Thursday, March 31, 2011

Henri's Museum - Albi, France

I've always had a passion for Henri Toulouse-Lautrec's art so to visit his family region, and see Albi's museum of his works will always be a special memory for me. Henri's art had a vibrant movement about it, and gave an insight to his subject's personality (if you looked far enough).
As a young art student (read that as smart arse), the little bloke enthralled me with his posters, chalk and charcoal sketches of prostitutes, Moulin Rouge ladies and the cafe patrons of Paris. Even his unfinished sketches had a completion about them. To me, you could read his art, get a feeling for the personalities he captured.

I saw some of his work on our 2006 trip to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, but it was not enough.
So for me, an art student (with very little talent) from the northern suburbs of Melbourne, it was a dream to be in Albi to see his original works.
Albi nestles on the Tarn river in the Midi Pyreneess. We stayed at the Hotel les Pasteliers on Rue Honere de Balzac within walking distance from the old town and the really interesting stuff. We booked into the hotel only to realise that the year before, the Tour de France had a time trial stage there and the CSC team stayed in the very hotel. Stuey O'Grady, an Australian was part of the team that year but crashed out in an earlier stage.
We took our bags to the room which was very comfortable and the concierge was most welcoming. We would certainly recommend the hotel for a short stay.
Here's a link to their website

The Berbie Palace is home to Henri's collection - you enter by a small entrance to the side of this grand building. Not grand as Grandiose but an austere grand. Its red brick facade is bland but impressive.

Inside were works that I was familiar with from my old study books and many that I was not aware of.

Henri's father was a very strange man, taken to dressing very flamboyantly. The painting of his father, Count Alphonse mounted on his horse while having a Falcon on his wrist gave an insight to the admiration he had for his father. At the time of this painting, Henri did not have the ability to enjoy riding with his father due to his disability. In fact the painting was long after his parents took different paths

He did however have the ability to paint the movement of people and creatures which he could not himself experience.

He left the family home Chateau de Bosc (more later) at a young age when his parents separated. His mother took him to Paris where his talent for drawing emerged.

Wikipedia can tell you much more about Henri follow the link.

As we walked away from the museum, under my arm was a comprehensive booklet guide (which I still occasionly re-read) and a few reproduction posters of his work. One which is my prized pieces is naturally a bicycle poster.

How could you not like the man - he had a passion for bicycles!!!!!

And just for fun - The John Houston directed film of Henri's life at the Moulin Rouge.

The following day we decided to visit the family home of Henri. More about that next week.
Who was that lady in gum boots and the stockman's coat? I'll let Sue tell later.

All the photos here have been courtesy of the internet due to the loss of my own collection.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Trip To Brisbane

No Wednesdays in France this week. It's 1.30 am and I just arrived home after a very long day flying to Brisbane for business and return same day - Time I put the head on the pillow.
Maybe we might do it tomorrow night, but then it would be a Thursday in France.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Just Another Weekend & the Old Fish Market.

It's Saturday night and we have friends coming for dinner - It will be a relaxing night with some good wine to go with dinner.
On the way home Friday night, it was a wet cold trip. Summer certainly has deserted us and leaves are falling - I'll need to sweep the paving constantly now. Time to start trimming back the shrubs and trees soon as well.
I decided to call in to my favorite electronics store along the way to find that it was doing a roaring business selling the newly released iPad 2. I bought two DVDs and had to stand in line with all these people with iPads under their arms - surely they could have put them in another queue?

My two DVDs included a film we saw previously that had Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Meryl did a great job with the character of Julia Child in Julie and Julia. After seeing the movie, I bought a couple of books on her and also watched her on YouTube, Julia that is.

The other DVD is Mary and Max, directed by Australian Academy Award winner, Adam Elliot. I'll tell you more after we watch it. I will say that this animated movie includes the voices of Toni Collette, Barry Humphries and Eric Bana (all Aussies). We can't watch either of these as yet as we are still powering through the full series of the West Wing. Currently we are now into the second last series.

Tell us, what have you been watching lately? Maybe you can suggest a new series after the West Wing.

Melbourne's Old Markets part 1.
In the mid to late 1800's and early 1900's, Melbourne CBD had several markets. The only one still in its original location is the Queen Victoria Market or as most call it today, the Vic Market.

One market that does intrigue me though was the Fish market located in Flinders Street, not far from the banks of the Yarra River. The architecture of the building was very grand from what I've seen of the photos from the various years. I don't remember ever see the buildings but am aware of the location.
Standing on the same spot is a very futuristic building that can be more than a year or two old.

