28 Feb 2011

Ernest Pignon-Ernest

I did not know the name of this artist when I first noticed his work. This was back in the late seventies or early eighties in Paris. I remember noticing realistic images in highly contrsted black and white of the young poet Rimbaud pasted onto walls in unlikely places. My first reaction was to consider them as like a kind of wallpaper, especially since I remember seeing one or more on the side of houses which were being demolished, alongside open fireplaces and traces of partition walls and stairs. It was as if a former inhabitant of an appartment had covered his wall with a life-sized image of the romantic 19th. century poet. I first put this down to typical adolescent infatuation with a hero, or something like that. Then  I noticed more of the same images, in different places. Always the same and always in black and white.

I then discovered that the artist's name was Ernest Pignon-Ernest. In fact his real name is Ernest Pignon, but he changed it to avoid confusion with another French painter. The images of Rimbaud were the result of drawings, made from a photograph and then transformed into silk-screen printed posters that he deliberately stuck on walls in places where the poet had been: Charleville (his birthplace) and Paris, and usually specific places within those towns. History and its connections with life today forms an essential part of Pignon-Ernest's work. Another aspect of this work is its more or less gradual degradation, according to where it is placed and what happens to it (tearings, weathering, etc).

Pignon-Ernest works constantly on the links between people and places, using drawings made from images of famous people, events or even paintings to "re-inhabit" a place that holds their memory and so engendering reactions with the contemporary inhabitants of that place, or with simple passers by: you and me in other words. His work is rarely shown in galleries. It is truly "street art" in the sense that it uses the street as its wall and its audience. 

This series of photographs shows examples of the work he did between 1988 and 1995 in Naples, using images from Italian paintings, essentially by Caravaggio. The procedure was the same as above and you can see something of the approach in the second image above that shows of one of his drawings, following that of one of the posters produced and installed from that drowing. In these works h
e took the "installation" aspect of his work, alway based on exquisite draughstmanship and always in monochrome, even further. I get the impression at times of something close to trompe-l'oeil, so well do they fit in to the architecture and the run-down façades of the buildings. And he clearly plays on this, like in the picture on the right where the image runs over the pavement. Or in the one below, where the drama that it contains is so fitting to this city. 

Some years later, I saw a lot more more of Pignon-Ernest's work, particularly in a magnificent retrospective held in Evian a couple of years back. I will return to it another time. I find it not only totally impressive technically, but very strong and moving by its approach to the intimate links between "art" and life. A good example was his work in and around Soweto, South Africa, which evoked the massacres in that township under Apartheid.

In the meantime, if you want to see more, he has an official site which shows a great deal: http://www.pignon-ernest.com/

26 Feb 2011

May I have a glass of Grignan-les-Adhémar please?

I could, and maybe should, have placed this article under the "pet hates" chapter of this blog. French wine appellations have a way of multiplying themselves like amoebae, constantly sub-dividing into ever smaller units until, some day, not even the next-door neighbour will be able to recognise where they come from. This story is a little different, since the wines previously known as Coteaux de Tricastin have changed their name to that of Grignan-les-Adhémar.

Vineyards near Tricastin in the Côtes du Rhône

The reason for this change of name is that the producers in this part of the southern Rhône valley consider that their previous name gave them a bad image since it was shared with a nuclear power-station that was implanted there some years ago. This may be the case, although I doubt if it really affects them much outside their immediate vicinity (can anybody outside of France name a French nuclear power station and then place it on a map?). Anyway; I am sure that they know best on this point. My point is that, given the opportunity provided by the proposed name-change, why on earth did they select a name that is even more complicated to memorise and pronounce than Coteaux de Tricastin? I would have taken the opportunity to find a nice simple one-word name that anybody in contact with the wine could remember and say. In fact I would have gone further and just called the wines Rhône, but that is another story and may have been impossible for silly administrative reasons.

Now can anybody seriously see themselves sitting in a restaurant or wine bar and asking for a glass of Grignan-les-Adhémar (I have probably spelt it wrong anyway)? I think that I should start an wine appellation called Trifouilly-les-Oies: it's bound to be a huge success.
Why are so many French wine producers (not all, thankfully) so bad at thinking outside their little local box?

