Monday, June 27, 2011

A Summers Day Out

One of the lovely things about having friends and family visiting in the Summer months are the memorable days out, visiting familiar and undiscovered places, you see things with fresh eyes and it makes you appreciate your near and far surroundings all the more.

On Saturday we set off for the lovely historical market town of Albi in The Tarn department it's about 50 miles north east of Toulouse in the Languedoc Roussillon region. Like it's larger neighbour Toulouse 'La Ville Rose' most of the buildings are hewn from red brick.  We ambled round the lovely windy, cobbled streets, browsed in fabulous shops, looked up in awe at the imposing Cathedral fortified and built from red brick, inside, every inch of it is painted, it is beautiful.  After a rather fine lunch washed down with local Gaillac wine we strolled along the banks of the River Tarn, with temperatures reaching the upper thirties, we made a lot of cafe stops for long, cold drinks.

The River Tarn

I was rather taken by this shrub, growing by the banks of the Tarn, Belle Mere told me it's a type of Grenadine, (Pomegranate), if I can find one, it will be in my garden next year.

Albi is the birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the largest collection of his works are housed in the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec in the heart of Albi, the museum was founded in 1922 by a lifelong friend and the paintings were gifted by his family.

Desire Dihau Reading a Newspaper in the Garden, 1890

Never one to miss an opportunity to go round an art gallery, the cool, air-conditioned, museum was a welcome escape from the searing heat outside.  Toulouse-Lautrec has never been one of my favourite artists but I did enjoy looking at his works and I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of his works and of the man behind the paintings.  Poor Henri, he was born into a wealthy aristocratic family descended from the counts of Toulouse, his parents were first cousins and as a result of interbreeding Henri suffered from many congenital health disorders, as a child he fractured his right and then left leg, the bones never healed, his torso developed normally but his legs stopped growing, his adult height was 5ft 1. With long periods of convalescence he immersed himself in his art, showing promise and talent he was encouraged by his parents who knew his destiny and future career would be in the art world.

Toilette, 1896

Henri went to Paris and was drawn to Montmarte, he is most famous for his lithographs for the Moulin Rouge and depictions of life in the decadent, seedy underbelly of Paris. I feel he was most comfortable painting prostitutes in the salons and the brothels, the prostitutes of the day rarely left the brothels and he seemed to have an affinity with them, painting them going about there daily business.  Henri was often mocked for his short stature and he consoled himself with alcohol, his favourite tipple was a mixture of Absinthe and Cognac served in a wine goblet and nicknamed 'Earthquake'. Sadly alcohol got the better of him and he spent periods of time in health sanatoriums and institutions.  One of the most poignant items in the museum for me was his walking stick, which he used every day, inside the cane was a secret compartment containing long thin bottles and a glass, this way he could have alcohol on him at all times, he died from complications of alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate in Malrome, he was 36.

Typical Albi Mansion

I did not get a chance to go into this time!

We left Albi and headed for the beautiful hilltop village of Cordes-Sur-Ciel, we took the D roads and drove through stunning countryside, passing pretty villages and narrow roads flanked by sun drenched Gaillac vineyards.


Beautiful Architecture

Views from Cordes of the Summer Countryside

This pigeon was most obliging posing for the camera

Love this stone carving, of a man (possibly the original owner of this medieval building) crawling out.

“In Cordes, everything is beautiful, even regret” Albert Camus.

Crusoe has sneaked onto this photograph, he is recovering beautifully.

Crusoe relaxing on very old flagstones, he looks suspiciously demure, but we know he has just polished off the remnants of a child's ice cream cone! 

With all the entertaining and messing about in the French countryside, I have barely turned my laptop on, hoping to catch up with you all soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Up To My Neck

Costumes by Vivienne Westwood, hats by Stephen Jones, photography by Simon Proctor, celebrating 300 years of Royal Ascot

  I would love to be wearing a fabulous outfit, topped off by a wondrous hat, floating round the Royal Enclosure, studying the form, with a glass of bubbly in hand...

But no, I am getting the house ready for our own Summer Season and I am up to my neck in cleaning, the nearest I am to a thoroughbred racehorse right now is cursing the local horses, cows and sheep who are currently grazing in the adjacent fields and sending loads of fly's my way, I have just cleaned all the windows and although there is no grime or pollution to worry about, idyllic country living does bring it's own problems I can't tell you how hard it is to clean all the fly dirt off the windows inside and out.  Its hot here at the moment so the windows are open in the early morning and the little buggers are pouring in, they don't seem to sell fly screens here, all there is is spray, which makes me sneeze, those revolting sticky things you hang from the ceiling and ghastly stickers for the windows (which don't work).  Oh well at least the windows are clean for now.

Our first influx of seasonal guests arrive on Saturday, hence the mass cleaning frenzy and Belle Mere arrives on Sunday (she likes to see a clean, tidy and well ordered home) so the place has got to be pristine.  No stone is being left unturned, I have even run all the CLEAN glasses, that were languishing in a cupboard in the guest house, through the dishwasher as they have been unused since last season and have gone a bit foisty, nothing worse than a foisty wine glass!

