Sunday 12 October 2008


Here I am, back - more exhausted than refreshed (but recovering now) - from Zeeland and Avignon. Zeeland was wonderful, all vast expanses of land and water and huge skies, the far horizon punctuated only by massive church towers, visible for many miles - as is the astonishing Delta Project, which is indeed a wonder of the modern world.
Those Dutch skies hold an awful lot of rain, but we managed a couple of decent walks in the sunnier intervals. Waders and wildfowl everywhere - Oddie country - and sailing still a way of life for the amphibious natives. Even the youngsters: on a Saturday morning by the water, sailing lessons were under way, with half a dozen boats full of eager teenagers, male and female, launching. They seemed remarkably expert already - and, by British standards, startlingly well behaved (the equivalent scene in Blighty would have involved shrieking, swearing, horseplay and capsizings). But then the overwhelming impression of provincial Holland is of a kind of civilised, orderly, humane living that has long gone from British shores. The towns - Middelburg, Goes, Veere, Zierikzee (where we stayed)- are beautifully preserved, but alive and thriving, not set in antiquarian aspic. Bicycle riding is near universal - a sure sign of civilisation - public behaviour is impeccable, houses are beautifully maintained, the front doors of the town houses painted to a magnificent deep gloss, often with the family name written in gilt italics, the windows often uncurtained, the interiors and the life lived in them open to public view. No doubt there's an oppressive side to all this unruffled bourgeois living - but, as a visitor, God it looked good...
Talking of wonders, the 'Acropolis' of Avignon, with the Papal Palace, the Cathedral, the Petit Palais and the Rocher des Doms, must count among them - and I had the great good fortune to see it for the first time when it was bathed in evening sunlight, literally aglow, at the end of a day of glorious sun. Coming upon this unexpectedly was a truly breathtaking experience - almost up there with the first sight of St Mark's Square in Venice... Unfortunately, Avignon went on to demonstrate a rain-making ability beyond even Holland. For a whole day and the following morning (until the sun took over again), it bucketed down relentlessly, the streets and steps running with water, everyone scuttling about under umbrellas, but still getting soaked.
However, ther was an upside to this, as the downpour drove us into the Musee Angladon, which turned out to be a gem. The two galleries downstairs contain a small but superbly well chosen collection of French 19th and 20th century paintings - a stunning Cezanne still life, and a wonderful, subtle Manet of a (dead) rabbit, which the original collector, Jacques Doucet (that's him above), used to hang with his Chardins - and nobody noticed... And a Van Gogh of railway cars at Arles, a lovely simple Derain of a rose in a vase, three exquisite Degas sketches, a beautiful Modigliani (La Blouse Rose) - and, upstairs, one perfect Chardin (Coin d'Office) that survived Doucet's sale of most of his 18th-century pictures. A wonderful gallery - small enough to look closely and enjoy properly, without aesthetic burn-out. And mercifully dry.


  1. Welcome back Nige, an enjoyable time seems to have been had, batteries charged, nerves steeled, loins girded, sleeves rolled up, on yer bike ready for the Monday slings and arrows. Did you notice how the Dutch people sound like Shaun Connery?
    Happy to see that you're a Modigliani man.
    Oddie, by the way has now been trumped by the big cat programme, makes ducks in Devon seem pedestrian.

  2. Welcome back to our impoverished little island, Nige. I'm sure the Dutch are doing just fine, owing to their legendary commercial acumen - "In matters of commerce the fault of the Dutch" etc etc.

    I always found their open curtain policy intriguing: "Admire my lovely, comfortable and, above all, respectable, existence." Very Protestant.

  3. Yes Sean Connery indeed, Malty - with added throat-clearing. And yes Sophie, if ever a nation's doing fine, it's surely Holland...

  4. An interesting view of Holland by night, fly from Oslo to Schiphol the route follows the coastline, wall to wall glasshouses, all lit up, a spectacular sight.
    A lousy way to travel through Holland, on the A9 to the German border, worst motorway in Europe, apart from Portugal's little one.

  5. I want to visit that museum in Avignon!