Monday, May 3, 2010

Fondation Blachere at Apt and the Conservatoire des Ochres at Roussillon

I went to the Fondation Blachere this weekend while I was in Apt because a friend had told me it was an interesting place, showing African art and objets.

It's actually just outside Apt, in an unprepossessing zone industrielle, and when you get there you wonder if the most you can do there is buy taps or gravel.

But inside it's really quite interesting. Blachere is a guy who owns a French lighting business. For some reason that wasn't immediately clear to me he got interested in African art and started this small gallery-cum-shop&bookshop-cum-restaurant in Provence.

The gallery this month (May 2010) was showing lively and very colourful 'naive' works depicting the history of Africa in a darkened space. Slavery, cannibalism, mineral exploitation, independence, black beauty and black talent were all presented in an attractive exhibition. The bookshop was well stocked with books on contemporary African art, classic works of literature, folk tales and works on the troubled history and politics of the continent.

The restaurant is run by a lovely woman, whose name I have forgotten but who was charming and welcoming. The Fondation Blachere is an unexpected and interesting experience in the Luberon.

Leaving the place, I went home via Roussillon and stopped off at the Conservatoire des Ochres. Now, I confess I have never been enamoured of Roussillon because whenever I've passed the place it's been absolutely heaving with tourists to the point where you can't put a foot on the ground without stepping on someone's toes. But this time I stopped at the Conservatoire and was astonished to find it was peaceful and it was possible to wonder around the old ochre factory - still with its machinery in place - completely undisturbed.

What a wonderful place. There's a bookshop and exhibition on everything to do with colour and use of colour down the ages in Europe. But, more interesting, you can meander through the many rooms of the old factory or usine and see the work and the processes that were carried out in Roussillon for decades, using the ochres that were mined, separated from sand and turned into paints and dyes for domestic and industrial use.

The exhibition rooms are typical relaxed Provence - showcases and explanations that you can explore quietly, on your own - products you can pick up and touch, pots of colour and brushes you can work with and samples of paint you can take away with you.

The Conservatoire is dedicated to preserving the trade and skills of those who worked in the ochres and experts provide training courses in plastering, painting, decor and use of colour all year round. There are courses on materials that are ecologically sound as well as attractive and most courses seem to cost around 170 euros a day.

But even if you wouldn't take a course here in a month of blue moons, this is definitely a place worth visiting while you're on holiday - it's bursting with natural history, industrial history, art history and the history of Provence. And it's a reminder, in a hi-tech world, that we humans used to look at the natural world around us and make interesting and useful products from what we saw.

Provence Style: The Art of Home Decoration

The Magic of Provence: Pleasures of Southern France

Google Analytics and Those Who Drop In To Read This Blog

I looked rather idly at Google Analytics this evening, just wondering who - if anyone - drops in to look at this blog.

The results were rather startling.

Google informs me that most people who drop in are sitting at their laptops in Barcelona and London. Then then are curious people in French towns and cities - Marseille, Aix, Lyon and Paris mostly. And then there are people in Glasgow and Reno.

Glasgow and Reno???

Internet users are a curious bunch. The people in Barcelona spend an average of 13 minutes pottering about here, looking in and out of the posts. Glaswegians spend an average of a measly 16 seconds, so presumably they get here and think almost immediately "Oops, hit the wrong key there."

Weirdest of all, people in Reno spend an average of no seconds here. Zero. How can there even be a count of people who spend zero seconds here? Doesn't that group comprise more or less the whole world outside people in Barcelona, London and some French towns and cities? (And, almost, Glasgow?)

What is slightly spooky (OK, really not very spooky) is that I used to live, for years, in Glasgow. And once visited Reno for a work conference. How come the people who least drop in here are from towns I have some kind of connection with? Why are people from Vladivostock and Montreal not dropping in as little as Glaswegians and people from Reno, if you get what I mean?

Google may be missing a trick here with Analytics. I'm sure they could easily rig it to generate a digest of geographical data on what people around the world are looking at and buying. Wouldn't it be interesting to know that the biggest group of people looking at open-air-group-sex-porn in the whole wide world was in Seattle? That people in Reykjavik buy more philosophy books online than in any other city? That people in rainy Manchester look at tropical holiday websites more often and for longer than any other population? Or that people in Reno spend more time on gambling sites than on sites about living in France?

It could be a whole new reference resource.

Anyway, I noticed that there were also people dropping in here from lots of other countries, as far away as Australia, China and Japan. I do kind of wonder how they get here and what they're looking for since it's a tiny little corner of the web, just extolling the virtues of Provence.

Nevertheless everyone is welcome because Provence is such a heavenly part of this planet and everyone should experience its unique and blissful beauty at least once in their lifetime.