Saturday, January 20, 2007

Those special relationships

Here's a picture of one of the recent additions to the seafront-furniture at Antibes.

ed: for full screen enlargement, just "point and click" on the photo

It really speaks for itself. It's a weather-resistant reproduction of a painting by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier , dated 1868. The plaque (see close-up below) reads "Antibes, la promenade à cheval, l'artiste et son fils Charles.

How's that, then, for a self-portrait ? To put yourself in centre picture, astride a horse, and then to fit in two family members as well . Yes, two: his son, who's also mounted, and his pet dog, by the looks of it, leading the way . It could be someone else's dog, I suppose. Or a private family joke !

But from a casual tourist perspective, the genius is in the siting of the picture. Not only is Antibes' fortified headland in the background, with those two iconic Saracen towers, but the picture is sited at or very close to where the artist must have sat when he painted it. Even for a first time visitor, it's fascinating to do a before -and- after comparison.

For local residents like ourselves, there's the extra interest from seeing precisely what used to be there, before most of the ramparts were knocked down in the late 19th century. It was felt, probably correctly, that Vauban's fortifications were a noose around the town, acting as a stranglehold on development.

It's fascinating to think that when it was painted, some 138 years ago, the hills behind Gourdon and Grasse were visible. They are now blanked out by the 20th century apartment blocks.

Sometimes pictures that I post to this blog enlarge when one "points and clicks" . Sometimes they don't, and I haven't yet figured out why. If this one enlarges (and I can't tell until I hit the Publish key) then you'll probably find that with this one, there's a real sense of being there.

ed: Glory be, the first one does indeed enlarge ! But not the second. Weird ..... But the second was dragged and dropped. Maybe that's the explanation .... Any ideas, you Blogger techies ?

That's despite the non-designer clothing etc. Some artists just have that knack, would you not agree, of making their pictures forever fresh and immediate ?

There are now at least 5 (and allegedly 6) of these repro' art features in Antibes. There's another just a few feet away which is by Claude Monet (1888, Antibes, effet d'après midi) , and almost identical to the one in my margin display, and from the same series.

Others include the charming and whimsical Raymond Peynet (1985, Les Amoureux aux Remparts), again, strategically sited to reproduce the artist's vantage point, with his behatted delicate-looking shoulder-length hair hero and bride in the foreground. His work, which is perhaps a little dated now ( that clothing again) is displayed in a dedicated museum in the centre of Antibes). And there's a pure town/seascape by Eugène Boudin, 1893, Le Port d'Antibes.

Further along, near where the pétanque is played, there's another by Henri-Edmond Cross , 1908, in pointilliste style, called simply Antibes . I used to be a dab hand myself (literally) in that genre, when marker pens first appeared on the shelves at WH Smith, but my work from that era, done during long and often boring biochemistry lectures, has now been sadly and irrevocably lost.

For the reasons mentioned earlier, I shall hold back from posting all the pictures now. If the present ones "enlarge on demand" then I'll try cautiously adding others later.

All are of the same design: enamelled (?) on to a sturdy lava base. Or maybe the artwork is a modern baked resin. Irrespective, one just hopes it will be spared the attentions of the spray-can vandals, whose handiwork is visible on the neighbouring public safety notices etc. How I wish the media would drop the term "graffiti artist". Anyone who blights the environment does not deserve to be dignified by the term "artist".

How good it is to see this civic pride, in what is admittedly an exceptional location that has captivated artists and vistitors alike for centuries. If Antibes can't get it right, who can ?

One of the things I like about France is the way in which art is integrated into everyday life. One sees it so many different ways - street furniture, such as lamps, fencing, barriers, things that in Britain would be seen as utilitarian, and done in the cheapest way possible.

It's the small details that make all the difference - bevelling an edge here, decorative perforation there, angling instead of boring right angles, out-of-plane alignment of slats, hexagonal setts in retaining walls, and so it goes on. Loving detail, and realization that there's more to life than keeping proletarian noses pressed against grindstones. even if that does ensure a continuing flow of billions into Treasury coffers, occasionally to be spent wisely, but as often as not, squandered upon one misguided pet project after another .

