I was very glad to get to Luz-St-Sauveur. The day was hot and the car was dry. Luz-St-Sauveur is a lovely pre medieval village sitting at the bottom of a valley on the lip of the Pyrenees National Park and all the views you can eat and mountains all around. As with many of the local villages it depends highly on tourism with clear divisions of old and new. The most striking building is the ‘Knights Templar church’. Its crenulated walls point to less peaceful times when in the 14th Century, the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem built these ramparts to protect the locals when bandits from nearby Spain would make frequent raids. It is a lovely village and the locals genuinely walk around in berets carrying long loafs of bread.
June in Luz-St-Sauveur is what we in England call the ‘Off season’. A time when most of the shops, hotels, restaurants and such are closed or only open at weekends. And all the better for it as far as I’m concerned. It was all rather quiet.
‘High Season’ would be in the winter when people from all over Europe descend on the village to indulge in skiing and other winter sports. I tried skiing once in my early twenties. I was appalling, a Giraffe on crystal meth. To me it was not so much a holiday as a horrific plane crash which lasted a week. It was not helped when on my very first day I saw some poor chap being virtually spooned into a helicopter. No not for me.
The other ‘High Season’ would be in the summer months, July and August when the ski lifts are given a new lease of life carrying those into walking and camping. We were snugly nestled between the two seasons. Wonderful.
After getting settled into what would be our lovely home for the next week it was time to look about for painting prospects. Mooching into the side streets I passed the backs of houses. Many of the gardens are given almost wholly over to the production of food. This generally means vegetables and small livestock such as chickens and goats. The plots are impeccably kept and not a weed in site. As luck would have it the best was next door to our place. The only drawback being that a wall obscured my view into the garden. To remedy this I discovered a few planks at the side of the house and placed them on the ground in front of the wall, on top of that I placed a large table and finally on the table I placed a chair. I stood back and folded my arms. It all looked stable enough and rather reminded me of a £60,000 contemporary art exhibit in the Royal Academy where I am pleased to say I am exhibiting this year..
No time to waste I shoved my pad and kit under my arm and ascended my new Heath Robinson ‘viewing platform’. I clambered up and unsteadily eased myself into the seat and settled in. I looked out and there in the garden looking at me in the international language of ‘rather shocked’ was an elderly man and a lady who I took to be his wife. Silence. ‘Hello, I’m from England’ I chirped and waved my brushes. Interestingly this seemed to answer all of their questions and they were kind enough to let me get on with my work. Although it was a hot day it was wonderful to work on such a subject in such a fine setting.
In a paddock behind the house were living this goat and hen. I love goats. I never see goats at all in London and the only chickens I ever get to see are generally bald and languishing beneath cellophane. It’s such a treat to see one triumphant and with feathers. These two appeared to be firm friends and would spend the whole day in each other’s company pecking and chewing respectively until sunset. Oddly it was the chicken who appeared to be the boss. They were however tricky to paint as neither one would sit still for very long. I tempted the goat with pieces of melon though she kept climbing up the fence for more as is the nature of a goat. We got there in the end.
I would probably never have visited the Pyrenees were it not for the kind offer of a house for the week from a friend. It is a wonderful place for anyone who loves the great outdoors and it’s an absolute gift for a painter. Do go along.