Showing posts with label Provence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Provence. Show all posts

Thursday, September 6, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie #3

Episode #3 of the road movie was presented yesterday afternoon.

The opening shots of this episode were amusing. François prepared us solemnly for images of the celebrated bridge painted by Vincent Van Gogh.

But no sooner had he reached the spot than a carload of Japanese tourists arrived on the scene. And it appeared that they were just as interested in François and his orange moped as in the Van Gogh bridge setting.

The theme of this Arlesian episode was art. François started off by visiting the studio/gallery of a fellow who transforms children's plastic toys into sculptures.

Surprise: in the midst of all this colorful plastic, the sculptor had been working on an orange moped.

In Arles, François seemed to be smiling ironically when he asked a local lady, attired in a folkoric costume, to tell him what it meant to be an Arlésienne.

Family members were aware that François might have asked his own maternal grandmother this same question. However Yannou and her mother never had the habit of getting dressed up as Arlésiennes and parading through the streets of their city on horseback.

François then found his way to a celebrated hotel: the Nord Pinus on the Place du Forum in the center of Arles, alongside a statue of the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral [1830-1914]. In my blog post of 7 September 2010 entitled Provençal excursion [display], I mentioned a dinner evening with Christine at an outdoors restaurant on this charming square.

François listened enthusiastically to the owner's tales about celebrity guests such as great artists, writers and bullfighters.

He stayed overnight in this famous hotel, then drove down to Port St Louis, at the eastern tip of Camargue, to visit an unusual place: a center for individuals who create artistic performances in the street.

Finally, he set out to meet up with a local photographer who has developed a technique of shooting from a mobile hoist, enabling him to produce wonderful photos of a flock of sheep on the plain of the Crau.

As usual, François succeeded in establishing friendly links with all the interesting individuals whom he encountered.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

François Skyvington's moped road movie #2

Episode #2 of François Skyvington's road movie was presented yesterday afternoon on the Arte channel.

The opening theme was the magnificent Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, about 20 km to the west of Avignon.

After chatting with a local fellow who sketches the structure regularly (in the manner of Paul Cézanne painting and repainting the Mont Sainte-Victoire), François took to the air as a passenger in an ultralight aircraft, enabling him to obtain an extraordinary view of the aqueduct. This sequence finished with a trivial but amusing stunt: François on his moped, on an airfield, racing against the aircraft as it took off.

An interesting didactic sequence took us to the nearby stone quarry that has been in operation ever since the Romans cut out the stones for their fantastic aqueduct. In the vicinity, a sculptor works the same beige stone. Then we met up with a beautiful stone guest-house (an ancient sheepfold) where François bedded down for the night... hopefully in the company of the members of the film crew. A big Labrador enabled the owner of the guest-house to dig up truffles, while his wife prepared an evening dinner of beef and olives cooked in wine.

The next day, François took to the waters of the Gard in a canoe. Then he visited a secluded ancient hermitage that is being restored... and we were informed of the techniques for building stone walls without mortar, so that rainwater escapes without deteriorating the walls.

All in all, this was a fine Provençal touristic documentary. But François has the knack of transforming his excursions, through his friendly personality and easy style of contacts, into a series of happy events. And his happiness (perfectly genuine) rubs off onto viewers.

Monday, September 3, 2012

François Skyvington's TV series

This evening at 18 h 30 on the Franco-German TV Arte channel, I watched with enthusiasm the start of the travelogue series starring François Skyvington.

Well, people who have phoned me all agree with me that it was wonderful TV. The on-screen presence of François was excellent, faultless. Above all, viewers really had an opportunity of learning something about the territory at the heart of this first episode: the Camargue region in Provence.

Christine has just told me on the phone that her 91-year-old Provençal mother Yanou—whose father came from Trinquetaille, near Arles, on the northern edge of the Camargue—was able to admire the TV debut of her great-grandson, in the company of her children Christine and Alain, from her friendly senior-citizens home near St Brieuc (Brittany). I see that event as a wonderful case of "une boucle qui se boucle", as they say in French (a loop being looped).

