in St Quentin la Poterie. The hygienically pungent smell of disinfectant hovers in the streets. The tabac is busy with purchasers of extra cartons of cigarettes. Carrefour is the scene of manic buying, with the owners of Café de France and Le Cuisine du Boucher at the front of the two check-outs, loading up dozens of baguettes, salads and 5 litre bottles of Coke. In the Bar du Marché, opinion seems divided as to whether a simple café is sufficient to kick-start the day or whether to begin as one intends to continue with a beer or pastis.
Nous sommes en fête.
The fête votive started on Thursday evening and will continue unabated until the early hours of Tuesday morning. The bulls are run each evening. There are gigs every lunchtime, every evening and every night, often several competing against each other for an audience and decibel rating.
The restaurants, even 30 Degrees Sud, put on a special menu du fête, which means that, last evening, we celebrated Nicole’s 50th birthday with moules frites rather than foie gras, and on Friday evening we snook out of the village to eat at Le Comptoir du 7 in Uzès with Michelle and James, finishing off with a final pichet in Le Bistrot du Duché as we waited for the late arrival of Cody.
But most of the time, unlike some, we are more than happy to stay in the village and soak it all up - literally so on occasion.
The fête is the commune-goes-mad. And it’s brilliant, especially if one can – as we can – dip in and out: a drink here, a gig there, a bull run here and a grand bal there.
But of course, we are pretty much always en fête, or at least on holiday. We have no work commitments. We can, as we did earlier this week, just take off on a whim and head for Aix-en-Provence to visit the second half of Le Grand Atelier du Midi exhibition at the Musée Granet.
It was … better? perhaps not, but certainly more interesting, than the Marseille show. For a start, there are more Matisses and Cézannes, and fewer fillers from the second division. The quality of the work is more consistent and although it was a great deal busier than the Palais Longchamps in Marseille, it was a more enjoyable and more rewarding experience.
But it wasn’t the highlight of the week or even of the day. That was reserved for our visit to Cézanne’s studio, which he built just north of the cathedral in what was then an undeveloped landscape. Today, one walks up the hill past blocks of apartments and retirement homes to find the gate to this splendidly unrestored studio, with its huge north-facing window, and the collection of artifacts owned and painted by Cézanne.
To see the ingredients of his famous still life paintings, to see his suit, his stove, his pots and pans, his chair and table, was quite wondrous, and almost made me forget that our chosen restaurant had run out of the chef’s special rognons de veau by the time we sat down to eat. (Don't worry, the tartare was gorgeous.)
An excellent day, then. Followed the next morning by the arrival of chums from the UK, and the fête. Followed by Nicole's birthday. Followed by more of the fête.
On our return to the UK, which is imminent, it is the memory of these days, this light, these occasions, these happenings, which will help us through the winter.
Today from the everysmith vault: Paul Kanter, David Freiberg, Kathy Richardson aka Jefferson Starship playing in The Assembly, Leamington Spa back in 2009. Nearly four years ago now. A great gig - and this tape confirms that it was as good as I thought at the time.
Alexander Pope, contemplating the nature of criticism
It has been suggested recently that I am, in these blogs, thinking of myself as a critic. I am not.
I am, on occasion, critical - of a wine, a book, a painting, a piece of music, a restaurant, a ball player. But that is not the same thing at all. The role of the critic is to be, not negative, but positive: to evaluate, to provide deep context, to establish relationships, to elucidate and enhance. In this sense, I suppose that from time to time I write within a critical tradition, but that is not my intention.
This is a blog, not an academic treatise. I allow myself half an hour and plus-or-minus 500 words for each post. The prompts are my reading and listening, my eating and drinking, my obsessions, my social activities. But as some of my excellent correspondents have pointed out, there is a theme developing from these disparate activities, of which – to be honest – I was not consciously aware.
This theme, it would appear, is the appreciation of all activities as a totality, as part of ‘life’ – a word which Leavis substituted for tradition and continuity.
