For the 50th anniversary of Jean Cocteau’s death, CLEW mixes a Cocteau cocktail in his honour.
“Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying.” His birth was in 1889 outside of Paris, and he was right, death was in no particular hurry. The two met in 1963
He was called an eclectic genius: A self-taught and multitalented artist; poet and novelist, painter and sculptor, playwright and filmmaker – un artiste total. He was also a designer, a flamboyant dandy, a nonconformist and bohemian, with a ravaging love affair with opium. He mingled with Picasso, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie… names that bring a whiff of elegance, intensity and passion, and that make you wish you could climb into a time machine. Cocteau’s great love was the actor Jean Marais. As openly gay living together, the couple was ground-breaking.
Cocteau on the Côte
The Côte d’Azur was Cocteau’s playground, and a place of refuge from Paris. He spent a lot of time in Villefranche-sur-Mer, and he always stayed at the Welcome Hotel. Across the street from the hotel, tucked away in the harbour, is the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, patron saint of the fishermen. This teeny tiny fishermen’s chapel was also convenient for stocking fishing gear. In 1956, Cocteau commenced the decoration of the chapel, covering both the inside and the outside with his art. He painted it in honour of the sea, the fishermen and the pretty demoiselles of Villefranche. Entering the chapel is entering Cocteau’s amazing universe, discovering his fascination with the eye.
At the time, the fishermen were many, in their wooden boats that tourists today find picturesque. Now there are but a couple of boats left a bit further down in the harbour, but with it they still catch huge swordfish, bringing to mind “The Old Man and the Sea”. Still today, only local fishermen can get married in the chapel, but happy couples with other professions can get a fake ceremony there, to have their picture taken surrounded by Cocteau’s art.
Cocteau left several traces along the Côte d’Azur, and the stunning Cocteau Museum in Menton, a few stone’s throws east of Villefranche-sur-Mer, opened in 2011. Your next visit to this famous region could easily be a Cocteau one. But you needn’t go farther than Metz to find Cocteau art, in the shape of stained glass windows in the Saint-Maximin Church.
Cocteau probably didn’t have cocktails named after him when he enjoyed the seaside view from the bar of the Welcome Hotel, but the Cocteau cocktail does exist. All you have to do is mix one part cognac with one part orange juice and one part cherry brandy.
And little did he know that some 25 years later, an alternative rock band would bear his name. Although it seems the Cocteau Twins got their name from a song by another Scottish band, the Simple Minds, who later decided to tone down the lyrics and change the name of the song to “No Cure”. In the original song, the Cocteau twins were two young gay boys whom the singer of Simple Minds met when he’d just read Jean Cocteau’s famous novel “Les Enfants Terribles”.
The story of the Cocteau twins shows that Cocteau was and is a gay pioneer, but at the time, he paid the price for being openly gay. As he did for having relationships with women of the aristocracy, and for talking too kindly about Hitler. After WWII, he was tried for collaborating with the Germans, acquitted, but not forgiven.Legend has it that Cocteau suffered a final heart attack after hearing the news of the death of his close friend Edith Piaf. They both certainly became legends, Cocteau probably more now than ever before.
“True realism consists in revealing the surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing. – Jean Cocteau
By Unni Holtedahl, January 2013 (updated March 2013)