My time in Vis was extra special this time, as we had a very harmonious and happy group, who worked hard during the lessons and enjoyed their time on the island. It is such a beautiful place with good food, and it is always nice to meet friends from the Island. My way from the hotel to the community centre where we hold the classes is only a 5 minute walk, but it’s better to plan in a good 20 minutes, to give time to stop at the shop and chat with Antonia or her mother Anna, both of whom work hard keeping the shop open from early morning till late at night, or to Zoky the barber who has a tiny room facing the road where he cuts people’s hair always with a smile, or to Branka, who runs an agency for trips around the island on a traditional sailing boat.
The group of German Tango students is always joined by a lovely couple from Vis, Anela and Ivan, who have been dancing for about as long as I have visited the island. I remember the first time I met them – they were sat by the side of the dance floor, watching with big eyes full of longing. I went over to them and asked if they wanted to dance, and they said they’d love to learn. I asked again if they wanted a dance and they looked at me in horror, literally holding on to their chairs in case I’d drag them onto the floor! The following year, however, they took part and every year since then, having meanwhile taken classes in Split on a regular basis. Their love of Tango led them to spend most of their weekends in Split in the last five years… they even bought a flat there! I call that Commitment. Or Tango Madness.
Towards the end of the week, I also manage to find some time to pay a visit to Vasilisa, who runs a B&B where I stayed a couple of years ago when we became friends. It is always a pleasure to talk to her; she is an avid traveller and an interesting person, fluent in a number of languages and with interesting perspectives on life.
The week is far too short, and before I know it, I wave good-bye to this lovely place and its people. As the bus zig-zags up the serpentines, I catch a last glimpse of the beautiful village nestled into the hills and the day dawning over a calm, deep blue sea.
For photos of this wonderful Island, check out Ines’s photo album on facebook
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It was my turn at the wheel of Moving Being’s long wheel base Mercedes, as we travelled south from Vienne’s roman amphitheatre – where we’d caught a Frank Zappa concert. We were heading for the Cote d’Azur to try our luck busking with elements of the ‘M. Apollinaire et le Cirque du Zodiac’ show – that’s Jessica Cohen, Pete Wooldridge, Nick Birkinshaw and myself. They were sleeping when I made a detour to Mérindol, the sleepy Provençal village where my folks had bought and restored a ruined Bastide some 25 years earlier, in the vague hope that we might get a gig there to help pay for the fuel to get us home to Wales. As I pulled up on the Place de la Mairie, the first person I caught sight of – and this was at 7.30 in the morning – was the cousin of our oldest friends in the village, Rémy and Jacqueline Combe. As it turned out, his mother was the Mayor’s secretary and he said he would do his best. By the time everyone was compus mentis, we’d secured the Salle des Fêtes for the Saturday night and having put up a number of posters and photographs we took off for the coast.
All that was 35 years ago! So it was with great trepidation that we drove into village – well actually we left Emma outside and cycled in. Who might we meet from that last visit and who would remember the mad Green family who’d settled in a dilapidated house in the old village up on the hill, with no water or electricity, in the mid-fifties!?
Well, I very much surprised the son of the Combe family when we arrived on his door-step…. Only 2 years younger than me, he had given up his father’s farm, following a devastating winter and developed a very successful gite business on the edge of the village with 9 houses, swimming -pool – the works! Pierre and his lovely wife Jacqueline who, for just over a year now, has been Mayor of the village, welcomed us with open arms and not only allowed us to get Emma off the road and park her up behind one of the ‘cottages’ but said we were free to use their shower and swimming pool whenever we wanted. So far we’ve only met one other person from my childhood days, the indomitable Max – the subject of one my father’s most unusual paintings:- While having a siesta in Paris, my father had a dream/vision of someone leaving the seat of a motor-bike, having taken a level-crossing far too fast, and flying through the air. As luck would have it, he ended up head first in a pile of dung, sustaining no major injury. My father went straight to his studio and put the episode on canvas in sweeping strokes. Later that day he received a call from friends in Merindol who related the very story he’d ‘witnessed’ !
Pierre proudly showed us round his spacious house, where many of the walls were hung with Alf’s pastels, lithographs and framed posters – the only painting was a portrait of Pierre, poignant for me as Alf said I could never sit still for long enough
After I’d dropped Ruth off at Marseille airport for her week’s teaching in Croatia, I picked up a hitch-hiker, something we’re not normally able to do as we have the only two available seats in the ‘cab’. He’d flown in from Alicante and had come to pick up his daughter to take her back to Spain for her Summer holidays. We got talking about organic farming and permacultures and I mentioned that Ruth and I had met someone in Lauris a few days previously, who made oils and essences from locally collected herbs and flowers which grow in profusion in the Luberon. ‘Ah, Laurent!’ he said.’Give him my regards when you next see him.’ Small world eh!?