My personal conclusions are explicit. François is certainly a talented presenter, and he is surrounded by a great professional team. Bravo!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Phantoms of a lost paradise

Once again, I've finished rereading the excellent book on Provence by Lawrence Durrell, Caesar's Vast Ghost, published in 1990 just before the author's death.

And, once again, I'm trying to analyze the contents of this remarkable book—probably Durrell's most profound work, to my way of thinking—in order to set the various themes in their right perspective, and to determine why he decided to blend together several quite different styles of writing, ranging from travel and tourism through to history and philosophy, with twenty original poems and two or three hefty blobs of pure fantasy.

Back at the time that Durrell brought out The Alexandria Quartet, readers were warned amply that the novelist had in fact invented the people and the places that he wrote about. In other words, a visitor to the Mediterranean city of Alexandria would not encounter anything, today, that might be associated with the exotic context of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea. Even in the case of Durrell's so-called travel books inspired by such places as Corfu, Rhodes and Cyprus, readers should not imagine that they are being offered tourist guidebooks. Durrell's tales are hinged around the author's special relationships, not only with exceptional places, but with various colorful individuals. And a typical site, deprived of the author and his contacts, can become rather sterile. I'm reminded of the idea of considering the Bible as a guidebook to the modern land of Israel. Unfortunately, all the biblical personages disappeared long ago. And today, the places and people you encounter as a tourist in the Holy Land are not necessarily particularly "biblical" (whatever that might mean).

In the case of Caesar's Vast Ghost, on the other hand, I believe that we can truly take advantage, in a pragmatic sense, of Durrell's profound awareness and vision of Provence.

Durrell's book has little in common—at the level of both its form and its content—with a conventional guidebook such as, say, the excellent Michelin guide to Provence. They're not at all in the same writing category. But, although Caesar's Vast Ghost does not appear to be a tourist guidebook, I look upon it as a wonderful guiding book for visitors who would like to acquire a set of basic notions concerning the historical and cultural foundations of Provence, and the essence of this fascinating region. Without these notions, a newcomer to Provence runs the risk of being waylaid, sadly and superficially, by caricatural images of Provence. I see this happening constantly in the case of visitors who imagine naively, for example, that Provence is primarily a romantically pretty land for photographers. (See, for example, the olive tree and field of lavender on the cover of the Green Guide.) While it's a fact that sunny Provence can indeed be an ideal subject for photographers, it would be silly to imagine this fascinating region as little more than a giant set of colorful postcard images, whose inhabitants are generally beautiful, glamorous, quaint, rich, famous…

From the very first paragraph of Durrell's book, I was struck by the familiar tone of his description of his arrival in Provence, which evokes my personal memories of the '60s. Here are Durrell's opening words:

"My own version of Provence is necessarily partial and personal, for, like everyone else, I came here to fall in and out of love long ago, entering old Provence by the winding roads, the only ones, the old Routes Nationales, down the interminable corridors of cool planes in leaf, at the turn of the harvest moon…"

The most famous road, for visitors driving down from Paris, was the Nationale 7.

Generally, it led us through rural settings, and countless villages. But often, it forced us to drive through the main streets of busy towns.

Durrell arrived in Provence around 1957 with his future wife Claude, and they lived for a while in a house in Sommières, the Villa Louis.

A year later, they moved to the stone house north of Nîmes called the Mazet Michel, mentioned in my recent blog post entitled First encounter with Durrell [display]. And it wasn't until 1966 that Durrell and Claude moved into the big house in Sommières… where Claude died in 1967, and where Lawrence Durrell finished Caesar's Vast Ghost in 1990. This is the place at 15 Route Saussine mentioned in an earlier blog post entitled Old house in Sommières [display].

Durrell suggests that "the best way to strike up an acquaintance with […] Provençal towns is to arrive around daybreak, preferably on a market day when the place is full of sleepy vendors unloading their vans and trucks of everything you can imagine from pigeons and hams to olives and plums".

