Helen Blanc-Francard, committee member and garden expert (photo, below right) has been with us at meetings in Bordighera, Tende, Castellaras and Paris in the last two months. I reproduce here the evocative outpouring I got from her by email last night.
A brief moment then of time travel and musing about the changing face of Bordighera and the people Clarence may have met whilst living there ...
For Clarence leaving behind the grey dampness of England it is easy to imagine how delightful he must have found the unspoiled beauty of the coastal town of Bordighera when he first set eyes on it in 1877.
The luminosity of cloudless skies, the sound of the lapping Mediterranean and the soft citrus-scented air would have been enchanting. The rocky shoreline with its rustling palms, lush, semi-tropical trees and indigenous vegetation would have offered him a tantalising opportunity for further study.
However, along with the spiritual upheaval he was about to experience, his arrival coincided the start of a technological and cultural revolution when many social and economical factors combined to create an environment which was ripe for invention and experimentation. The physical world around him was about to change and would never stop in his lifetime.
He would have watched as glittering new promenades, planted with trees and flowering shrubs, swiftly spread along the sea front with their attendant restaurants, shops, galleries and cafés. Behind them new villas, magnificent white-fronted mansions, splendid and luxurious hotels topped with cupolas and ornate carvings, adorned with balconies and intricate ironwork were built along what would later develop into long shady streets and avenues.
With the constructions came wealth: royalty, statesmen, businessmen and newly rich industrialists. Every year as the winter season began in northern and eastern Europe the rich visitors arrived by boat and train with their staff and retinues accompanying them. Well-to-do families came with their children, nannies and governesses to set up residence. They would have been impressed by the showy new buildings, many built in the neo-classical style, and excited at the prospect of meeting friends and attending concerts, dances and social events. Their arrival on the scene certainly added an extra gloss of glamour to what was becoming a most fashionable destination.
Artists, such as Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Matisse and Signac, with radical new styles of painting that broke earlier conventions, were eager to discover this newly accessible destination. They travelled down with the aspiration of capturing on canvas the vibrant intensity of the light and the vitality of local life that contrasted so poignantly with the languor and sophistication of the visitors. Arriving initially for the restorative health benefits that the southern climate provided, the troubled Van Gogh from Holland, the melancholy Edvard Munch from Norway and the fiercely driven German artist Lovis Corinth found themselves impelled to paint. The Italian impressionist painter Pompeo Mariani eventually chose to live in Bordighera.
Writers, poets, philosophers, world famous scientists, creative innovators came to the coast to rest, to meet generous benefactors, to recover from illness or to find a place for peaceful reflection. Some arrived simply to join in the social scene and to enjoy the conviviality and nightlife of this now lively resort. (To be further researched!)
There was the lure of a comfortable and often hedonistic lifestyle on offer in lavishly furnished residences equipped with all the latest technological inventions - electricity, lifts and modern plumbing. An efficient postal service and the development of telephone and radio networks ensured communication with the rest of the world. The railways, roads and first motorised vehicles meant that travel was faster and easier than it had ever been before.
It really was a bright new world of optimism and confidence: in less than twenty five years the Bordighera Clarence had first discovered was completely transformed. Early photographs record its extraordinary transition from a remote coastal village to a cosmopolitan and prosperous sea site resort. (Archived data to be added)
For several months of the year however Clarence turned his back on what he might well have considered this theatrical 'mise en scène' and travelled over fifty kilometers up steep valleys and difficult terrain to a remote Alpine site. There he enjoyed an existance of singular integrity that was spartan, physically demanding, rich in intellectual stimulation and that privileged rigour, generosity, kindness and human communication.
A lifestyle and a quest that seems to have provided him with great personal fulfillment.
When he returned to Bordighera, apart from some notable locals we know he met, one wonders if he came into contact with any of the famous visitors who came to stay during the winter season?
In the course of my research I noted that, James Henry Bennet, (creator of Menton as a therapeutic centre) "a reçu dans sa propriété le tout Riviera: R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Carlysle, Hare, Moggridge, Andrews, John Green, Hanbury, Thuret et Alphonse Karr" - https://www.cg06.fr/documents/Import/decouvrir-les-am/recherchesregionales197-06.pdf