On February 17th, 1969, more than forty years ago, a popular singing group, very well known in their day (wink-wink), released a Double-sided A single 45 rpm record. The names of the songs were Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. Maybe you recall this group – they were called The Beatles.
To this day, George Martin, producer for The Beatles, regrets not including these songs in the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to…
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry fields forever
Strawberry Fields, the original, as referenced in the song, was a real location. It was the name of an orphanage near John Lennon’s boyhood home in Liverpool, UK. Nowadays, Strawberry Fields is an often visited section of New York’s Central Park.
Unfortunately, in life, nothing is forever, including the Beatles. While George Harrison and John play in the fields of our Lord, the rest of us are still looking for what we want.
Maybe the Beatles should have called their song, Lavender Fields Forever. Yes, lavender!
So what is lavender? Well, the simplest description is that it is a flower, and a herb, as in a flowering shrub. Its flowers have a distinctive color, and fields of them are strikingly beautiful.
Lavender is used in dried flower arrangements. Or it is dried and then sealed in pouches and folks use these sachets or pouches for the fresh fragrances. You may buy them as potpourris which are mixed herbs, or fully lavender.
Lavender flowers may be blended with black teas. They yield plenty of nectar which can be made into a honey. And the plant is grown commercially for extraction of lavender oils which are used in antiseptics, or in scented soaps.
It is a very talented plant indeed. In 1951, Alec Guiness starred in a bank heist movie called The Lavender Hill Mob. I bring this in just as a factoid, about lavender, but we won’t be looking at this movie. However, we will have a look at a more recent movie from Hong Kong called Lavender (2000) which starred Asian heart throbs Kelly Chen and Takeshi Kaneshiro.
Kelly plays a despondent aromatherapist whose boyfriend had died. Takeshi plays an angel, who falls to earth and is injured. Needless to say it is a romantic story as each of them attempt to make the other better.
Fast forwarding through the movie, Kelly and Takeshi travel to the South of France for…what else, but the lavender. After all, she is an aromatherapist. When you are done with this column, you can watch Kelly in a music video from the movie. Here is your link to that music video:
The Provence area of France is such a beautiful region. The names of the towns and cities in this region sound (for lack of a better word) so…French. Nimes, Arles, Grasse, Nice, St.Tropez, Antibes, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence are the verbal dollops which are so tasteful.
Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous town. The world famous Cours Mirabeau is a street noted for wonderful fountains and the leafy trees as a canopy. When you tire of walking, try one of the gastronomically superb terrace and sidewalk cafes or restaurants.
Artists have long gravitated to Aix for its dappled sunlit scenery as seen in the photo above. One of my favorites artists who have made this part of France his own is Jeremy Barlow.
And one of his favorite locations for these magnificent paintings is the south of France, Aix-en-Provence in particular. Barlow paints with watercolors as well as oils. He was moved by the effects of the water-based paints washed onto a bright white canvas; yielding both freshness and looseness that you do not get with oil-based paints.
A Barlow painting is atmospheric; taking advantage of the interaction of the bright light filtered through the trees to create deep and rich shadows is just part of the appeal. And the appeal is not only the beauty of the compositions themselves, but also the added aura of mystery.
We, as viewers may look at the people at the Les Deux Garcones Cafe in the photo (below top) and the painting (below bottom). “Who are those people? They’ve nothing to do but while away the hours sitting in cafe under the sun…” is a thought that naturally springs to mind. The fact that we cannot answer this question should direct us to just enjoy the art as those in the paintings are just enjoying their days.
Having spent a few days in Aix-en-Provence myself, at the Hotel D’Europe, Barlow’s works struck a responsive chord within me, not to mention the memories of the fine meals I had in a few of Aix’s many cafes. I also watched men playing boule in the parks. It is an inexpensive game similar to the British lawn bowling, or more closely related to the Italian bocce.
The air in Provence is special, and when the sunlight is filtered through the trees, a skilled artist like Barlow is able to do his magic, and recreate this ‘dappling’ affect of the light. Check for this effect on the buildings as well as the sidewalks in his art.
And yes, there’s no better term than ‘magical’ to describe these paintings. They are gorgeous, and yet they bring forth emotional responses in those fortunate to see them. You especially connect if you had walked the same turf as Barlow did. One more thing, Barlow really likes lavender as you can see in the last few paintings in this article.
And so our journey from Strawberry Fields to fields of lavender, with a few stops along the way, ends. Lavender Fields Forever, indeed. Googoogajoob.