Early in his book, Durrell introduces us to two of his mates, Aldo and Jérôme, who are talking about the idea of writing a book on Provence. Aldo is said to be the owner of a dilapidated castle and vineyard near Beaucaire, and Jérôme is a beatnik of the kind that moved away from cities and roamed around in the south of France in the '60s. Frankly, though, I have the impression that these two personages are largely make-believe, made necessary by the author's desire to present the back woods of Provence as a decadent and decrepit place, on a par with Durrell's mythical Alexandria. Durrell attempts to make his readers believe, for example, that Aldo had once studied medicine, and that his passion for embalming led him to gold-plate dead human foetuses, which he would sell to a gypsy whom he had met at the famous fête at Saintes Maries de la Mer. One of Aldo's friends was "an old and somewhat impoverished Roman Papal Count", Reynaldo de Saturnin, who had asked Aldo to embalm the body of his daughter, so that he could keep her in a glass case.

Another of Aldo's strange former companions was a painter named Zoravis. When a bistro in Montparnasse claimed to be able to supply any beverage whatsoever that their clients might request, Zoravis asked for a glass of bull's blood. As soon as it was finally delivered (by a servant on a motor-cycle), the painter confirmed his virility by gulping down a glass of warm blood in front of his admirers. To my mind, those are the kinds of tall stories that Lawrence Durrell liked to spin in order to persuade his readers that he led a most exotic existence, surrounded by weird folk. Let's forgive him for this urge to invent unlikely characters. After all, Durrell was a story-teller.

Durrell analyzes brilliantly the ancient role of several forms of bull-worship in the culture of Provence, which emanated probably, in Greek and Roman times, from the religion of Mithra.

Since then, bull-worship has evolved into bull-fighting of one kind or another. In the arenas of Provence, there are both Spanish-style combats in which the bull is actually killed by a matador, and French-style events in which young fellows taunt the bulls while trying to flee without getting hurt.

In the midst of splendid places such as Marseille, Aix, Nîmes, Avignon, Orange, Vaison la Romaine, Saint-Rémy, Carpentras and Cavaillon, Durrell seems to consider that the heart of Provence is "dusty, sunburnt Arles at the end of its cobweb of motorways". And I agree with him totally. He draws attention to "the beauty of the Arles girls: each looks as if she had been freshly wished and love-minted to order".

Towards the end of Caesar's Vast Ghost, Durrell devotes an entire chapter to an amazing historical subject that is little-known in the English-speaking world: the evolution of the medieval art of courtship, as practiced by troubadours in the so-called "courts of love" in places such as Baux de Provence. This phenomenon was described in a celebrated book by the Swiss intellectual Denis de Rougemont, who was one of Durrell's close friends.

Durrell writes about so many fascinating themes in his book that I cannot hope to mention them all here in this short blog post. The most profound theme of all is the fact that most of the man-made marvels of Provence, creations of Caesar and Augustus, have lost their pristine splendor. Today, we witness no more than the remnants: a pale ghost of the Roman paradise.

As for the concluding chapter of Caesar's Vast Ghost—with a French title, Le cercle refermé—I've worked through Durrell's surrealist pages several times, trying to grasp what he was trying to say. I remain dumbly confused, however, by the author's weird descriptions of his romantic idyll in the company of the doll Cunégonde. It's worse than attempting to grasp the kind of relationship that might have existed fleetingly between a celebrated international economist and a humble hotel maid. The jumble of crazy words brings to mind a fuzzy derogatory expression that I remember hearing long ago, when I was a student: literary masturbation. The writer rambles on in an orgy of images, trying vainly to arouse his senses by the mounting fever of his choice of words. In the middle of this curious chapter, there are even smatterings of colloquial French, suggesting that Durrell has forgotten momentarily that he was writing an English-language book about Provence. There is much stoical despair in these 19 pages, as if the author were conscious of the fact that he was penning a testimony. But I can't help wondering whether Durrell would have retained this effusion of sad sexuality if he had been offered the luxury of calmly reworking his typescript in the company of competent editors and critics.

