Thursday, November 30, 2006

Doors in Eze

A smiling faun's head set above the door of a shop selling tapestry largely based on the famous tapestries of La dame à la Licorne [The Lady and the Unicorn] that are now in the Musee de Cluny in Paris. A little one can be seen below the lamp on the left hand side.

The old lamps had a lovely patina of rust and I liked their interesting shape.
Door and stairs to the upper part of a house and a small door to the basement. The street was very narrow here so its quite shaded.

A carved heraldic dragon - i couldn't find any details on the heraldry online. I will ask at the tourist information next time i visit.
A dragon shaped hoop for tying up a donkey - donkeys were used as pack animals in this and other mediaeval villages till relatively recently, so its common to see places to tether the animals set in the walls.
An intricately carved door with geometric motifs. The lock looked interesting too.

Some guardian angels - I would have liked a closer look at the detail on this door furniture but having lived in two mediaeval houses in Antibes, I would never invade somone else's space and climb their stairs just from curiosity.

We used to have people wandering into our house and peering through the windows as many tourists think that ancient houses are actually museum pieces or re-enactment quarters and not houses where people live ordinary lives.
I couldn't think of any reason why letters were chalked on this door - but i thought it was interesting enought to photograph. Children in France learn to write like this from their earliest school days, so its possible that a child was practising their letters.

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Friday, November 24, 2006


Eze is a mediaeval town perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea. Its not too far from Nice - an easy and cheap bus ride so its a good day out for visitors to the area.

I visited Eze for the 4th time, I think, at the end of October when my parents were visiting us.
Eze is one of the prettiest mediaeval villages near here; absolutely pristine and immaculately kept - a huge contrast from the run down and damp old town of Vintimille that's just across the border in Italy.

It does get busy with tourists in the summer but it still has a nice atmosphere. The breathtaking views and sun dappled honey coloured stone buildings make the visit worthwhile-although very hard going as the streets are cobbles and the paths are very steep.

This is the fortified gate and entrance to the village built in the 14th century. Originally, a drawbridge and ditch were part of the defences.

This is the view from the entrance to the village.
And the same view through the gateway. The remains of hinges and places to insert heavy wooden bolts are still visible.

An archway with a sign leading to the famous 4 star hotel/Michelin starred restaurant Château de la Chèvre d’Or, not in my budget though.
The Chèvre d’Or name either comes from a local fairytale or from a previous owner's miserly habit of hiding gold coins [the profits from selling goat's milk] in the walls of the building which were found during early renovation work -or so the story goes.

On a sunny day, the village is is a blend of sun and shade due to the narrow paths and alley ways. A typical shady and tiny courtyard showing some very small doorways - the majority of people would need to stoop down when entering here.

Narrow lanes and higgledy piggledy houses and shops.
Lots of houses are also artist or craft workshops selling paintings , leather , glass and ceramic work.

Due to the village fortification andwalls, most of the paths circle round and many of the building have strangely shaped outer walls to fit into the restricted space. The village is an entirely pedestrian area and no motiorised vehicles are allwoed- even for deliveries of goods. Moving house or delivering requires teams of strong people with hand carts, though donkeys were used in the past.

More arches, a small window and iron lamp and a saint's statue build into the wall for protection.A lot of the buildings in Eze have very decorative old ironwork - I would have liked to have taken more photos of these interesting features but i didn't think about it till after we were home.
The Baroque Eglise Notre Dame de l'Assomption [Church of Our Lady of the Assumption] was dedicated in 1772 and designed by the architect Antonio Spinelli.
The locals say that the thousands of stones needed for the church were carried from the quarry up the steep hillside, on the backs of local men completely free of charge.

The inside of the church is highly decorated and ornate but no photos are allowed as it is a place of worship.
I took the photo a few years ago on a previous visit -there is a small ancient stable at the foot of the village where donkeys used to be kept to carry baggage and goods into the village. The donkeys belong to teh village and are apparently only kept in the stable on Sundays and spend the rest of their time grazing in nearby fields.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Storms and clouds

The clouds have been impressive recently -especially at sunset.

I wish I knew more about cloud formations - I bought a book about the different types of clouds but I still find it hard to differentiate between them.
I still find clouds fascinating- especially at sunrise and sunset. I think their diversity is inspiring -even though there are often cloud formations and weird colours that would look totally unbelievable if they were painted.
These were all taken in the evening in the past few days - I'm not sure if the red or orange -tinged clouds count as a red sky in the weather lore ' red sky at night, shepherd's delight' or whether the whole sky is meant to turn red.

The fading sunlight lighting up clouds as seen over the rooftops of Nice- or at least our neighbour's roof.
Until Friday, the weather here was very warm and sunny- unseasonably so for November.
On Friday the heavens opens and we had a massive thunder and lightning storm.

The wind was so strong that the water was forced through the gaps in the window frames, and opening the windows to shut the shutters resulted in a soaked head, arms and floor. It was like someone repeatedly throwing buckets of water at the windows.

Gandalf, our new kitten was quite upset by the storm. He was disturbed by the lightning and the claps of thunder and then he was puzzled by the darkness when the shutters were shut.
After the storm was over he slept and slept and slept.

