Sunday, June 22, 2014

Travel funnies 2014 – Dordogne and Bordeaux, France
Torrey Orton
June 21, 2014
What’s a brand, really?
Arriving on the outskirts of the greatest by price/volume wine region in the world - Bordeaux, and specifically St Emilion - I realised that this is what ‘brand’ means. Anything which can have the brand attached legitimately to it has value, no matter what the scale. The scale can mean a few hundred square meters here and there along the road between houses, or, in towns, spaces which elsewhere would be an undeveloped vacant lot or a sign of local decline, here have vines of manicured looks. They are there because they are Bordeaux vines, and some Grand Cru to boot.
Think acquiring the brand of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) by taking an address in Cambridge (Mass. that is!) for your start-up private tertiary education establishment. There’s an MIT simulacra in Melbourne, branded MIT. This does work for foreigners needing only a brand label to attach to job apps for positions in countries and companies where Cambridge is as common as Villeneuve or Maisonneuf are in France – namely, every town has one of each of these nearby. But everyone knows they are a place name and not a quality drop, whereas the title ‘MIT’ has recognition value way beyond its place in the daily experience of people in, say, Sri Lanka. You won’t get the branded MIT experience or learning in the simulacra, either.
Road works, again…
I’ve long been a fan of those “Rough Surface” signs all around Melbourne, often signalling to no obvious effect. That is, attending to the expected distortion of our travel experience yields a nil result. The ‘rough’ fails to put in a perceptible appearance. So, too, in France there’s a nanny state competition already mentioned re: limbs and rocks that may fall. In addition there’s the competing duo of “Chaussees deformees” and “Trous en formation”, which roughly mean there’s a bump ahead whose origin may either be lack of attention to weather effects (the said “trous” arising from freezing subsurface water in winter which creates surface bubbles that break down into holes as things warm up) or be a direct effect of intentional deformation of the road surface to improve it. I particularly like the implication that the trous are the result of some naturally productive (en formation) process, while the rough surface of the “Chaussees deformees” are the real effect of efforts to improve things? Nice one.
Then there was Freud again…
We were being lined up by a waiter for ordering from a flash menu, when he questioned our respective holdings of allergies, since many local, wholly bio and only slightly distressed by preparation treatments (cooking) components were included in the offerings and …suddenly, he was hit with an attack of the sneezes in a setting (overlooking St Emilion township from a roof top terrace) he’s been working for the last weeks with no clear sources for sneezes in the environment…I fell about laughing which he joined easily, but somewhat less fully than my giving over to the moment…BTW, none of us could come up with an allergy to warn the chef about.
Jardins for a moment…
…we’ve seen a few in the last few days. About four close up in varying degrees of intensity ranging from the very slight Jardins de Sardy in the back blocks 15 ks. east of St Emilion to the extremely rigorous, classical French style a few days before. The others had tended towards the classical with variations for scale, age, and rehabilitation from original plantings and so on. All had an age of a couple of hundred years as a starting place.
What struck me viewing the Jardins de Sardy – a somewhat cobbled together anglo-italian melange, with water features of substance and ingenuity, but altogether only about ten hectares of coverage before folding naturally into pasturage - was how embracing the presentation was, containing many specimens of flowering and towering and climbing and crawling vegetation, any one of which might reach out to attract my attention (noticed because this is what was happening at the time). A low demand and high opportunity experience.
What we had faced at Eyrignac Manor Garden at Salignac- Eyvigues, Perigord (Dordogne valley) was the reverse: high visual demand and little choice opportunity except to turn away from the demand. The unrelieved designed views required visual submission through their very consistency, formality and persistence in the visual space of the present moment. Most powerfully this effect was achieved by their justifiably acclaimed hornbeam based planting, rigorously sculpted over a hectare or so, with maintenance requirements of monthly hand clippings of 42,000 square meters of shaped facades as the display placards announced with equally imposing formality and precision.
What it’s all about is the unnatural, of course, I just realised in a noddingly reflective moment. Plants don’t grow in regular, clipped forms except under duress. So my amazed shock at the achievements of classical topiary is expressing a perceived impossible forced into its boundaries but unremitting human attention…that which only can be supplied by wealth.
There is something off-putting in this visual demand which is perhaps somewhat the experience I was having in Paris a few weeks ago. Where everything is designed, everything is predictable and so, intrinsically boring, or reassuring if you have that feeling arise from certainty. I obviously tend to the former, increased by my inclination to see things slightly from a skewed perspective in order to bring peripheral vision to bear on my world… the vision which is highly geared to threats, disturbances, in brief to pre-empting the unexpected.
And here comes Freud again, again…
Often, if someone is lecturing me about something (which I accept by remaining present to the lecture, or may have requested it in the first place), I will attend to it by not appearing to listen, by letting it flow by, especially if the information novelty is high. With the gardens of more natural pretence, I look at them as I do a forest or a mountain range – a surveying, sweeping look at the whole, seeking the whole? I don’t know, but the perceptual effort seems on the edge of the unconscious and cannot be forced. It can only be allowed, which requires not trying to see, in a way. This is of a kind with insight, intuition, problem-solving…which just comes and cannot be forced.
And so, it is not surprising that I only noticed the gazpacho on the menu board of the fourth restaurant we checked out last night, having been disappointed two nights before by its allure on another establishment’s hoarding which we were then denied, once having chosen to eat there on the basis of that allure, by the sad message that it was off, not on at all. I didn’t even know I was looking for it this time and there it was and it was on and it was good, though not a gazpacho we had ever had before.

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