25 Feb 2011

Let's crunch again

This photograph shows the scoreboard just after half-time at the Twickenham rugby ground during the last game played between England and France in the stadium that will harbour this Saturday's game between these two countries. I realise that, in showing it, I risk irritating some of my many French friends. Tant pis! The reason I have done so is not to suggest that this score (which included four tries) will be equalled in tomorrow's game. It is always very hard to predict the score of a rugby game and I will not attempt to do so this time. No, what this game showed, for the first time, were the intentions and capacities of the current English squad to play the kind of fast, attacking rugby that is the most attractive and successful currently being played in Europe at international level.

Since then, with a few blimps, they have continued with this style of play and its combination of cohesive force and speed, and it has gradually been mastered by the players. Even last year's game between France and England, played in Paris under poor weather conditions, was only narrowly won by France and it was England that made most of the play that day. The performances of the English rugby team during their summer tour to Australia, combined with their test matches last autumn and the first two games of the current 6-nations tournament, have shown that they are currently the only European side that has a serious chance of beating any of the top three world teams, all from the Southern Hemisphere: New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

As a lover of the rugby of movement, with the search for open spaces, a rugby where the ball-carrier tries to avoid or break tackles, remaining on his feet, and where individual and collective inspiration play a key role in creating suprises, I have been miserable in a recent past watching England play that boring, stereotyped game where players crash into the defense, lie down on the ball and lay it like an egg to the back-up players, rather like in Rugby League. The game I like to watch was played, occasionally, by France, often by Australia and almost always by New Zealand. Now England have managed to reinvent their rugby, and all true rugby fans should be glad, even if they wish for a French victory tomorrow.

I will watch the game here in France in a wine bar, surrounded by French people, friends and strangers, and applaud the team that plays the most beautiful game, even if I remain at heart an English supporter. It could be a very interesting game, with scrums fairly equal. Perhaps a slight advantage to France in this department. England probably have the edge in the line-out though, and they must have it in the back line, simply because their backs have been playing together for longer, and with more success, than the French who seem to change their team for almost every game. So England are the favourites for this game, but the French rugby team are never as dangerous as when they are the under-dogs, so it is not so easy to predict what will happen. Whoever wins this game has every chance of winning the tournament too, so it is like a final before the end, adding extra spice to the issue.

All I really wish for is a good game (and that expression will probably annoy some people further!)

24 Feb 2011

Bonnard is life

Just because I felt slightly guilty about having only offered you a quite smart but somewhat second-hand image today, I am giving you this offering as well. It is not at all original, but I love Bonnard, whose painting just reeks of the pleasure of living, feeling and seeing. It also makes me long for the summer and its magical light. Backlighting can work for painting just as much as it does for photography.

What is your riding position?

This drawing has been going the rounds on various motorbike-connected sites. The bike on the bottom right-hand corner happens to be a Ducati (the latest sportsbike, either a 1198 or 848), in case you were wondering. Toys for boys...

23 Feb 2011

Here comes the sun

Another train journey, some more images.
This time the sun rises... 

And those two little things in the sky are not jets heading for Paris, but chips on the TGV window pane.

Bon voyage

22 Feb 2011

The Mexican wave, or "olà"

I get increasingly annoyed by the silly practice of people jumping up and down in masses while throwing their arms in the air when they are in rugby stadiums. Apparently they also do this in other public sports arenas like soccer stadiums, but I never watch soccer. I have yet to see this plague hit cricket stadiums, but it may have done so.

The so-called "Mexican wave", or "olà", is seemingly carried out for no particular reason linked to the course of the game in progress, as it takes place quite irrespective of whether either side on the field have scored a try or marked other points or even have just conducted a spectacular or beautiful action. If this were the case, I would be more understanding! In fact I am fairly sure that most of those involved are not even particularly interested in watching the game that they have paid money to come and enjoy, preferring instead to indulge in this stupid collective habit and then booing and hissing at anyone who decides not to participate in this weird ritual.

For those who are not at all sure what I am talking about, here is a definition of the "Mexican wave" to be found in Wikipedia.

