Swirling 70s Architecture at Villa Benkemoun

Just two miles from the center of Arles sits the Villa Benkemoun, a magnificent estate designed by a disciple of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Visiting it is like stepping back in time.

The villa was the brainchild of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun, who enlisted their friend Émile Sala to design their dream home. Sala took an unusual approach.

Instead of creating an initial set of architectural drawings, Sala began by asking the family to jot down, day by day, how they lived their lives. Where did they take their meals, how did they entertain, did they spend time indoors or out? Then he used this knowledge to design a home that fit their needs, as well as Pierre’s desire to have a home that was “open and transparent.”

The Benkemouns liked Sala’s initial design but thought it had too many sharp edges. They suggested rounding a corner here, creating a curve there, until the house took the form they wanted. The final design was made up of round and elliptical rooms, “full of sensuality,” that seemed to swirl from one to the other. The result is a triumph of 1970s design, a masterpiece of modern architecture.

Read all about it, and see some beautiful photos, at Perfectly Provence!

 

Ancient Treasures of Arles

What’s 2,000 years old, 100 feet long and used to float?

If you guessed a Roman barge, you win!  And you can see one now in the Arles Museum of Antiquity.

Arles was once an important Roman town, a trading center with a major port. Barges with cargo from all over the Empire plied the waters of the Rhone River.

Around 2,000 years ago one of those barges sank. It lay there quietly, covered by mud, until scientists discovered it about ten years ago.

Read the rest of the amazing story of how this barge was recovered and restored in Perfectly Provence.

Book Review–Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

SYNOPSIS

The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself.

Sixty-two-year-old Arianna arrives in the South of France for a two-week artists’ workshop full of anticipation but burdened by guilt. Back home in Toronto, she has been living with the devastating diagnosis of her husband’s dementia and the heartbreak of watching the man she has loved for decades slip away before her eyes. What does her future hold without Ben? Before her is a blank canvas.

Encouraged by her family to take some time for herself, she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh. Gradually, she rediscovers the inner artist she abandoned long ago. Drawing strength from the warm companionship and gentle wisdom of her fellow artists at the retreat (as well as the vitality of guest lecturer Jacques de Villeneuve, an artist and a cowboy) Arianna searches her heart for permission to embrace the life in front of her and, like the sunflowers, once again face the light.

MY REVIEW

At an artists’ retreat just outside of the ancient Roman city of Arles, Arianna begins to rediscover her love of painting…and of life. She is helped along by her fellow artists, a colorful crew that becomes a supportive family over the course of the book. My favorite character was Bertram, a rather pompous Englishman who reveals surprising depth as the story unfolds.

This is a tale of love, grief and renewal, brilliantly told. All of us who have lost a loved one can understand the confusion and darkness that cloud Arianna’s mind. But slowly, petit à petit, she opens herself to new possibilities, connecting with her newfound friends and allowing the artist within her to reawaken. It’s a beautiful book, a mix of sadness, joy and discovery, as Arianna “reaches for that light in Provence.” By the end, her life has begun to move forward again.

I live part of the year in Provence and I tip my cap to Patricia Sands for her magnificent descriptions. She does a masterful job of capturing the glorious colors, sights and smells of this most beautiful part of France. From the weekly outdoor markets to the charming hilltop villages to the wild horses of the Camargue, Sands makes you feel as if you are in Provence. And she gives the mouth-watering Provençal food a starring role, reflecting the way that so much of French life revolves around the table.

Highly recommended.

Drawing Lessons is available from Amazon.