lundi 8 décembre 2008

Bilbao and the Gugenheim Museum

We are finally here! The most advertised museum from Europe is standing in front of us, big and shiny. Three weeks ago I have red an article about in in “Beaux Arts” magazine, who was explaining how this museum became famous and why people who visit Bilbao don’t even know that there is another art museum here, with sometimes more important collections.

It is true that the architecture has a lot to do with the fame of the museum. Designed by North American architect Frank O. Gehry, the building is a magnificent example of the most groundbreaking architecture to have come out of the 20th century.

Of course that we played with the enormous spider sculpture “Mother”, by Louis Burgeos. I must say that in real life I hate spiders, but this one looked rather nice and friendlyJ.

It is not by chance that I’m talking more about the architecture than about the exhibitions. Contemporary art can be very difficult to accept sometimes and I’m the first one to admit it, even if I will work in the cultural field and I’ll probably have to defend it. The exhibitions that are worth seeing are:

· All the Histories of Art: The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

  • “The matter of time”, by Richard Serra (The relationship between sculpture and the human body is explored through scale, equilibrium, weight, and tension.)

I don’t want to pass by a caviler so I’ll also advise you to see Cy Twombly’s works, even if I don’t consider this to be art (and I’m convinces that I did something similar in the 3rd grade…):

A few days in Spain- surreal Logrono

Can you imagine a town where every building is new, where you have green square parks at the same distance from one another, where the old centre is ridiculously small, where the elevators are in glass? A town that you have the impression an architect built over night, in the spirit of the XXI century, but he forgot to put some life in it. Well, that town exists in the north of Spain, in the wine region “La Rioja” and its name is Logrono.

First impression that strikes you: it is very cold! And I’m not only talking about the weather, but also about the atmosphere. But since I don’t like to stick to my first impression, I put on all the warm clothes I have in my luggage and I go out, on a Monday afternoon, in search of the “logronian” spirit…

They have monuments. The museums are free. A wonderful church dominates the main square (unfortunately it is closed). A very nice guy offers explanations at the tourist agency. The stores have a funny schedule:

In the morning: 7.30 a.m.- 2.00 p.m

In the evening: 5.00 p.m.- 9.00 p.m.

You can imagine why me, who went out at 2 p.m. thinking that lunch break is over (French habit….) had to walk for 3 hours in the cold, waiting for the stores to open and buy a muffler.

At night, the central bars are convivial. Young and old people go out to have a snack or a drink, to meet and share their good mood. I would tell you more about the Spanish way of eating, but this is another story…

Still I can’t help myself wonder why this next generation architecture is so cold and how come people prefer it to the old buildings, less practical but far more beautiful.

Aubenas: rendezvous of European cinemas

How many of you know that there is a film festival in this little town of Ardeche called Aubenas? Between the 17th and the 23rd of November the members of “The House of Image” association organized the 10th edition of “Rencontres des cinemas d’Europe”.

First of all I have to say that the region is wonderful: in the middle of the mountains, with a lot of narrow and forgotten roads, with old villages and a lot of chestnuts.

One of the things I loved the most about this festival was that they really had a meeting space. During the festival one of their headquarters’ main rooms (Centre culturel Le Bournot) was turned into a convivial location, with tables and chairs, with a bar and a small restaurant, with a scene for discussions and a film set. During the lunch and dinner time a lot of people gathered here to talk about the films they’ve seen, about the directors they’ve meet, about this big event that transformed their ordinary lives. And the best part was that the people who couldn’t see the films on Saturday and Sunday evening because the cinema halls were packed could come here and turn their frustration into a good moment spent with their friends.

The most important guests of this year’s edition were Jean Louis TRINTIGNAN and Jean Pierre DARROUSIN. I only met the the first one and I can tell you that I was deeply touched by the gentleness, the modesty and the passion for theatre and poetry of this great actor. If you ever have the chance to see his film “Une journée bien remplie” do not think twice!

Last but not least, in the surroundings of Aubenas there is a splendid little castle, owned by a nice family who turned it into an hotel: Chateau d'Uzer : Enjoy your staying!

Halloween in Ageeen!

Speaking about remote and unknown towns, here’s another one: Agen. Not very far from Bordeaux ( I have a personal interest to visit all the town on the way from Arles to Bordeaux…) Agen is the kind of town that doesn’t impress you at first sight. And since I haven’t heard anything about it before visiting it, I did my homework and I asked around. This is how I knew they have very good plums when I got there.