My subjects, whether they be a new Dylan album, a fine claret, an exhibition or a baseball game, are part of life and contribute to the fundamental ‘vitality’ which is ‘crucial’ to developing an individual ‘meaning of life’, the making of valid choices not through evasion but single-minded commitment.
If I had to categorise what a friend flatteringly characterised as ‘these essays’, I would use the word explorations, which is itself an important Leavis word, and as he said in another context, ‘all important words are dangerous’.
In this case, the danger comes from imposing an importance on my observations which they are incapable of bearing. And often, I confess, they are gut reactions rather than considered judgements.
In the tutored tastings at the Foire aux Vins, for example, I hated the sweetness of the whites, the oakiness of the reds. The maligned wine critics of my previous blog could doubtless explain and maybe even justify. For me, it is simply not to my taste.
Does this mean, therefore, that when you read this blog, you are merely the recipients of some undigested prejudices?
I promise you, you are not. Because more often than not, I start only with a topic. Over the course of the 500 words, I develop my approach and attitude and finally a judgement, a valuation.
So in the average blog what you are reading is the record of a process of internal debate and argument, backed by Wordsworthian spots of time, structured in the form of Judt’s Memory Chalet, supported by quotes from better writers, and concluding with … well, a sort of conclusion.
Bit like this one, really.
Today from the everysmith vault: Yesterday, of course, was the wonderful music of the test match commentary. Today, it’s the New Riders of the Purple Sage from July 1971. A 10 minute version of Dirty Business, with Jerry on pedal steel, is the highlight.
It’s the 38ème Foire aux Vins d’Uzès this weekend, and as part of the opening celebrations, there will be tutored tastings of the 45 wines which have won medals in the Concours des Vins this year.
I will be there. Not least because the names of the winners have already been announced, and I agree with virtually none of them.
So I want to know what the judges know that I don’t. I want to know why the wines which I search out for drinking with family and friends and which I regard as both typical of their category and superior in their category have failed to win even a bronze.
(Wine has been produced here since the Middle Ages, but it got VdP status only as recently as 1995, when it split from the Cévennes. Since then, it has been fighting for the next level of recognition. Last month, AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) Uzès was finally signed off in Paris and we should see it on the labels of our local wines next year.)
But what interests me is how these things are judged. How can I, a wine drinker of many years’ standing (and sometimes not standing), with both an enthusiastic amateur and – through Wilde’s - professional interest in wine, be so wrong?
Easily, according to a recent article in The Observer and subsequent discussion in Decanter.
It turns out that even the trained palates of full-time critics with MW after their name are frequently neither correct, nor consistent.
In blind tastings, eminent professional tasters have given “radically different scores” to the same wine from the same bottle within the space of a few minutes.
Of course, wine criticism is the same as other criticism. It is the relationship between the taster and the wine, at a particular time, in a particular space, in a particular context. And that can seldom be replicated precisely, if at all.
We also know that external factors can create a significant effect. A French academic found that labels mattered. A Grand Cru label produced positive reviews; a vin de table label negative reviews. Of course, it was the same wine. Academics in Edinburgh found that playing Jimi Hendrix whilst drinking Cabernet Sauvignon boosted scores by 60%. And so on and so forth: there are many different stories of wine critics getting it wrong.
A typical wine contains 27 organic acids, 23 varieties of alcohol, more than 80 esters and aldehydes, 16 different sugars, and dozens of vitamins and mineral compounds.
That’s not only beyond me. It’s beyond anyone. However sophisticated their palate.
So there is very little science involved in these judgements. What there is, is vast experience of long-term tasting, and a vocabulary which expresses and justifies these judgements.
Tasting wine is subjective. Wine critics are as subjective as the rest of us. But it’s always a good idea to find one with whose judgements and palates one broadly agrees (HRH Jancis and Fiona Beckett to name but two) and use them to do the hard research and prepare short lists.
The problem is, neither have turned their attention to AOC Uzès. At least not yet.
But when they do, I’ll bet they agree with me rather than the local judges of the Concours des Vins.
