My friends from London invited me along on an artistic excursion yesterday. I picked them up from their hotel (rare use being made of Speranza's +1 seat — there's no +2 when the driver is 6'7" tall) and we headed to the Fondation Maeght gallery in Saint-Paul de Vence. I like art. I have a modest collection of paintings — all modern. I think it's amusing how old some "modern" art now is and wonder how useful a category it really is these days.
I loved the Fondation's buildings. They nestle on a steep wooded hill and provide a wonderful exhibition space. The collection is a very mixed bag, which says more about the collectors than the artists. There were many pieces I would give house room to, if I had a roomy enough house. But one piece by the Bulgarian artist Christo dominates much of the gallery during a current exhibition. His "mastaba" made of one thousand one hundred and six brightly painted oil drums stands in a courtyard. That I rather enjoyed, if only for the photographic opportunities presented by the coloured shade it cast. But drawings and models of it — and other versions of it, actual and proposed — took up room after room inside. There are only so many oil drums presented as art that a sane chap can see without giggling. Especially if he's rash enough to read the explanations on the gallery walls.
I love the French language. My only criticism is that it's so musical it makes wicked things sound appealing (e.g. "fiscaliste, impôts, l'État"). It needs some ugly sounds to prevent French people being drawn to ugly concepts. A serious obstacle to the enjoyment of art anywhere is the self-worshipping pomposity of dealers, curators and (sad to say) some artists and when that is compounded by the ferocious up-themselvesness of French intellectuals it's just hilarious.
After a modest but agreeable lunch at a pavement café we headed off to see what Matisse appparently thought was his greatest work, the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. I beg to differ with his assessment, but it is an attractive and spiritual place, promoting calm reflection. I confess that I am prejudiced against any place that prohibits natural light photography (as non-invasive an activity as could be conceived) so perhaps all the rules raised my hackles and prevented me enjoying it as I should. It's an excellent piece of interior design inside a mediocre piece of architecture, embellished by some wonderful stained glass, delightful drawings and imaginative vestments designed by the great man.
I dropped my friends off so they could taxi to their next hotel in Juan les Pins. I drove home to Mougins and processed the day's photos. A couple of hours later we met again in Antibes where they introduced me to other friends of theirs; an Irish couple at whose place in St Tropez they are going to stay on the next leg of their tour of French pleasures.
We dined at Christian Morriset's splendid restaurant in Antibes, "Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit". There I enjoyed the best art of the day — and it was edible. After a laughter filled evening of chat about Brexit, the Troubles and cars, I retrieved Speranza from the voiturier and headed home for a good night's sleep followed by a day looking forward to the dinner that was the original cause of this trip.
For years I have been telling my friend from London about my favourite restaurant in the world — the Restaurant de Bacon (named for a local luminary not a life-enhancing meat) at Cap d'Antibes. I was first taken there by a client in the early nineties and have since taken many other clients, colleagues, friends and family there. We even celebrated Miss Paine the Elder's eighteenth birthday at one of its tables. My friend loves fish and I usually don't so he was intrigued that it was a fish/seafood place.
When his new lady friend, an enthusiast for the South of France, proposed to introduce him to its delights, he asked me for the Bacon's address so they could visit. He joked that I should join them and I said I would. I am a man of leisure and had missed out on my usual annual trip to Cannes (to atttend a real estate industry event) so I welcomed the chance to hit the autoroutes. Learning of this another old friend — we three were partners in the same law firm back in the late eighties/early nineties — said he and his wife would come too so it turned into something of an event.
Just as I was doubting if I was really decadent enough to drive to Cap d'Antibes from London for a dinner, my friend in Spain invited me to photograph his winery in La Priorat and this trip began to seem "meant". So I shall "chill" on my sunny terrace today in happy anticipation of tonight's reunion, the pleasures of the table and another chance to drive the winding roads to one of the best Mediterranean views I know.