Here’s a photo of Laurent and Frank outside our Emma:
Lauris, some 8km east of Merindol, also hosts an extraordinary garden on the terraces of its Castle, with seemingly every known plant related to colour dyes, which Ruth and I visited and to which I returned for an open-air Sculpture exhibition (with Jazz accompaniment on the opening night).
One of the beautiful flowers from the garden:
Back in Merindol, I give a return Massage to a therapist who had treated Ruth before she left and, as an added bonus, receive a treatment from her daughter who is a ‘gentle’ chiropracter. She becomes very interested in my case and asked me to bring my back x-rays when I next come to Paris, where she normally practices. I then find out that the local garagiste, who is a cousin of Pierre’s, has a problem with an arm/shoulder. I offer him a treatment and when I come to pay for an oil-change on Emma, he waives the fee !!! whoopee…
The temperature has now reached the top 30’s/early 40’s and so I find myself getting up between 6 and 6.30am and doing stuff before it gets too hot. One morning I take to the hills behind Merindol, le petit Luberon, to gather thyme and rosemary and realise I’m walking in the footsteps of Ruth’s horse-riding trek: fabulous views over the Durance valley and inward to hidden micro-climate valleys. I spend an evening in Salon at a Renaissance festival, complete with street performers/musicians and an outrageously long and varied procession through the town.
Lourmarin has a local growers/organic market, which I go to in the hope of finding a good selection of Ratatouille ingredients – I end up buying from an organic farmer from Merindol! Over the next few days I go into ratatouille production but am amazed how much it reduces in cooking, so end up with far less than I’d hoped…Hey Ho !
The night before Ruth’s return I go to Mallemort, a small town over the Durance, whose old bridge we had camped under in the Easter of 1955 and from where we had first sighted the abandoned village, known as le Vieux Merindol. They were hosting an evening of Polyphonic Music. First on the bill was a group from Marseille, called appropriately ‘Radio Babel – Marseille‘, ( tho you get a better idea of what they are like live, if you listen to their ‘Teaser’ on YouTube) whose vocal style drifted seamlessly from beat-box to slam-poetry, to rap and back, bound together with delicious harmonies reflecting the cultural melting-pot that is Marseille.
The next morning, I attended a christening but sadly could not stay for the huge family lunch, elegantly laid out in Pierre and Jacqueline’s garden, as I had to drive Emma up to Lyon to pick up Ruth and continue our journey.
For more photos of the Renaissance procession in Salon, click here
For photos of the house that Frank’s folks bought in the mid 50’s, as well as miscellaneous photos of Merindol and its inhabitants, click here
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Around this time of year for the past 5 years, I’ve had the pleasure of joining Ines on Vis, a beautiful Island in Croatia, to teach on a week long Tango holiday. So one hot Friday morning, Frank takes me to Marseille to catch a flight.
The journey turns out to be an exciting one….
There is no direct flight to Split from Marseille, so I am taking a detour via Rome where I will stay one night in order to catch a very early morning flight to Split. On the way to Marseille, we first get delayed on the motorway – big signs announce a complete standstill of traffic for 45 minutes because they are blasting rocks to widen the road. It’s just as well that we left plenty of time, because once we are through this traffic jam, we head into another one just outside the airport: there is a big taxi driver’s strike and they are blocking the entrance to the airport. I consider myself lucky to still be in time for the flight!
Arrival in Rome is not without its adventures: there’d been a fire in one of the airport buildings some weeks ago and they still haven’t recovered from it. By the looks of it, it affected the luggage transport system. There is total chaos in the baggage claim area, with thousands of unclaimed suitcases standing around everywhere, and many people waiting for hours for theirs to arrive. Our belt is stopped, with three flights’ worth of people waiting around it for delivery of their luggage, while other belts are going round and round with suitcases on them that no-one seems to want.
Again, I consider myself lucky, because not only does my suitcase arrive after 1.5hrs, but also while waiting for it, I have the pleasure of the Italian national basket-ball team strolling past me J. They are strapping lads, all at least 2mtrs tall, dwarfing everyone else in the hall.
The entrance hall in Rome is no better, complete mayhem, with many people frantically rebooking flights. Apparently 45% of all flights have been cancelled! This is about 4 weeks after the fire. It must be costing them a fortune to deal with all of this.
Anyway, I’m lucky that I can leave all this behind and spend an evening chilling out in a little hotel room in Fiumicino. My flight the next morning is on schedule, and by 9am, I’m in the harbour in Split, enjoying a breakfast of fresh fruit from the local market.
Not so lucky on the way back to France a week later, as my flight is cancelled – or possibly extra lucky, because I am able to rebook a flight to Lyon that is cheaper and direct, so I can avoid the mess in Rome and Frank can drive up to Lyon to pick me up from there on our way to Switzerland.
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