Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Heading south II


It's difficult to conceive of huge wealth. The houses of the very wealthy tend to be hard to see, and anyway everyone needs somewhere to live. There's a limit to how much you can spend on a car or a horse, and valuable artwork is kept well out of sight. But there's one visible item that speaks of huge amounts of disposable income, and that's yachts. Saunter round the marinas of the Baie des Anges: these pictures are of Antibes, probably rather second rate compared to Monaco or Cannes. Most of the boats are motor cruisers: they look rather like cross-Channel ferries with luxurious trim, and are often almost as big. Some even have a heliport with a helicopter waiting for... well, nothing that important really. Just so someone can take to the air, look down perhaps on their very expensive floating hotel.

Yachts, with sails, are something else. & this one is something else yet again: the Maltese Falcon. I was fascinated to read some years ago that, with new technology, the old technology of wind and sail is becoming feasible again, without the sweat and the huge crews involved in the past. But it was suggested as a way to economise on the costs of cargo transport, not as the toy of an unbelievably wealthy individual. I checked out the Maltese Falcon on the net: it was built in 2006 for somewhat less than $300 million, and it's now owned by hedge-fund manager Elena Ambrosiadou. It's said that you can hire it for around $400,000 for a week: I guess that includes the crew. There's room for 12 guests, and there's an on-board gourmet chef. & it's technically so sophisticated that it can be sailed single-handed.

At another end of the scale is this, which has the dignity of being built simply to go as fast as possible. It's not the kind of deck you'd feel comfortable sunning yourself on with a dry martini: there aren't even any hatches to be battened down.

Not like this, which could well be from an old film about the Caribbean. (Some serious contre jour here.)

& then there's this piece of sheer elegance. But it's a bit sombre; all the trim, the masts, even the sails, are black. It would look distinctly spooky on a clear sunny day and a bright blue sea.

& this is where my disposable income might just about find a home! Anyway, it's the only one of these I could actually handle. I believe these little boats are still in use in the seas and inland lakes west of Marseilles.


There's a saying in India that you'll settle where you like the water, in which case I should live in Vence. Water from a limestone spring spurts from taps and fountains, cool and fresh. It tastes wonderful, and it's claimed to be naturally safe to drink unchlorinated, and it's certainly done me no harm. But there's no discernible tango in Vence, so that's that. Even though it's a beautiful hillside town just 20 miles inland from the Cote d'Azur, with truly delicious water.

The town fortress became the town hall, and is now an exhibition space. Yvon Lambert, a native of Vence, has become one one of the most remarkable collector/dealers in France, and was offered the exhibition space to show some of his collection this summer. A marvellous show. You might not always feel at home with the work he shows, but you'll never think it's insignificant or trivial. & it's always marvelously displayed, with real sensitivity to the work itself. This sensitivity seems respected by the artists: there are several wonderful pieces made for Lambert by artists he represents, among them Anselm Kieffer, whose vast landscape dominated this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

& life goes on in Vence as you'd expect.

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