Anna Belleforte

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Fouquet's Chateau

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 15, 2017 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (2)

A final tourist stop at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the precursor to Versailles, built by Louis XIV’s finance minister. I’m of two minds. The ridiculous opulence of it all. It’s what happens when someone has too much money, or rather, access to too much money since it was embezzled from taxpayers (for which he was fortunately jailed). But then, how amazing that creativity was funded and given free reign; architect, artist and landscaper working from scratch to create a kind of perfection in their time. Inside I was most drawn to the furniture and its total outmodedness: daybeds, skinny-legged writing desks, cabinets with a hundred tiny drawers. One such cabinet had splices of polished rock, framed as special features, which had the look of tonal landscapes. It’s interesting that in the 17th century, an age of realistic painting and portraiture, they recognized a sort of abstract art in these.


It is the tangible aspects of making art that appeal to me most: lines (clean or broken), creating tonal contrasts, making marks, mixing colours and seeing what happens… while I struggle most with the intangible: deriving purpose out of these actions and injecting or uncovering ‘meaning’ in the art, which seems to be what the art world deems necessary. (Though I do believe the meaning is often attached by others in that art world after the making.) But these 17th century designers weren’t at all concerned with this. They just put the materials they worked with out there, in the best possible light. Purely for the visual pleasure of it. If there is such a thing as universal beauty, then I believe it is what results from human hands crafting materials from their surroundings, which can take any number of forms but will never fail to be visually appealing to the human eye.

 

Bourges and the Loire

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 14, 2017 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

France has a number of dead straight roads between, I would guess, once important trading cities. It’s thrilling to come to the top of a road like this and suddenly see before you something of perfect symmetry: the road stretching for miles over several hills, greens fading into blues and then the dip in the forest at the end which is the road slicing through. (Painting idea logged.)

Bourges was a surprise, in that its name is non-descript and recalls nothing of note (in my art history brain), and yet what an impressive cathedral. Very sculptural with flying buttresses and an intricate, story-full tympanum which, judging by the clean stonework has been restored – even to the extent that Christ’s arms and hands (usually lopped off during the Iconoclasm) have reappeared in an oddly veiny, muscular way (perhaps it was just the marbling). Next to the cathedral was this worthy French phenomenon found in many cities: the Musee des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France – a museum for showcasing superb local craftsmanship, from metalworking and carpentry to pastry-making and Plexiglas art. Fantastic to see the skill needed to clad all the curves in typically French roofs and dormers, and see it up close.

And yet, some villages in France are a drab mass of cracked concrete rendering. I find seeing the stones that make up the building so much more pleasing. Smooth rendering can be beautiful too, but it loses its appeal quickly when it’s no longer crisp and clean. Passing into the Loiret region I noticed there were suddenly a lot more brick buildings. Makes sense, since bricks are made from river clays and I was approaching the Loire. I’m now camped right on the Loire. It’s another superhot day and, maddeningly, the swimming pool doesn’t open until July (!!). That’s a kind of torture for me. I can’t see myself going for a dip in the Loire since there are fish bigger than me in it.

Medieval villages

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 13, 2017 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (1)

I’m back on N-roads and finding an excess of charm. First stop was Brantome, north of Perigueux, an abbey town with structures built into the cliff and, opposite the river, cute smiling pigs illustrated to advertise pork delicacies. This always rankles me a bit when, of course, their destiny here is anything but happy. The town attracts plenty of tourists. Many British, though perhaps they live here, as evidenced by the ‘So British’ fete next weekend. (I can’t imagine the French organising a celebration of Britishness of their own volition, and in a quintessentially French town at that, but I may be wrong.) One British woman was admiring it all but pointing and commenting to her husband: ‘all so pretty, but look, it’s such as shame they can’t be bothered to pull out the weeds.’ Yet they were very pretty, colourful weeds and so I photographed them! One woman’s weeds are another’s flowers.

A little further towards Limoges there’s St.Jean-de-Cole. A very relaxed-looking place, due to unpaved streets and a loose sort of (Medieval) planning of buildings, and yet the buildings were significant: a robust Romanesque church, a chateau, a mairie, ancient residences of 2-4 stories... The ensemble was the very definition of quaint, though oddly scaled making it quite playful (like toy buildings). I immediately had fantasies of setting up shop here in the summer, a ground-floor gallery in my little village house with lavender shutters and red geraniums hanging in the windows. My second immediate thought was the reality check: French Chamber of Commerce, taxes, the need to learn better French…

Dordogne and Perigord

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 12, 2017 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (3)

Southwest France is full of extremely beautiful villages on rivers with huge stone churches and colourful shutters in disrepair. Today in St Astier there was a nice market - foods and antiques. I love perusing for old building tools, but for the most part it was lots of old junk from grandma’s attic I can’t imagine anyone wanting (and I love old things). But who’s to say? You can’t help but notice there are a lot of economically depressed French about. (Or is it a lifestyle I’m misinterpreting?) Evidently the town is doing its part in sprucing up with road repairs, rejuvenated public spaces and even public benches painted pink.

The trouble is it’s almost too damn picturesque. Bridges sweeping into compositions, erratic honey-coloured masonry, reflective waters and potted flowers will always make a great image. One that everyone will have photographed or painted at some point. It’s hard not to just be taken in by the beauty of it. How do I contribute a unique perspective? I try to focus sometimes on the details rather than the big picture. Or patterns that appeal to me, or potential abstractions that emphasize lines. Morsels I’ll have to fatten when I get back.

Basque country

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 11, 2017 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (1)

I’ve seen many cyclists travelling with a teddy bear strapped onto their bikes and onto their tents when they've set up camp. Too many to be a coincidence. Anyone know what the significance is of this? I haven’t yet mustered the courage to ask these people, why are you travelling with a stuffed animal?

I had planned to spend more time in Spain, but after Portugal, Spain seems to have a different flavour. In Portugal I encountered friendly and efficient (a quality I appreciate) people, in Spain they seem lacklustre and tired of tourists already, and their season has only begun June 1st. Probably my encounters were just the exceptions rather than the rule. The added frustration of supermarkets being closed in the afternoon until 5pm didn’t help…In any case, I moved on to France. And here campground receptions are closed from 12-3 (!!), another source of frustration when I was desperate for a cool-down in a pool.

Bidart, just under Biarritz, is a prosperous little town magnificently situated above the Atlantic, with a landscaped trail from town down to the beach where there are lots of surfers and beautiful rock formations: strata that are coming apart. This is still Basque country and it doesn’t quite feel French. The houses have deep overhanging roofs and Tudor-style (I’m sure they have a Basque word for this) facades of white plaster and wood beams. And many have a decorative row of triangular pigeon holes, or painted triangles, on their fronts, probably not for said birds, but for what? Attic ventilation? The typical Basque font is also everywhere: ethnic-looking letters with wide feet and the A with a line balancing on its tip. 

leaving Portugal

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 6, 2017 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (2)

There’s something about Celine Dion’s greatest hits that make me cry ugly and feel good at the same time. So I was bawling my way across the border into Spain. I have the feeling I’m leaving Tully behind, and of course, I am. I was hoping to take lots of pictures of my dog in great scenery, you know the kind where he’s not aware he’s being photographed as he stares out to sea, or looks over his shoulder at some beautiful fountain, or indeed (as he often did) plonking his paws on the rim of the fountain to get at the spouting water.

So I had thought perhaps I could find a postcard of a Portuguese Waterdog. But I didn’t see a single image or souvenir relating to the Portuguese Waterdog anywhere in Portugal. Nor for that matter a single PWD living locally. Plenty of Portuguese roosters, cats, horses and fish painted on tiles, leather or cork. You’d think they might exploit it a little bit with Obama famously taking a PWD as White House pet. (For the record: we had one before he did.) I know there is a pack living in the Ria Formosa national park on the Algarve, because we visited there several years ago. There they live ‘in the wild’ (within the care of the national park). I can’t say Tully had as great a life as that… but I think he had it pretty good with us: certainly he appreciated the comfort of good linens.

 

Chaves near the northern border

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 5, 2017 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Chaves is one of the most pleasant towns I’ve come across. It oozes ease. It’s a little disused around the edges, with empty grand hotels and ruinous river cottages. It seems to have had a heyday in the 1920s-30s. But it’s premier heyday was under the Romans. And it has a Roman bridge still in use, built by Trajan no less. (A moment to pause and awe.) There was enough wind over the bridge to throw your skirt up and your hat off (so composure was lost for some seconds). There really is always wind in Portugal, wherever you go. I suppose the Atoantic has something to do with that. I’m surprised they don’t have more art related to wind. I do see a lot of water-related public art and lovely tiled water sources, and the generic symbol for a town here is a fountain. One of Chaves’s roundabouts has taken this flat symbol (a basin on a foot with 3 spouting lines) and made it three-dimensional. Funny when that happens over time: taking a typical fountain, distilling it into a stylized symbol, and then turning this into a real fountain again. One of the main squares in Chaves also has fun rhythmic water shooting up from the ground, making great splashing sounds as each individual projectile upwards lands again. Kids were having a ball guessing which was to come up next.


the stunning Douro

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 4, 2017 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (2)

I felt like covering some kilometres today, and chose not to go into Coimbra, despite camping here overnight for the purpose. Felt a tad guilty, but I’m a bit citied-out at the moment. But also, I’m now saving parts for a future visit with A. Central Portugal is an area worth coming back to. The drive from Coimbra to Penacova was incredibly scenic, hugging green cliffs along a river with lots of Sunday rafters. Then I hit the magnificent landscape north of this and the Douro. The wow was aided by the perspective from the highway which twists and winds its way through, almost cinematically. It’s all so verdant, with terrace upon terrace of vines and villages. I’m not sure what makes it so majestic here (there are plenty of wine regions that are picturesque); I think the hills are higher, the valleys deeper and the bridges more curvaceous. As a solitary driver it’s hard to catch everything, though I did take some right-hand photos while driving – a feat I risked because there really is nobody else on the highways here. After Vila Real the landscape changes abruptly and becomes rockier and drier, which I feel actually, is a more interesting landscape to translate into art: more unexpected shapes, more colour variety, more meandering lines. You can only get so much artistic mileage out of green hills.


Tomar

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 3, 2017 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Tomar is a fine city, though alarmingly empty of shoppers on a Saturday. The big draw here is the Convent of Christ set up on the cliff overlooking town. And an amazing structure it is. Having studied the architectural drawings of the early Renaissance draftsman/architect Serlio, I was amazed to see his drawings come to life – nearly to the line. Every fantastical architectural element, from spiralling stairwells and a profusion of niches to coffered ceilings and sculpted rope, it’s jam-packed into there. I think they literally used Serlio’s book as a catalogue. But there’s also something like 5 cloisters (I forgot to count) from different periods spread out over the complex. Most fascinating of all, and I expect why the visitors come – even busloads of only men (how often do you see that?) – is that this was the headquarters of the Knights Templar from the 12th century. All over town the Knights Templar motif can be seen, even meticulously chiselled for the sidewalks (yes, paving again).


European campings

Posted by Anna Belleforte on June 2, 2017 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (2)

Relaxing day at the Redondo campground (near Tomar), with a view onto an olive tree lane.  I’ve spent nearly a decade now (!!) camping all over Europe (on holidays – not 10 years straight!) and my favourite places to camp are the ones very close to interesting towns. Here my list of some amazing historic towns I’ve come across - so not the well-known big cities (most of these have ‘city campings’ as well). These are interesting towns, some less known to foreigners, that have campgrounds in or within a walking distance of generally 2 km or less, enough to keep you entertained for a couple of days:

San Giminignano, Tuscany, Italy

Santillana del Mar, north coast Spain

Torun, central Poland

Svendborg, Denmark (via passenger ferry across the water)

Evora and Amarante in Portugal

France is a special category because they have a lot of ‘camping municipals’ – city-owned property so super central:

Bayeaux (of the tapestry), Samur (Loire), Saintes (above Bordeaux), Metz, Dijon, Calvi on Corsica

You can probably find all of these by googling, or get in touch if you’d like the name of the campground. By the way, these will all have bungalows/chalets to rent.



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