The wave (US) or the Mexican wave (British) is an example of metachronal rhythm achieved in a packed stadium when successive groups of spectators briefly stand and raise their arms. Each spectator is required to rise at the same time as those straight in front and behind, and slightly after the person immediately to either the right (for a clockwise wave) or the left (for a counterclockwise wave). Immediately upon stretching to full height, the spectator returns to the usual seated position. The result is a "wave" of standing spectators that travels through the crowd, even though individual spectators never move away from their seats. In many large arenas the crowd is seated in a contiguous circuit all the way around the field, and so the wave is able to travel continuously around the arena.

Now anyone reading this might well say to me "so who are you to criticize a sports crowd for having a bit of fun?" And they would be right, up to a point. After all, it is only a game and these people are not bashing each other senseless like football hooligans tend to do when they get together. But I am more than a little suspicious of mass crowd behaviour, its side effects and its sorry consequences in some cases. I am also, I think legitimately, annoyed when this piece of sheep-like jumping to one's feet prevents me from seeing what is going on on the field at various points during the game. After all, it may be just the moment when somebody is scoring the try of the century. So, please, just SIT DOWN and enjoy the game.

21 Feb 2011

Wine(s) of the week 13

Again, you get 2 for the price of one this week! This, by the way, is to make up for this rather poor photograph.

As nobody will be able to make much out of the labels, which are just as cluttered and poorly designed as my photograph is of lousy quality, I will have to tell you what they say.

The wines are both French and bear the same brand name: "A l'Origine". This could be diversely translated as "of the origin", "from the origin", or "in the beginning". The general idea induced being that the wines come from somwhere, I suppose. And in fact each wine in this budding range (the concept has just been launched) comes from a specific vineyard, whilst being grouped under a collective brand name. The idea is a good one, providing the cosumer with a signature that is, hopefully reliable, and access to wines from different parts of France under that signature. I will be very interested to see how this idea progresses, as it definitely fills a need. The key factor to its success will be the quality of the wines. The three wines I have tested so far have been more than decent and are worth their prices. The two wines shown above, one red and one white, are my favourites.

On the right is a white wine from Burgundy (chardonnay grape). It comes from the little-known Hautes-Côtes de Nuits appellation, is of the 2009 vintage and is produced by Patrick Hudelot. This region, which lies higher up than the famous Côtes de Nuits vineyards that mainly produce red wines from pinot noir, has made huge progress over recent years and this wine shows it.

tasting notes
Quite a powerful and complex nose, worthy of more expensive Burgundies but with that crisp touch that comes from the altitude and limestone soils. Very good presence on the palate, with quite chewy flavours and a slightly chalky texture. The general feel is finely dynamic, making one want to drink this on its own as an aperitive, or with good fish dishes.
consumer price : around 11/12 euros

On the left we have a red wine from the vast Côte du Rhône Villages appellation that spreads around the town of Avignon in the southern part of the Rhône Valley. Also from the 2009 vintage, It comes from a vineyard called Boulle, but we don't know whether this is the owner's name or the place name.

tasting notes
The nose shows a lively blend of fruit, spice and wild herb aromas, and clearly evokes a warm place. On the palate it is medium-bodied with strongish flavours, quite firm and yet very drinkable now if taken with food (stews, game red meat or mediterranean-type vegetable dishes). There is no excessive warmth from its alcohol content, despite this lying at an announced 14,5%. In fact this is very well balanced and finishes with a fresh feeling. 
consumer price: around 8/9 euros

20 Feb 2011

Billie Holiday is the best

I do not know of another singer that can move me quite like Billie Holiday. The lady's real name was Eleanora Fagan, which I actually prefer to her stage name. Yet the name Holiday she took from her probable father's own stage name, his real name being Halliday (hard to follow, isn't it, and nothing to do with the French pop singer who cannot sing anyway). Her youth was a successions of hard times, hard work and little play, and not much school in between. She died young (44) and lived an often sad life, despite the recognition that she earned during her lifetime. She was an extraordinary singer, with a totally original tone and way of phrasing that just blended and played with that of the musicians that worked with her, particularly Lester Young, who gave her the nickname of "Lady Day". But she was also a talented, though sporadic, songwriter and was very beautiful.