A trivial anomaly in chapter IX (Woman in Provence) of Caesar's Vast Ghost, concerning Durrell's friend and lover "Marie M-D", suggests that no such final editing ever took place. Durrell wrote:

… I knew the measure of her love because once she woke me long after midnight with a phone call, arriving almost at once in a taxi with a bottle of champagne and flowers to tell me: 'Darling, Anaïs is dead. I didn't want you to hear the news from anyone but me.'

There's a problem here. Marie Millington-Drake died in 1973, whereas Anaïs Nin didn't die until 1977. So, the messenger who arrived at Sommières in the middle of the night in 1977 was either Marie's ghost or another of Larry's girlfriends. Or maybe Cunégonde.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back in touch with Durrell

In my earlier post entitled First encounter with Lawrence Durrell [display], I think I made it perfectly clear that this British novelist was truly a hero, for me, when I ran into him in the summer of 1963, in Nîmes, by an amazing stroke of luck. Once upon a time (not so long ago), before my enlightenment by great 21st-century scientists such as David Deutsch and Richard Dawkins, I even used to designate my chance encounter with Lawrence Durrell as an obvious manifestation of the mysterious phenomenon referred to as synchronicity. That's to say, I was convinced that some kind of yet-unexplained convergence of our respective destinies had caused our paths to cross, for an instant, on a sunny morning in Nîmes. With a small additional dose of imagination, I might have even concluded that the magnificent blocks of stone in the ancient Roman arena had surely contributed—in ways yet unknown to science—to the focalization of our itineraries upon that particular point in Alexandria-Quartet space-time: Nîmes, 18 July 1963. It all sounds so nice, in a fuzzy way (of which Durrell himself might well have approved), that I'm a little sad to admit that I no longer believe an iota about so-called synchronicity. Be that as it may, I'm relieved to realize today that there are infinitely many mysteries in the Cosmos that are infinitely more astounding than the silly synchronicity idea... and I take pleasure in deliberately spicing up my sentiments with the "infinitely" adverb.

Immediately after that encounter with Durrell, three major events took place in my life.

(1) I worked for a while as a seaman on a Greek cargo ship [display].

(2) I returned to Paris and started work as an English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV [display].

(3) I met up with my future wife.

Curiously, an indirect but undeniable outcome of these three events was that I totally abandoned my fascination for Durrell and his formerly-exhilarating Alexandria Quartet. Instead of dreaming romantically about the inhabitants of a make-believe city in Egypt, or trying to imagine Durrell's life in places such as Corfu, Rhodes or Cyprus, I became more interested in the realities of modern Greece. In particular, I fell in love with the island of Tinos [display]. But I was rapidly convinced that there was one outstanding nation on the shores of the Mediterranean, and it was neither Greece, Egypt, Spain nor Italy. That nation was France. Its capital was Paris, where I would be spending the next three decades. And its Mediterranean port was the ancient Greek settlement of Massalia (designated by my friend Natacha as Marseille)... the official European capital of culture in 2013.

At this point, if my story is to be meaningful, readers need to know that, in 1965, I married a French girl, Christine, whose maternal ancestors were essentially Provençal. In the summer of 1968, with our 18-month-old daughter Emmanuelle, we drove down to meet up with Christine's grandparents at their home in the village of Saint Sériès, in the Mediterranean département of the Hérault, not far from Nîmes.

This was an excursion of immense joy: my discovery of Christine's marvelous maternal grandparents, and of their Languedoc province.

