I hadn’t expected to see fire hydrants in Provence, but I left the airport and, there they were. I obviously wasn’t as interested in drawing them when I lived there before. Maybe I thought that was weird. Directing a play in which wolves fought with lightsabres against people holding day-old baguettes, absolutely fine; sketching fire hydrants, get away you loony. I’m sure that is the first thought people have when they see me sketching a hydrant. “Les bouches à incendie“, that is what they are called here. Or ‘bouche d’incendie’. Anyway, I sketched the one above while waiting for my navette (that is the shuttle bus between airport and town) at the Marseille-Provence airport. The one below was started while waiting for my first poulet-frites in ten years, and finished later.
“Poulet-frites”, I hear you say? This was my favourite meal when I lived in Aix. There were a few places I would get them, the best being the little place outside the Super U, but I also liked “Le Regal” as well. Well a decade later Le Regal had moved across the street to a spot outside the post office, significanty upgraded its friterie stand, but still they produce lovely poulet-frites. Poulet-frites is basically a small baguette filled with chicken and the sauce of choice (I love le mayo), then topped off with loads of fresh frites (French Fries to you). Poulet-frites, I love you very much. There is my poulet-frites on the right.
Lastly, this one, a semi-naked fire hydrant on the corner of Avenue Victor Hugo (the famous writer / cartoon crimefighting duo) and Boulevard Roi René (the last king of Provence / cafe owner and helper of the Resistance in WWII). Do you remember when I sketched fire hydrants at 2am in Los Angeles? Well I sketched this one at 2am as well. I was having a stroll through the still-balmy streets on my way back to the hotel after a night sketching an old pub I used to know, and this one caught my eye. When I was done sketching, I popped into a late-night convenience store to get a nice cold Fanta Citron to drink. A drunk man in the shop smiled at me and said, “eh, tu es gourmand!” I had been looking at the Mars Bars and though he might have been sarcastic. He then patted my tummy, and said again, “tu es gourmand, monsieur!” Cheeky get, I thought, sure my belly’s getting a bit portly but as I explained to him (because I felt the need to explain), “no no, it’s ok, I live in America.” I said that (in French) as if it somehow justified my paunch, like living in America with all of its fast-food and chocolate-based holidays will somehow contribute to weight gain (in my case it does, along with the desk job and general lack of exercise, but I also lived on poulet-frites and Pepsi-Max when I lived in France so touché). Not that I haven’t been vain about my stomach size in the past; once at the doctor’s office, the nurse asked me to stand on the scales to be weighed and I held in my tummy to make it appear as if I’d lost weight. That didn’t work. But I thought, no, if I’m a gourmand then so be it, I’m going to have that Mars Bar, to hell with you, drunken French stranger and your early-hours waist-size-judging fixation. Then I remembered, it’s ok, Mars Bars are slightly smaller in France than in England, so I have nothing to worry about.
Incidentally, I learned the French name for fire hydrants because I came across the French version of Gabi Campanario’s book “The Art of Urban Sketching” while in a bookshop in Strasbourg. Below, I talk in French about why I love sketching them so much (click to see plus grand, and I guarantee you, my French is nowhere near that good…)
Next up: sketching a totally French bar called “O’Sullivan’s”!
9 thoughts on “les bouches à incendie d’aix”
I think a fire hydrants of the world series might be in order. Perhaps accompanied by explanations of late night snacks of the world.
Well, I have experience aplenty of both…
Fantastic sketches! And I really enjoyed the report that you included with your post … including the reference to inter-country candy size differences … definitely a gourmand! I tried to capture a plumbing apparatus (see below) a few months ago and thought of your hydrants when I was attempting to do so … will keep sticking with it using your hydrant work as inspiration. :) I admire how you situate the hydrants in their scene; my current (big) struggle is that many of my sketches have “floating” objects … objects that don’t seem integrated in their surroundings. I digress … great work!
Great stuff! I often have my hydrants ‘floating’ too, but find that even a few lines here and there in the background to help place them geographically. Yes, I’m definitely a gourmand!
fries in a baguette is a major sin here in Belgium !!!!!
It certainly isn’t. I lived on that exact thing when I spent a year in Charleroi, when I’d eat le Brochette de Dinde avec Frites, all in a baguette with the sauce layered on top of it all. Gorgeous (and even better than the poulet frites of Aix).
the French food is very different from ours, and when I was 18 and worked in France I had problems to get used to it but after all our vacations we had in France over the years I now love it but fries and bread…..did you know that”French fries” were invented in Belgium ?! You lived in Charleroi ??!! That part of Belgium was part of France about 200 years ago, I live in the North so I am Flemish.
Yes, I did know French fries were invented in Belgium. It’s the Americans who call them French fries; to Brits, they are chips. The Mitraillette (which is what I used to eat all the time) however is very Belgian, not French, and you get them everywhere in Brussels, but I love the Charleroi ones. Poulet Frites from Aix is nice but not as nice as those.
Well I am happy to hear you love Belgian food !