Today from the everysmith vault: Jimi Hendrix, Night Birds Flying: "You pass me that bottle, and I'll sing y'all a real song." Goes down really well with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Marseille is tout feu, tout flamme about its independence, internationalism and sense of identity; its architecture, art and artisans; its radical past and its cultural present, its freedom-loving life and life-style.
After our first visit this week, so are we.
Marseille is the oldest city in France. It’s the second city of France. And it’s the home of pastis and bouillabaisse. It elected the first socialist maire in France in 1890. It was a refuge for Jews and a centre of resistance against the Nazis in the war.
Oh, and it is also, in 2013, the European capital of culture.
It is, in fact, a méli-mélo of stereotypes. So Jill and I thought we’d check it out, using as our excuse and opportunity, the exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts, part of the Grand Atelier du Midi show, which focuses on works of artists from Van Gogh to Bonnard.
We took the TGV from Avignon, paused briefly in Aix-en-Provence, and arrived in Marseille in plenty of time for our pre-booked slot at the gallery. So much time, in fact, that we had checked in to our hotel, drank a half bottle of chilled rosé, eaten a small plate of charcuterie and courgettes, walked to the Palais Longchamps and enjoyed (most of) the paintings, even before our allocated time was scheduled to begin.
For the record, loved the Van Goghs, the Renoirs (always associated him exclusively with Paris), the Duffys, the Picasso, the Matisses, the Bacon, and some of the Bonnards; loathed the Manguins, the Marquets and the Massons; quite enjoyed the Paul Signac.
So by half three in the afternoon, we were free to explore Marseille. And we made a startling discovery: le vrai Grand Atelier du Midi is not the gallery and its contents, but the city of Marseille itself.
Picture credit: Foster + Partners
Like everyone, we headed first to the Vieux Port by jumping on a tram which took us silently and smoothly down the boulevard to the sea, where we were greeted by l’Ombrière, Norman Foster’s wonderfully simple, stylish and sleek sun shade.
It’s both use and ornament (as my grandmother used to say): a shady events pavilion, a beautiful structure, and a place for reflection - literally and figuratively.
Two views are better than one.
But there was another view which was already haunting us and it is ubiquitous wherever one walks. It is Notre dame de la Garde, which looks down on the city, and is regarded as a guardian and protector of the city. It's known by the Marseillaise as la bonne mère for this reason.
We took the advice of the guide-book and, rather than attempt the walk, squeezed ourselves aboard a tourist train, which took us along the Corniche (longest in the world apparently), gave us half an hour to admire the neo-Byzantine basilica and crypt, and delivered us back to the plethora of restaurants and bars which line the Vieux Port.
La Bonne Mère: guardian and protector
But we weren't quite ready for a drink yet. We wanted to plan the next day, ensuring that we could make the most of our visit.
So we walked through Le Panier, the oldest part, where The French Connection was filmed, where the Jews hid, where the communists and resistance were based, and where the Nazis - together with a huge contingent of French police from Paris - evacuated 30,000 people, sent 2000 of them to concentration camps and dynamited 1500 houses. All in a single day in January 1943.
Picture credit: Wolfgang Vennemann for the German Federal Archive
We returned the following morning, walking through the tiny streets which remain, finding the poignant tributes to those who had died or disappeared, mourning the way in which this area is becoming embourgeoisified. There is even a brand new InterContinental Hotel here now. But enough remains to remind us of the feisty, Bohemian, freedom-loving community which had to be destroyed by the Nazis and the Vichy government.
At the far side of Le Panier is the Fort St Jean. This, and the Fort St Nicolas, were built by French kings not so much to protect the city as to dominate it and ensure that its people knew their place.
Today, the Fort St Jean is linked by an elegant walkway across the sea to a wonderful new structure, designed and built as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations.
This is the Museum of Civilisations in Europe and the Mediterranean, or MuCEM, and it is beautiful. It links the land with the sea and it links France with North Africa. It captures the essence of Marseille: its trading, its Phoenician origins, its role as an entry point and a conduit for other cultures.
