Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Avignon II

Hang in there: normal service is about to be resumed.

Yvon Lambert was given an old palace in Avignon to run as a gallery. It happens. He's obviously a hugely successful businessman who also has a real understanding of and sympathy for the work he collects, buys and sells.

He used the palace for a Barcelo exhibition this summer. The pots! A huge table of slashed, smashed, punched, grated, cracked pots, some with bricks shoved into them, broken half-dry so they half-bend, half crack, slashed almost to complete destruction. And often beautifully painted too, with horses, fish, vegetation. Painted pot-sculptures. They feel warm to look at. So many things have happened to them they almost feel human. Photography not allowed.

Jasper Johns: 'Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.'

The hang is immaculate. Everything is done to make the work – paintings, sculpture, pots – look as wonderful as possible. Everything has space to live and breath. Sense of absolute respect for the work. & the palace itself is worth the entry price.

Paso Doble is showing, a film of a performance by Barcelo and Josef Nadj, who's a choreographer of mime and dance. It's been performed several times. This is a very abbreviated version.

Barcelo is also in the Great Chapel at the Papal Palace, showing paintings made on massive slabs of clay. Clay, basic matter, turning into sea life, clay colours soft and glowing in the indirect light. They are built onto metal frames, but are often cracked. Difficult work to move around. Also a pot, but not so much has happened to it.

This painting is in the Little Palace, photography allowed without flash, but the light is murky. Late 13th century, the time of the Troubadors; two couples, with a musician emerging from bushes on the far left playing a double pipe, entirely surrounded by vegetation. Seems typical of the era: the Pope's private rooms in the centre of the massive stone palace are painted with groves and with people in the forest: even in the 13th century people lived in cities and dreamed of living in dense forest. The painting suggests a romantic tryst, but would you want a musician along to proclaim your presence to the entire neighbourhood?

Saturday, 25 September 2010


The Avignon festival was originally of drama, but these days it takes in dance and the visual arts. This year, the lucky artist was the Majorcan, Miquel Barceló. An artist of prodigious energy, he recently covered 300m2 of a chapel in the cathedral in Majorca with a terracotta mural. He was also commissioned to cover the interior dome of the United Nations building in Geneva with an immense mural.

The first you see of him is outside the Palace of the Popes. I was curious how the good folk of Avignon react to an elephant balanced on its trunk. While obviously a photo opportunity for tourists, it seems a place where young locals choose to meet. & I was delighted to find that the elephant has become a sort of patron deity of the local break-dance community.

Ban des Vendanges 2010

Ban=proclamation, as in 'bans of marriage'. Vendanges: an event of unimaginable significance, the harvest of grapes for wine. At the 'ban' the grapes are ceremonially pressed and the juice shared out. Then, of even greater significance, there's a free tasting of Cotes du Rhone wine for an hour. Free, but you are expected to buy a tasting glass, €2, tastefully engraved, and it feels polite to suggest some interest in the wine that is being poured into your glass. Just pretending to read the label on the bottle is sufficient. & there are stalls with great local food too. A real big picnic. & if you feel you are wandering around a little unsteadily... don't be alarmed, it's not you, it's everyone else.

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.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Heading south

I've been longing to get away. But 'south' is 'le sud' not 'el sur': this is one long post with subsections so you can skip over it easily. But the pictures are nice.


Sometime in the late 18th century the Rue de l'Enfer, Hell Street, on the Left Bank in Paris, disappeared into a big hole. The Left Bank is built above underground quarries, and the authorities began to realise that the entire Latin Quarter was about to follow the Rue de l'Enfer into the abyss, so a vast underground cathedral-like structure was constructed to support it. Something to reflect on over a coffee on the Boul'Mich.

Evening: Paris feels warm, content, cheerful. London after work can feel restless, even self-destructive.

The night train.

Long ago, before the advent of the TGV, much long-distance travel in France was by night train. Now that you can have breakfast in Paris and lunch in Nice night travel hardly matters, but a limited service called Lunea survives, using the old carriages with couchettes and sieges inclinables to some destinations, at least during the summer months, although not every night. The Paris-Nice train is a real pleasure; waking up to sunrise on the red porphyry crags of the Esterel, then the crawl round the Baie des Anges in the bright morning sun is a real treat. The train runs non-stop Paris to Toulon with a brief halt in Lyon, presumably to change drivers, as the entire run is ten hours. & it really feels fast. In the TGV you lose the sensation of speed: there's little noise and the ride is totally smooth. But the older carriages aren't soundproofed and you know you're going fast, really fast. It's half the speed of a TGV and a lot more exciting.

The Baie des Anges seems to have little to do with celestial beings. I read that 'anges de mer' were a kind of shark that used to be common in the bay.


Ah, and today was Rivertango in London. The air would have been fresh and cool, but not too cold, the sun still warm, and the floor full with partners I know well, and know by sight. There would have been a demonstration of high kicking. & Tango Siempre playing a set, too. Great music, and their Pugliese sublime for a dance too, no doubt. But me, I'm heading south.

