Wednesday 26 August 2015

Sanary - so not St Tropez

I've been away the past week, a working break on the Côte d'Azur, if that doesn't sound too implausible. An old fishing village on the shores of the Mediterranean is such an old cliché that these days it almost always means millionaires on yachts and bronzed stick insects dripping in bling. But not always. Sanary-sur-Mer is still a working fishing town as well as a jolly holiday place for the more down-to-earth French.

I really was working. The page proofs of the new novel, 300 Days of Sun, had to be painstakingly checked, mistakes hunted down and sentences forensically assessed. With the house full of visitors again, I couldn't see how it would get done, so this was my answer. Work in the morning, sun in the afternoon.

It was great! I've never been away specifically to work on my own before, and I like it. Rather too much, perhaps. Previous brief visits to Sanary had intrigued me. It seemed friendly, with a lovely atmosphere, and is pretty as a picture. It has some lively literary connections, too, which are always interesting. Thomas Mann lived here in the 1930s, and Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World just out of town along the coast. D H Lawrence found some easing of his tuberculosis here, and Sybille Bedford - a wonderful writer who deserves to be better known - wrote Jigsaw, her "unsentimental education" among the wild and eccentric bohemians in the twenties and thirties in Sanary.

A short walk down a tree-lined, almost suburban, street to the west of the port was the pretty Portissol beach, where the water can change colour from pale grey-green to deep blue.
I even took the train along the coast to La Ciotat one day, as I've had the glimmering of an idea for yet another novel and wanted to do some research. Another afternoon, I took a boat trip to the calanques at Cassis and beyond.
At night, there were unpretentious restaurants by the harbour where I felt perfectly happy eating on my own, watching the world go by and the night market being set up. After that, there were various bands and other free entertainments that sprang up along the esplanade. As I told the family when I got back, having completed my list of changes to the proofs and sent them off to New York yesterday morning before I left: it was a full week's work!

Thursday 13 August 2015


Heavy rain at sunset in the Luberon. After weeks of searing sunshine and sweltering heat, it's perfect. The ground soaks it up and plants revive. And the cloudbursts damp down any remaining danger from the embers of forest fires. The hotter the summer, the more welcome the grey and the showers - always in the knowledge that tomorrow will almost bring the return of cerulean blue skies.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Château la Verrerie – wine and art

The pale peachy rosé wine from the Château la Verrerie at Puget-sur-Durance has been a summer favourite chez nous for some years. We almost certainly tried it first in one of the many restaurants in these parts, and starting calling it Château Ver-rer-y Good to distinguish it from the Château Verrière, which is also good but not our preferred choice. For special dinners, we normally buy a half-case at the excellent V Comme Vin shop in Apt rather than do what the Provenҫaux do, which is to buy direct from the producer.

But we finally made it to the Château la Verrerie the other day because, as part of the celebrations for its 30 years in the trade (a blink of an eye compared to the grand vignerons of France) an art exhibition was showing the work of one of the first local artists I featured when I first started this blog and I couldn't resist the chance to meet him. 

I first saw Olivier Boissinot's vibrant paintings of the calanques while trawling the internet looking for an illustration for an excerpt from The Lantern. When I found his website, I found he had captured exactly what had been in my head when I wrote - the searing brightness of the sea against the grey cliffs and the consequent sharpening of sight:

I sent him an email asking for permission to reproduce some of his work, he replied, and - thanks to the wonders of the internet - contact was made. Each time he had an exhibition, he would let me know, but until now, I hadn't been here at the right time.

As I walked into the Château la Verrerie, there was no mistaking I was in the right place!
And then I found the artist himself, enjoying a glass of excellent rosé, naturellement. Here he is, in front of one of the paintings in another of his subjects: the jazz clubs of New Orleans. He and I and Rob were soon chatting away like old friends, or as he put it: an artist, a writer and a musician - why wouldn't we have lots of interesting thoughts in common?

We didn't come away empty-handed, either. A case of wine, of course. And a painting, too. I owed Rob a birthday present, and we'd vaguely talked about a picture. And suddenly, there it was, just perfect for his music room here in France - The Jazz Group.

We both loved the reds, yellows and oranges, which seem to be the colours of jazz, and the thick, slick quality of the paint on the canvas, as well as the composition. As it turned out, we are so delighted with it that we decided to hang it where we can look at it all the time in our living room. It's a big canvas, and makes quite a statement, but perfect for the kind of music we like to play here.
And the music room still has its Boissinot - one of many posters that Olivier generously gave us:

You can see more of Olivier Boissinot's work by visiting his website Olivier Boissinot.
And for more information about the wine and the château, here is the site: Château la Verrerie. 
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