Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Bloggo sud de la France-o 8: Day 3 A Trip Out of Arles Featuring Van Gogh in a Cave!

A good bit of my last full day in Arles was spent outside it on a minivan tour. But as it didn't begin until after lunch, I spent the morning strolling the old town, stopping in at a place or two, enjoying a pretty day in a lovely city. 

I started in a public park that rubs up against the Roman theatre. 

It should come as no surprise that Van Gogh is celebrated here, as he is throughout Arles. Also a very pleasant place to sit on a bench, relax, and as travel guru Rick Steves often suggests, "people-watch." So I did.

Next I paid a brief visit to the Cloister of St Trophime, which dates from the 14th century.

On then to an odd but pleasant little museum just across the street from my hotel, the Reattu.

Named for an 18th century artist who lived there, it dates from much earlier - the 15th century - when it was a priory. So as a building it is of historical interest. It features, as one might guess several of his paintings, but also a small amount of artworks, some copies, by artists more famous than Reattu himself.

I have read that after Vincent Van Gogh first visited the place he wrote to his brother Theo: "The women here are really beautiful, it's no joke - on the other hand the Arles Museum is dreadful and a joke." Not exactly a rave, but then that was before - long before - Picasso's gift of fifty-seven drawings to the museum. 

My single favorite work is a sculpture of one of the beautiful women Van Gogh noted. It's by another little known (to me at least) artist, Ferigoule, dated 1824 and titled l'Arlésienne.

The title of this sculpture is best known as a Bizet opera, in which a young man falls in love with a young woman from Arles, but she is unfaithful to him. This drives him to madness and finally he leaps to his death from a balcony.  The title character is that young woman from Arles, whom I would classify as a femme fatale. Reading about it, however I found a more quirky definition. Because the young woman never appears on stage, the term l'Arlésienne has come to refer to a person who is prominently absent from a place or situation.  Okay, so it goes...

The time was approaching when I had to be at the Tourist Office to be picked up by my tour guide. But first it was time for lunch! And it was a good one, just across the street from the meeting point. 

I decided to try their "bull-burger" and it was quite tasty. Washed down with a Rhone red, I found myself quite prepared for the afternoon, slightly tipsy tour.

An eclectic small group of tourists, about 8 as I remember, joined me and the tour guide, who whisked us out of Arles, through the dramatic countryside, and up into the mountains. Our first stop was the hilltop village of Les Baux. Not the village itself, but a great viewing point of it. Les Baux is built from/made on the limestone that is abundant in this area. 

Its castle at top left, dominates the place, but as you can see, there are several other buildings as well. It might have been interesting to walk through the village of stone, but we had promises to keep, one of which I looked forward to with much excitement.

The next stop, which I hadn't known about, was an organic winery nearby (pictured just above), where we sampled a white or two, a rose, and three different bottles of vin rouge. 

Great fun, and for me the trip grew even more tipsy! Fine with me.

The third stop was the primary goal of the trip, a quarry cut into one of the mountains is the vicinity. But not just any quarry. This huge space had been chosen to display Van Gogh paintings, not the originals or even copies, but images of them projected onto the walls, at least 30 feet high. The display was accompanied by a wide-ranging mix of music, including a Janis Joplin song and some jazz by Nina Simone. More of the musical selections were classical in nature, but even had there been no music the real stars of the "show" were the projections, on all the walls, usually different images projected on the various walls, as well as on the ceiling and floor. The images never stopped moving, coming into view, fading out, followed by others. The audience was encouraged to walk around the space, which I began as soon as I was told to. I won't write more about it, but I will place several photos I took of it below. It was beautiful, immersive, brilliant. 

First, a look at the walls of the quarry before the lights dimmed and the projections appeared (look at the audience members waiting for it to begin, for an idea of the scale).

The lights fade and images gradually come into view, at first an image of the artist and what appear to be random brushstrokes

But then they come into focus

The visitor is nearly overwhelmed by Van Gogh, at least I was, and stunned. On the way back to Arles the driver told us that the tasting came before the show so that, tipsy, we might enjoy the show even more. I chose not to tell him that I had got a head start towards tipsy-dom. I would have enjoyed the show without any wine beforehand, I'm sure, but for the the slightly out of focus Dottore Gianni found it almost psychedelic. And once again, that's just fine.

I had heard of this kind of sound and light show before, in fact had bought a ticket to one featuring Klimt in Paris on a previous trip to France, but alas lost my way getting to the l'Atélier des Lumiéres - timed entries only - and missed my chance. I'm sure it was brilliant, but Van Gogh in a quarry, near Arles was little short of perfect.

Walking out of the show and into the gorgeous sunlit mountains was a shock to the system, but I reveled in it. 

We stopped once on the return drive, to wander an ancient Roman aqueduct,

and then I was back in Arles, Van Gogh land, but remembering his art in the quarry. One mor for you before I bid you adieu.

Next I trained to Avignon - a few more posts from that wonderful place within several days. Au revoir mes amis! 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Bloggo Sud de la France-o Fall 2019 7: Postcards from Arles days 1 & 2

Next stop on my adventure in the south of France? Arles. I had visited Provence in the spring or 1999, but I spent just about all of my time in Avignon. Now, 20 years later I was determined to see the town that brings to mind ancient Roman buildings and the late work and living space of Vincent van Gogh. 

So those buildings and that art will be highlighted in the postcards I offer you below.

