Monday 27 October 2014

Isirdi: a Lourmarin artist

Some years ago now we found this picture. It's painted over the front page of La Provence, the local newspaper, and was hidden away in our bergerie. It is one of the “gifts from the house”: found objects we have kept and made part of the place again. Framed in pine, it now hangs in the kitchen.

The view is of Lourmarin on the southern slopes of the Luberon ridge and it seems to have been intended as a wedding present. We assume that Lourmarin was either where the wedding took place (or did it?) or where the couple lived. The date on the masthead is November 2000. Best wishes, it says, Long live love. But beyond the names Céline and Alain, the picture is a complete mystery. Or it was, until we had a wander around Lourmarin this summer.

Across a picturesque street, the window of the Isirdi Gallery drew us in, and we began to notice various stylistic similarities with the jolly painting we know well. On our return home, the writing we hadn't been able to decipher was now clearly Gérard Isirdi's signature.

I still didn't know very much about the artist, but imagine my delight when my blog friend Caroline Longstaffe of Shutters and Sunflowers asked if I would be interested in running a guest post, and offering this piece as a suggestion. Synchronicity! I certainly was interested. Caroline is an English girl who lives in California, and her love of Provence shines through.

Isirdi's picture, creating a special memory forever
By Caroline Longstaffe
A piece of art, the essence of a moment, captured with the stroke of a paint brush or crayon, through the eyes and perceptions of the artist. An instant in time becomes immortalized as a memory that will last forever. The ability to do this is a gift, a special talent that only a few hold, quite literally in their hands. The strokes the artist transfers to the canvas create indelible marks of time to be treasured throughout the generations. As the years slip away the human mind becomes frail and memories dim, but the artist’s record is eternal, even though it is a personal interpretation, once created, it endures for always.

Gerard Isirdi in Lourmarin, through his artistic talent, created for us a wonderful memory of our special time in Provence. We will be forever grateful to our friends, Sarmi and Jim, for commissioning Isirdi to encapsulate part of our story for always.

Sarmi and Jim outside The Isirdi Gallery, Lourmarin, Provence
Outside the Isirdi Gallery, Lourmarin, Provence, France
Their picture depicts us embracing a tiny part of French culture, drinking coffee at a street café, something we enjoyed several times a week. Different thoughts will spring to mind when someone looks at this painting based upon their own experiences of sitting at a café somewhere. Each time we look at it we will hear chattering French voices, and remember the personalities who served us and how we smiled when a car pulled up on the cobbled streets and the driver hurtled out into the bakery to grab their baguettes, totally heedless of blocking the road!
We will remember watching the season and cycle of the town, sometimes sitting alone and shivering in the quiet of the winter months, especially at the start of the week. As the week progressed we saw the cafés spilling onto the street after the Friday market, the numbers of which multiplied as the weather warmed up and the market grew in size. We will recall observing the precarious balancing of scaffolding as workmen replaced roof tiles, holding our breath as pieces of steel were handed up by hand to create a ‘safe’ framework, four or five stories high.
Isirdi's picture

Outside the Isirdi Gallery with Christine Isirdi With Christine Isirdi, outside the Isirdi Gallery Lourmarin, Provence, France
So much of life, unlike a piece of art, is but a vanishing moment. Like the puffs of a dandelion, which float before our eyes for just an instant, to gently float away and disappear, so too is the human experience. Our lives are made up of a complicated picture of experiences. Some are strong and enduring strokes of colour running through the whole canvas, like our health, our families, our marriages, each having the ability to become faded according to how the dye is cast. We all have a certain amount of choice in 'painting' our destinies, we can choose to add a brilliance of colour or walk a path shaded by duller tones.
However immense the highs or tragic the lows, our lives are a collection of occurrences, events and memories, many of which leave their mark or alter the course of our story and most become faded in the sands of time. A visual record, like this picture, makes an immediate statement and keeps the story vividly alive for always.

Admiring Isirdi's painting in the gallery

Of course such works of art speak to different people in different ways and not all art is created to encapsulate a moment. But each time we look at Isirdi's beautiful creation, we will smile and our hearts will be warmed as memories return to form a picture in our minds, reminding us of our treasured time in Lourmarin, a small, picturesque, corner of the Luberon in Provence, France.

