Friday, September 17, 2021

France 2021, Day 8, Arles

An early start with chocolate croissants (and chatting with a nice couple from Nashville) before we boarded a bus for Arles. Our tour guide was a cheerful British woman named Shawn who has lived in Nimes for many years and was pleased to hear we had enjoyed our visit. She told us there were three important aspects to Arles: its Roman history, its connection with Vincent Van Gogh, and its recent development as a major modern art hub.
Inside the Arena at Arles
The Romans were already in Arles before the birth of Christ but in the 1st century AD, Julius Caesar annexed Arles to his empire and made it the capital of Roman Provence, taking local shipyards to build warships. For four centuries the town prospered as a major trading center and it was during this time that the Amphitheatre, Théâtre Antique, and Roman Baths were constructed (all of which we saw today, although we only went into the Amphitheatre). As the Roman Empire collapsed during the 5th century – due to the increasing strength of the barbarians, among other things, Arles went into decline.
Van Gogh’s brother Theo sent him to Arles both for inspiration and to keep him out of trouble, apparently. The allowance provided by Theo allowed Vincent to rent a house and carouse and paint (although he only sold one painting in his lifetime) but in 1888 after a dispute with Paul Gauguin, he infamously cut off his own ear. Following that incident, Van Gogh was hospitalized in Arles and then checked himself into a mental institution in Saint-Remy for a year, where he morosely painted the fields and pine trees he could see from his window again and again.  Standing in the courtyard of the very hospital and standing in front of a cafe captured in one of his most famous paintings was exciting.
Van Gogh's hospital
The guide also told us that a woman named Maja Hoffmann, heiress from the pharmaceutical family, has been responsible for Arles becoming a modern art mecca. I was not familiar with the Luma Tower designed by Frank Gehry but I was immediately intrigued and was one of several coaxing the guide to have our bus drive past it on the way back. Fortunately, this worked out because the ship had gone to Tarascon to meet us midday and there was a little extra time. The Luma Tower is dramatic and different and its glittering facade is meant to evoke Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which we saw in Paris. The Tower is part of an art complex built on the site of former railway workshops.
Inspiration for Café Terrace at Night
After lunch on the ship, we set out again. First, we went to a crazy light show, the Carrières de Lumières, which was an immersive digital exhibition featuring Cézanne (1839-1906) and Kandinsky (1866-1944) in a large cavernous space. It was great but we were lucky to find somewhere to perch as it would have been dizzying to stand for an hour to watch. A few meters away was the village of Les Baux in the Alpilles mountains, atop a rocky area that is crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the south. It also features in Madam, Will You Talk?  Charity describes it to her friend Louise:

“It’s a ruined village, a hill village south of Avignon. I believe it’s a queer wild sort of place – just ruins and a deserted village and an inn and a wonderful eerie view. It’s just what I feel like, anyway, miles from anywhere.”

Charity gets up very early to witness the arrival of dawn.

I got up, stretched, stood for a moment looking at the growing light. Waiting, perhaps unconsciously, for the trumpet to blow its shrill aubade across the stars.

Something moved behind me.

Moved and spoke.

As I whirled, my heart stampeding, my hands to my throat—

‘’So I’ve found you again,” said Richard Bryon.

He was standing barely three yards away from me. In the darkness I could see him only as a looming shape on the slope above me, but I would have known that voice anywhere, hard, incisive, with an edge to it, and an unpleasant undertone of mockery.
A fountain outside Hôtel de Ville d'Arles
After the day’s activities, we were just leaving our belongings in our stateroom when the ship set sail. Some of us were upset not to see the ship leave its mooring so we dashed up to the deck. We were joined by two pleasant women who were cousins, Marjorie and Mary from DC and Connecticut, respectively, and wound up having dinner with them.  We might have scared them by describing our Betsy-Tacy (mine) and Dorothy Dunnett (my mother's) addictions!


Shelia said...

Now I’m going to have to go back and re-read Madam, Will You Talk. In fact, I’m going to re-read all the Mary Stewart books that I lived as a teenager! Great trip!

Shelia said...

“Loved” as a teenager. I’m going to have to start proofing better.

CLM said...

I read Mystery in Arles by Mabel Esther Allan in 2019 - before the original date we were supposed to go on this trip and it was pleasant but not memorable like Madam, Will You Talk?

TracyK said...

I love the connections to Madam, Will You Talk? I don't think I have a copy of that but sometime I will find one.

Karen K. said...

I've been to the Atelier des Lumieres exhibit in Paris which was mostly Van Gogh and it was spectacular, one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. Recently it's been recreated in the US and I don't think it's nearly as good (and it was a LOT more expensive, I think I paid about €15 in Paris). I really hope they add more artist experiences, it was wonderful. And how great that you got to see the famous cafe in Arles!

CLM said...

The tour guide said they were doing a new one every year but it was unclear to us whether it toured after leaving this cave-like building. It was stupendous but we thought we might have got more out of it if we had been better prepared. Also, I felt one really needed to be sitting down to appreciate it and there were no chairs or benches, We were lucky to find a sort of ledge to sit on. But once we were settled down, it was really beautiful albeit overwhelming! I would definitely seek out more.

I don't recall how much this one cost because our fees were paid in advance but I do remember one of the passengers in our group hadn't brought his vaccine card and the guide had to talk him in. We got tested daily but he didn't have that either.