Blog posts and commenting will probably be very thin on the ground for the next few days.  Next week I intend to reward myself by going to the local salon to treat myself to a leg and bikini wax, pedicure and manicure, and then I want to do something utterly glamorous, will see you then!

Fresh non foisty glasses!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Basque Region

Some things you will discover in the Basque region in deepest South West France...



Typical Basque House

Arnaga Gardens

The elegant game of  Pelote

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Just Love These

You can hear the puff of breath

From the fabulous Rianna at The Last Doll Standing

Friday, June 3, 2011

Red Hat

Kees Van Dongen, The Corn Poppy c 1919

 Norman Parkinson, 1959

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Merle Oberon

I first became aware of Merle Oberon when as a young girl I watched Wuthering Heights probably her most famous film, Merle's portrayal of the passionate and wild Cathy Earnshaw, captivated me.  Merle's story started far away from the rugged beauty of the Yorkshire moors or indeed the studio lots of Hollywood.  Merle became one of Hollywood's most photogenic and exotically beautiful stars, something that did not always sit easily with Merle, sadly she spent most of her life trying to cover up her true origins and given some of her earlier experiences and the prejudices of her times it's hardly surprising...

According to her birth certificate, Oberon was born in Bombay, British India on 18 February 1911 as Estelle Merle Thompson, although other sources note 19 February as her date of birth and Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson as her birth name.  Merle was given "Queenie" as a nickname, in honour of Queen Mary, who visited India along with King George V in 1911.

She obscured her parentage over the years. Some sources claim Merle's parents as Charlotte Selby, a Eurasian from Ceylon with partial Māori heritage, and Arthur Terrence O'Brien Thompson, a British mechanical engineer from Darlington, who worked in Indian Railways. Aged 14, Charlotte had given birth to her first child Constance, in Ceylon, from a relationship with Henry Alfred Selby, an Irish foreman of a tea planter. Some sources claim that Constance was Merle's biological mother, although Charlotte raised Merle as her own child. Charlotte's partner, Arthur Thompson, was listed as her father in Merle's birth certificate, with the forename misspelled as "Arther". Merle reportedly knew Constance as her "sister" Constance had four other children, Edna, Douglas, Harry and Stanislaus (Stan) with her husband Alexander Soares. Edna and Douglas moved at an early age to the UK and Harry later in life moved to Toronto, Canada and retained Constance's maiden name, Selby. Stanislaus was the only child to keep his father's last name of Soares and he currently resides in Surrey, BC Canada. All the siblings reportedly believed that Merle was their Aunt (mum Constance's sister).

When Harry Selby tracked down her birth certificate in Indian government records in Bombay (Mumbai), he was surprised to discover he was in fact her brother. He attempted to visit her in Los Angeles, but she refused to see him. He withheld this information from Oberon's biographer Charles Higham, only revealing it to Maree Delofski, the maker of The Trouble with Merle, a 2002 documentary produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which investigated the conflicting versions of her origin.

In 1914, Arthur Thompson joined the British Army and later died of pneumonia on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme. Merle, with her "mother" (really her grandmother), led an impoverished existence in shabby Bombay flats for a few years. Then, in 1917, they moved to better circumstances in Calcutta. Oberon received a foundation scholarship to attend La Martiniere Calcutta for Girls, a well-known Calcutta private school. There, she was constantly taunted for her unconventional parentage and eventually quit school and had her lessons at home.

Oberon first performed with the Calcutta Amateur Dramatic Society. She was also completely enamored of the films and enjoyed going out to nightclubs. Indian journalist Sunanda K. Datta-Ray claimed that Merle worked as a telephone operator in Calcutta under the name Queenie Thomson, and won a contest at Firpo's Restaurant there, before her movie career started.

In 1929, she met a former actor named Colonel Ben Finney at Firpo's, and dated him. However, when he saw Oberon's dark-skinned mother one night at her flat and realised Oberon was mixed-race, he decided to end the relationship. But he promised to introduce her to Rex Ingram of Victorine Studios, if she could come to France. Oberon jumped at the offer and decided to follow the man to the studios in France.  After packing all their belongings and moving to France, Oberon and her mother found that their supposed benefactor had dodged them. He had left a good word for Oberon with Ingram at the studios in Nice. Ingram liked Oberon's exotic appearance and quickly hired her to be an extra in a party scene in a film named The Three Passions.

With David Niven

Oberon arrived in England for the first time in 1928, aged 17. Initially she worked as a club hostess under the name Queenie O'Brien and played in minor and unbilled roles in various films. "I couldn't dance or sing or write or paint. The only possible opening seemed to be in some line in which I could use my face. This was, in fact, no better than a hundred other faces, but it did possess a fortunately photogenic quality", she modestly told a journalist at Film Weekly in 1939.

