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Marseille to Marbella, Part III: Waterfront Renaissance

The shady reputation which has dogged Marseille for years was, at least in part, shaken off in the run up to 2013 when the epithet of European Cultural Capital for the year prompted France to pull put all the stops to initiate a revolutionary new look for a waterfront in decay. Sweeping away much of the city’s industrialised port, and making magnificent new use of the ancient stone fortresses which stand like a gateway to the city and recall the age of Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo, the city embarked on an architectural and cultural renaissance which has reinvented the city’s place on Europe’s artistic map.

MuCEM and the Fort St-Jean

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The result is a new waterfront which combines a freshly gentrified old neighbourhood with the implantation of stunning new architecture to produce a dazzling display of cultural verve immediately alongside the Mediterranean sea. Central to the architectural revolution is the Musée des Civilisation dÉurope et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM), a masterly conjoining of a Rudy Ricciotti’s striking modern cube, covered from top to bottom with what looks like a giant lace mantilla, and, across a vertiginous narrow footbridge, the restored Fort St Jean, which today is awash with Mediterranean inspired gardens and striking sculpture. This combination of ancient and modern works surprisingly well. Both buildings are imposing and structural, but in their newly polished finish look dazzling, particularly at night. Next door to MuCEM another striking addition is the Villa Méditerranée, featured in Stefano Boaeri’s striking cantilevered construction which appears to defy gravity as it bends horizontally across a pool of Mediterranean water. 

The Villa Méditerranée and MuCEM by night

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But this waterfront would not be complete without the church which stands guardian over it all: the Cathédrale de la Major. Wedged between the sea and the district of Le Panier, the imposing 19th century structure looks like a cross between the Sacre Coeur in Paris, and Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. It’s stripes stone construction seems to echo the typical dress of Riviera beach goers, while adding a touch of elegant sobriety to this newly revolutionised cultural hub.

The Cathédrale de la Major

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Marseille to Marbella, Part II: Le Panier

It’s a story which is far from unique: European city, ravaged by the horrors of war, its architectural and cultural heritage trampled into dust by the unforgiving swathe of brutal violence – territory grabs without sensitivity nor foresight, all in the name of victory. Many of Europe’s ancient treasures were destroyed this way, when mass invasions and forced occupations brought with them a path of historical vandalism from which a full recovery has never been made. And Marseille is no exception. For on on the old Vieux Port, only the Renaissance style Hotel de Ville and the Hotel de Gabre remain as a reminder of what the grand old Marseille waterfront would have been in its golden age. The rest was cleared in mass explosions executed by Nazi occupiers who feared the uncontrollable warren of Marseille’s ancient streets, and the potential for hiding in them the “undesirables” they sought to eradicate.

And so, of this uniquely charismatic area of ancient Marseille, Le Panier, only the upper town remains today. Its previous quaint waterside was eradicated in one devastating act of destruction, only to be replaced by the horribly charmless art deco apartment blocks which remain to this day. Yet behind the port, up on the slopes of ancient Marseille, the old core of Le Panier remains, the merciful survivor of Nazi occupation, and clear example of how the city would at one time have looked.

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The streets of Le Panier carry a lazy, bohemian milieu characterised by a clearly artistic streak and a decidedly gritty, urban edge. Streets lined by painted shutters and washing hung out to dry are also decorated by large graffiti murals which give an indication of the creatively rebellious inhabitants who occupy the area. Steep slopes give way to quaint restaurants, and the area’s bars and shops are simple and unassuming. Streets are unplanned, cobbled and hilly, but they bare the signs of centuries of unceremonious habitation – the cracks of age and the scars of competing modes of expression.

While resembling something of the charm that the surrounding area of Provence exudes in bucket loads, Le Panier is as authentically urban as it gets. This is the hard edge to the Riviera’s soft, lavender-scented tourist-friendly facade, and is a quintessential representation of a modern Mediterranean city anchored in its history.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part I: Downtown City

Marseille is one of those cities that’s got a bit of a reputation. Like Naples and Palermo, (and even Barcelona before its Olympics regeneration), Marseille is characterised by an idyllic location which has been both its enemy and its friend. For with popularity has also come rapid growth, and the result is an uncontrolled urban sprawl where street crime has taken the place of riviera recreation, and the high temperatures have combined with a generalised lethargy to improve what are often grave social divides and ever evident crime and economic issues. Yet for all that, Marseille is a city with an undeniable arresting quality; which is so historically wealthy and with so vibrant and diverse a population that you cannot help but be mesmerised.

