31 August 2014
The Big South
For the Frenchman that I am, "the South" makes me imagine the south of France, its lavender fields, its stone houses, the loud heady noise of the cicada in the late afternoon sun which makes one want to close one's eyes and doze off. But it also reminds me of that "other" South, the southern hemisphere or countries deemed less developed than those in the “West” but which have that exotic appeal irremediably drawing me in to visit them and possibly live there.
Bali is one of such romantic places indeed. In the case of Nino Ferrer, a French-Italian singer I listened to during my 70s/80s music phase when I was a teenager, it was New Caledonia, a special collectivity of France located in the southwest Pacific Ocean where he spent his childhood. One of Ferrer’s most well-known song is precisely Le Sud released in 1975, a year after he sung the English version, South with American singer Radiah Frye. Take a look at the album cover of that song in English – it would probably make feminists cringe: in the Frenchman’s garden, she’s standing naked, in her Afro hairstyle, next to a smiling Nino Ferrer fully dressed in colonial-like attire (although that could simply be 1970s fashion).
♫ We call it the South 'cause time is so long there
♫ That life sure will take us more than a million years
♫ And we like to stay there
For Americans in the old times, the South could obviously refer to the states that used to form the Confederacy. Then there’s also the “Big South” in California – Big Sur, a combination of English and Spanish words since California used to be part of Mexico: 140 kilometres of coastline extending south of the town of Carmel.
While one imagines California's weather to be warm with blue skies, the coastline is along the Pacific Ocean so the temperatures are actually fairly cold throughout the year, the wind blowing pretty strongly and the fog regularly cropping up against the rugged cliffs. Between carved coves and wooded mountains in the hinterland, the biodiversity is said to be quite extraordinary – I really like those photos of multicoloured grass and flowers. While famous Highway 1 now traverses Big Sur since the first half of the 20th century, the region’s natural beauty is preserved thanks to drastic land restrictions – no more than 300 hotel rooms, 3 gas stations, and no supermarket are available.
Turquoise waves come crashing in against rocks, between them, or inside them like in that famous trapezoid-shaped rock on Pfeiffer Beach. An old man wearing a funny hat motionlessly gazes towards the horizon, as the sunset turns the colour of rocks into a warm orange. Others calmly read, sitting on the beach against a rock or sheltered from the wind. It’s my turn to pause, to be pensive, I blend into the landscape, like a small dot on the coastline or like a loner in the undergrowth. I take my time to set up my small tripod and take a long exposure shot to create that cotton-like effect of the river passing between my legs.
"Quiero al Sur", I love the South in Spanish, as Gotan Project’s song Vuelvo al Sur goes. I feel strangely connected to that music band which consists of a Frenchman, a Swiss and an Argentinian – Argentina, another country of the “south” I am keen to discover, not only because of the Che’s Motorcycle Diaries. Vuelvo al Sur is the band’s very first single in 2000, which then made it to their first album, La Revancha Del Tango, released a year later.
♫ Quiero al Sur
♫ Su buena gente, su dignidad
♫ Siento el Sur
♫ Como tu cuerpo en la intimidad
I’ll share more about Big Sur in upcoming posts, mainly small thematic photo albums: one of the world’s rare tidefalls (do you even know what that word means?), the iconic bridge that allowed residents to be no longer cut off during winter times, and the various fauna species I encountered during the short weekend I spent there. As Nino Ferrer sang, “we like to stay there”, there’s just so much to see and take in.
Two days before his sixty-fourth birthday in August 1998, Nino Ferrer headed to a wheatfield a few kilometres away from his house. He stopped in the middle of the field – and shot a bullet right through his heart.