This is of course a gratuitous sleeping cat photo.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ventimiglia Alta - Mediaeval Ventimiglia

This is a panorama stitched together from 7 photos taken on the bridge over the River Roia [River Roya in French ]
The old mediaeval town is on the left hand side and the modern town of Ventimiglia is on the right.

I took this photo standing on the middle of the bridge-looking up the Roia valley towards the other bridge and distant mountains.
The mediaeval town of Vintimiglia is an assortment of higgledy piggledy lanes and ramshackle houses squeezed together onto a small, incredibly steep hill. You can just see the bell tower of the cathedral poking up above the rest of the buildings.

It seems very run down, poor and damp which contrasts dramatically with the mediaeval towns in France which generally seem prosperous and pristine or at least comfortable and well maintained.

It has a really interesting atmosphere and I liked the old town a lot [and plan to visit again soon] but I can see why many people don't recommend visiting as there is a forbidding look to the town as it looms over you and it doesn't have the immediate prettiness of Eze or Menton.

Two flags flying- the Italian flag and the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger. I'm not sure why the pirate's flag was flying- I saw several pirate flags flying in Vintimille.
Next time we visit I will buy a guidebook, if one exists, as I would like to find out more about the contrasting architecture in the mediaeval town. Some of the houses looked as if they were originally owned by the very wealthy and others by the very poor.
This was one of the wider streets.
Arches and tunnels often lead to little private courtyards.
Narrow dark lanes with many arches between to help support the buildings - in some places these lanes had little or no daylight -so it must have been like living underground before electric light became common. I didn't manage to take any decent photos of the very dark alleys - next time maybe.
This building showed multiple signs of use and re-use across the centuries.

Some interesting coloured laundry hanging out to dry.
The balustrades for this building were entirely trompe l'oeil painting -it was very effective , except where time had eroded the paint and destroyed the illusion.
Some interesting carved stone faces under a balcony.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Illustration Friday- smoke

Smoke is a hot topic here in France at the moment since there will be changes made in the law to ban public smoking starting next year.

[ Stations , museums, government offices , shops, universities etc will be non smoking areas from February 2007 and restaurants, hotels and bars will have to comply in 2008]

I think its a good thing to make public spaces smoke free and it seems to work really well in Scotland and Ireland and Italy. I initially wondered about doing something to illustrate the smoking ban.

At the weekend we adopted a 5 month old kitten , who is smoke grey , charcoal and white - we are renaming him and the current favourite name is Gandalf- since he is very clever, both grey and white and his markings are remarkably like a long swirly grey cloak.

He has fitted in to the family amazingly well so far - its been 10 years since we last had a cat and it doesn't seem like it at all. So many things have changed in cat culture- there seems to be endless variations on things like litter trays and a multitude of different foods for all stages of cat life.

The litter trays with lids and charcoal filters are amazingly effective -a definite improvemnt on the old style trays -no smell and no litter flicked all over the floor. We were surprised at how quickly Gandalf learned to open the swinging door.

Here he is his debut photo on the blog - no doubt the first of many.
As far as the I Friday topic is concerned, I ended up experimenting with different brushes to try and make a smoke effect.

After a bit of experimentation, I quickly sketched a monster coalescing from smoke. It made me think of some x-rays I had last year , so I added in some vertebrae, with the idea that the monster might be getting more and more substantial as the smoke eddied and drifted around.

In order to give him a tiny bit more context, i thought I'd add in a magician's fire bowl, complete with mysterious coloured flames to help the spell along.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Photo Friday- Light

Since the topic this week is 'light' , I thought it would be seasonal to post some pictures of turnip lanterns.

In Scotland, its easy to buy large turnips or swedes to make reasonable sized turnip lanterns roughly the size of a soccer ball.
However, here in France, turnips are very small - so it can take a lot of searching around the fruit and veg shops to get turnips [navet] that are large enough to carve and hold even a tea-light candle.

In fact, every year I choose the larger orange-sized turnips on offer [which are still tiny by Scottish standards] , the assistants point out that they not taste as nice as the sweet miniature ones which are about the size of a plum.
They still give off a pretty orange light -especially when grouped -and the smell of gently roasting turnip is one of my main memories of halloween.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Halloween has been very quiet this year. Usually, we have a Halloween party with plenty of kids playing traditional games and dressing up. This year , Halloween seems to have crept up on us without warning.

We have had a lot of visitors this autumn, so maybe that is part of the reason why we have been so unprepared.

Also, the weather is still warm and sunny most of the time , so it doesn't seem like autumn at all.

My kids went out yesterday dressed up to go 'trick or treating' in Antibes after they visited the orthodontist. I'm not sure the orthodontist would have said that collecting bags of sweets is the ideal passtime straight after a dental appointment-but I suppose its a once a year thing, after all.

Halloween has fluctuated in popularity here. When we first came 10 years ago, Halloween was unheard of [except for Horror films]. So we had to persuade people that it was not a horror fest.

After a few years, Halloween became quite popular and shops started buying in Halloween disguises and decorations and lots of towns put on activities and parades for children. Two or 3 years ago things went quiet- there were articles in the French press and opposition from church about bring in foreign festivals.
Now , Halloween seems to be rumbling along quietly with a lot of shops giving out sweets and stickers to disgusied children. [Unlike in Scotland , kids here go from shop to shop rather than from house to house to collect their 'Halloween' bounty]

I had some fun yesterday making some paper dolls/ dress-up teddies for Halloween

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