Out and back to Puyloubier on the twisty route to the vineyards under the limestone crags of Mont Sainte Victoire. Wonderful Provence countryside making wonderful wine. Still the remains of the morning mist and a bit fresher than anticipated, this ride out from Marseille was to check out my new helmet. Now the second Saturday in December, the ski pistes are now open not far away in the Alps so even getting out for a ride at all was good going.
Ride over to the beach at Marseille Plage Borély. The beach is kept clear and pretty in the summer season but the autumn storms have landed rocks and mud on the beach paths, also seaweed on the sand. And puddles. So play time on my Marin trail bike. Very squeaky centre-pull brakes for the ride back too.
Royal Opera’s latest revival of the classic double bill of Italian verismo operas that has thrilled opera lovers since the time of Enrico Caruso.
I’ve never really made sense of Cavalleria Rusticana on record past the famous tunes but the bitter drama opens up to life with this vibrant modern dress production, stage revolve and above all, surtitles in English. The music has a huge emotional compass, is technically progressive, passionate and supple, this performance seemed much darker than the classic recordings. The prelude action is non-sequential but then there’s a load of story-telling to get through before the plot sort of becomes clear but then, oh then, the opera comes so alive. This staging gives us false perspective, heightening the sense of exclusion. The scenery (in both productions) is set on a stage revolve, in Cavalleria Rusticana the rotation is reversed as an indication of a change of fortune as the dénouement approaches. The singing is gripping, the passion, the warmth but the chilling discords in the famous Easter Hymn now make sense with stage action and dramatic lighting. Wonderful.
With Pagliacci it’s a similar plot but a quite different treatment. The duets are glorious and Jorge de León (tenor) gave us a barnstorming performance of the famous aria Ridi Pagliacci, though impossible not to hear it without an echo in the ear of the old recording of Enrico Caruso, who sung it slightly faster. Again the modern production, seamless changes between the scenes using the stage revolve and with lots of background action, plus surtitles, made it possible to understand the plot. I’m not sure it adds that much, the glory is the singing and the tunes. Leoncavallo pays homage to Wagner a couple of times which both places Pagliacci in musical history and gives musical depth to the already complex plot.
Once again it’s Christmas time with GBMCC London’s Xmas Lunch pulling in a house-full of London bikers and our friends. Good to see again rider-friends and followers from my many years of biking. Then on to the RVT (Royal Vauxhall Tavern), which was packed out from the start; the first act of the evening was the Dame Edna Experience.
Brief visit over the North Downs to Longfield in Kent. It’s the first stop after Bromley South on the fast train to Dover. Brian showed me a short hike up to Ruffet’s Wood for the views towards the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in the London Docklands. There’s a feeling of wide openness under a huge and distant horizon but it’s impossible to ignore the pylons in every direction.
Longfield is an intriguing place because it stayed small for so long; it’s recorded by its Norse/Danish name as Langafel in the Doomsday Book and before but there are only the church and rectory shown on the OS map of 1869. The railway passed through but didn’t stop here until a station was paid for in 1872 by a landowner in nearby Fawkham. By 1897 the OS map shows a smithy, a children’s nursery near the station, chalk and clay pits, brickworks, farms, orchards and pub: an infrastructure has been established, including a National School in the next village for “Lost Boys” (orphans), presumably also to supply labour.
Longfield has a small church, the tradition locally is that much of the early church was built c.1343 with major additions in 1886, including the tower.
One lovely thing about the Lake District is that it has so many of the features of the big world outside Cumbria but on a scale that makes them accessible. The River Greta is powerful and causes damage for sure, but it’s a miniature compared to the Snake River (US) or the Kawarau (NZ). Nonetheless, the Greta has impressive rapids as it passes through its gorge upstream of Keswick. Waterfalls get the artists’ attention but it’s river rapids where you feel the power of moving water.
Early ride out from Keswick on a fine November Friday with hardly any traffic, so easy to stop as well as enjoy the route on my Ninja Z250SL. This light bike’s ideal for these roads. Fine clear morning light with a typical November pure blue sky after a cold front had passed over the Lake District. As being well layered up, I took a flask of coffee. When I got back to Keswick the sun was setting on Skiddaw and the chill was coming on fast.
A Saint Emilion Grand Cru of a vintage nearly thirty years ago, one of the last of my Father’s cellar. It’s a long time ago: in 1995, John Major was Prime Minister, the €uro had not yet been introduced and the UK enjoyed a long summer heatwave. My Father would have been just seventy, still contributing research papers to the academic journals of biology. Me, I was lighting television studio programmes in London.
Hike in the Calanques from La Madrague-de-Montredon at the end of Marseille bus route 19. We started out late in the day as there were problems hiring a city bike as the app wouldn’t work. But hiking in the sunshine under the blue sky and in moderate temperatures is always a great tonic, even though we didn’t get that far in or up the Marseilleveyre Massif. Great views of the Baie de Marseille and even Mt. Ventoux far away.