MuCEM, the fort, and (in the background) the Cathedral Le Mayor which we also visited that morning.
It is a beautifully designed atelier of Marseille's history, heritage, myth and contemporary life.
But the grand atelier is not MuCEM. Nor is it the Musée at Palais Longchamps.
It is Marseille itself: the city and its people.
* You wouldn't expect me to write about a city without a reference to food. So:
Where to eat: La Part des Anges, a bar à vin on rue Sainte, with 300 different wines and no wine list. Tell the waiters what you like and what you are going to eat, and they will bring you a glass of something wondrous - or maybe two or three or more. Brilliant place. Love it.
Where not to eat: Pretty much anywhere in the tourist bit of the Vieux Port, but especially not at La Cuisine au Beurre.
Today's listening: Coupo Santo, the national anthem of Provence, which we heard sung at the end of a communal dinner in an adjoining village on Friday evening. A beautiful song, rendered tout feu, tout flamme, by many of those present.
Hier, vers dix heures, nous roulions vers Vers.
Vers is, of course, the commune in which stands the Pont du Gard, and from the quarries of which come the stone (pierre de Vers) from which the aqueduct is built. These days, it has added Pont du Gard as a suffix to its name, in case anyone forgets its intimate relationship with the third most popular tourist destination in France.
But the Pont du Gard was not the reason for our Sunday morning excursion. This weekend past, Vers celebrated its fifth annual Cours et Jardins des Arts event.
Le cours Berberian
The name says it all. The residents of this lovely village throw open their courtyards and gardens to exhibit a moveable feast of artworks, most of which is made by residents of the village or near neighbours.
There were 25 locations according to the map, and Jill and I worked our way through them all in numerical order. Yeh, I know, slightly OCD - but the trail was clearly marked with whitewashed arrows on the narrow streets and the beauty of this kind of event is that one never knows when one is going to encounter, in a small garden round the back of the olive tree, a work which makes you pause and give thought.
This happened to us a couple of times over the course of the morning, although the major highlights were those which we could have predicted at the start: Unity Cantwell’s work, about which I have written before; and the paintings and sculptures of M. and Mme. Berberian.
I guess Michel and Christelle Berberian are the golden couple of the artistic scene in Vers. His paintings are well-known, much admired and collected. You can see them and buy them from Saatchi. And you can see them on the walls of friends’ homes. But it was her sculptures which took my eye.
Her work – or at least the work she showed over the weekend – is on a small scale, but it is nevertheless solid and substantial. Heavy.
In most cases, the display did not allow one to circumnavigate a piece: one was forced to view it in a particular way and from a specific angle.
Did we therefore see exactly what the artist wanted us to see? Is the interaction between artwork and viewer, our point of view, being controlled in this way?
I don’t know. But I do know I like the work a great deal. And I propose to return to the Berberian’s gallery when we have time to look more closely at these exquisite but strong and sturdy figures.
What we won’t be able to see on our subsequent visit, of course, is the setting. One of the attractions of art displayed in courtyards and gardens is the access we are given to people’s homes.
We are as nosy as anyone. So we loved our glimpses of other people’s lives: the powerful abstract on the wall of a sitting room we passed through on the way to the rear courtyard, or the beautiful Provençal kitchen we enjoyed whilst pretending to admire a dreadful daub of a St Victoire style landscape.
Thanks to all those who exhibited and provided the exhibition space.
We will be heading vers Vers again soon. But only after we’ve been to the Grand Atelier du Midi in Marseille …
Today from the everysmith vault: Dexter Gordon, One Flight Up. Long Tall Dexter was one of the best, and most under-rated, tenor sax players of all time. I like to think that my step-grandson, Dexter George Voce, has an affinity with this all star.
I told you so.
Back in March, the Nation seemed pretty much resigned to another indifferent season. Not, perhaps, as bad as the paltry 69 Ws of the Valentine hegemony, but the consensus – from Baseball Prospectus and ESPN to the most insignificant contributions to the blogosphere – was a season in which the Sox would be fortunate to raise itself out of the basement of the American League East.