Probably before 1900 - no cars and cable trams. Trams still run down Flinders Street
I'd say we are still in the late 1800s here - still no autos.
More modern cars can be seen in this picture and I would say we have entered the 40s or 50s.
Maybe in future posts, I'll bring some more of our early markets of Melbourne. Their history is fascinating - their locations replaced by other buildings.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Marcia Hines - Saturday Song

She came to us as a kid of 16, and she stayed. She was pregnant when she had this role in "Hair". I was there at the time but didn't really know she was.
Marcia Hines has been part of the Australian music scene for all those years, and still is. Today she is a judge on Australian Idol and is so helpful to new and young talent here. Always positive.
I think she is a nice person. Tell me what you think - I'd like to know.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Funky Footy Friday

 I'm posting this Thursday night for Friday.
Footy - that's Australian Rules Football.

Now from the beginning I have to admit that I'm not a big fan, in fact I'm a fan of the anti-Football League.
As a kid I played footy - the only goal I ever scored was for the opposite team. My team mates were not impressed but I was quite excited that I actually got my boot to the ball.
I much prefer Lycra and cleated shoes than footy boots - oh yes and they hit each other, rather barbaric don't you agree.
Well, Melbourne goes footy crazy now until that "Sunday in September" when the grand final is played.
Give me the Paris Roubaix, the Giro. Le Tour where men are men, not buffoons giving each other a biffing occasionally. I say biff each other on the ascents of the European Cols.

Having said all of that - most of the population in Australia will talk nothing about footy for the next six months.

Thought I might post some vintage footy film which is actually a bit of good fun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Albi and Henri

Leaving Saint Chinian and Langeudoc was a little sad.
I could imagine life here in the south of France. Its history, wine and food are inviting. The price of real estate is also affordable. I guess this applies in many other areas of France as well, but for us, it has a special feeling now.

Driving out of Saint Chinian we immediately started to ascend on the winding two lane road towards Saint Pons where two years ago we were thrown out of the Super Marche because it was lunch time. Who ever heard of a supermarket closing in Australia so they could have lunch!!! Its kinda nice in a way, isn't it.
We decided that it would be our early morning stop to take in the memories of our past visit. At this higher altitude, the air was a little fresher and a scarf and coat were appreciated. It was only a short stop for coffee and a quick snack before moving on.
The drive from Saint Pons saw the weather change to drizzle, then heavy rain as we made our way at the higher altitude. Still climbing the air was getting colder, and the vegetation was replaced by rocky outcrops.

As we drew further towards Albi the terrain changed again, it became greener and flatter. We decided that Castres would be our midday stop, but it was closed – why don’t we learn that the French enjoy their lunch?
The skies did however clear and the sun started to peak out and offer some warmth.

Castres is located in the Midi Pyrenees heading into the Tarn Department. Its main attraction is the Goya Museum of Spanish painting - as was our misfortune, it was closed for lunch. Still it was relaxing to sit and admire the surroundings - a formal garden within the square, the architecture with a touch of art nouveau.
We were excited with the prospect of staying a few nights in Albi.
So we wandered the streets and enjoyed a snack before returning to the car for our final stretch to Albi.

Sue's looks down the canal running through Castres.
Pont Vieux - Albi with Sainte Cecile Cathedral rising above the city.

Sainte Cecile Cathedral.

The Bishops Palace "Palais de la Berbie" is now the home of the Henri Toulouse Lautrec Musee.
One of my favourite artists - Henri Toulouse Lautrec.
In our next post, we tell you about meeting a relative still living in the Chateau.
The gum boots lady.....

The pretty village of Albi France, with its old building facades and its quaint old town, is probably best known for an ugly chapter in its history. This was the first city to provide refuge to the Cathars, and is the origin of a later name that was bestowed on the religious sect, the Albigensians.
On a lighter note, this is the birthplace of the famous artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A visit to the city’s museum of the artist’s work is time well-spent.

Here's a little teaser before next week when we explore Albi in greater detail.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Phillip Island - Painting and the French Film Festival

Friday I drove down to Phillip Island. I had a last minute delivery of merchandise for the Historic Racing Register which runs an annual historic motor racing festival at the island. We use to go every year however interests change and life goes off in other directions. Both of us have previously played in our cars at the Phillip Island circuit with both the MG and Alfa Romeo car clubs and totally enjoyed ourselves.

