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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
The Old Town
26/07/2008, Nice

A lovely morning wandering the streets of old Nice and investigating the market. It is pretty touristy; all too often the result of regeneration of such areas is to create a service and retail economy but not enough else. But it is really lovely, with narrow streets opening onto lovely squares or the sea. You can't get really lost, partly because the Vieux Ville isn't all that big, but also because you can always see the hill of the castle or the sea itself.
We got some jobs done too, including at last installing the windex that Paul brought out from England. The new blade screw had arrived from Marlec too, for our big wind generator; however there was no thread left on the blade so Sarah took it off and Pip epoxied in new thread. Sadly, on the Sunday we found that still wasn't enough and there may be a new blade in our near future. In the meantime we'll have to manage with the Ampair and solar panels.

Places and people
Chapelle Matisse
24/07/2008, Vence

The pretty hill-town of Vence is home to a gorgeous chapel designed by Matisse in the last years of his life. It is the white building with the vertical windows on the right of the picture, next to its parent, the Dominican convent with the spire. (This pic is taken from the far side of the steep gorge, in the pretty old town.)
Matisse was persuaded to take on the design by the Dominican sisters who nursed him when he convalesced in Vence after a serious illness in 1943. Some people (including the young monk who gave a talk in French while we were there) cite the beauty of the chapel as proof of Matisse's late life spiritual flowering. There seems little evidence for this. The painter himself said, on this subject: "My only religion is the love of the work to be created , the love of creation, and great sincerity."
The chapel is a distillation of the drawing and visual articulacy that Matisse worked on all his life. There are three large black line drawings on white tiles, one a large St Dominic, and one a very beautiful outline of a woman with, in front of her, a child's figure standing with arms outstretched: a crucifixion and a benison. The third shows the Stations of the Cross, angry sketches that portray the collapse and pain of carrying the cross up the hill and the grief of the followers cutting down the body. All in a few spare lines.
On the north wall are two large stained glass windows, cut from the outside into the vertical strips you see in the picture, but inside they are whole. These are a curved and gracious pattern of green (for growth), blue (for heaven) and yellow (for the sun) through which the light shines chevrons onto the grey floor. In the east wall is a large window with the sorts of curved shapes that you know immediately are Matisse, but cannot easily describe. This is the window of the bees, and lovely.
Matisse designed everything (with a little architectural help), including the chandeliers, floor tiles, the spare and tortured crucifix on the altar and the candles which surround it. He even designed the silk vestments which are still used for Mass. He had major battles with the Abbot and it took five years, but he was pleased with it when it was done.
Really worth a visit, it must be said that Vence should improve its signage. We ended up parking at the wrong end of town and making another route march to get there before closing.
This blog is being written up on Friday night in Nice. Tomorrow we have some more boat work to do (mostly up the masts again!) the market to visit and then the Festival to visit. Nice is great place and we will see more of it, as we intend to spend some time anchored in the Rade de Villefranche just around the corner. The hunt is on for a winter berth, and we hope we might manage to stay in this area. If not, we might have to head back west.

Places and people
The other Alps
24/07/2008, Col de Bleine

At 1439m, this is one of the higher passes hereabouts, the beginning of the Alps. That's both northern and southern Alps we've seen this year!
Up there, the grass grows thinly but there are tufts of lavender everywhere, scenting the air, and flaunting their purple toughness. The wind soughs across the rock and a few birds are hunting. There are few trees that high, though some make it. We took photos, but of course we have neither the skill nor the equipment really to convey the grandeur.

Places and people
Tiny roads
24/07/2008, Route des Crêtes

The D10 is said by the Rough Guide to require 'concentration and nerve'. That's true. You can see it winding along the cliff face behind Pip. Yes that's it, underneath the overhang. It is stunningly beautiful though, and empty. We barely saw another vehicle along its (roughly) 25 miles.
It is much better to do it (as we did) from Sigale to Le Mas; this puts you on the cliff side of the road, much easier on the passenger than the sheer drops on the other edge.

Places and people
Boundary river
24/07/2008, River Esteron

This deep gorge, or clue as they are called here, was the boundary between France and Savoy for 100 years. You would need to feel pretty tough to launch and assault across here.

Places and people
Villages Perchés
24/07/2008, Sigale

We took our car up to look at some mountains. All across Haute Provence the land is astonishing, fractured and twisted into tiny valleys, cliffs too steep for anything but the thinnest grass and lichen, alternating between blasting heat and thick winter snow.
The perched villages of the region hang on to the outcrops. The residents get amazing views and probably develop very strong calf muscles. For centuries this has been marginal subsistence agriculture, based on goats, olives and nuts. Some still live like this, but many of these villages inevitably depend on second-homers and commuters, or people who can earn a living from a distance.