One day, Christine's grandparents happened to speak to me of a certain British writer who lived nearby, in Sommières. They told me that he had a reputation of spending most of his time as a boisterous drunkard in local taverns. I soon gathered that they were speaking of my former literary hero, Lawrence Durell, whom I had encountered 5 years earlier in Nîmes, when he was living in a stone cabin up in the vicinity, north of Nîmes, indicated by a green bubble in the above map. Needless to say, I set off immediately, to see if I could meet up once again with Durrell in Sommières. I located the property, but Durrell himself was not there. So, I missed him.

Meanwhile, for years, I had started to realize to what extent the mythical novelist of my late teenage years in Sydney had ceased to concern me directly, if at all. Today, retrospectively, I can understand perfectly why this was the case. Durrell had fascinated me at a time, back in Australia, when I still believed in romantic Mediterranean legends. But I had grown up since then, and I realized that Durrell was merely an adept story-teller: no more, no less. But certainly not an authority on authentic present-day Mediterranean society… which was better described to me—devoid of the romantic trappings of literature—by Christine's splendid grandparents. Her grandfather had worked for the French military as a specialist in explosives.

Christine's ancestors were real Provençal individuals, with authentic Mediterranean genealogies, not mere figments of the fuzzy imagination of a British novelist. Consequently, by "the force of things" (a splendid existentialist expression that I've always admired), I ceased to be a dyed-in-the-wool Durrellian (if ever I were). I became, modestly, the Australian-born husband of a lovely Breton girl (born, in fact, in Cognac) whose mother was Arlesian. Besides, incidentally, Christine told me she loved the French translations of Durrell's novels.

Meanwhile, my second face-to-face encounter with Lawrence Durrell took place in the Latin Quarter of Paris, in the early 1970s, when the novelist was exhibiting his talents as a painter, identified as Oscar Epf.

On that evening, I was thrilled to meet up with the 20-something daughter of the writer/painter, Sappho Durrell. Back at the time of my initial encounter with Lawrence Durrell, in Nîmes in 1963, Sappho was a child.

That evening, in Paris, she was an elegant young woman, sporting a magic name: Sappho Durrell. While her father chatted diplomatically with visitors, I preferred to enter in contact with Sappho. I told her, of course, that I had met up with her father for the first at Nîmes in 1963. Then I explained how I had come upon their family mansion in Sommières, in 1968. I half-expected that I would hear the profound reflections of the writer's daughter concerning life in a small Provençal town such as Sommières. Instead, at that instant, I was utterly stupefied by the spontaneous reaction of Sappho Durrell, who replied casually in the style of a mindless suburban brat:

SAPPHO DURRELL: "We refer to my father's place in Sommières as the House of the Addams Family."

I had no idea who might be designated by Sappho's "we", but I was immediately shocked (the term is true) by the fact that this young woman, daughter of a great British novelist, with the privilege of living with her illustrious father in the heart of Provence, might dare to allude to such cheap foreign shit as an American TV series. I concluded immediately (maybe wrongly, but first impressions count) that, intellectually, there was little to be acquired from Sappho… who may or may not have inherited significant genes from her Alexandrian mother Eve Cohen, a victim of depressive schizophrenia.

Years later, Christine's brother Lan Mafart, aware of my interest in Durrell, happened to be traveling around in the south of France, and he sent me a lovely photo of the entrance to Durrell's house in Sommières:

Lan also sent me a postcard from Sommières, with an image of the ancient rectangular keep on a hill above the capricious Vidourle:

Here, on the other side, is the text (in French) of Lan's postcard, written from the Café du Commerce:

Lan wrote: "A pale lightbulb shines upon the entrance to the house of Lawrence Durrell. The flakes of paint are like dead leaves forgotten by the gardener." In a cynical vein, Lan notes the absence of "camping-cars in the driveway", meaning that Durrell's home is no longer, apparently, a place of pilgrimage (if ever it were).

The most striking aspect of Lan's postcard is the date: 17 February 1990. On that day, if I understand correctly, Lawrence Durrell was in fact working inside his great bourgeois home on the manuscript of his final masterpiece: Caesar's Vast Ghost — Aspects of Provence. And the writer himself would be dead before the end of that year.