L'expulsion des Roms

This has been the big issue of the summer. The papers are full of it. The local paper (in the south, which tends to be very right-wing) sent a reporter to Romania to comment on their condition at home, which was said to be pitiful in that they longed back to the days of Ceaucescu when everyone had a little: now the Roms have nothing. The reporter found this heartbreaking, but the implication is that Romania should look after them better: then they wouldn't need to come to France. The Roms, as Romanians, are EU citizens, and entitled to travel for work, but if they are 'sans papiers' they can be expelled.

It's a sensitive issue. France still remembers another expulsion on ethnic grounds – of the Jews during WWII: there are monuments in many towns to recall the names, and ages, of those rounded up and deported. The government denies the Roms were specifically targeted, but leaked documents have contradicted this.

Sarkozy has an election coming up, and his polls rating is low. Critics suggest this has been done to snatch votes from the far right. It also distracts attention from 'l'affaire Woerth': M. Woerth, while Budget minister, was alleged to have helped the L'Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, one of the wealthiest people in the world, to evade taxes. & she is said to have made huge donations to M. Sarkozy's campaign: envelopes stuffed with cash have been mentioned...

Liberation is the French Guardian, but wonderfully concise. It protests predictably on the treatment of the Roms. It also published an analysis of the language used. The government said that it took action to protect the security of it's own citizens, that this was the heritage of the Revolution, which guaranteed 'surete': but a historian points out that the 'surete' guaranteed under the Revolution was security from arbitrary arrest and detention. He says that the idea of the state guaranteeing security from civil unrest is relatively recent. He's a member of the 'committee for vigilance over the public use of history': what a fascinating idea! The 'public use of history' should be monitored closely, indeed.

Anyway, expelling the Roms in order to protect French citizens from civil unrest seems totally disproportionate. People sometimes found them a nuisance, but no worse. But the idea that 'security' can be used to justify almost anything the state (or a politician seeking re-election) wants to do... that really is troubling.

Flaubert to George Sand, 1867: '...I came across a camp of Bohemians established near Rouen. [...] The great thing about it was that, although they are as inoffensive as sheep, they excited the hatred of the bourgeois. [...] That hatred is very profound and complex. It's the hatred people have for the Bedouin, the heretics, philosophers, the solitaries, the poet.'

Friday, 17 September 2010

Pedro milonguero

I've just heard that a Dutch student and friend of Pedro Sanchez has set up a website for him, at Pedromilonguero. If you've met Pedro and learned from him, please post a testimonial about what he´s like as a teacher and dancer.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

More Pedro!

'El milonguero' Terry has just got back from BsAs with three videos, which he's asked me to upload. Two are of Pedro Sanchez, and the third is of Alberto Dassieu dancing with Eva Garlez.

We scratched our heads to try and translate exactly what Pedro says, and then Jantango very kindly stepped in with a translation, and put us out of our misery. Thanks, Jantango! I think it's well worth doing, as Pedro is very passionate and very clear and very articulate and very compelling about what he thinks, and it's well worth trying to understand what he says. (This is the third version I've uploaded: I think I've got it right this time!)

Apart from that, Terry quotes his notes on what he learned from Pedro. Listen to the music, and dance with your whole body; and he says that the lead/connection in the embrace should come from the sternum or just under, not high on the chest.

The second video is of Pedro dancing a vals with Ali. I'm always amazed at how effortless and simple he makes it look. This is how you dance tango with 60 years practice.

The third video is of Alberto Dassieu in his little studio at home, a demonstration of how to dance to very slow tango. Alberto is a close contemporary of Pedro. I gather that he grew up at the heart of the Villa Urquiza style in the late 1940s.

I took a number of classes with Pedro and with Alberto last winter, and I spent time with both of them at Plaza Bohemia. Alberto always goes out with his wife, Paulina, and they would invite me to sit at their table and talk, as best I could, about the dancers and the music. These videos really bring back to me the classes and those milonga evenings.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Getting things wrong

A great series of instructional videos is appearing. They are hilarious because they are just so imaginatively made. A pity that getting things right is never as funny as getting things wrong!

Video thanks to superchachi2010

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Learning tango 2

Just a thought: there is a dance that's improvised to music, that many of us are familiar with from childhood, and certainly from our teens, by which time it IS social dance; that arm-waving, body-writhing, jumping dance of discos, clubs and parties everywhere.

Has anyone tried it to tango music? I have, but what I do is conditioned by what I've been taught to do to tango music. But it occurred to me that it would be interesting to see what people with no knowledge of tango music would improvise to it. & then it occurred to me that this might be a good way to introduce people to tango music. The activity is a familiar one, but the music is unfamiliar, so it would be necessary to listen to it, to find the beat, the compas, and then possibly feel the melodic flow of cadencia too, and respond to it perhaps with the torso and arms. In any case, to explore this new music with the body. A teacher who knows the music should be able to suggest, by body movements, what is going on in the music, and ways to respond to it. Learning directly with the body rather than through a verbal explanation might be a useful path for people who've never listened to the music and who want to dance to it. The dance itself, the embrace and ways of movement possible in the embrace would still need to be explored, of course. & this could be extended to vals and milonga: here's something different, try and work out for yourselves what is going on. What we find out for ourselves we usually know better than something that's explained to us.

If anyone's ever tried this, or tries it, I'd love to know if it works.