Places and people
Melted stone: scented town
23/07/2008, Grasse

Having read Patrick Susskind's wonderful book, Perfume, the old town of Grasse was a must-see. Also, an old New Scientist that Sarah had finally finished reading, had a wonderful article about a scientist who is exploring how smell works, arguing that is about the shapes of molecules. Using his theory he is successfully producing new perfumes in this very competitive market. By contrast, the Grasse approach relies on the professional 'noses', of whom there are only about 60 in the world, who can distinguish and judge thousands of different aromas.
The town has sprawled over what used to be the flower and herb fields. These are now often grown overseas, in places with cheaper labour, though some, such as the Provencal tuberose, rely on being grown in specific situations. You can visit lots of the perfumiers, and in some places even do a workshop to mix your own scent. We went to the historic factory of House Fragonnard, run by the Fushs family who named their business after the famous painter who came from the town. It was very interesting, with the ancient alembics, the principles of cold maceration and hot distillation. But this is very much an historic overview; the real work is now done in their state of the art factory down the road.
In addition we visited the twelfth century cathedral, which has the austere nave, very high in proportion to its other dimensions. After the revolution, there was a major fire inside this building, which melted the stone, causing the roughened, melted look you see around the arches. The flowing stone makes a beautiful contrast to the precision of the roof, the carvings on the pulpit or the large, devotional oil-paintings hung along the walls.

Places and people
All that Jazz
22/07/2008, Cimiez

We wouldn't have called Leonard Cohen jazz, but were delighted to have the chance to see him on his first world tour in 15 years. His London gigs had got rave reviews, so we took a deep breath and lashed out for tickets. (The jazz purists don't count him either, with sniffy comments about too mainstream a line-up. Of course, they don't have to balance the books!)
Cohen was boot-shiveringly good. Hallelujah sung the way it should be (compared to the wimpier versions currently popular), an amazing In the Tower of Song and many others. The park was packed; even though we got to the stage nearly two hours before he was due on, we were too far away to see much. So we retreated even further and sat on a high wall. We couldn't see him much, but watched the darkening sky, swung our heels against the stone-work and sung along.
After Cohen, we made our way to another stage, to see the Maria Schnieder Orchestra, an American combo led by a woman, and a lot of brass. We arrived at the start of a fab trumpet solo, also by a woman, which was great both to see and hear.
We're going back on Saturday to see Joan Baez.

Places and people
Crater Rim or spaceship?
21/07/2008, Marina Baie des Anges

This modern complex lies between Antibes and Nice. We didn't go in, but couldn't fail to notice it's enormity. This picture is taken from about 2 miles offshore!
Actually from the land, as we saw driving past it a couple of days later, it isn't so bad. There's a lot of greenery which makes it more appealing.


Places and people
Is it a trimaran?
16/07/2008, Between Ile St Marguerite and Ile St Honnorat

Well yes, but in a rather different way. The outrigger starts about half way back and is then carried aft with little space between it and the main hull, making for very smooth lines as well as, presumably, the additional speed and internal space of a multi-hull.
This vessel also has another of these interesting rigs, which we have seen once before. The foremast carries an in-mast furling sail which is, so-to-speak, an upside down fore-and-aft triangle, a bit like the upper half of a wishbone rig. It has no yard, though, so there is not that weight or inconvenience to manage. This allows a second big genoa on the mainmast and a more conventional triangular sail set on the boom aft. The other one of these we saw (but only had flat batteries in the camera!) was actually sailing, and had two masts of equal height, unlike this one.
A web search shows her to be called Pilar Rossi, owned by motor racer Nelson Piquet. She's 64m long, and started life as a motor yacht! Piquet had her remodelled to sail (including adding the outriggers), with the spars and sails designed by a UK company based in Lymington. The press coverage calls this a schooner rig, but we're not sure that's an adequate description. She must be an amazing boat to watch, and as she's already sailed the Atlantic, pretty cool to sail.

Places and people
Water harvesting and storage
16/07/2008, Ile St Marguerite, Iles Lerin

There is no fresh water on the island, and the Romans had an elaborate system of cisterns, illustrated here.
South of Ile Marguerite is Ile St Honnorat, named after the saint who founded a monastery there. There is an anchorage between the two but it is very crowded, as we saw both from the water and on a pleasant walk around the coastline. Today, the island is owned by the Cistercian order.

Places and people
Why here?
16/07/2008

This view looks north west across the Golfe de Napoule, with Cannes on the right. (Roaring Girl is the boat to the left, just visible under the tree.)
It is not immediately obvious why the powers that be wanted a fort on this side of the island, looking at the mainland, rather than protecting the approaches from the open sea. But there have been fortifications here for thousands of years, as the many Roman remains testify, illustrating settlement as early as the sixth century BC.
The answer lies in the anchorage, the only secure one in the vicinity of Cannes. For much of Mediterranean history, maritime trade has been relatively short haul and coastal, relying on finding sanctuary easily in the sudden storms and steep seas that haunt the basin.
It seems possible that the few longer-haul ships, carrying diverse cargo from places like Gades (Cadiz) to Ostia (the port of Rome) may have also hugged the coast, and used this as a safe stop. Not always safe however: a 1st century Roman wreck has been found on the rocks to the eastern end of the islands, as well as a 10th century Saracen wreck.
So in addition to be an important prison, the Fort protected the anchorage and His Majesy's trade. This might make us sleep easier at night, but only so long as there is no strong easterly wind!

Places and people

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