Provence in an un-Provence manner

I had a big moment this morning. A big, awesome, golden, happy moment. The downside is that it really was just a moment. Since I am relying on public transport, remote areas are difficult to get to. High on my bucket list this trip was to visit Pont du Gard, and I did that today, and it was fantastic, but it was a ridiculously short stop on a rushed group tour of Provence. I could have spent 8 hours here; we were here for 40 minutes. Forty minutes allotted for this spectacular place! It’s hard to believe. Whatever, I have added a long visit to the area to my list of things to do on my next France visit, along with some up-close time with flamingoes in the Camargue wetlands.

Of the eight people on the the minibus, about half were French speakers, so the guide explained everything in both French and English, which was fabulous for this aspiring French speaker. My abilities and confidence to converse in French are improving daily. Oui, je reviens en France.

The rest of the day was spent visiting some of the official Most Beautiful Villages of France, Roman ruins, a lavender (or as the guide says, lavenger) farm, and the Ochre Trail. I made sure to include a tasty glass of rosé, a specialty of the region.

Some more interesting things the guide said:

Paris is not France.

The weather has been so hot and dry that the vineyards (or as he says, weenyerds) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape were permitted to be irrigated (this is normally against the law of wine-making).

Monaco is merely a fiscal paradise and soccer team of France.

There are many differnecy between the towns.

To Antibes tomorrow!

Note to self: maybe three double espresso not such a good idea.

And some photos:

Arles

First, I would like to comment on the charm of the three cheek kiss.

Ok, that important point having been made, I started off this morning with a nice walk along the Rhône (and an accidental journey into some unnamed neighborhood) to the ancient history museum. Did you know that one of the reasons behind Rome’s success was its use of concrete in building? Now I do.

The highlight of the museum was the display of a 100 foot long barge, brought up from the bottom of the river, researched, restored, protected and put on display. A 20 minute documentary tells the story of the astonishing amount of effort that went into to this endeavor, especially considering it may have taken all of ten minutes to sink (it was a stone transport). Also from the museum, Hawaii friends and family: check out the petroglyph.

After the museum, I strolled through the inviting residential area of La Roquerre. I even found a fantastic vegan lunch spot. Hallelujah. It’s a small, one-woman operation, and she was invaded at lunchtime by others of my persuasion.

I don’t know if I’ve been influenced over the decades by stories of the magic of Provence’s light, but it does seem rather special. I’m searching for the best word to describe it. Translucent? Diaphanous? Delicate? Un certain quelque chose . . .

Je ne sais quoi.

After lunch I visited the Réuttu Museum, Monsieur Réattu being a beloved artist of Arles. His work was the main feature; he had an intense interest in the human body, including how fabric draped over it. Besides the many complete works, the exhibition also featured the numerous studies he did before the final works, revealing the depth of his obsession to absolutely, positively, minutely get it right. The museum also had some contemporary shows, including photography, which made me very, very happy.

Later in the afternoon, I found a spot at the curve of the river and sat along the embankment near the remains of a WWII bombed bridge. (Arles was occupied by the German Army and trashed by Allied bombers.) The weather was spectacular, but why this lovely river bank has not one bench is a mystery to me. Strangely, there was barely any river activity, except that today divers are snooping around that sunken boat, a venture I have lots of respect for after this morning’s film.

Here are some photos. I’m guessing you have had your fill of shutters and narrow lanes.

P.S. There is a flamingo reserve nearby, and the Romans apparently saw them.

After Languedoc, Provence

This morning’s train ride was unremarkable, until about one hour outside of Carcassonne when a shimmering light off to the right caught my eye: the Mediterranean! But we turned inland for Arles, which is on the banks of the Rhône.

I arrived four hours too early to check into my Arles hotel, so I spent the time at a square where Van Gogh painted; the people watching was superb.

Later, I followed the Arles walk from my guidebook, which included Roman leftovers and what’s known as the ‘Van Gogh trail.’ On the VG trail, one follows blue symbols of the artist lugging his easel (I think), and the trail takes a visitor to the real life sites of some of the artist’s paintings; it’s pretty cool.

