The perils of art history

by Stefan Fletcher April. 17, 2010 3396 views

I went up Cézanne’s favourite model today. Necrophilia? No, the Mont Sainte Victoire, a fascinating limestone massif to the east of Aix-en-Provence. The most famous views (thank you, Maestro Cézanne []) are from the South and East, but I decided to tackle it from the North, mostly because of Vauvenargues [], a village made famous first by an Enlightenment writer and then much more as one of Picasso’s last homes and his final resting place. In photographic terms, this was a tactical mistake, as I had the sun burning out every shot of the place, not helped by going at midday. I get knackered out and you get pictures of trees.

I don’t know what possessed me to scale that sodding rock. There’s a perfectly respectable – and vertiginous – wooded hill just behind my house. Call it hubris (OK, stupidity) and some rudiments of art history. I haven’t done any serious walking / climbing for a long, long time, as my knees are telling me right now.

I even went to the local mountain guide association and picked the ‘quite difficult’ route. If there had been one called “doddle, beautiful walk, no, you’ll love it”, I would have scorned it. As it turned out, the route was mapped out by acrobatic mountain goats on acid.

It was empty and utterly beautiful. On those oak and pine-scented slopes there was nothing except brooks babbling, bees buzzing and an unfit, middle-aged translator cussing.

The steep, difficult terrain offered another huge bonus: no mountain bikers. If there’s one thing that really spoils a beautiful mountain walk in a forest, it’s having to avoid mounted assholes dressed in fluorescent spandex with a black Smurf hat. Go and do your thing somewhere remote and challenging. Like Patagonia.

Three hours later I was knackered and had to stagger back another two hours without getting to the top. In my defence, the final approach was wicked and I was on my own. At 21, I would have called this being a wuss. At 42, it’s ‘sensible’.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I’m going back, earlier in the day – if ever I regain the use of my knees.

The unpretentious village of Vauvenargues

The château of Vauvenargues, where Picasso is buried and I thought I would be

The ‘easy’ part of the climb

Lhasa in Provence

This taken to annoy my dad, who's sure to claim I didn't actually climb it. Taken with an iTheodolite app on my iPhone. I was already climbing down…

So near and yet so far. What was left to do with a howling wind, the threat of rain, on my own, carrying 10 kg of camera equipment in the wrong bag. I know: excuses, excuses. I took me nearly three hours to get this far.

This one and the one below have no artistic merit but they were taken by ME up that bloody rock.

This one does, IMO.

For some foolish reason, I thought I'd pack a nice big heavy macro lens into a Billingham (i.e., wrong) kit bag. I was determined to use the damn thing and out of the tiredness and what-have-you came this pleasure. Isn't that bokeh gorgeous?

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There are 17 comments , add yours!
John Wright 10 years, 5 months ago

You are right about the black and white.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Karen 10 years, 5 months ago

crazy bugger, though the pictures are well worth it.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Nick Cavell 10 years, 5 months ago

By the way, thanks for the tip about the theodolite app, I like it a lot..

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Nick Cavell 10 years, 5 months ago

It's always the knees that go, but despite them you got some good shots.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
David Swatton 10 years, 5 months ago

Looks like a good walk. I've been doing plenty of that in the past few weeks but not in countryside so "elevated". But it does become quite addictive and when the weather is good it's wonderful to be out.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Sandra Vermeulen 10 years, 5 months ago

How are your knees now?

Pictures are wonderful again!!

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Birthe Vikoren 10 years, 5 months ago

Oh my, what a story!
Thanks for sharing your photos from your walk,
I love the first shot :)

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Justgood 10 years, 5 months ago

Thank you for taking us to that impressing place and: ALL MY RESPECT!!!

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Art Bee 10 years, 5 months ago

I think I will do my mountain climbing looking at your photo expedition Stefan! I will definitely save my knees that way for sure. Though travelling light is certainly not conducive to getting good landscape pictures from a mountaintop. It may be easier on the body...haha Thanks for sharing your fantastic photos and reportage. Well done!

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Hanna Westesson 10 years, 5 months ago

Great set, what a tour!

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Tomie Poodle 10 years, 5 months ago

quelle expédition! un beau reportage...mes genoux ne m'auraient jamais porté si haut, c'est pour cela que j'apprécie surtout la magnifique macro!

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Thebronzebow 10 years, 5 months ago

Congrats for slogging it out. If I am around when you do it again (likethat will happen...), we can kill ourselves together as I've not done any hiking lately either. :) 9 and 10 are fabulous and I quite like 6 too.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Lynda 10 years, 5 months ago

I'm knackered but for a different reason- just sung tonight for a couple of hours in a concert and my eardrums are humming as we had a loud band playing with us on some numbers. I love the last shot!

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker 10 years, 5 months ago

Sounds like you had a tiring climb. We tried climing Helvellyn in Cumbria 10 years ago - I gave up half way after succumbing to asthma and my other half completed the climb and knackered his knee coming down so I know exactly the sensation of anticlimax you must be feeling! Love shot no.9 by the way! :-)

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Michael Sakowicz 10 years, 5 months ago

'Mounted Assholes...'

LOL... Nice... Never heard it that way before... Great shots of course too.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Jarvo J 10 years, 5 months ago

Frankly, I don't believe you did it ;-)
Cracking photos and a 10/10 for the joke at the beginning of you commentary. Love that app too.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited
Sadhya Rippon 10 years, 5 months ago

Thank you for going through such pain, to give me, and perhaps many other photobloggers such pleasure. I really enjoyed your report, and the photographic evidence. The macro shot is lovely too.

10 years, 5 months ago Edited