Phillip Island was the venue of the first Australian Grand Prix back in 1928. It was held on dirt roads on public roads that formed a large square circuit. It was organised by the Light Car Club of Australia and run on a handicap system. Due to the smaller cars having to cover less distance, it was won by Col Arthur Waite from England in his Austin 7 Ulster.
 Returning to the Island gave me an opportunity to catch up with some old friends I hadn't seen for awhile and to view some cars that seemed like old friends as well.

One of my favorite sports cars is the  big Healey.
Not being able to afford the big Healey, we did own a Mini for some time that our boys did Motokhanas with. That was fun.
The Phillip Island racing circuit is set in the most picturesque location overlooking Bass Strait.
With the meeting being held in early autumn, one can sit on the grassy slopes with a bottle of wine, cheese and biccies and enjoy the scenery and the smell of Avgas as Classic and Historic cars show off down the main straight.
I'm still working on the side of the house so after my Saturday morning ride, it was off home for a shower and change into the work clothes - working on the house is becoming a little obsession at the moment.
I bought the paint we needed and some more timber for the window framing that had become rotten and hope to finish by Sunday. All the preparation was completed by the late afternoon by which time I was called in to get ready to go out. We'd been invited to join friends to have dinner before seeing a movie. Melbourne currently has the French Film Festival on.

Yes, we finally arrived after a meal at the local Italian eatery, just in time for the movie.

The movie we saw was "Age of Reason" starring Sophie Marceau. I'm not sure if I'd seen her before but I did enjoy the film. It was a gentle film about a young girl who had decided that she would leave her childish thoughts of dedicating her life to helping needy people to pursuing business success. I won't tell you any more but take the opportunity to see it. I liked it. 
We've just booked in for another film for Wednesday night - it's called "My afternoons with Margueritte" starring Gerard Depardieu and Gisele Casadesus. We all know Gerard but can anyone tell me about Gisele please?

During the night I remember hearing rain fall and wondered if I could paint the side wall of the house. On waking, the sun was shining and the sky was clear. The rain had cleansed the wall of all the dust from sanding and had saved me doing it. Painting started mid-morning and by the late afternoon I'd finished the section of the wall.
Half way done and feeling good.

A close up of my handy work - top half nicely sealed and top coated - the bottom section not far off.

Taken later when the sun decended - I kept coming out to admire my work!!!!!!!!!
It really was a sense of satisfaction - Sue rewarded me with a glass of wine and some comfort food to completed a very hectic weekend.

My reward for being a very busy boy.

Tell me about your weekend. What did you do?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Archie Roach - Saturday Song

The Stolen Generations (also known as Stolen children) is a term used to describe the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1869 and 1969, although in some places children were still being taken in the 1970s.

With Saturday Song I try to make it about Aussie singers - Archie (born in 1956) certainly is that.
He was one of the stolen children. At a very young age he was taken away from his parents near the banks of the Goulbourn River in Mooroopna, Victoria and put into a foster home in Melbourne.
One of those foster homes was with a family that inspired him musically.

Previously I've posted Saturday Song with Paul Kelly. It was one of Paul's band members that suggested that they meet and possibly open for Kelly's band which he did. Later as his popularity grew, Archie Roach opened for names such as Joan Armatrading, Suzanne Vega and Bob Dylan when they toured Australia.

He's released several CDs and I only bought my first one last weekend. His lyrics tell of his anguish of being ripped away from his parents and the general plight of the Stolen Generation.
It's only been in the recent past years when the Labor Opposition defeated the then Liberal Government that newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, officially apologised (saying sorry) for the pain the past governments caused the indigenous children and parents.

They Took the Children Away - Archie Roach

From little things, big things grow is a Paul Kelly song - it's about an aboriginal stockman that worked the land for a squatter and he couldn't understand why this man who was on his land, reaped the benefits.
Listen to the words - the reference to the big man was Gough Whitlam, the Labor Prime Minister at the time.
Writing this, I ask myself the question, why is it that the Labor Party have always championed the cause of our indigenous people?

If you have time, sing along...

