Sanary-sur-Mer part 2

Last week we gave some pictures and text about our visit to Sanary-sur-Mer, and focused specifically on the seafront. That, however is not the limit of Sanary’s charms. There are, for example, some charming side streets and small shops, which appear to be selling the sort of things ordinary people buy as opposed to the €10,000 watches and €5,000 dresses that you find in the shops of St Tropez. There also seemed to be a number of restaurants which didn’t immediately have you gasping at the prices. It certainly has what is clearly a very popular bakery. We haven’t seen queues like this outside a bakery since some of the days of heavy fighting in Beirut. Here, however the motive seemed to be the pursuit of quality rather than simply getting bread to eat.

There are three striking buildings on the seafront and one abomination. The first striking building is the very Mediterrean maire (town hall) in coral pink.

The second striking building is the church of St Nazaire, which particularly remarkable because of its modern frescos: sufficiently recent to include Mother Theresa but done in a distinctly un-French and more modern Greek Orthodox style. One of the pleasing features of this church is the fact that – unlike most large French churches – it doesn’t major on gloom and shadows .

The third striking building is the rather remarkable tower, which apparently until a few centuries ago, was actually in the sea. It is now part of a museum for underwater archaeology, but its chief attraction is that you can actually climb up to the roof on a succession of interesting stairways. They are sufficiently demanding that in Britain that would be banned to all but professional gymnasts. But here in France there didn’t even seem to be a warning. There are great views from the top.

view from the top of the tower

The abomination is the hotel and other buildings that manage to obscure the lower two-thirds of the tower. There must be a very strong suspicion that one of southern France’s notorious “curious planning decisions” was responsible.

Finally, on the west edge of the bay, are a number of elegant houses (and less than elegant blocks of flats). But fans of Mediterranean architecture will find much to charm them.

You will have gathered that we enjoyed Sanary and wouldn’t mind escaping down there off season in winter while the cold weather lashes the lands to the north. And, to end on a meteorological note, we finally had a day of rain this week after three dry months. On Monday the temperature was around 30°C, Tuesday when the rain came it was barely 13°C at the most and then on Wednesday it had bounced back to something like 28°C . It was something of a shock.

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Sanary-sur-Mer part 1

For almost as long as we have been down here, we have come across references to Sanary-sur-Mer, which, the sat-nav program tells us, is a mere hour’s drive away. Hitherto, we’ve avoided making the trip. The main reason for this has been the monstrosity of the Toulon Tunnel, which is a near 2 km-long stretch of autoroute that goes underneath the town. It’s frequently the site of accidents and closures and the thought of being caught in it during a heatwave is a considerable deterrent, not only to us, but also to most other people. Anyway, we braved it the other week and were very glad we did.

Sanary is a lovely coastal town that reminds you a bit of what St Tropez might have been today if it hadn’t been ruined by Mme Bardot and the Jet Set. It is also an interesting town with a lot of history. Cunningly, we arrived early and were able to park on the seafront, enabling us to easily wander around the edge of the harbour.

It would be foolish to claim that Sanary is unspoilt, but unlike St Tropez or Cannes, it was possible to mingle with the crowds for a long time without hearing any other language than French. There is also a thriving Saturday market and clearly a very active trade in fishing. [Note: the photos below are in a ‘gallery’ format so if you want to see them larger, just click and move between them using the arrows]

One particular speciality of Sanary is the old painted boats which – this being France – are now declared national monuments and, are no doubt, now surrounded by a weight of legislation.

Kaliopi was built in 1926 and Marius in 1941

One remarkable curiosity about Sanary is that shortly after Hitler’s take-over in Germany much of the beleaguered artist community there (some, but not all, of whom were Jewish) saw which way the wind was blowing and decamped en masse to Sanary. Most of them stayed there until the Fall of France, at which point they either met a grisly fate in the concentration camps or escaped to other parts of the world. A commemorative stone outside the tourist office lists a galaxy of German artists (including Mahler’s wife and Thomas Mann). One slight aberration is that Aldous Huxley also found his way down to Sanary and wrote Brave New World while here. A curiously utopian place to write a dystopian novel.

On a final note, all is proceeding well with the house move and we are somewhat gratified at the slight improvement in the state of the pound. May it continue!

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Cardboard boxes, churches and constitutional crises

Well, after an eventful and somewhat stressful couple of days where it seemed as if the sale was off, it looks as though we have sold our house and, as such, made another giant leap towards moving in October.

We will miss this view and this walk when we move, but there are others where we’re going

The slight caution is that French contracts include a clause that allows a party to withdraw within ten days so we still have a few days before we are safe. But we are reasonably confident that this should all go ahead now. The only remaining major issue is that we need a fair amount of euros in mid-October and now is not the time to transfer money from UK. But when? Anyway, we have started packing up and the house is filling up with boxes. We have calculated that we have around 25 m of books so packing them is going to be a challenge. 

