And it’s back to Davis. We’ll continue the Virtual Tour De France soon. The weather turned slightly cooler this week – high 80s and low 90s, feels like Spring, but the hot weather’s coming back. I was downtown a couple of times this week, and on both occasions I stopped on D Street and drew this view. I finished it on the second outing. I was downtown to get my eyes tested. They still work fine. The glasses I got last year mean that my close-up vision is not as good, like for reading and so on, they said it was “fortyitis”, which I thought was a real name for a disease, but turns out it’s just what happens in your forties. Bloody forties. How did that happen, getting to the forties? I mean I know how, but like, how? I was 29 when I moved to Davis. I remember celebrating my 30th birthday like I was some ancient celestial being. Actually we went to Chevy’s in Dixon on my 30th, where they made me wear a sombrero while the staff sang Happy Birthday to me (though not the Happy Birthday song, which Chevy’s probably didn’t have the rights to). We also went to San Francisco and ate at a fancy fish restaurant a few days before my 30th, when my wife surprised me by bringing my best mate Roshan over from England without telling me. That was a big surprise! I didn’t even notice him at the table at first (early fortyitis fifteen years early, unable to see things right in front of you). I was saying hello to the other people who were there at my surprise 30th, basically friends of my mother-in-law, and then saw him and was pretty gobsmacked, like stunned to silence. He brought me over a big bottle of Pepsi Max too, because at the time you couldn’t get that here, and I really missed my Pepsi Max. I’m a simple man really. Anyway I was downtown getting my eyes tested, what they do now is take a big 3D image of your eye, and you have to sign something saying they are allowed to do that. I’m like, hell yeah I wanna see a big 3D image of my eyes, that’s cool! It was too. It was a bit like looking at a nebula, a little world, and they showed me all the bits in the right places, and noting unusual. People say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but dudes, come on. They can’t take a 3D image of my soul, can they. Can they? Um, I hope not. What did I sign, did I sign that they could take an image of my soul? Dammit, if my eyesight wasn’t so bad, I’d have been able to read the fine print. Anyway, I’m getting new sunglasses, so that’s nice. So, this eyesight thing, it generally means when I am drawing I have to hold the sketchbook a little further away than I used to. Usually I hold it right up to my face like I’m holding a violin (I had no idea I did this until people starting drawing me sketching), now I have to hold it a bit further away. It’s not that big a deal but when I’m looking far away then close up a lot, it takes a bit longer for my eyes to adjust. I decided against varifocals just yet, but anyway, fortyitis. This is D Street near Fifth Street. The building in the middle has an interesting metal gate, made in the pattern of penny farthing bikes, which of course is the symbol of the City of Davis. This is a very Davis gate. This is a very Davis scene. When I first started drawing these very Davis scenes it was to show people back home in north London what the place I live in now looks like. Well, it looks like this. Another panorama for the book of Davis panoramas that’s never coming.
Stage 4 of the Virtual Tour de France finds us in the northern city of AMIENS, on the river (and department) Somme. It is difficult to say the name ‘Somme’ without thinking of the historic atrocity of the 1916 Battle of the Somme, in World War I. Three million soldiers fought in that battle, with over a million wounded or killed. Amiens is right in the heart of World War 1 country, and itself saw a 1918 battle that ended in an Allied victory. World War II didn’t exactly pass it by either, with another Battle of Amiens in 1940 when Germany took the town, and later on pretty heavy bombardment by the Allies in 1944 before it was liberated. There were wars and sieges and sackings here in the many centuries before, but Amiens and the Somme are inescapably linked with the awful World Wars.
This is a nice view though, down by the river, looking up at the cathedral. I could imagine coming here and eating lunch by the Somme, before driving on to another town for a bit more history. I found out recently that an ancestor of mine from Dublin fought in World War 1 and was wounded in a gas attack at Loos, not far from Lens. I saw my great-great grandfather’s photo (his name was James Higgins, as was his father, and his son who I think also fought in that war?) and he had the most amazing bushy “General Melchett” moustache. He wasn’t a general though, just a regular soldier. I also saw a postcard he sent home to his wife (my great-great granny) in Dublin from Loos before the battle took place. Fascinating stuff, I never knew he even existed until recently. I never inherited the moustache. It was a big handlebar one with two pointy tails, that reminds me a bit of the Red Bull logo, or two rats fighting. I would not know how to take care of an amazing moustache like that, I would probably get it in my soup, this is why I shave. I only briefly had a moustache, though it was part of a goatee, and that was for a few months in the 90s and that my friend is where for most people goatees should have stayed. Funnily enough I never saw anyone in France with that classic French moustache, the one with the twirly sides, that all cartoon French people have (along with the beret and the onions and the baguette), but I have seen many hipster people in America wear that ‘tache. I couldn’t pull it off.
There does appear what looks like a lifesize Subbuteo figure standing in the river, to the left there. I think it is called “L’Homme sur sa bouée” (“The man on his buoy”). It seems that it’s common for the people of the town to dress him up, put t-shirts on him and so on. He is the work of German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol and was originally installed there in 1993, but being made of wood and manhandled by so many locals it degraded a fair bit over the years and was replaced in 2019 by the artist, this time in aluminium. Or maybe it is still wood but now painted in aluminium, it’s hard to tell. L’Homme sur sa bouée has become a bit of local celebrity in Amiens. There are two other similar statues by the same artist placed nearby against the walls of buildings that the man in the river is looking at. If I ever got to Amiens I will look out for them all.
After Amiens we leave Picardy behind and head into another part of France famous for its role in World War II: Normandy. So join me on the Road to Rouen.