"Day and night, night and day", could have been a suitable epithet for her as the lady destroyed herself through misuse of various substances. Her love life was also tumultuous, occasionally intense and often harsh, and the poignancy of this shines through in several songs, perhaps no more so than the beautifully sad "Fine and Mellow". It was listening to this once again the other day that prompted me to write this article, and in fact to start a chapter on music in this blog. Here is a version sung late in her life. It may not be the best one in vocal terms, but the musicians, with, in order of appearance, Ben Webtser, Lester Young, and Gerry Mulligan (what else?), are the tops. That first solo of Lester Young!

Billie Holiday - Fine And Mellow
envoyé par alternativa. - Regardez plus de clips, en HD !
This song originally came out as the reverse side to her 1939 recording of her most famous song, "Strange Fruit", which spoke clearly about racial hatred and the atrocities that this provoked in the south of the United States, then and indeed afterwards.

Although the later pictures of her can show the effects of time, and the life she led, I fnd her just as beautiful, if not more so, than when she was younger (see right and in the video). When you hear how her voice evolves from the earliest recordings, with that clear-as-a-bell tone, to the later ones with the more husky sound and the often slurred words, you literally feel those traces left by life on this woman. But no other singer really matches her constantly changing rhythm, her phrasing that can lend different senses to the same text, and the sheer emotion that comes through in her best interpretations.

Lady Day for ever, through the night.

What is real? a follow up

I think the answer to this question (which could be the same as yesterday's, although I haven't asked it yet!) is rather clearer than that concerning the upper piece of underclothing on that young lady:

But other questions spring to mind.

Maybe this lady has been doing some gardening or building work and is just stretching to loosen her back or neck muscles? Her clothing would not be totally suitable in this case and she is wearing too many jewels on her hands and wrists. She also appears to appreciate the state of Texas, which may just indicate where this photograph was taken.

Anyway, very nice lacework again, wherever it comes from. Hope your weekend was good too.

Guzzi Guzzi (again)

At the risk of becoming boring, the day I published my short article and series of photographs of Moto Guzzi specials that I find both attractive and interesting for a sometime project, an article showing a rather horrible one appeared on the (otherwise excellent) daily bike site called Bike Exif. Here it is:

Now this thing (to me, obviously) has it all wrong. They call it a "café racer", but it has high bars and knobbly tyres. Ok so it is for off-road use? No way! Its exhaust goes under the engine, making it totally unsuitable even for going off a pavement (sidewalk) onto the street, let alone doing anything off-road. Also, on the practical side, the lack of a front mudguard is silly. On the aesthetic aspect of things, the colour of the seat is nasty, the number plate on the side is plain silly, but the rest is not so bad. Ok, nuff said...

What is very good about Bike Exif is that, with its almost daily offerings of very varied machines, always well photographed, it now provides links to two other bikes made either with a kindred spirit or around the same basic model. And this time I hit gold!

Take a look...

Mmmm, just love that. No silly tyres, plenty of oomph, and a feeling that this is built to be ridden fast. Let's have another pic...

Mmmm, I like that! And a bit of detail...

Not bad, even if I'm not so keen on this fashion for nappy-wrapping exhaust pipes. Now, if you care to go back to my quiz about which of the previously shown Guzzi specials I prefer http://morethanjustwine.blogspot.com/search/label/Motorbikes%20and%20other%20objects, you should be able to guess the answer now. The winning three are 2,4 and 6. The problem with 3, which isn't a bad effort otherwise, are those silly 1950's type tyres which surely don't grip well and the big one on the front must make the steering so heavy. Another silly fad in contemporary custom bike building. I told you I hate fashion.

Here we go with the winners. Now, anyone out there want to sponsor this project?

19 Feb 2011

What is real?

It takes a close look to see whether this lady's underwear has been painted (or drawn) on her or is a very fine piece of lacework! What do you think?

