I have started planning my next painting which will be on a larger canvas and is going to be of a view near here looking down on a farm surrounded by fields and vineyards with distant hills. Here is my initial charcoal outline on the canvas.
I find I am considerably influenced by Cezanne at the moment, probably because he painted many scenes of the countryside around his home at Aix en Provence, not too far away from my local village. I particularly like his studies of trees, such as Le Grand Pin and Sous Bois and I also admire his paintings of the Mediterranean at L’ Estaque, near Marseille. In these paintings of the sea he places the line of the horizon high on the canvas, thus making it recede into the distance, whilst adopting a warm palette of colours for the buildings in the foreground.
The sun is setting, a glowing red ball surrounded by a halo of soft pink, silhouetting the pines whose dark green outlines stand sentinel on the crest of the hill. In the valley the inhabitants of Vidauban are winding down from the activity of the day. Some are sitting on their terraces having an evening meal, others are enjoying an aperitif in the cafés down in the square. The scene is very peaceful, very calm.
It’s not so calm in our apartment. After numerous attempts my two sons have at last been offered jobs in the grape harvest. The only problem is, the château where they would be working turned out today to be about 20 kilometres away, down winding country lanes called chemins which thread through vineyard after vineyard interspersed with thickets of pine trees. So now we have the enormous problem of desperately needing the money the grape harvest work would bring, but not being able to afford transport of any kind to get there. The château is too isolated to be near any bus route and an old second hand car would cost around € 500 but even that is beyond us. Although one of my son’s has ridden bikes and scooters in England, in France you need a French license to do so. At the moment the problem sadly seems insurmountable. I do wish I had a family to fall back on, but being an only child of long deceased parents, I do not.
On a brighter note, however, I do feel things will work out sometime eventually. In spite of the difficult times I’ve had in life (and there have been quite a few) in the end situations have resolved themselves.
The sky is still red and the lights are twinkling now in the village. It is very beautiful and I am very fortunate to be able to experience it.
At the moment we do not have a car and so we are having to make our way around on foot and by bus. This feels exhausting in the heat of August, especially carrying 4 litres of milk daily uphill from our nearest Intermarché supermarket (a chore we usually reserve for early evening when the sun is just starting to go down a little).
However, when on the bus you do see more of the countryside than in a car and you can get to meet people this way. I have a favourite bus driver, a lady with fair hair and huge sunglasses who is extremely chatty. When she is driving I make a point of sitting in the front seat, and so far we have discussed the weather (always sunny), electricity bills (she only had her heating on for 3 weeks last winter), house renting, cars, washing machines, furniture, neighbours (her’s) and so on. She drives the same route every day – between Vidauban, where we live, and Le Muy, where our bank is, a distance of about 12 kilometres. As I usually make the trip about once a week, we have got to know each other quite well and she sends a cheery wave when driving past if I am on foot.
Another plus of not having a car is not being caught up in traffic jams! Vidauban itself is a quiet little town, but the A9 motorway stretching from the Italian to the Spanish border is just a few kilometres away. In August it can often reach a standstill (although not as often as a few years ago now that France has prohibited the driving of lorries on motorways at the weekends during the summer holidays). Anyway, the other evening we were making our way back from Intermarché as usual, laden with carrier bags, and were surprised to see our route through the pink and cream housing estates, with colourful gardens of purple and red bougainvillaea ,clogged up with cars crawling along at a snail’s pace. We found ourselves constantly being beckoned over by the anxious occupants, asking where they were and “how long did the queue stretch for” (which was right through the town). It transpired that there had been either a fire or a major accident on the motorway – accounts varied. But the funniest question, asked by a middle aged French lady on holiday, which had us laughing all the way home thereby considerably the lightening the load of the shopping bags, was “Have we arrived at Nice now?”… Nice only being the 5th largest city in France and some 100 kilometres distant!
From the age of 15 I dreamed of living in France even though I had never been there, inspired perhaps by pictures of a storybook countryside full of chateaux and markets and by my father’s enthusiasm of the kindness of the French people he had met when in hospital in Amiens during the First World War. Years later, married and with children my family and I would go over to France on holiday every Summer, always to campsites, and during the rest of the year I would produce paintings as often as time allowed based on holiday snapshots and sketches. I guess through painting I was reliving the magic of the holidays, the bright sunlight and the vivid colours that I missed so much back in rainy England.
And now that I have retired I have at long last managed to make the move, and in spite of existing on a shoestring and difficulties in getting established, living in France is every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped for. To begin with we were staying in a holiday cottage in the Vaucluse, in an area known as the Luberon. The cottage was surrounded by fields of lavender, vineyards and orchards, and from the garden the view was of the hilltop villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste, which face one another on opposite slopes of the Luberon mountain range. However, the cottage was rented out over the summer months and so we needed to find a more permanent home.
This proved to be very difficult. The South, or ‘Midi’ as it is called, is very expensive and very sought after, making it difficult for someone in a slightly unusual situation and with limited funds. However, we eventually found a very understanding landlord with a lovely apartment and a wonderful view overlooking the small Var town of Vidauban. The Var is relatively undeveloped and unspoilt, and encompasses a long sandy coastline on the Mediterranean which is backed by the thickly wooded mountain range of the Maures, as well as rivers and gorges inland and a wealth of ancient villages. Vidauban itself is in the heart of a wine growing region and is surrounded by hills of either oak or scented pine. Our appartment, which overlooks the town, is built on the lower slopes of a rocky spur, the cone of an ancient volcano, at the top of which is the Chapel of Sainte Brigitte. We moved in during July to what feels like an artist’s dream!