Here are some photos, including artworks ancient and new; a waving Pope Francis; a stain glass reflection; a distressed boat, dueling photographers; the spot where Vincent rested after the ear incident; a pig on a wall; a black and white shot of my dinner; a late afternoon selfie; the usual suspects; and a familiar chair in my room.

img_7220-1

img_7250-1

img_7147-1

img_7226-1

img_7139-1

IMG_7293

img_7347-2

img_7240-1

img_7267-1

img_7279-2

img_7180

img_7198-1

img_7192-1

img_7234-1

img_7276-2

img_7171-1

img_7195-1

img_7218-1

img_7230

img_7300-2

img_7360-2

img_7152-1

Carcassonne, part e, or Canal du Midi Day

Today was my last chance to explore the Canal – I leave tomorrow for Arles. The B&B I’m staying in loans bikes, which is very convenient, but I had to make do with a one-size-fits-all bike that didn’t exactly work for my long legs (I will need the soothing benefits of the room’s giant bathtub later, I expect). My host told me the ride from the B&B to the Canal is about 35 minutes, but I took a personally devised short cut and got there in only one and a half hours. I am sure this is because a few days ago I was feeling superior about my navigational skills, and you know pride comes before the fall. Anyway, the day dawned beautifully instead of stormily, and I set off right after breakfast. Wow, what an adventure. The Canal is lovely and mostly unspoiled, and its engineering is impressive, to put it mildly, especially considering it was completed in 1681. One section I passed includes three separate locks to manage the elevation change. And at one section, A RIVER PASSES BENEATH THE CANAL. C’est fantastique! The tow paths are well used by walkers and cyclists, although there were many stretches when no one was in sight during my 22 km ride. The canal is no longer put to its original commercial use (having been made obsolete by trains and trucks) but is used extensively by large (and rentable) river boats, complete with kitchens and bedrooms and bikes on decks. The tow path is narrow, and it provided an opportunity in courage building for me: I’ve developed edge issues as I’ve aged, and when I was in the ‘lane’ next to the water’s edge, it was an opportunity for growth! I did crash, but only once, and I did not wind up in the canal. Nor did I take anyone else down with me, so I’d call that a success. Sadly the photos do not do the beauty of the Canal or its engineering feats justice.

Oh, that’s not a photo of the castle below; it is merely a landscape photo and the castle just happened to be there in the distance.

Lastly, here is a launderette update: the one in Carcassonne nearby B&B is new, modern, and spic ‘n’ span, but I still have not perfected the art of using a French laundromat; witness the locked machine sloshing around with no clothes in it . . .

IMG_7058

IMG_7066

IMG_7071

IMG_7074

IMG_7073

IMG_7078

IMG_7091

IMG_7087

IMG_7104

IMG_7109

IMG_5818

Carcassonne, part d

After the deluge, the weather turned and the evening sky was gorgeous. I made one more trip to the castle (these are the last castle photos, I promise). I followed my guidebook’s walking tour and learned some cool stuff. I also found myself alone in the candlelit cathedral, which was way cool (although it in no way matches my father finding himself alone in the Sistine Chaple, circa 1962).

Something I wrote in today’s earlier blog is nagging me: can there be a physical ‘replica’ of a ‘narrative’? Hmmmmm . . .

Bon soir!

IMG_7016

IMG_7024

IMG_7027

IMG_7037

IMG_7044

IMG_7046

Carcassonne, part c

Funny how things turn out. I changed my plans to walk the Midi Canal, and as it happens, the weather would have changed them for me: lots and lots of cold rain in the region. Really glad I’m not miles from shelter in the pouring rain, although it’s a cryin’ shame to be stuck inside.

I spent this morning at le musée des beaux-arts, accomplishing two things at once: getting an art fix and escaping the wet. It is a small museum, but nicely done with lots of quirky art. Afterwards, I wandered Carcassonne (read: got lost). Unfortunately, many sites and restaurants list open hours, but are closed. Fortunately, I did not check the museum’s hours before going, as its website states it is closed today, and I wouldn’t have gone had I looked it up first.

Also fortunately, I stumbled upon a very odd place: le Jardin du Calvaire, a derelict and overgrown replica physical representation of a Christian narrative, set behind thick and high stone walls. It is foreboding, perhaps due to the inclement weather, and inhabited by many robust felines who slunk out of holes in the crumbling brick as I made my way up the circuitous path to the pinnacle, which is adorned with statues of the crucifixion of Jesus. (Whew, that’s a big sentence.)

Here are some pictures. Hope you enjoy the art as much as I do.

P.S. Is it me, or does Joseph look a little suspicious?

P.P.S. The title of the work with the young woman holding the book is Portrait de 3 Pommes.

Live all you can. It's a mistake not to.

%d bloggers like this: