Monday, June 26, 2017

Busy as a Bee...

Things have been hotting up here, in every sense, and yet I have ended up with... a cold.

This seems to be a strange state of affairs; feeling so low when the temperatures are so high...

And likewise unfortunate, when the work load is heavy. Finding moments of peace and tranquility is a little frustrating when you can't actually smell anything!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Retreat in the Sun near Aix-en-Provence...

I made the most of a fluke gap on my timetable to take a flying visit to the South of France - in the area surrounding Aix-en-Provence, to be precise.

Above all, this gave me the chance to catch up with old friends - the oldest, in terms of acquaintance, being my old correspondante française. A trip had been planned since the beginning of the year, but had never materialized, so last week saw me setting off into the sun.

And the blazing heat... Luckily, the early mornings were spent at the place of work, which happened to be in the most amazing grounds of a former Jesuit novitiate.

Built in the 17th century, as the county house for the Collège royal Bourbon d’Aix, known as the Bastide Saint Alexis, it changed hands in 1763 when the Jesuits were banned from the kingdom.

The bastide was finally bought back by the Jesuits in the middle of the 20th century.

It is now a cultural, spiritual and intellectual centre - La Baume-Les-Aix - that also offers hotel rooms at remarkably cheap rates. The term baume signifies an appeasing, soothing balm for the body and soul, and here it seems quite appropriate.

While it may not have the same glossy veneer as other, more modern, standardized establishments, the calm of the setting, wholly makes up for this. Who needs flashy, trashy facilities when you can walk down the long alleys of noble plane trees (les platanes), and wander around the lavender gardens?

Before the sun has fully risen, you can hear birdsong all around, followed by the cigales that suddenly come to life in the heat, just as they abruptly fall silent at dusk. Baume is also an aromatic and here the name finds its full strength in this setting.

No words could describe the rich quality of the smells in the early-morning provençal air here; pine resin, grasses, earth and dew, amongst other things that I simply couldn't define.

Well, all the above, plus endless conversations in great company were certainly balms to my spirit... and the odd glass of rosé never goes amiss!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sainte Clothilde in the Cold...

The Cathedral Notre-Dame naturally dominates the urban landscape of Reims and its imposing form can still be seen from the distance much as it has since its construction in the 13th century, despite the intrusion of modern buildings. Another contender here is the relatively 'recent' edifice of  Basilica of Saint Clothilde (Basilique Sainte-Clothilde), built at the very end of the 19th century.

Unfortunately, most of the dramatic views of Sainte Clothilde are to be seen from the motorway so I have to content myself with photos from a far greater proximity. These look stark and imposing during the winter months; the summer hides everything behind leafy trees. The day I visited, the skies were dark and damp, the temperatures freezing and the doors firmly locked so I never managed to see the interior of the basilica.

What I like the most is the slightly oriental 'feel' that emerges from the mass, from certain angles. In fact, that was indeed intentional on the part of the architect resposible for its design.

Sainte Clothilde was conceived in 1896 as a commemorative church to mark the forteenth centenary of the baptism of Clovis, the great historical figure as first Christian king of the Franc kingdom. His conversion to Christianity is said to be due to the influence of his wife, Clothilde, hence the name of the basilica we see today.

It was also designed to house a reliquary offering an impressive collection of items of religious significance, 'les reliques', in the crypt. These I have yet to see, though this will be more out of curiosity than any religious feeling on my part. There are some two thousand Relics!

Cardinal Langénieux, archibishop of Reims, ordered the construction of an edifice that would be dedicated to the saints of France; Sainte Clothilde.

The Rémois, Alphonse Gosset (1835-1914) took on the task of designing Sainte Clothilde. Gosset was a well- established  architect, with the creation of the Grand Théâtre de Reims, the grounds of the champagne house Pommery and the workers' districts of the city  to his name.

The neo-byzantine style was employed and the basilica is based on the form of a Greek cross. The stature is imposing.

Drawing inspiration from his research work published in 1877, Les Coupoles d'Oriént et d'Occident, Gosset makes references to Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome and the church of Saint Augustin in Paris.

The rather detailed brick structure looks very sober from a distance and the angular forms of the towers are set off by the rounded forms of the domed roofs. At dusk, the skyline is quite magical! In the summer, the atmosphere is lively and the open-air Sunday market of Quartier Sainte Anne held around the basilica brings another feel to the site all year round.