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!