18 Feb 2011

Book-end blues

This could well be the title of a good old blues by, say, Skip James. Not that Skip James read many books, at least as far as I know (which isn't much). But in fact it describes a feeling well known to just about anyone who reads a bit and gets well into some of the books that they read. You just don't want it to finish, even if you may have been at it for some time. And you may well suffer from withdrawal symptoms when you do finish. I should add that I am a slow reader and also tend to read 2 or 3 books simultaneously, which can make the process last even longer.

So I often get those good old book-end blues.

The latest rendering of this all-time favourite is coming about as I near the end of a Swedish detective novel. Yes, yet another one. At some point somebody is going to have to look seriously into this matter, as the earnings made from Swedish detective novels has possibly gone past those of Saab and Volvo put together.

I have greatly enjoyed the Wallander books by Hanning Mankell, and have written on this blog (http://morethanjustwine.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-to-make-hero-go-away.html)   about how he has recently managed to phase out his main character, Kurt Wallander. Below are some pictures of Mankell, who looks much better than his character Wallender as played in either of the 2 TV series I have seen. 

I was also very impressed by the posthumously published Milennium trilogy by Steig Larsson, which has obtained a huge commercial success (over 50 million copies world-wide to date). This was hard to put down at the end of each book, and even harder at the end of the three, especially as one then knew that there could be no follow-up, since the man was dead. Or could there be? Now it appears that his lady-friend has written a sequel, based on notes Larsson had prepared. We shall see. Here is a picture of the actrice that played in the quite successful (I mean well done) cinema and tv adaptations, because she is just soooo......

So what is the latest find in the crime novel spate from Sweden? Well it may not be quite the latest for all of you out there in Sweden, or even in English-speaking countries, but here I am in little old France where things from the outisde world just trickle down slowly (and that could be the title of another blues: Trickle down slow). The excellent French publisher Actes Sud, who also published the Milennium trilogy and who must have made a mint of money with it, has published a novel by one calling himself Lars Kepler, and entitled The Hypnotiser. The same author, I believe, since published another one, so I will buy this in English as my Swedish is non-existant I am afraid, and I expect the English version will precede the French one.

On the left is the rather nasty cover of the French edition. Covers do not seem to be a strong suit of Actes Sud, at least in their crime series, although I like the graphic work in the rest of their publications.

It transpires that Lars Kepler is a pseudonym for a wife and husband team whose real names are Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril. What is certain is that this dual female/male perspective adds considerable credibility to a lot of the novel, and especially the parts that involve all kinds of relationships and exchanges between members of opposite sexes.

I won't tell you too much about the book, which is particularly well constructed and which, like the other Swedish crime books mentioned above, also incorporates a good look at some less-than-glorious aspects of Swedish society. But one of its themes is hypnosis and its possible side effects. Which is why I am also offering this to the French-speakers among you (actually you need to speak Québecois, which ain't quite the same thing!). If you don't already know Tête à Claques, its about time!


and please read on...

17 Feb 2011

Lyon for a weekend

Lyon, France’s third largest city, is just 2 hours from Paris by the fast TGV train. It is therefore at the ideal distance from France’s capital (or several other places) for a brief weekend trip.

Lyon is a city of two rivers, built right where the Rhône, coming from Switzerland to the east, and the Saône (see above), flowing down through Burgundy from the north, meet up. It has thus been for long a major crossroads of culture and commerce, and this shows in a lot of its architecture, which has a clear link with that of northern Italy.

Like most cities built around waterways, it is a great place to walk, as light and the movement of water slice through it, providing natural perspectives and variations. It also boasts some impressively large squares, like Place des Terreaux, on the left, which suddenly open up from the narrow streets that feed them, as well as a sizeable remnant of the medieval and renaissance town.

Where to stay
Lyon’s oldest district lies alongside the Saone river (you can get a glimpse in the photo to the right, in the background across the river). Known as Vieux Lyon, it lies within the city’s 5th district. This area is full of bars and restaurants, has a lot of beautiful old buildings, and is within striking distance (by bus, metro or foot) of Lyon’s two railway stations connected to the fast rail line. Most of it is pedestrian too. The very good art museum lies a short walk across a bridge. I reckon that this is the ideal area in which to stay. By the way, Lyon has free bicycles everywhere.