My view was the opposite. I predicted (Season’s Greetings 28.03) that we would make the play-offs, although it would take some luck and maybe a couple of trades to take the Series.
At the All-Star break, 97 games into the season, we sit at .598 – the best record in the American League. What’s more, we have emerged from a tough road trip to the West Coast with a 5-5 record which could easily have been a winning trip had it not been for a couple of unfortunate events in Anaheim (about as bizarre a 9th inning loss as I’ve ever seen) and Oakland.
These things happen. That’s why we play 162 games in each regular season. Over the stretch, the cream rises to the top.
And right now, we’re top. With the Yankees 6 games back and Toronto, a majority choice for the ALE, 11.5 games back.
Collectively and individually, these Sox have confounded the critics and the pundits. How?
There are individual performances which are noteworthy: the new look Lackey, for example, the offence of Iglesias, the clutch performances of Gomes, the extraordinary work of Pedroia, the day-in-day-out work of the self-made Nava, the closing of Koji Uehara, and many others. These have compensated for the problems of Lester, the implosion of Bailey, the injuries to Drew, Ross, Buckholz and Miller – the latter just when he was looking assured in his role.
And there you have it. This Sox team is not a collection of individuals. It is a team. They work for each other. They give the impression of liking each other as much as we like them. There is a chemistry here which is reminiscent of the idiots of ’04. This is not a 25 cabs team; these guys eat together, play together.
That’s why it is invidious to single out any individual in this club. But I’m going to, anyway.
And that individual is John Farrell.
I was worried about his appointment. I was concerned about his experience and record at Toronto. And I thought he might be too close to the ancien régime of Tito and Theo.
I was wrong. Totally. Fundamentally.
I believe that he is responsible for the way in which these guys are performing. His calm, professional style of management is the reason why these Sox are genuine contenders this year. If there is chemistry in the park, he is the catalyst.
As we say in France, chapeau!
Today from the everysmith vault: the Dead, jamming with David Crosby and John Cippolina in Mickey Hart's barn in August 1971.
Renoir's Guinguette (we didn't take any pictures!)
I used to think that I knew what French cuisine was. But then I started spending time in France and eating out regularly. That’s when I got confused.
In the UK, we are in awe of French chefs. We watch the Roux brothers and their offspring on TV, together with Raymond Blanc and all those guys who have been brought up in the Michelin tradition, and we believe that this is the style to which all great cooking aspires.
But is it? The French are not convinced. And neither am I.
In the Uzège, we are exposed to almost every style of cuisine as well as a culture which encourages eating out and outside. So we have some experience – good and bad - of what constitutes good cooking. We have been lucky enough to have eaten some exceptional meals which would earn high praise had they been served in The Waterside, or Gavroche, for example.
Notable was the menu degustation on Jill’s birthday at L’Artemise, a beautiful meal in beautiful surroundings, which featured as its highlights foie gras in a coating of dark bitter chocolate and a main course of the most exquisitely tender veal. In the same league, although a lower division, were L’Amphytrion in Castillon and Le Castellas in Collias: both using superbly fresh ingredients in a classical, traditional manner and hovering just below or just above a Michelin star standard.
These three epitomize what we understand to be French cuisine, and they charge for it. We do not resent this – we understand the costs of running such immaculate restaurants – but they are not for every day, every week or even every month.
For more quotidian eating out, we can recommend La Table 2 Julian in Montaren, which is not far short of the three mentioned above; L’Authentique in Saint Siffet, which offers no choices but executes each dish superbly; and – a great deal simpler but which also benefits from sticking to the knitting – 30 degrees Sud in our own village of Saint Quentin la Poterie.
After that, it is pretty much the same old, same old in Uzès: a plethora of touristique restaurants where you can get fed, drink a few pichets of the local wine and enjoy the company rather than the cuisine.
Which is why we so excited when Tom and Unity asked us, together with Archie, Tom’s brother Jim and Jill’s sister Carol, to join them last Saturday for a dinner at a guinguette on a camp site just the other side of Goudargues.
