Thursday, 10 June 2010

Never mind the neighbours, just admire the view from the balcony

In Montpellier the other day I spent an hour or two exploring another example of the city's extraordinary collection of trompe l'oeil, i.e. 'deceive the eye'. This is a popular urban art-form intended to brighten up derelict or unappealing inner city corners, maybe with a eye to discouraging graffiti at the same time.

(It seems to work: I haven't seen any graffiti disfigurement of Montpellier trompe l'oeil. Maybe it's akin to playing Mozart in supermarkets to discourage shoplifting or public places to reduce leaving of litter. Apparently this is unaccountably successful. I don't know what Mozart would have thought of it.)

The trompe l'oeil artist here has gone one better, though. The people on their balconies are all past citizens of Montpellier, so the whole takes on the commemorative function of those circular blue plaques you see in London and elsewhere telling you that So-and-so Lived Here.

Left to right, starting on the ground floor:

Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), shown as a medallion plaque: Botanist, gave his name to magnolia, example flowering just beneath him.

Léo Malet (1909-1996), writing at his window: Crime writer, a sort of French Edgar Wallace, creator of detective called Nestor Burma. Film posters in background.

Léopold Nègre (1879-1961), with wife: Pioneer of BCG vaccination.

Juliette Gréco (1927- ), waving at trompe l'oeil pigeons: Actress and singer. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, with whom she had a relationship, in background.

Antoine-Jérôme Balard (1802-1876), chemist: Pioneer of photography, discoverer of bromine and hypo (remember the smell, if you ever developed your own photos?).

Jules-Emile Planchon (1823-1888), botanist: This was the man who saved the Languedoc wine industry. In the 1860s and 70s a disease called phylloxera devastated the vineyards of the south of France, causing widespread misery and unemployment. Planchon identified the cause (a sort of greenfly from the USA), and gradually eradicated it by grafting French vine varieties on to American stocks known to be resistant to the disease. The healthy vines on his balcony are witness to the success of the first large-scale biological operation in history. Or so the notes in the current Montpellier city bulletin tell me.

What my photo doesn't show is where I had to stand, with no little heroism, to get the whole façade in. The railings enclose an espace toutou, doggy space. (The notice on the front door, incidentally, says Attention: chien gentil i.e. 'Warning: kind dog', probably the golden retriever asleep on the mat.) As dogs are banned from the nearby park, local dog-owners are invited to 'exercise' their dogs in a weed-strewn waste area, about half the size of a tennis court, in front of the 'house', this side of the railings. It was touch and go, picking my way between the canine organic sculptures. One false step . . . but for the delectation of the myriads of urban art lovers who come here it will have been worth it.


Dave said...

I am, as I write this, painting images of every blogger who has visited me over the windows of my house.

Rog said...

Dave should do a big Muriel up against his wall. This is a most interesting and informative post Christopher and I hope the inner recesses of your sole are eventually cleansed. Try playing a bit of Mozart.

I, Like The View said...

I like the view


Christopher said...

A very good idea, Dave. Have you got us inside looking out, or inside looking out? Do you have enough windows, especially with Muriel the size she is?

Rog: It's generally J. who prepares our fish, but I'll suggest suitable music to her that might help to by-pass this chore. O sole mio, perhaps? Lara's Tuna from Dr Zhivago?

Jax: Erm...the view from the balcony would be over Dogturdia Park...

Charlene said...

Every person has a story; some good stories and some bad. I find your exercise much more interesting than the usual geneology Americans are so interested in.

Christopher said...

Hi Charlene, thank you. We were just thinking of having a little drink. Won't you join us?

dinahmow said...

Interesting that Mozart has that effect on taggers.But I can understand it as too-loud-heavy-metal stuff makes me want to be destructive!

I, Like The View said...

no no no! the view of the building!! sorry about having to tip-toe thru the dog-turd to take the photo. . .

a high price to pay, but I think it was worth it!