Today, when I learn that Sappho Durrell hung herself in London in 1985, and that she left papers suggesting (in terribly indirect terms) that her father might have straddled her incestuously, my immediate reaction is: crazy Addams-family talk!

I simply cannot, for a moment, imagine why Larry—surrounded constantly by hordes of seductive females—might have suddenly decided to fornicate with his 15-year-old daughter. Inversely, I can well imagine why Sappho might have decided, later on, that it would be nice if she were to make herself interesting (Durrell's daughter was a budding writer) by injecting make-believe sex into the alleged relationship with her father. After all, wasn't that a bit like what her old man had been doing, for ages, to add spice to his stories?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Old house in Sommières

[Google Maps image — Click to enlarge]
Route Saussine 15

Only of late have I come to see this house
As something poisoned when I paid for it;
Its beauty was specious and it hid pure grief.
Your absence, dearest, brings it no relief.
We have all died here; one by spurious one
Of indistinct diseases, lack of sun, or fun,
Or just our turn came up, now mine; so be it, none
Decline into oblivion without a guide,
The last of maladies, death, love can provide
The abandoned garden, dried up fountain oozes,
A stagnant fountain full of tiny frogs
Like miniature Muses; say to yourself
No hope of change with death so near.
Days come and sigh and disappear.
Despair camps everywhere and my old blind dog
Though lacking a prostate pisses everywhere.

Lawrence Durrell, in Caesar's Vast Ghost
The "absence" mentioned by Durrell was that of his wife Claude-Marie, who died on New Year's Day 1967, less than a year after their purchase of the house in Sommières. Durrell himself died in this house on 7 November 1990. He was buried in the graveyard behind the chapel of Saint Julien de Montredon, a few kilometers north-west of Sommières.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Is your iPad fond of bones?

The British actor Stephen Fry, who loves Apple toys, has come up with an amusing comparison for an iPad. “The way I see it is it’s like a dog.” [source] When most people decide to get a dog, they don't necessarily say to themselves (unless they're hunters, security-minded individuals, etc): "I need a dog to perform a precise set of functions." You get a dog because you're simply craving to have a dog. We're humans, and dogs are dogs. That's all there is about it.

Today, I'm not absolutely sure I could tell you why I bought an iPad. I think it was a mixture of curiosity and wonder. Rationalizing, I said I needed an iPad to see how my novel All the Earth is Mine would look as an electronic book. That explanation was partly true, but it didn't really justify the purchase. As for my second dog, I must admit that I didn't bother trying to invent reasons why I needed him, nor did Fitzroy express reasons why he might (or might not) need me.

Meanwhile, Fitzroy is receiving a top-quality canine education from his wise and experienced great-aunt Sophia. Much of their work might be referred to as tactical combat training.

It can be tough at times, like in the army, but the dogs have never once lost their tempers nor harmed one another in any way.

It's not always easy to get good shots of the dogs when they're romping around together. I've been trying vainly to get a meaningful photo of Fitzroy's latest invention: a technique that consists of squeezing in between Sophia's hind legs until his whole crouched body lies directly beneath the belly of the bigger dog. In that position, with his head well protected, Fitzroy can safely nip the back of Sophia's front paws. Since Sophia's hind legs are jammed apart by the bulk of Fitzroy's body, she finds it difficult to turn around in order to dislodge the smart pup. Of course, Sophia finally succeeds in doing so, whereupon the audacious little Collie has to imagine another technique for attacking the giant Labrador citadel. As my ex-neighbor Bob (subjugated by Fitzroy's charm) remarked the other day, Sophia had reached a stage of life at which she was entering into calm retirement, untroubled by forces in the outside world. Overnight, a tiny black-and-white furry whirlwind swooped into her life from nowhere. Well, not exactly "from nowhere"; rather, from the top-of-the-world village of Risoul 1800 in the Hautes-Alpes: a most prestigious Alpine address for a distinguished dog.

