Monday, February 8, 2016

Along the Cote D'Azur

Annamaria on Monday

I have spent the last week with friends of a life time in their beautiful home in Nice.  They wined and dined and showed me their city and took me into the centre the of the contemporary art scene in a vibrant and gorgeous part of France.  WiFi was spotty where I was and now I have just arrived back in Florence past my bedtime.  So I will give you a photo essay of what I have been doing.  If it gives you 5% of the enjoyment it gave me, you are going to like this:

The first thing you see when entering Jean-Claude and
Francoise's building is an elevator the likes of which I have
only otherwise seen in movies.

My room: Like the rest of this delightful apartment, it is a
splendid combination of elegant antique French furniture and
edgy, intellectually stimulating contemporary art.

 I took a lot of pictures of the view from my room.  This one,
at dawn on a cloudy morning, is intentionally surrealistic!

Red sky in the morning.  That bright light right of center is the lighthouse at
Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat.  It took a few tries to catch it when the light was
flashing my way.  It shines faintly on the wall of that bedroom in the night.

During a dinner party in honour of Moussa Saar's one-man show, set to open
the following night.  JeanClaude gave a tour of his and Francoise's collection for
Moussa, his Gallerists, and the curator of a show at the Nice Museum of
Contemporary Art. 

We took many walks along the seaside.  I won't brag about the weather.  It
was not my doing, but it was my delight.

A typical seafront building

Flags blowing in the sea breeze

One of my favourite works in the current show--The Precious
Power of Stones, now at Musee d'Art Moderne e d'Art Contemporain

While taking in the view from the roof terrace of the museum

Selfie of three life-long friends

Jean-Claude collects the evidence that I had the nerve to order a cheeseburger
for my lunch al fresco after seeing the museum exhibit.

Sights in the old town

The fort at Villefranche sur-Mer

A harbour view from the town 

A view of an underground street.

Within the fort, there is a museum of the works of sculptor Voltigerno
 Antoniucci, called Volti

We had a private tour of Santo Sospir, a house where Jean Cocteau come for
visit and stayed for twelve years.  In the meanwhile, he painted the walls!

I took a ton of pictures, and give you just a few.  The place

The ceiling of the staircase leading down to the bedrooms

A drawing left behind by a visitor

The garden outside the bedrooms

View from the garden terrace 
That lighthouse at St.-Jean Cap Ferrat, whose light reaches
across the kilometres to the bedroom where I slept.

We heard a marvellous concert at the 18th century Palais Lascaris played on period
instruments from the museum's collection and sung marvellously by young musicians

We visited Menton, where they were setting up for this years'
celebration of the orange and lemon harvest.  Yes, that church
is made from citrus fruit.

Sunset from Ste.-Agnes

An old bunker along the Maginot Line, overlooking the sea from Ste.-Agnes

The view from up there!

Nice has turned an old slaughterhouse into free studios for artists.
We visited an exhibition of some of the works they are creating.  I am
including a couple of favorites.

As soon as I got close to this one hanging, I smelled what it is covered with.  I had to look at
 the list of works to confirm that my nose was right--it is covered with Nutella!

With up-and-coming young French artist Moussa Sarr after the opening of his show

Matisse's Villa

And his grave

And the view from his grave at dusk.

At the Picasso Museum in Antibes

We went to an open house at the Windsor Hotel, where the rooms are decorated by
artists.  Here is a shot of the ceiling of the bar.  This one's for you, Stan!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

From Death To Life: A Visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine

-- Susan, Every Other Sunday

Jeff Siger's Saturday post this week left me angry and deeply in need of hope. (If you haven't read it, click here. I'll wait.)

Back? Okay, then.

Long before lifejackets (good or evil), long before airplanes, and long before the first computer reduced the size of our world to the shifting of pixels, the Japanese knew where to go when their spirits were ruffled or in distress, and when they needed help with everything from life-giving harvests to help with a troubled birth.

In Japan, when you needed help, you went to a shrine--and one of the finest, most peace-giving shrines I know lies on a mountain south of Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha (in English, Fushimi Inari Shrine.)

Like most Shinto holy places, the entrance to Fushimi Inari is marked with a torii, but Inari merits no ordinary gate:
That's one big gate.

Two of these massive torii (measuring over two stories high) mark the entry route to the base of Fushimi Inari, which is the most important Inari shrine in Japan. Which is saying quite a bit, considering that Japan has over 10,000 Inari shrines.

Big surprise...the god(dess) of fertility gets around.

The primary shrine at the base of Mount Inari

The main shrine complex dates to 1499 (though the shrine itself was founded in 711, and moved to its current location at the base of Mount Inari in 816).  Here, worshippers can leave offerings and offer prayers before the largest of the shrine's many altars...

Each plaque represents a prayer, as does every paper on every string.

...and purchase prayer amulets, which are hung in rows along with prayer papers (many of those colorful strings are actually folded origami cranes, each folded while reciting a prayer).

Many papers, many amulets, many prayers. 

Here, you can also purchase a fortune, concealed in a strip of bamboo or a small clay fox (according to Shinto beliefs, the fox is Inari's messenger). Good fortunes, you take with you. Bad ones, you tie to these wires, and Inari takes the misfortune away.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could leave all misfortune here?

The lower shrine area is also home to one of Japan's best-preserved medieval stages for No (also written "Noh") drama--a stage which actually appears in my next mystery novel...

No(h) play today, sorry.

After leaving the base of the shrine, visitors pass up several flights of stairs to reach the start of the gate-lined path that leads to the top of the mountain.

You are...not nearly close enough to the top.

Thousands of gates line the path, nestled close together near the bottom:

The donors' names are inscribed on the back side of each gate.

and spreading out substantially more as you climb.

No, I didn't count them - but apparently there are over 10,000.

Most visitors climb only partway up, to the first of the major sub-shrines that act as way stations on the pilgrim path to the holiest place on the mountain, the summit shrine.

The summit of Mount Inari.

The journey from base to summit takes 2.5-4 hours, depending on whether you stop for tea and snacks at one (or more) of the sub-shrines and also on your physical condition. I stopped for lunch at a sub-shrine with a restaurant that featured a Fushimi Inari specialty: inari sushi.

Worth the walk.

For those not in the know: Inari sushi is sweetened tofu skin wrapped around a mixture of sushi rice and black sesame seeds. (And regardless of your opinion of tofu, it's delicious.)

The restaurant also had an amazing view:

On the side you can't see...a bunch of tired people.

A couple of hours (and a couple of rain showers) later, I reached the top:

I take terrible selfies, but...I needed proof.

The descent took only half as long as the upward part of the journey, but I took my time--I didn't want the magical time on the mountain to end.

Would you want to leave? 

To this day, Fushimi Inari ranks among the most peaceful, sacred places I have ever been, and I doubt I'll find many that can compare. When life seems too frustrating to bear, I turn to my pictures and memories, and they remind me that there are places in this world where peace still reigns...

Traditionally, the fox guardians hold either a ball or a storehouse key in their mouths.

... under the faithful, watchful eyes of Inari's guardian foxes.