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Such is Marseille, France’s second city, and in many respects like Paris by the sea, except that in Marseille the social divide is perhaps even more visible. Here, Haussmann mansions have been given a graffiti facelift, and where the Seine would cut through Paris with all its luxuriant wateriness, in Marseille the sea, and all its accompanying ship building industrial heritage and fishing paraphernalia, predominates all.

This first look at our summer trip from Marseille down to Marbella takes the Daily Norm back a few weeks, to the sunny days of August when temperatures were at an all time high. Our arrival, on the Eurostar train from London into Marseille’s Gare St Charles, was one greeted by temperatures close to the 40s. Yet this was no blue-shuttered port or seaside retreat in which to enjoy the summer weather at ease. Marseille hit us with the full impact of its teeming urban sprawl which literally shimmered in the heat as the fumes of traffic and food and generalised humanity combined with fresh sea breezes and an awful lot of sunshine.

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From streets crammed with shops and markets, and bustling with faces from across the world, to the city’s true heart, the Vieux Port, where people milled to watch boats stride in and out of the harbour, it wasn’t hard to get to know Marseille: a city which wears its heart on its sleeve and is emotionally, viscerally real.

Marseille may be the capital of the French Riviera but St Tropez it is not. Rather, this thriving metropolis combines elements from across France and its ancient empire: it is a true world city with an evidently international demographic. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in spirit. And as you can see from this first raft of photos, it is a city of a not insignificant aesthetic appeal.

Bienvenue à Marseille!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Hampstead Heath

There are a surprising number of places in London that I have never visited. Before moving to Mallorca, I lived in London for 12 years, and yet the closest I have ever come to Notting Hill was the image of Hugh Grant’s droopy eyes in a book shop and his scantily clad lodger jumping around in front of a widely grinning Julia Roberts. I’m determined to explore the whole city, when time allows, and one place that I can now cross off the list is Hampstead Heath.

London viewed from Parliament Hill

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Located in the far North of London, the Heath is famous for many things, amongst them its bathing pools (men’s, women’s and mixed), sprawling countryside, the setting for Kenwood House, and fantastic views of London from Parliament Hill. Hampstead Heath has been the setting for various outdoor pursuits, water-sports and bucolic perambulations for years, and I’m not just referring to the less salubrious kind. It’s not difficult to see why the 700 acres of greenery are one of Londoners’ favourite places to spend recreational time: the sprawling landscape is so diverse and verdant, including vast forests, open heathland, rolling hills and various ponds, that a stroll within the park feels like a weekend away to the far reaches of the Kingdom.

Rolling countryside minutes from London

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But Hampstead Heath is not just a pasture of green and plenty. For the North-most extent hosts a grand and lavish manor house whose pearly white stucco and delicately embellished facade glimmers against its verdant surroundings. This is Kenwood House, once seat of the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, and today home to one of the UK’s best kept art collection secrets. Including one of Rembrandt’s most striking self-portraits, light-infused works by Vermeer, rococo masterpieces by Gainsborough and moody weather scenes by Turner, it is a veritable treasure-trove of art history’s greatest stars. And what’s more, the collection can be seen for free.

Kenwood House

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Less easy on the wallet perhaps are the homes which surround the Heath. Palatial, detached properties overflowing with rose-bordered gardens adjoin this leafy landscape, and are undoubtedly some of the most desirable homes in all of London. While my back pocked literally ached at the thought of what they must be worth, I dreamed myself a little dream that one day such a property could be mine. In the meantime I spent a little more within my means: on coffee in Hampstead’s other great treasure: it’s chic village High Street. One day…

Hampstead Village

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ginger cakes for the onset of Autumn

Ginger Cake with dark chocolate and paprika or white chocolate and orange blossom icing

I haven’t baked for ages. Not even since I had my London kitchen revolutionarily overhauled with wonderful new Victorian green ceramic tiles which offset spectacularly against my Ferrari red accessories and frankly make cooking a joy. But two things prompted me to bake this week: First the weather, which has taken a decisive turn towards autumn; a time of cosy nights in and the comforting perfume of baking enriching the home experience. Secondly, and by no means unconnectedly, is the final collapse of all beach body hopes. At least for this year. Now, in the run up to Christmas, a little binge is surely justifiable?