Gather round people let me tell you're a story
An eight year long story of power and pride
British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri
We're opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle
Beef was his business, broad was his door
Vincent was lean and spoke very little
He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Gurindji were working for nothing but rations
Where once they had gathered the wealth of the land
Daily the pressure got tighter and tighter
Gurindju decided they must make a stand

They picked up their swags and started off walking
At Wattie Creek they sat themselves down
Now it don't sound like much but it sure got tongues talking
Back at the homestead and then in the town

Vestey man said I'll double your wages
Seven quid a week you'll have in your hand
Vincent said uhuh we're not talking about wages
We're sitting right here till we get our land
Vestey man roared and Vestey man thundered
You don't stand the chance of a cinder in snow
Vince said if we fall others are rising   

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri boarded an aeroplane
Landed in Sydney, big city of lights
And daily he went round softly speaking his story
To all kinds of men from all walks of life

And Vincent sat down with big politicians
This affair they told him is a matter of state
Let us sort it out, your people are hungry
Vincent said no thanks, we know how to wait

Then Vincent Lingiarri returned in an aeroplane
Back to his country once more to sit down
And he told his people let the stars keep on turning
We have friends in the south, in the cities and towns

Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting
Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land
And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony
And through Vincent's fingers poured a handful of sand

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

That was the story of Vincent Lingairri
But this is the story of something much more
How power and privilege can not move a people
Who know where they stand and stand in the law

From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow
From little things big things grow

[ Lyrics from: ]

Friday, March 18, 2011

1956 Melbourne Olympic Velodrome

The Olympic Velodrome in Melbourne was built for 1956 Melbourne Olympic velodrome. As a 14 year old I had my first experience of racing on the boards.

Us KIDS had the wonderful experience of rubbing shoulders with the. then greats of Australian and International cyclists - the Germans, Swiss, Italians, Brits and French raced here during their winter to enjoy our summer.

The Program below is of a meeting not long after the Olympic Games. Initially the track was built to International Olympic standard of 330 metres but later was shortened to 250 metres which offered the spectators a more thrilling experience. For the Games, the wooden surface was covered by concrete but when the track was modified, the boards were exposed and as you entered the venue, spectators would hear the rattle of the boards as the riders were warming up.

Yes it was a far cry from the modern indoor velodromes of today......I'm glad I had the experience of this era.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Narbonne and there-abouts

We love the Languedoc & Roussillon region of France. It was our first introduction to our travels to France. Sue's sister suggested that we needed to stay at Saint Chinian and she wasn't wrong. She and her husband stayed there previously and even put us in touch with Anthony and Andreas who organise stays in the region.
Today's trip wasn't meant to be a big day but that's the way it turned out. We had a few "don't miss spots" on our day out.
Oppidium D'Enserune (a pre-Roman settlement) that nestles above the Canal du Midi , Narbonne and Lagrasse, a sleeply little village that offered a memory that still instills a little chuckle in me due to a certain encounter.
But more about that one a little later.

Boats on the Canal du Midi taken from the bridge at Capestang.

On the banks of Canal du Midi looking under the ancient bridge.

Looking from the bridge, towards the village of Capestang. This village was on the route of Via Domitia, the first Roman road built in Gaul travelling from Rome to Spain.
We travelled through a town that we drove by on our way to Carcassonne two years before. This time we stopped to enjoy its serene atmosphere - Capestang sits on the Canal du Midi. Barges, boats flow under the bridge while ducks frolic near the edges of the canal. Looking towards the village a church/cathedral rises above the village homes. Capestang is on the route of the ancient Roman Via Domitia, the road that ran from Rome to Spain. We didn't know this as we lingered on the banks of the Canal du Midi while Sue salivated over the frolicking ducks.

Capestang is on the way to to Oppidium D'Eserune, which we wanted to visit. Its situated on the highest ridge within the district and you feel as if you are on top of the world. The early settlement dates back to more than 2500 years and later came under control of both the Romans and Hannibal. As luck had it, we turned up just as they were closing for lunch but it didn't stop us from fossicking around the hillside and admiring the view.

Some early settlement can be seen on the site of Oppidium D'Eserune.

The site was inhabited as early as 600 BC.

Looking down from Oppidium D'Ensebrune you see this cartwheel of fields that was a reclaimed waterland during the 13th Century. Quite an amazing site that can't be appreciated from ground level.
 It was definitely lunchtime so we moved on the Narbonne. We entered the city with a population of near 50,000. That's my sort of city, not too crowded and easy to manage. Parking was easy despite that we had entered on market day. It was held on the parkland beside the Canal de la Robine. Lunch was at a Cafe on the corner of Rue Gambetta and Cours de la Republique overlooking the canal. We don't remember much about lunch but the view and atmosphere of Narbonne on market day is to be remembered. It deserves more that a visit of several hours.
After lunch, we wandered over to le Halle, the covered market place and then to the former Abbey-Church which is now a Lapidary Museum - well the outside was impressive....