Amazingly, Christine has just discovered that, among her maternal Provençal ancestors, an odd couple ("odd" meaning different) came from Risoul 1800, the same village as Fitzroy. Christine and the little dog were already bonded into a lovely relationship while she held him tenderly on her knees for several hours during our return trip to Gamone, after our having "dognapped" him from his family environment at Risoul 1800. Before then, for a day or so in Arles and the region around Aix, this brief Provençal excursion in the company of my ex-wife had been transformed into a largely family-history affair... which delighted me in the sense that I've always been interested in Christine's genealogy, both in Brittany and in Provence. Well, now that we learn that our "Fitz-Risoul" came from the same remote village as some of Christine's ancestors, I'm sure that her affection for this wonderful little animal has been amplified.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In the footsteps of Van Gogh

While strolling recently in Arles with Christine, I didn't realize to what extent we happened to be walking in the footsteps—as it were—of Vincent van Gogh. It's only today, in front of my computer, that I discover retrospectively various associations of this kind.

This photo shows the majestic stone portal of the Hôtel-Dieu, with a poster indicating its new name: Espace Van Gogh. In France, the former expression (literally, God's hostel) designates ancient hospitals, often alongside a cathedral, in various great cities such as Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes and Angers.

In Arles, on Christmas Day 1888, Van Gogh used a razor to slash an ear lobe. Several months later, observing the painter's abnormal mental state, people in Arles signed a petition to have him interned at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. The other day, I took a couple of photos of the hospital courtyard, covered in flowers.

Van Gogh did a painting of this same courtyard.

Two other Van Gogh paintings present the bridge at Trinquetaille.

This is the bridge that Christine's grandfather Paul Marteau would have crossed regularly, as a youth, when walking back and forth between his native Trinquetaille and the main city of Arles. It was destroyed by Allied bombers in August 1944. When Christine and I were strolling between Trinquetaille and Arles the other day, we were using a bridge that was built in 1951 to replace the old one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Provençal excursion

Christine arrived at Gamone a week ago. On Wednesday, we set out in the car for a short excursion to Provence, leaving Sophia in the capable hands of Sylvie in Presles: the girl I mentioned in my article entitled Moshé's future companion [display]. After a delightful drive down along the right bank of the Rhône (on the Ardèche side), we dropped in at Avignon just long enough to discover that they still haven't rebuilt the missing arch in the bridge.

It's a dangerous situation, because it's said that people dance there. Apparently they dance there, all in a circle, and it would be so easy for a dancer to fall into the Rhône. At the top of a stone staircase at one end of the esplanade in the center of the city, we discovered a gigantic elephant doing a remarkable balancing act.

Although it's obvious to me, I'm not sure that many folk are aware of the existence of an elephant in the Palace of Popes.

We stopped for the first night in Arles… or, more precisely, in the right-bank neighborhood of Trinquetaille, where Christine's grandfather Paul Marteau [1896-1976] was born. We had dinner in the middle of the Place du Forum, on the patio of the Café van Gogh.

Of an evening, the yellow façade is lit up in such a way that it looks much like it probably did on a summer evening in 1888, when painted by Vincent van Gogh [1853-1890].

Wherever you go in Arles, you're never too far away from sunlit scenes that evoke the great painter.

On the façade of the Museum of Arles, the wistful image of an Arlésienne in traditional costume, wearing a construction worker's hat, informed us that the place was closed for restoration until 2014.

Nearby, the façades of stately old buildings were in serious need of restoration, but their owners probably don't have the necessary finance to tackle such work.

Admiring the Rhône from the bridge that links Trinquetaille to the main city, Christine was able to understand clearly why her grandfather always evoked the great river as if it were an ancient divinity.

On Paul Marteau's birth certificate, we noticed that the family's address designated a rural zone on the outskirts of Trinquetaille, and mentioned the word for "gardens". We were thrilled to succeed in locating this neighborhood.

Personally, this new contact with Arles confirmed my long-held opinion that it's the most splendid little city I've ever encountered.