Note a touch of disillusionement with UK politics creeping in there. Beware, there's more of that to come. It 's possibly the imminent coronation of Gordon Brown which has a lot to do with it. I made my views on the brooding hermit of No.11 a while ago in a submission to the Times's debate

I used to think he ought to get out more. Well, now he's out, in Africa, India, promising to underwrite their education and infrastructure problems with UK taxpayers' money.
One hesitates to remind Gordon that charity begins at home. But his munificence with our money will sooner or later rebound on him. How long before we hear the inevitable charges of neocolonialism again ?

Visiting my old haunts in the Home Counties there's a roundabout that's been planted out, but the whole effect is destroyed by a collection of hurdle-like, foot-high advertising signs. They were installed presumably at the behest of the local insurance firm that paid for the so-called enhancement. But why be so crass as to advertise their sponsorship in situ, largely counterproductive in terms of aesthetics ? And why use private money anyway for something so public ? Just to save a miserable fraction of a penny on the rates when vast amounts disappear elsewhere into blackholes, (eg like my index-linked public service pension ) ?

Heathrow Airport is not Britain's greatest national asset, but at least it used to greet one, with a sign over that tunnel entrance (next to where the Concorde mock-up is parked) . The sign "Welcome to Heathrow Airport" disappeared sometime in the aftermath of the Thatcher era, and is now replaced with some smug self-satisfied advertising, again, for some financial services company, like Quickfleece and Partners (Bishopsgate).

Driving up the M1 over Christmas , it was depressing to pass under the same old concrete bridges that were there in my student days, en route to Birmingham on that pre-Honda but nevertheless nippy, BSA motorbike. Except those bridges used to be fresh grey concrete, not pretty, but at least new-looking . Now they are dirty yellow-grey, reminiscent of those wartime pillboxes, some with graffiti old and new. Those mean, penny-pinching bridges, totally devoid of grace or style (unlike the later ones on the M6) , just add to the monotony of having to grind up and down that dreary stretch of highway.

So why don't they replace them ? Where does all the taxpayers' money go, apart from the obvious, like machine-gunning Afghans in their own country. Oh, but one musn't be cynical : you see, they are the wrong kind of Afghans. They're the ones of a traditional mindset who have yet to grasp the subtleties of the western democratic process, like having to be governed by someone you didn't vote for.

But we don't normally go into countries that have what is now referred to in media-talk as an "insurgency campaign" . But this one is special : it's to do with GWB's misdirected and ruinously expensive War on Terror. And it goes without saying that we're expected immediately to spring to America's side. A post-9/11 loyalty test , to stand four square with America, Stars and Stripes fluttering, in her hour, correction, decade (or maybe century ?) of need, because we owe the Americans for coming in on our side in WW2 .

Well, yes, but only after the fall of France and the Low Countries. And only after the Dunkirk evacuation. And only after the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. In fact they waited until after Pearl Harbor, and Japan and Germany's formal declarations of war on the USA. That's when our so-called natural allies suddenly remembered that "special relationship" (if you'll excuse the anachronism, given that the term was not coined until Churchill's post war Fulton speech) .

So Britain became America's springboard for Europe. A kind of offshore aircraft carrier. How convenient. And kindly Uncle Sam gave us long -term loans that allowed us to spread the cost of Anglo-American victory over 60 years (the last instalment having just been paid). No wonder my father had to decline even a few weeks of ruinously expensive home-help in 1951, immediately after my mother died, and my grandmother was subsequently robbed of her retirement. And (back to topic) having to settle for those cheap and nasty bridges on the M1 in 1959.

Special relationship ? The only thing special about it is that we're supposed to be feel privileged and honoured having these back-slapping, arm-twisting , gold-reserve gobbling, long term loan shark -providing , other folks' future-mortgaging cousins as our friends and allies.

Frankly I don't care who wins the next Presidential election. The so-called special relationship will remain what it has always been: a marriage of convenience. America's convenience.

Just think, if we weren't so dewy eyed about the special relationship, we could pull a few battalions out of Afghanistan, and replace all those M1 bridges, and allow the Afghans to decide their own destiny by their own means, even if it meant having the" wrong bunch" in power from time to time.

But from an admittedly hard-nosed military perspective, isn't it a lot easier to let the wrong bunch in, and then target that country's military, all conveniently ensconced in their cosy barracks, than to deal with hit-and-run insurgents, sleeping rough under the stars ?