A close up of Narbonne's market Halle

Cheeses are my favourite, my passion, my downfall - two cholesterol tablets tonight please.
Walking down the canal passing what seemed to be a very French inspired McDonald's we discovered the Arch Bishop's Palace where a portion of a recent discovery of the Roman Via Domitia was uncovered. I couldn't believe that I could walk down and on to this piece of ancient history.
Further around through small passages was the Cathedrale de St-Just et St Pasteur - It amazed me, the architecture, stone masonry - gargoyles, it is magnificent.
As we walked through the old town towards the car, it was time to move on.

A small section of the ancient Roman road in Narbonne.
 Lagrasse is the largest and from our travels, the most picturesque village in the Corbieres region, although there are still many that we are yet to visit. We decided it was the place to stop for an sunny afternoon refreshment. We parked the Citroen and walked back up to the several cafes and restaurants in the main street and so rested our feet. While sitting there we were invaded by a group of Lycra clad cyclists who arrived for a refreshing ale. These were my sort of people. I asked if one of the group would take our picture and learnt that they were from Belgium.

Scenes from Lagrasse.

A sunny afternoon, a glass of wine and a group of cyclists to take our photo.
 One of them said he was from the same village as Tom Boonan,  a recent past world champion. Not wanting to boast too much I mentioned that I was from the same village as Stuart O'Grady (Paris Roubaix winner) and Cadel Evans (World Champion and TdF podium cyclist). I told him that Australia was a very large village. It was a nice meeting with some very nice people and probably the highlight of my day. I think Sue enjoyed the humour of the encounter as well.

With the weather being quite balmy, we returned to Saint Chinian for dinner and a chilled Rose before going to bed with the knowledge that we would be moving on to our next Destination. We had arranged two nights in Albi, home to Toulouse Lautrec and the great naval Officer and explorer that may have colonised Australia  for the French, Laperouse. Had it not been for the English arriving first by days, Australia may have been quite a different place.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Long Weekend

Friday night and the start of a Loooooooong weekend, Whahoooooo.

This the way we start our Friday nights - celebrating a weekend - this time a long weekend.
Figs, cheese, coffee and a desert wine.
Sue had the Champagne - well a sparking wine to start the weekend - it's a ritual...Did you know we can't call it Champagne any longer. A lot of Australian wines went by the name Burgundy, Hermitage and Chablis but the French put their foot down and told the New World that this wasn't allowed any longer. We then started calling our wines by the grape varieties as we don't have appellation districts.
So we call our wines, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or for the whites, Chardonnay, Marsanne, Verdhelo and Sue's favourite, Sauvignon Blanc. I remember Penfold's flagship, Grange Heritage having to change its name to just Grange when the French got their knickers in a knot. It now sells at $400 plus a bottle and more for the earlier vintages.

I stopped off at our local JBs, which is a CD/DVD and anything sound system store on the way home. I have shares in the organisation, both in what I've spent there over the years and within my share portfolio. Sometimes I'm sure I can see the shop assistants rubbing their hands together and whispering, "Here's Leon again".
I walked out with two DVDs and two Cds. One of the DVDs was the US sitcom, Family Ties - I remember it fondly as I do with other TV series with strong family values. Strange how the world changes and how naive these shows seem today, oh and the acting is soooo bad.

It wasn't the way I remembered it!
Melbourne has had two days of summer, I thought it had moved on, but no. It was in the high 20s and low 30s and yet while I write this in the study, rain falls on the window.
The early weekend weather gave me a chance to do some home maintenance, isn't that all the time? I needed to replace some weatherboards on our 1929 Californian Bungalow home. I have to say that I was very impressed with the job to date.
 Saturday I pulled away the weatherboards that were rotting and decided what was needed. Sunday I bought the timber required and fitted the boards. I have to say that I might be turning into a regular handyman. Its also very therapeutic for me as I'm basically just a common office boy during the week.

Pulled the suspect weatherboards off - OK what's next...
Where else would you buy your materials with a slogan such as this?

The last stage before painting - I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself.
I'm hoping to splash a bit of paint on the wall tomorrow. Monday is a holiday and the long weekend would allow me to "almost" finish the job. It's not looking good as I hear and see the rain fall outside the study window.
It's raining out side the study window.
 While I was doing all of this, our son Mitch spent the day as a volunteer at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and brought home the "Masterclass Recipe Book" for his mum. I can't wait until she starts experimenting with the contents. Keep you posted.

Our son Mitch worked at the Melbourne Food and and Wine Festival this weekend and he brought home pressies for his mum - isn't he thoughtful. 

With one more day to go, it's been a great weekend in Mentone, Melbourne so far.