Two reasonably priced hotels are the tiny but modernised Hôtel Saint Paul (very small rooms, but with wifi everywhere and, even better, friendly and helpful staff), and, right opposite, the much larger and slightly more expensive and fun-looking Collège Hôtel, themed like a school (which I believe it once was), complete with classroom-like breakfast room and various quirky stuff. This is it on the left, and those are chairs glued on to the facade. Both are in the Saint Paul district which is touristic and full of various forms of night-life, incuding pseudo-pubs, “gothic” bars and other places catering to a considerable student population. But one can pick and choose and there are better things to be had.

Where to eat
I didn’t stay long enough to make a restaurant guide-book, but I tried the following:

Le Potager des Halles, 3 Rue de la Martinière, 69001 (tel : 04 72 00 24 84)
Near the Saône river, just across from the Saint Paul district of Vieux Lyon, this is a medium-smart but relaxed modern restaurant with very good, quite creative cuisine, and a well-chosen wine list. Good selection of wines by the glass too. Price for a meal is around 35/40 euros, and you can see the chefs preparing it next to the small restaurant room on the ground floor. There is a less expensive bistrot annexe next-door.

As you leave, take a look at the wall of the building almost opposite across the street. It hosts one of the famous trompe-l'oeil murals of Lyon, featuring a whole range of famous personnalities who have hailed from here or the surrounding area (see below).

Traditional small restaurants in Lyon are known as “bouchons”. Most of the family-run ones have now gone, but there are some decent ones still around, although a lot may have become tourist traps. I tried and liked this one :

Aux Trois Maries 1, rue des Trois Maries 69005 (Vieux Lyon) (tel: 04 78 37 67 28)

This is very reasonably priced (about 20 euros per head for a meal) and I had the best oeufs meurette I can remember. This is a local speciality involving eggs poached in a red wine sauce.


I also tried hard to go to a wine bar called Georges Five, run by a great character called Georges Dos Santos, who also has a wine shop called Antic Wine. The wine list is out of this world, but they seem to be closed or reserved for special events quite often, so best check in advanced. This is a place for wine lovers more then food lovers, although I believe the solid ingredients are good also. Maybe next time!


What to see and do

Situated on the Place des Terreaux, perpendicular to the town hall (see right) the Musée des Beaux Arts has a very impressive collection well laid out in a grandly spacious building which boasts a friendly café with an outside terrace, overlooking the large internal courtyard. Perfect for when you need a break.

There are fine collections of classical sculpture, as well as of paintings from the Renaaissance up to the 20th. century. Below is a fine portait by Manet. I will certainly reurn to Manet at some point in this blog.

Also well worth a visit is the superbly designed and laid out historical museum, called Musée Gadagne and in the Vieux Lyon (see street below). It is lodged in what used to be the residence of two of Lyon’s most illustrious families. As you climb up the floors, you pass from century to century, emerging at the top in a modern terraced garden with its restaurant/café. A successful combination of old building and modern interior design and scenography, and a fascinating journey through Lyon’s past.

The banks of the Saone in this area also harbour a sizeable Sunday art and craft market. As usual with such things, a lot of the stuff on show here is either horrible or just plainly derivative (at least to me), but there was some interesting work on dispaly. In any case, we all have different tastes. On the opposite bank there is a very good food market on Saturdays, perfect for buying local specialities.

All this was done in under 2 days, including travel from and back to Paris, while taking things easy and including a rugby match (the trip was during the European six-nations tournament) that I watched on tv in a kind of pub. There is of course much else to do and see in such a city. Another time…

all photographs by David Cobbold

16 Feb 2011

Moto Guzzi specials

Following last week's entry on what must have been my tenth bike http://morethanjustwine.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-tenth-bike-was.html
and one of my all-time favourites, I have put together a few pictures that inspire me (or will do one day not too far away) to build something based on that Moto Guzzi that I so much enjoyed riding. These pictures are already a pre-selection with ideas that I like.

Which one(s) do you prefer ?

There are good things about all of these specials that apparently use either the V7, or the 1000 SP as a basis. I know which one I prefer. Bear in mind that I am looking for simplicity and that feeling of brute force that I find is given out by this engine more than by any other bike.

Ride well!