Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Aix en Provence

After Avignon, we moved on to Aix.  Those visiting need to be aware that TGV stations are remote from the towns they serve, not quite on the scale of London Stansted, but still some distance.  It is barely half an hour on the train from Avignon to Aix, yet there is no direct train there.  Instead,  you have to use a combination of shuttle buses and taxis which makes the journey much more of a hassle - or an adventure if you like.


Central Aix is mediaeval in its pattern, with cavernous ancient streets and many squares with fountains.  The streets are narrow and still have a centrally placed gutter, which must once have been the case elsewhere too.

 On a Sunday, with a jazz combo entertaining the passing crowds, a street market in full swing, pavement cafes doing good trade and classic car owners raising money for charity by giving tourists a ride around the block, Aix is full of bonhomie.  It would be a great place to be a student or to take a term's course.

While we were there it was the Heritage open weekend - or Patrimoine.  Outside the cathedral, various artisans and conservation studios had their stands.  I was much taken with this textile belonging to one Herve Hornoy who runs a textile conservation business, Memoires-Tissees.  This is Chinese canvaswork which he explained was used as a 'prentice piece before they moved on to embroidery on satin.

We must have visited more art galleries on this trip than we have done in the previous ten years.  In Aix we were able to catch the exhibition at the Musee Granet, exploring the way the area was a breeding ground for artists in the early twentieth century.  In their basement they had not only a Rembrandt  self-portrait, but also some very strange pre-Roman sculpture showing dismembered heads.

On a hot afternoon we visited this lovely little House, set in well-kept gardens.  Inside, in pretty rooms with some antique furniture, was an exhibition of very modern and very ugly artwork, somehow trying to make a textile link with the past.  It was the kind of exhibition where the room steward has to tell visitors not to step on the carpet as it is actually a work of art.  One room in particular lingers in the mind's eye: it was decked out in red with structures mimicking carcases in an abattoir hanging from the ceiling.

Our best visit took us up the hill to Cezanne's studio.  We climbed the steps not knowing what to expect but there was the single room painted in a soft grey.  On the shelf were recognisable coffeepots and pottery, coats still hanging on the rack, and a giant step ladder centrally placed.   Can this really be a survival from 1912 or is it a reconstruction?   I asked about the curious long slot-like window and was told that Cezanne used this to slide big canvases out to see what they looked like in daylight. Amazing.

From there it was a short walk up the hill to the Garden of the Painters, where I took this photo.

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