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So yearning for the smell of baking, and of seasonal spices, I set about making some ginger cupcakes, which also turned into a ginger cake because of excess mixture. I creamed together 200g of salted butter and 400g of soft brown sugar. To this I added 375g of self-raising flour, 4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 of nutmeg and another of cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. To help it all mix into a fluid and creamy batter, I added 8 fl oz of black treacle dissolved in another 8 fl oz of boiling water, and also folded in two egg yolks and the whisked up whites likewise.

Batter done, I made about 18 cupcakes and a small round sponge cake, so clearly you could decrease all of the quantities above if you’re after a smaller batch. I then split my butter cream (which I made quite recklessly without measuring – but essentially it was about 1 third butter to 2 thirds icing sugar with a dash or two of water) into two batches. In one I mixed melted dark chocolate and a sprinkling of smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika) and to the other melted white chocolate with a few drops of orange blossom essence picked up from the heavily scented streets of the Marrakech souks.

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The result is frankly too much delicious indulgence, even for me. The dark chocolate icing combines magnificently with the soft ginger sponge to create a cake befitting of all the spice-enhanced warmth of the season. The white chocolate brings a promise of the summer again, and a heavy dose of buttery chocolatey happiness to get us through the cold days soon to come.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Memories of Marrakech, in Abstract

It seems incredible that the summer is now drawing to its close. Why is it that time always goes so fast in the summer, yet the winter always seems to be an interminable torture without end? Yet the excitement with which this last summer season started infects me still, and I remember with what feverish anticipation we headed to the wild planes of Africa for the first time in our lives, to visit the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

In all the bustle of the new summer season, I barely had time to reflect upon the mesmerising pink tones of a city so unlike others I have visited previously. I created a few small art works, but soon my mind was focused towards Sicily. Amongst them, I painted this small study of the terracotta hued rooftops of Marrakech – a rather traditional work, but capturing something of the essence of that hodgepodge of a city. Yet when I looked upon the work the other day, sitting as it does on my bookshelf, I felt incomplete. This work, like the Windsor landscape and abstract coupling I have just completed, needed its abstract counterpart. And that is exactly what I set out to create.

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Memories of Marrakech (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown 2017, acrylic on canvas)

Featuring the same very Moroccan palette of pinks, blues and earthy tones, this abstract seeks to reinterpret my earlier rooftop study, injecting a whimsicality into the composition. In reimagining this work, I was also able to layer the abstract with double meanings. The round arc of a satellite dish also resembles, for example, the crescent and star which is the design of many an Arabic flag, while another dish is placed so as to recall the dome of a mosque.

Abstraction, as a concept, intends to remove something of the figurative and pictorial, at least from its normal compositional placement, if not from the canvas altogether. What interests me about this piece is its clear abstract quality, while retaining an evident illustrative quality of both Morocco and Marrakech. For me, that makes it the perfect souvenir of that fantastically unique city.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

My urban balcony garden: revived and revisited

Back in 2012, I wrote a post on The Daily Norm extolling the virtues of my little slice of urban garden paradise. Full of mature blooming geraniums, passion flowers and the sweet smelling sensation of my tropical brugmansia, the balcony adjacent to my London flat has always been my pride and joy. Wouldn’t all of us love an extensive green space, but this close to the city, such a paradise would be hard to come by. But here, in the South West I benefit from the green spaces of Clapham as well as my own little slice of the great outdoors. It was one of the reasons I was so sad to leave home when we moved to Mallorca back in 2014.

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When we returned to London earlier this year, one of our main priorities was to return our balcony, then stripped bear, to the same little piece of paradise it had been before. The centrepiece of it all, our brugmansia, was just about holding on to dear life after a spell down at my parents’ in Sussex, but our olive tree, also moved Southwards, had prospered. As for the rest, this was a project in starting from scratch, and as Spring moved into summer, we started introducing climbers, grasses and the red geraniums which have always characterised our urban garden space.