Monday 20 October 2014

A place to read

My UK publishers Orion have a new set of places where authors can interact with readers and give a few personal insights at One Book Lane on Facebook and Twitter. One theme that particularly appeals to me is their Dream Reading Rooms board on Pinterest. After all, writers have to be readers too.

As loyal readers of this blog will know by now, I'm not a great one for splashing photos of myself over social media, but I have posted pictures of my summer reading places in Provence, under the fig tree in the courtyard, and this hammock under a fig and an oak tree:

But the top picture shows where you'll find me, shoes off and feet up, with a cup of tea and a book at our house in Kent. Note the serious number of cushions! 
This sofa is next to French windows that open onto a little terrace, so fresh air - another vital component of happy reading - can circulate if required. And the yellow walls of the room make it look sunny even in the depths of a grey English winter. The big painting, full of vibrant colour is by British artist William Selby, originally bought for the house in France, but we liked it so much where it is that it has stayed there.
Where is your favourite place to read?

Sunday 12 October 2014

The lavender farm and distillery

Following on from the most expensive perfume in the world, here's my idea of scent heaven. In the hamlet of Les Agnels near Buoux in the Grand Luberon hills, lavender and the hardier lavandin crop is gathered and distilled in the traditional way to produce essential oils. For those of you who enjoyed the descriptions of the Distillerie Musset in The Lantern and The Sea Garden, here is the very essence of a modern version of the perfume and soap factory set in the lavender fields. 

Sheaves of lavender - and lavandin - are brought to the steam vats for the extraction process to begin. (Don't you just love the colour of the vats?) Some interesting local colour, too, in the protest sign propped against the far wall, saying, "Lavender is not a chemical product. No to EU ruling." Quite right, too.

Here is the basic product, after vaporisation and collection of the droplets of scented oil: no frills and a hint of the medicinal.

In The Lantern, Madame Musset was a herbalist, too, with a knowledge of the medicinal properties of natural oils. And here at Les Agnels, you can find the same old cures for ailments that she would have produced. A laurel leaf preparation for viral and dental afflictions, for example; lemon balm (Melissa) for migraine and digestive troubles.

Perfumed soaps, of course, and other beauty creams and tonics...

Then we get to the perfumes, lovely fresh scents made with lavender, and Luberon flowers, fig, amber resin, and a personal favourite for hot summer days, a Green Tea eau de toilette that manages to be light and fresh and sweet at the same time.

These fragrances are particularly expensive - in a Provence context, you could have two for the price of a bottle of wine in a restaurant, and the scent will last longer!

Then there are the room scents, all given names that lift the senses and transport you just to read them: Under the Lime Trees, In the Shade of the Fig Tree, A Wander through the Garrigue.

For more information and remote sensory indulgence, you can visit the Les Agnels website here. And for those who are entranced by the very thought of this place, the good news is that there are a number of holiday gites available for rent in the hamlet.

Sunday 5 October 2014

The world's most expensive perfume

This is an extraordinary bottle of perfume. Created by British perfumer Clive Christian for the opening of the Salon de Parfum boutique at Harrods in London, it contains his No1 perfume and has a price tag of £143,000. Yes, you read that right.

Under normal circumstances, the scent is marketed as 'the world's most expensive perfume' at £450 for a standard bottle of the fragrance. But this special edition features the signature crystal bottle covered in hand-crafted, 24 carat gold lattice-work and diamonds.

Called the No1 Passant Guardant, this scent is advertised as "uniquely 
expensive" and created with no reference to cost to contain "the most rare and precious ingredients". I'm sure there are some people in the world to whom this will appeal enormously. Personally, I'd be more interested in what these ingredients are and what the fragrance smells like but that information seems to be a closely-guarded secret on the retail websites.

All right, I know we should regard this as a triumph of marketing, and perhaps the bottle itself as a work of art. But I can't help but think I'd rather have a good artisan perfume, or a local distillation from the lavender fields. Something you can actually imagine before you even open the bottle to try it.
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