We are also planning our move which is complicated for two reasons. The first that we need to synchronise the final sale of our own house with the final purchase of the new house: complicated because the relevant notaires are in fact an hour’s drive away.  The second is that our nice new house in Lorgues is down a narrow road which is probably going to be a little bit difficult for any UK sized removal juggernaut: so we will have to use smaller vehicles. (Actually, given the narrowness of most French village streets the tendency here is to use multiple vans.)

Not a lot of turning space, but perfectly possible for smaller trucks

We have we think mentioned here that there is a small Anglican fellowship in Lorgues. It meets every two weeks and at the moment has been gathering in a rather superior garden. Chris was there on Sunday preaching and we had around 30 people. At the moment we are juggling with ways of helping out here as well as continuing our deep commitment to Cannes. Watch this space!

Above, before the service and below, the bring-and-share lunch

Finally, and reluctantly, we do have to make a few observations on the appalling mess of British politics at the moment.  Obviously as British citizens living in the European Union we are very much on the front line whichever the hard, soft or (please) no-Brexit options transpire. One gathers that if you are a UK resident, you might not be aware of the plight of Britons in Europe as, with a few noble exceptions, there seems to be not the slightest interest in our fate in Westminster. Well it’s stressing!

The reaction here among ‘the French’ is striking. Given the long history of instability here, many French people – perhaps most – have held an enormous, if slightly grudging, respect for the stable British political system on the other side of the Channel. The shock now at the disarray in Westminster is almost palpable. It is as if elderly aunt of impeccable character had suddenly gone on a foul-mouthed, knife-wielding rampage in a tea shop. That Britain should have a Prime Minister someone who is manifestly devoid of virtues and full of vices that he unashamedly revels in has astonished people.  That, in the last few days, he should manage to suppress ‘the mother of Parliaments’ is seen as utterly beyond belief.

You can’t quite see our new house, but here’s the view from further up the hill

Deeper thinkers here, puzzle – as they ought – at the failure of the monarch (that long claimed bulwark against tyranny) to act and the total absence of a written constitution. This latter raises a very significant point. One result of Britain’s long and deep-rooted Anglican Protestantism was the emergence of a universally agreed code of behaviour which meant that some things were completely off-limits; decency was the norm and everybody could be expected to ‘behave like gentlemen’. It was long prophesied from pulpits that the erosion of the Christian faith in the public and political world would remove any such constraints and so, sadly, it seems to be. In the absence of an unwritten code, it’s definitely time to get a written constitution formulated for the future. Unfortunately, it may well be too late. Those setting out on the long road to unrestrained power are not likely to welcome anything that challenges their authority. Here too there is a continental perspective: people over here remember figures that we have never had: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and France’s own Pétain and they worry for Britain. As well they might.

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High summer (3)

As we come into the end of August there is a definite sense of things cooling down and we are seeing some of the first thunderstorms bubble up on the plateau to the north of us. Nevertheless it is still August, and the final migration northwards of the what seems to be the entire French nation (is there anybody left in Paris?) is not due until Saturday 31 August, with schools starting on the Monday. So, it’s a good time to look back on a cluster of wildlife photographs, some taken over a number of visits to Courmettes. Unfortunately but inevitably we’ve missed some of the things we have seen but not photographed: the wild boar running across the woodland path, the geckos scuttling around under the eaves, the flock of 40 Bee-eaters circling over the house, the three Rollers wheeling around as they chased insects. But let’s let these stand as a sample of what there is.

Next week we will update you on our move but for the meantime let’s stay with nature.

Swallowtail, Common Blue, Fritillaries, Painted Lady.
Emperor and Scarlet dragonflies near the pond at Courmettes
Humming-bird hawk moth: very difficult to photograph as they move so fast!
But here’s one that doesn’t move: beautiful teasel heads, again at Courmettes
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High Summer (2)

Given that summers are so hot and dry down here, water is incredibly important. In fact, it would be very surprising if anyone coming to our part of Provence for a summer holiday did not anticipate spending a considerable amount of time sitting by some beach, lake or swimming pool. So here’s a sequence of water-themed pictures.

The coast at this time is inevitably busy, crowded with people from every corner of Europe. This being the Côte d’Azur, the water is filled with almost every conceivable means of floating, sailing or just getting around, often with as much noise and speed as possible. Tranquility is not a great value. About the only thing we haven’t seen this summer is a submarine.