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Now as summer moves into autumn, this little urban balcony garden is entering its leafy, flower-bursting prime: a last hurrah before the cold weather moves in and reduces it to a skeleton of its summer self. At this time of year, moments in the creamy sun of late summer are a pure joy. As I laid back in my lounger yesterday morning, book in hand a coffee in the other, I looked around me, full of pride of the restoration we have achieved in only a small number of months. Only one thing remained to be done: to share it with all of you.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A Windsor Weekend, Part VI: The Abstract

There is often too much pressure on artists to stick to one particular style. Collectors like the work of an artist to be immediately identifiable – too much wavering from that course is never a good thing, they say. And while I suppose there is something inherently identifiable about the way an artist applies his or her brush to canvas, each is capable of doing very different things. Look at Gerhard Richter for example. He would paint vast stark abstracts one minute, and sumptuously emotional portraits the next. And good on him. For I am an artist who doesn’t like to stick to the same narrow path. As much as I have enjoyed painting more abstract scenes of late, I have also enjoyed reverting to the traditional.

Having said all of this, two very divergent painting styles needn’t be kept apart. From each traditional painting, I believe there is an abstract interpretation just waiting to emerge. And that is just what I did when I finished my traditional landscape of Windsor: I set about paintings it companion in abstract.

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Windsor Abstract (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017 – acrylic on canvas)

So what you see here is a work which is created from the same natural palette of browns, greens and blues as used in my landscape, and which is based upon a simplified version of the same shapes of trees and paths, strata and clouds, but all set into a very jumbled abstractive composition. Its much the same as my abstract interpretation of Las Meninas by Velazquez, except this time I am interpreting my own work.

I’m not sure I can say which of my Windsor works I prefer – this or the traditional. I believe there is a place for both. And together, they are even better.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A Windsor Weekend, Part V: The Landscape

Ravishing greens, resplendent sweeping hedgerows, and the dappled light of richly verdant, leafy trees at the end of their mighty display of seasonal prowess…such were the impressions left upon me as we strolled from the imperial statue of George III in Windsor Great Park into the wealth of bucolic pastures beyond. However what really struck me about this particular spot were the two groups of trees which accumulated to make two perfectly oval collectives, almost like green mushrooms or large rosettes of broccoli.

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Windsor Landscape (©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Utterly mesmerised by the sight of these rounded groupings, together with the composition of fields, green strata, and an old fallen gate, I started collecting images which would later inform a quick painting of the scene. Painting en plein air this was sadly not, but I started this small landscape as soon as I got home, when the mesmeric joys of these idyllic Windsor pastures captivated me still.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A Windsor Weekend, Part IV: The Park

The true might and scale of Windsor Castle is best appreciated at a distance. When approaching by train, the station at Windsor and Eton Riverside gives the appearance of a toy town construction as it sits in the shadow of the mighty castle silhouette on the skyline behind it. From the river, the great Castle pervades all watery reflections as a mirror image in the Thames doubles its impact. But best of all is the Castle viewed from the vast grounds which surround it, as the sprawling regal complex stands at the apex of a 2.65 mile perfectly straight road which cuts through Windsor Great Park: a true demonstration of its domination over the land.

Windsor Great Park is great indeed, humongous in fact. Had we wanted to explore each of its 2020 hectares we would have been exhausted indeed. And it would almost certainly take weeks to do it all. For these great hunting grounds of monarchs past are today the site of sprawling forests, vast landscaped gardens and agricultural land, and contain some of the most beautiful unspoilt countryside within the outer reaches of London.

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We restricted ourselves to the closet section of the park to Windsor town centre, namely the Long Walk and the land around it. Stretching from the Castle at one end to a grand imperial sculpture of George III upon a stallion at the other, the path is at the centre of a stunning tree and lawn lined avenue which seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. When setting off, the equine statue appears to be at the end of the world as it appears, tiny like a speck of dust on the far horizon. But as you proceed upon the Long Walk, admiring a progressively more bucolic scene unfold on either side, the true pomp and  enormity of the sculpture becomes clearer as behind, Windsor Castle shrinks in size.

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It was a hard slog, but we eventually reached George III, with the final efforts of our ascent to the base of the statue aptly rewarded by the most dazzling view of Windsor Castle far off in the distance. But turning the other way, we saw an idyllic landscape of rolling hills, woods and fields unfurl into the distance, and unable to resist a little embrace of this less landscaped scene, we delved into the forests and fields, snacking upon beautifully sweet forest berries as we did so. Here, only the unfortunate sound of Heathrow aircraft interrupted us. Otherwise the world was utterly still, and we found ourselves wonderfully at ease in this most heavenly of natural surroundings – the playground of the many Kings and Queens who have enjoyed the very rich landscapes which surround their home at Windsor.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.