Monday, 13 February 2012


I have now been living , on and off, in Nerja, a little Spanish coastal town East of Malaga, for more than forty years. Half a life time. I originally came down here when Franco was in power. It was a dictatorship and one had to be cautious, not only about one’s political views but of one’s behaviour. Women, for instance, were not to appear in the streets with dresses that were too tight ‘in places which provoked the evil passions of men’, and ‘modern’ dancing was strictly forbidden. The day he died the fascist press disappeared from the newstands and were immediately replaced by copies of Playboy, Men Only, and other erotic magazines while young girls went topless on the beachers. I did not stay here for this reason but because Nerja, with its palm trees, blue Mediterranean and mountain village of Frigiliana behind, reminded me of Cagnes-sur-Mer and Cagnes on the Cote d’Azur where I spent a happy childhood with ‘Maman’ my extrovert maternal grandmother. It was she who told me about her dentist father, Theophile Bonaventure Muschler who gambled away his house and clinic in Arles and his connection with two famous artists.
  Theophile Muschler was a friend of Docteur Felix Rey who ran a lunatic asylum in an old convent near Saint Remy a few miles from Arles. One day the Docteur asked him to treat a Dutchman who had toothache. The man spent his whole time in the home painting wild canvasses which the nursing staff considered to be the work of a demented mind. Theophile examined the patient and declared that there was little he could do for him as the mad artist was not suffering from toothache but from a painful nerve due to his having chopped off his own ear. It was Vincent Van Gogh.
  Years later, Theophile moved to the small village of Cagnes where he set up a new practice in his house. My mother, then aged six, often heard the agonized howls of his patients when staying there. One of them was their neighbour Auguste Renoir who sketched her on occasions when she playing under the olive trees outside his Collettes studio.
  Renoir gave some of these sketches to Maman who didn’t like them because they made her daughter look plump and, not appreciating their possible future value, tore them up.

Self portrait with bandaged Ear. Vincent Van Gogh. January 1889 Oil on canvas. 60 x 49 cm

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