A guinguette is an outdoor drinking establishment which also offers traditional cooking, and this met the definition precisely. It is a bar and grill on the bank of the River Cèze. We ate very well indeed: steaks, barons d’agneau, and Toulouse sausages, all served with huge quantities of the best frites one has ever eaten and washed down with equally huge quantities of a very young (2012) and very quaffable Côtes de Rhône Villages.
It was packed – primarily with French families. And as darkness fell, and the lights came on and the kids ran between the tables and the adults had just a couple too many and laughed and joked, I realized that French cuisine is not about the exquisite subtleties and nuances of flavours of cuisine nouvelle.
It is about fun and family and friendship.
P.S. Our thanks to Tom and Unity for asking us, and to Jim Cantwell, Archie Robertson and Carol Stanhope for their company. And especially to Jill for driving.
P.P.S. To all those asking when the next baseball blog will appear, it will be during the All-Star break. Lots to write about after 100 games of the season.
Today from the every smith vault: Honeyboy Edwards. This is what the blues is about.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In St Quentin la Poterie, the fourth of July dawned at 06.04 with the news that a military coup in Egypt has taken place in the name of democracy, that President Evo Morales’ jet had been denied airspace by France, Italy, Spain and Portugal in the search for Edward Snowden, and that a listening device has been discovered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
There is other important news this morning of course – notably the walk-off win by the Sox and Duke Robillard leaving Dylan’s band after apparently receiving a message from God; but the army intervention in Egypt, the quasi-kidnapping of Morales and the latest revelation in the surveillance story seem somehow to be particularly appropriate on a day when we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
I say ‘we’ because the 4th of July 1776 is as important a date in the history of the world as the 14th of July 1789: it is an occasion which should be marked by all people of all nations. And the second sentence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal
, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
” – predates the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France.
The three events of this morning’s news throw the fine prose and aspirations of Jefferson and Adams into sharp focus. To what extent do these actions reflect the moral philosophy which underpinned the Declaration? In what sense are the various governments involved acting in accordance with the ‘constitution’?
One has to say, not at all.
While I have no time for any government which bases its actions on religious rather than secular premises, I have no time for any military overthrow of freely and fairly elected representatives.
I understand the call by President Morales for Europe “to free itself from the US Empire”.
And I share the anger of Ecuador at the bugging of its embassy which, if it was carried out by the British intelligence services, must have – or do I mean should
have? - been approved by the Home Secretary.
Today of course is a very particular and important anniversary, but it is merely one day of many on which similar actions have taken place. Our constitutions, written or otherwise, are ignored as a matter of course by those who, in their public pronouncements, pay lip service to the ideals which lie at their heart.
But perhaps today is the day when those of us who aspire to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness might question those who use force to negate the democratic process, who throw the full weight of global power at a single person who has got in the way, or who invade the privacy of states and individuals for … what?
Hey, we might do more than question. We could and should protest.
A very happy fourth of July to everyone, but especially to our American friends in Leamington Spa (enjoy this evening!) and in Boston MA. Today’s listening:
The Bob Phillips Rhythm Band’s tribute concert on the occasion of Dylan’s 60th birthday. A great show which deserves a wider audience.
Market days in Uzès are not merely an opportunity to stock up with fresh, local produce: fruit, vegetables, foie gras, goose rillettes and the like. They are also, perhaps even primarily, a social occasion. The one-way system is clogged, Le Parking Gide is complet from early in the morning and the bars and restaurants, diminished in size by market stalls encroaching on their outside space, are full as the inhabitants of the Uzège converge on the town to catch up with the gossip and enjoy an early pastis.
For me, it is an excuse to walk into town from our village, along the ancienne route: past the sewage works and the sunflower fields, over the small stream, up a 70m incline to the cemetery, entering the old town via the cobbled, pedestrianised rue Xavier Sigalon, named after the Romantic painter who was born in Uzès in 1767 and lived and died in a stereotypically Romantic – that is to say, unsuccessfully and unsold – manner. (He deserved more: his painting Locusta, exhibited in the cathedral of Nîmes, is an extraordinarily powerful work.)