It's pretty easy to get around Provence by train, a very short trip from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence, for example, another easy ride from either of the above to Arles. Many people choose to drive while in Europe, and I realize that I miss out on many places of interest, particularly those out in the countryside because I refuse to. I really hate to drive anywhere these days, and I've found quite a fine alternative way to see the countryside, and learn something about the sites I see as well, by taking day and half-day trips, usually by minivan. 

In fact on one of the three days I spent in Arles I spent about 4-5 hours out of the city on such an excursion. This meant that I didn't see quite as much in Arles as I'd have liked, but I got to and through much of the city, mostly on purpose but once by accident. I got hopelessly lost on one of my city-treks and a delightful stroll turned into a forced march. I kept thinking "Find the river and you'll be fine"and after what seemed an eternity, I did find the Rhone and sure enough it got back to my hotel...So it goes.

My first day in Arles was short and very quiet. I checked into my hotel, a rather charming old place very near the river. Below you'll find first the view from my room, granted just a courtyard, but a very pretty one, where I had breakfast each morning, and second my modest but comfy room itself.

For my main meal of the day I discovered Le Constantin, a wonderful and intimate place to eat less than two blocks from the hotel. 

My hostess was very accommodating - and beautiful, Her husband, quite friendly, was the excellent chef who cooked up this excellent and very fresh trout for me. 

After my meal I took a stroll along the Rhone,

trying to imagine from which point of the river Van Gogh, walking away from the city with easel and oils in hand, had turned around and seen what became one of his Starry Night paintings. Not the most famous one, but to my mind at least as fine a work of art.

And then, instead of rushing into an exploration of the center, I gave myself the gift of an early, restful night. In my early 70s it seems I have finally realized the need to pace myself...well, much of the time.

On my second, and first full day in the city I had took the opportunity to wander through the lovely center of Arles. 

I began with an ancient Roman wonder, easily the most famous in this city. It was only a few blocks from my hotel, and the streets leading up to it are all pretty tiny. When I turned on to one of them. This is what hit me - the Arena at Arles:

An eyeful? At least. An ancient Roman amphitheatre, it is used for special events and, in season, for bullfights. The interior is very well preserved.

Inside the belly of the beast it is dark.

The importance of  the arch as basic building block could not be made more clear.

And from the top there are views of Arles and the Rhone.

I arrived just after opening and had it nearly to myself, except for a young Asian couple. We made the great exchange - a photo for a photo. The one they took of me included buildings in Arles, and beyond the beautiful blue Rhone.

One more from the top of the Arena, giving you an idea about how some parts of Arles are laid out - charming...

After enjoying some time at the Arena, I walked part of the way around it, noting some cafes, including this one

and tiny roads (in some cases sets of steps) leading to the Arena, or away from it, depending on your p.o.v.

then downhill to other sites/sights, first the 4th century Roman obelisk at the center of the Place de la Republique. 

Then on to the charming l'Espace Van Gogh, an old cloister that that artist once painted. First the space itself, 

then the Van Gogh painting. I tried to get about the same angle in the photo above

Another view or two can't hurt 

On next to still another Roman relic only about 100 yards from l'Espace VG - the remains of an ancient Roman theatre - there's not a lot left, and it is a relatively small theatre, but it was pleasant for me as a theatre historian, and to several others who were wandering around it, including the tour group pictured below.

From the theatre I headed to a cafe I promised myself I'd  see. You might recognize it, only you have to picture it at night

If you're stumped, this should help

And finally...guess who?

Dottore Gianni (aka Dr Jack, aka moi), enjoys a pathetically touristic photo op, and more importantly a very tasty glass of vin rouge from nearby Nimes, to celebrate Le Cafe la Nuit, the basis for another famous painting by Van Gogh

An unexpected treat at the cafe Van Gogh made famous - this woman preparing a huge paella, which I guessed would serve as lunch for quite a few a bit later in the day. First, a look at her progress before I sat down with my glass of wine

Second, a good bit more progress as I was on my way out of the cafe - a work of art, a labor of love, itself. I did worry more than a little that those who et it might have found a long black strand of hair or three mixed in.

Having promised myself I would return to the square, I set out for another place I wanted to see, La Fondation Van Gogh. 

The foundation celebrates all things Van Gogh, but focuses as well on innovative contemporary artists. I must confess that I was unable to go in for lack of time, but I love the fountain.

I returned to the square with the Van Gogh cafe, but one of more of the travel guides I consulted warned against it. So  chose another place on the same square - there are at least four or five - but alas the one I chose was marred by a mediocre Caesar Salad, but at least the service was shite. All in all, I should have gone for the paella at Le Cafe la Nuit. 

In order to walk off lunch, and because I was very curious, I hiked along the river to the archeological museum, on the edge of the city.

After recovering from a slight case of cultural shock at the streamlined postmodern building that houses the collection, I entered to find eclectic and often quite interesting objects from deep in the past of Arles.

Sculptures, such as this of the Venus d'Arles (not as brilliant as the Venus de Milo perhaps, but then this one at least has kept one of her arms - bada-bing!), 

and this female mask of tragedy were featured

along with maps and models, of ancient Roman Arles

and a good model of the Roman theatre.

Also some well preserved mosaics

But the star of the show was a 30-meter ancient boat

recently recovered from the Rhone

There is even a short film detailing the recovery of the ship. All in all a fine experience. I walked back along the Rhone in no rush, and peeping into some of the pretty streets near the river.

And that took care of my second day in Arles.

I will write about my third day in the next post, focusing on a grand half-day trip. I hope you'll keep reading!