Her film career received a major boost when the director Alexander Korda took an interest and gave her a small but prominent role, under the name Merle Oberon, as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) opposite Charles Laughton. The film became a major success and she was then given leading roles, such as Lady Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) with Leslie Howard, who became her lover for a while.

Oberon's career went on to greater heights, partly as a result of her relationship with and later marriage to Alexander Korda, who had persuaded her to take the name under which she became famous. He sold "shares" of her contract to producer Samuel Goldwyn, who gave her good vehicles in Hollywood. Her "mother" stayed behind in England. Oberon earned her sole Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for The Dark Angel (1935) produced by Goldwyn. Around this time she had a serious romance with David Niven, and according to his authorized biography, even wanted to marry him, but he wasn't faithful to her.

She was selected to star in Korda's film I, Claudius (1937) as Messalina, but a serious car accident resulted in filming being abandoned. Oberon was scarred for life, but skilled lighting technicians were able to hide her injuries from cinema audiences. She went on to appear as Cathy in her most famous film, Wuthering Heights (opposite Laurence Olivier; 1939), as George Sand in A Song to Remember (1945) and as the Empress Josephine in Désirée (1954).

According to Princess Merle, the biography written by Charles Higham with Roy Moseley, Oberon suffered even further damage to her complexion in 1940 from a combination of cosmetic poisoning and an allergic reaction to sulfa drugs. Alexander Korda sent her to a skin specialist in New York City, where she underwent several dermabrasion procedures. The results, however, were only partially successful; without makeup, one could see noticeable pitting and indentation of her skin.

Facial scarring clearly visible

Charlotte died in 1937. In 1949 Oberon commissioned paintings of her mother from an old photograph.  Anxious to conceal her true origins she asked the painter to lighten the colour of Charlottes skin.  The paintings hung in all her homes until Oberon's own death in 1979.

Merle Oberon became Lady Korda upon her husband's knighthood in 1942. She divorced him in 1945, to marry cinematographer Lucien Ballard. Ballard devised a special camera light for her to eliminate her facial scars on film. The light became known as the "Obie" and is still in use today.

She married twice more, to Italian-born industrialist, Bruno Pagliai (with whom she adopted two children; they lived in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico)and Dutch actor Robert Wolders – later companion to actresses Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron – before her retirement in Malibu, California, where she died, aged 68, after suffering a stroke. She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Merle Oberon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard) for her contributions to Motion Pictures.

Michael Korda, nephew of Alexander Korda, wrote a roman à clef about Oberon after her death entitled Queenie. This was also turned into a television miniseries starring Mia Sara.

Oberon claimed that she was born and raised in Tasmania, Australia. The fact that no birth or school records could be found to prove this was explained by another fabrication: all records had been destroyed in a fire. She maintained these fictions throughout her professional life. The story of her alleged Tasmanian connections was comprehensively debunked after her death.

Oberon is known to have been to Australia only twice. Her first visit was in 1965, on a film promotion. Although a visit to Hobart was scheduled, she became ill after journalists in Sydney pressed her for details of her early life, and she left for Mexico shortly afterwards. In 1978, the year before her death, she agreed to visit Hobart for a Lord Mayoral reception. The Lord Mayor of Hobart became aware shortly before the reception that there was no proof she had been born in Tasmania, but went ahead with the reception to save face. However, shortly after arriving at the reception, Oberon denied she had been born in Tasmania, to the disappointment of many. She then excused herself, claiming illness; whether ill or not, this meant she was unavailable to answer any more questions about her background. On the way to the reception, she had told her driver that as a child she was on a ship with her father, who became ill when it was passing Hobart. They were taken ashore so he could be treated, and as a result she spent some of her early years on the island. This story, too, seems to have been a fabrication. During her Hobart stay, she remained in her hotel, gave no other interviews, and did not visit the theatre named in her honour.

Yet there are still many people in Tasmania who claim to have known Oberon as a child. They insist she was the illegitimate daughter of a woman named Lottie Chintock from St. Helens.

Other versions of Merle Oberon's story include:
  • In Hobart in 1978, she pointed to a fine old building and told her husband Robert Wolders she had been born and raised there. The building was in fact Government House, the official residence of the Governors of Tasmania.
  • She left Tasmania for India after her distinguished father died in a hunting accident, and was raised there by aristocratic godparents.
  • Lottie Chintock had been seduced by the owner of the St Helens Hotel, John Wills Thompson.
  • Lottie Chintock gave birth to her in Hobart but was forced to relinquish her.
  • In Hobart, Lottie lived with an Indian silk merchant with the unlikely name of O'Brien. The O'Briens adopted the baby and took her to India, where she grew up.
  • She was taken to India by a travelling troupe of actors called O'Brien.
  • She was taken to India by the cousin of her mother's employer.
  • It is claimed that she attended the Model School in Hobart, but that school has no record of her.


Text Source via Wikipedia