As for that lost cause called Iraq , well, I just hope the roofs of the US and UK embassies are strong enough to take those helicopters, needed for Saigon style evacuations when the time comes.

Here and there, along the M1, there's been some belated planting of saplings , presumably areas deemed to be environmentally sensitive for one reason or another. It'll be years before a softening effect is achieved, but it will be worth it when it comes. Why is this not more widespread, perhaps as part of a carbon -offsetting project ? But that's a subject on which I have mixed views, certainly different from those voiced on some linked blogs, and one on which I shall be posting shortly. In the mean time, I recommend Anatole Kaletsky's recent tour de force in the Times, which got some backs up, though not mine, as I made clear in some two or three comments.

PS Some may wonder why I have a "meegle" link in the margin, ie Google search for "Dreams and Daemons" . Well, there's some narcissism there , obviously. No sense in denying that. But it's also interesting to observe the new entries, and changes from one day to the next. Thanks to it, I discovered an update in the Guardian's OrganGrinder on Toby Harnden's brush with the wild men of the blogosphere.

More fascinating is the sudden appearance of two posts written weeks ago, one on our "Britannian heritage" the other on the struvite deposit that builds up in loos, often called "limescale" by those keen to sell harsh cleaning agents.

Why those particular posts should have re-surfaced is anyone's guess, but I like to think that at least a handful of folk coming to this blog , following links to my Toby Harnden "scoop" ( in saving to hard drive part of the Telly's blog before they pulled it) roamed around in the archives before moving on.

That was always the intention: to build up some serious content that would always be there, accessible via search engines etc.

I continue to be taunted on Colin Randall's Salut by the intelligent but belligerent citizen/journalist blogger Bill Taylor, a self-confessed wind-up merchant. It's for what he sees as the limited interest in this blog, based on an alleged paucity of comments. Yes, you guessed it. There's history, and it goes way back. And the backbiting continues, despite my abandoning Colin's blog in despair. More about that another day ( if it doesn't stop).

As mentioned before, comments, while generally welcome (provided they are courteous and constructive), are not the be-all and end-all of a blog, certainly not one in its early days.

There is probably no scientific yardstick for measuring the success of a blog, but interlinking with other blogs, as measured by Technorati, is a start. On that criterion, D&D is progressing nicely. Two weeks ago, it had more than a million more highly-ranked (ie linked) blogs. But that is currently down to 340,000, and dipped briefly below 250,000 last week, when the reaction to Toby Harnden's journalist's candour was at its height. Well, thanks Toby ! Your comments may not have done you any favours, given the amount of naivety that's out there about how the dead-tree press operates against deadlines. But you've certainly helped put D&D on the blogosphere map, albeit the equivalent for now of Easter Island. BTW, I know you weren't altogether happy about some of my wording, but the furore seems to have died down now: it's what my grandmother used to call a 9 day wonder.


angela said...

Gosh, you cover a lot of ground, Colin.
Your photo enlarged perfectly and is a splendid photo. In fact I'm going to head down to have a look at the paintings myself.
You're right Antibes does well at incorporating art into everyday life though some of those apartment blocks are pretty hideous.
Had you thought of doing an Antibes City Photo. You've got masses of great photos

ColinB said...

Yeah, I guess it did (cover a lot of ground, that is). A bit of a marathon, one might say.
Once in a while it's nice, if perhaps somewhat self-indulgent, just to follow a stream of consciousness, and see where it takes one.

Anyway congratulations for staying the course. Glad you liked the photo.

hippo said...

Thanks for agreeing to let me write the next post on Dreams and Daemons, to be called "Hippo's plan to save the world".

I want people to read it, and take it seriously. Fat chance if it starts to ramble like your "Special Relationships", which, as Angela put it so diplomatically "covers a lot of ground".

Here's my brainwave for avoiding Writer's Drift. I shall go to something like the Times or Telegraph that runs a blog, open up the Comments box, and start typing. That will act as a kind of mental discipline, by imagining that one is writing for the masses, instead of a relatively small number of folk who may be more forgiving of one's foibles.

The important thing is not to get so carried away, that one hits the Send key by mistake ! To avoid that, I shall set the pinging egg timer for 5 minutes, Save what I've written when it goes off, then clear the box and continue.

Never underestimate a hippo.