From our gates in St Quentin la Poterie to a coffee at Marie’s Le Bengali in Uzès is a distance of just under five kilometres and takes me about 40 minutes, which is – serendipitously – the duration of a single podcast of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time. Schlepping there and back makes me something of an expert on at least two topics each day.
For those unfamiliar with this excellent programme, I should explain that the admirable Melvyn gathers around a microphone a collection of learned academics, each of which is a specialist in the subject of the day. I have downloaded the complete back catalogue and enjoy choosing the educational backdrop to my walk from the huge, eclectic collection of programmes.
Melvyn by Jill
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the selection of these subjects, beyond the random decisions of Melvyn Bragg himself. In the last couple of months, we’ve had Queen Zenobia and Levi-Strauss, cosmic rays and Icelandic sagas, gnosticism and prophecy, Montaigne and Checkov. Each has been illuminating and fascinating and one arrives at one’s destination if not wiser, certainly far better informed.
Currently, I am able to tell you a great deal about the Putney Debates and Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, the war of 1812 and Bertrand Russell. I can tell you very little, however, about game theory and Fermat’s last theorem, despite listening to each of those programmes twice. I suspect this is because Bragg, representing the intelligent but non-specialist listener, was also struggling to prompt his very smart guests and ask the questions necessary for elucidation. But like him, I did try.
A friend of mine, in his post-graduate days at Nottingham, used to walk to Forest games in the company of fellow academics. To pass the time, they would take turns to deliver a paper on the way. I have always thought what an excellent idea that was.
A walk through the French countryside, with In Our Time on the headphones, is my version of that pastime. And when I arrive at my destination, I have the pleasure of coffee and conversation, pastis and producteurs rather than analyses of the failings of Forest.
Thanks, Melvyn. (And sorry, Martin.)
Today's listening: John Fahey at the Great American Music Hall in 1975, thanks to a free download from Wolfgang's Vault. His Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt is sensational.
Your word for today is vernissage, literally the varnishing, but today applied to the opening party and preview for a new art exhibition. Last Friday, Jill and I joined four score or so art-lovers at Unity Cantwell’s vernissage at the Espace des Capucines in Uzès.
The gallery was packed and the generosity of our hosts,together with the animation of our fellow-guests, made it difficult to examine the paintings in any detail, so it was only subsequently, over a number of visits, that we were able to look with a measure of tranquility and to engage with the work.
The exhibition is entitled Rencontres – meetings or encounters. At first sight, and from a distance, the paintings might be decorative, abstract patterns. In this sense, as I overheard someone say, they are ‘easy to live with’.
But look more closely and you see that those motifs are in fact figures – they are real people - and that what one is witnessing here is a series of encounters, of meetings. And what fascinated me was the imaginative creation of narratives to describe, explain and clarify the hundreds of individual interactions which make up each painting.
There is passion here; and there is indifference. There is embracing and avoidance. There is loneliness and sociability. There is sharing and selfishness. There are confrontations and retreats. There are chance meetings and appointments.
But each figure exists only in relation to the others: to its immediate neighbours and, through the group, to those more distanced, more separate.
In other words, each painting is proving that there is such a thing a society, that we are defined by the company we keep, that we celebrate our humanity in community, in companionship, in camaraderie.
Each painting is showing us that we are never completely isolated, that ‘no man is an island’.
Each painting is portraying us, each of us, as one element in series of connections which are both general and particular. As one drills down to the specific figures, one appreciates that, if ‘to particularize is the alone distinction of merit’, then Unity has achieved this.
But she has also forced us to consider wider and more universal questions about our position and role as members of humankind.
Rencontres closes on the 19 of June. If you are anywhere near the Gard, I commend it to you.If you can't, check out Unity's website: www.unity4art.com.
Today's listening: with Jill back in the UK visiting her new grandson, I have been able to check out some of the less travelled items in my collection. Today, it's MC5.