Still you have to resist temptation and not to try too many types, because the stomach doesn’t really tolerate them….

We didn’t have much to visit during the day, but during the night we discovered the secret life of young people from Agen. It is true that I’m talking about the Halloween night, one of the main reasons for a great number of people to go out in disguise and party. In the center of Agen there are two…let’s say discos…where you can have a drink and eventually dance. The best part is that food and drinks are really cheep, so you can afford to party as much as you want.

The following day, if you manage to get up, you can discover some wonderful villages in the surroundings. Main tip: go visit Larressingle, nicknamed “la Carcassonne du Gers”.

Toulouse: what if it were real?

It is called “the red city”; after a few steps you understand why: most of the buildings are in brick. During the morning, or even in the evening, when a soft light scrambles the walls, you have the impression that the air is pink. And you continue to walk, faster and faster, in order to inhale as much as possible from this color.

I arrived Friday evening and I couldn’t help myself not to go out for a tour. Whenever I’m walking at night I have the impression that the scenes in front of me are not my real life, that they are fragments from a film that I’m watching. Toulouse is different, I’m not afraid…I’m not afraid to turn left on a little street that is not that well illuminated, I’m not afraid to eat on a bench with 2 SDF/ homeless people standing on another bench next to me, I’m not afraid to take off my camera and take some pictures of the town centre. Even if you can see all types of people in the street, everybody is quiet and minds his own business. And you realize that it’s a wonderful thing not to be afraid.

Saturday morning I turn on the hot water to take a shower and…I realize that the buildings are not the only reason why one calls Toulouse the red city; because of the old pipes of a 2 stars hotel on the bank of “Canal du midi” the water is completely red!

Attractions of the week-end: the old churches spread all over the city, a “marché de dimanche”, a contemporary art exhibition in the old “Abatoires”, the bank of the Garone that hosts a lot of young couples and families who enjoy a sunny autumn day, “Jardin des plantes” and the fall of yellow little leaves on us, like in a secret ritual.

Bodeaux on European Patrimony Day

Bordeaux deserves its reputation of “wine capital”. On one of the sides of “Place de la Comédie” one can find an exquisite wine bar, with an amazing menu. If you don’t know much about wine, the waiter will surely know to advice you (the interior of this bar is also very beautiful). The wine comes in big glass, but in small portions. Since is the drinks of goods…First you blend it, then you feel it, then you take a sip, then you wait a moment to feel your mouth’s impression and only afterward you can swallow it (preferably with your eyes closed and a sob at the end).

Luckily we arrived here for the European Patrimony day, so the atmosphere was excellent. Plus, a great number of events were organized all over the city. Our first stop was at the Fine Arts Museum, where we discovered Chaval. He was a French cartoonist, born in Bordeaux. After seeing his work I can tell you that he was very intelligent also.

Other wonderful moments of the day: a classical concert in the yard of the Business School, an organ lesson at the top level of an old church, a photo exhibition in the central park, a nice dinner on the terrace of a coquettish restaurant, a romantic stroll on the bank of Garonne.

I have the feeling that Bordeaux is a “complete/absolute city”, where you can find everything you want: culture, wine, a well paid job, parks and a quality night life. Maybe we’ll move here someday…

"Tasting" Cognac

Cognac it’s a little town in the west of France, not far from Angouleme. As you could figure it out by its name, here you can find the most important French cognac producers. I only had time to visit one of them and it wasn’t easy to choose. So I picked up the oldest one: Martel


With an imposing building as its headquarters, Martel rises at the bottom of the Cognac’s main street. All tours are guided and a prior signing up is needed. I took the English tour, because it was the only one available when I got there. Out guide was charming and at the same time he had something of old brandy refinement.

There were 5 major things that I discovered during the visit:

1) brandy is the distillation of wine from anywhere in the world. All cognac is brandy but not all brandy is cognac

2) you can smell cognac in each and every room

3) thy really care about their tourists, because ea whole setting was developed in order for us to understand how brandy is produced, deposited, packed and delivered to the final consumers

4) their packaging is extraordinary! Martel counts more than 100 labels since its release

5) for the cognac as well as for the wine, prices are increasing proportionally with the age of the drinks…and they can get astronomic (1850 euros)!

If not, Cognac is a small idyllic town, in the west of France