This heavy use of the coastline has policing implications and at one beach we were somewhat amused to see a police launch tackle a couple of tourist boats moored far too close to the designated swimming areas. But it makes sense. It’s all too easy for boats to overlook the fact that there is someone snorkelling or swimming just in front of them. What would be fascinating to know whether the owners of such misbehaving boats are breathalyzed. Fatal boating, swimming or diving accidents along our coast are almost a daily occurrence in summer. One small but significant element of this must be aging millionaires taking their last breath on their luxury yachts.

They were supposed to moor the other side of the line of big yellow buoys…

Given that this summer has been rather worryingly dry, forest fires have been a major concern. In fact one reason for going to the beach is that the forests are frequently off limits to walkers. The result of this has been fairly frequent but effective use of the water bombers (“Les Canadairs”) stationed along the coast. And when we were at Lac Sainte Croix a few weeks ago we had good if somewhat distant views of a pair spectacularly diving down the lake to take up water.

Finally, we have had a few small storms, which have been extraordinarily welcome, even if you do have to remember to unplug sensitive electronics before the thunder and lightning begins. As we write this in the middle of the month there seems to be a sense that the temperatures are fading and that we’ve had the last of the heatwaves. But it’s universally agreed that we could do with a lot more rain. Please!

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High summer (1)

Summer brings its usual share of odd sights down here. There’s something about the Côte d’Azur that unburdens otherwise sane people of their inhibitions and sometimes, their common sense too.

But lets start with a beach photo: here’s one of the newly refurbished public beaches in Cannes. How do you refurbish a beach you may ask? Answer, bring in lots of sand, extend the beach both towards the sea and along the bay, and then put in new steps and toilets. But it’s good because its gives the public more space at the expense of the wealthy: a rare example of égalité in practice. And by midday it’s full!

Cannes is a place you see lots of people taking selfies. But we’d never seen anyone try to take a selfie for their dog before. And, although it’s not uncommon to see dogs in pushchairs along the Croisette, a supermarket trolley with a dog is an unusual sight, even for Cannes. It could be remarked that only an ‘I’ stands between Cannes and canines.

On a more serious note, nine young people from our church and four adults (including our chaplain) have just got back from a two-week trip to Uganda to help in a development project. You can read about it on our church website – they managed to produce a blog themselves every day.

M. and Mme. Macron are currently only thirty miles away as the crow flies and turning up randomly at various local villages. Hopefully staying sane while idiocy reigns across the Channel. No sign of them in Taradeau yet but they’d be very welcome.

There are people for whom having an enormous yacht is not enough: they need a helicopter too.

Finally, for those of you following our planned move, here’s the latest. Having committed ourselves to buying the house in Lorgues, we were getting a little bit despondent about our present house being sold. However, we had the pleasant surprise of our Belgian neighbour saying his sister would be very interested in it; unfortunately she can’t come and visit until 22 August, but she’s sufficiently enthused that we’ve already signed a provisional contract with a get-out clause for her. So, for those of you who pray, two things: first, that she really would like this house and we can go from a provisional purchase to an agreed one, and second, even if the house is going to be sold we’re going to have to find well over €100,000 in the middle of October. Originally we had more than enough in our UK bank to cover this, but with the chaos now enveloping the UK even deeper, we are looking at exchange rates with a slight degree of unease.

Is it possible, we (and many others) wonder, that the whole Brexit strategy was deliberately designed to wreak the British economy and render the nation the laughing-stock of Europe? Unfortunately from here, that seems to have been what’s happened.

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A medieval miscellany

Somehow, two years have passed since the last Médiévales (medieval festival) at Les Arcs-sur-Argens, our neighbouring village. Sensibly, for an event that requires such an enormous amount of preparation and takes over the whole town centre, they only do it every two years. But it’s so spectacular and interesting (we spread it over three whole blogs in 2017) that even though we’ve seen it twice before it still merits a visit. Below we simply put a few of the photos we took this year.

Band with horn trumpets

If you want your own horn, here’s where you buy it; probably for drinking out of rather than using as a trumpet
Demonstrating different types of armour, weapons and helmets

What is quite interesting is the number of young people who seem to get involved in it. Whether it’s the influence of Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones or even conventional history teaching, there seems to be no shortage of youngish folk willing to dress up in either ancient elegance (gowns, veils, wimples) or medieval punk (rags and scraps of distressed leather) and wander round with swords and spears, pennants and potions or sit around quaffing mead amid tabors and lutes and crude saws and lathes.

This fascination may of course be not so due to the lure of the past but to a disillusionment with the present. Life, it seems, may have been nasty, brutish and short then, but from a certain perspective it still seems more attractive.    

However even if you’re wearing medieval costume you still have to go through security. Not sure what the guy in the kilt was doing there though….
Genuine looking wood-working tools haven’t changed much over the centuries but the plastic bottle seems a bit inauthentic.
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