A Day (or Two) in Provence
One of my great joys this fall is having my sister and her husband in the region for several months. It is a huge and unexpected gift to have extended time to reconnect and catch up.
There’s nothing like family. I’m aware that sentence can be read in different ways! Family can bring our highest highs and lowest lows. Yet, overall, the bonds and longevity of family relationships are an enormous gift––one that I don’t take for granted, living overseas. I'm enjoying every minute of this visit.
To add to all the goodness, my sister and I took a two-day trip to Provence. Wohoo! I never grow tired of this part of France (or any part, for that matter.) There's always something new to discover or experience in a fresh way. As I move along through life, adding new interests and understandings, my perspective changes. And to share it with a loved one makes it all the better.
Both of us are big Van Gogh fans, so we started in Arles. The artist lived there for fourteen months and created about 300 paintings. Some of them are his finest works. It breaks my heart knowing that he had so little acclaim or recognition during his lifetime. Today, he's featured in major art museums and if a piece comes on the market, it sells for multiple millions.
The Red Vineyard, by Van Gogh. The one painting sold during his lifetime, out of the 900 he created.
I couldn’t help wondering what he would think if he appeared today in Arles and other nearby cities. Streets and plazas are named after him and often include a statue or bust of his likeness. Throughout the region, a whole tourist industry has built up around his life and work. Part of me resents this, especially given the lack of any appreciation during his lifetime.
The touristic aspect didn’t keep us from fully partaking of Van Gogh oriented activities. In Arles, we followed a self-guided walking tour to places he painted. Like a treasure hunt, we searched out the (poorly marked!) locations.
Here’s some of what we found:
#1- Café Terrace at Night, Van Gogh, 1888
#2- Starry Night Over the Rhone,1888
It would be fun to go back and see this at night, as in the painting. Still, it was interesting to see how he captured the curve of the river and the sense of the town beyond.
#3- The Bridge at Trinquetaille, 1888
The brochure mentioned the young girl in the foreground. She's tipping her head down, holding her hat against the famous "mistral" wind. Named after Provençal writer Frédéric Mistral, it blows strong and cold through the region.
#4- The Stairway at Trinquetaille Bridge, Van Gogh, 1888
Same bridge, focusing this time on the stairway.
I loved seeing how Van Gogh took an ordinary spot and extracted beauty. He saw differently and oh how I’d love to have that gift, though without the severe suffering he experienced. I imagine modern medical support would have made a difference in his life. But I also wonder if that would have affected his art. We’ll never know, of course. I’m hoping to see him in heaven and tell him just how much his art moves me.
#5- Hospital in Arles, 1889
Van Gogh was interned several times here, most notably after he cut his ear.
Arles is also famous for its Roman arena, built in 90 AD. Let that date sink in for a moment! Built during Roman occupation of southern France as a smaller replica of the arena in Rome.
Originally home to fierce gladiator fights including “maritime” battles created by flooding the floor of the arena. After the fall of the Roman empire, it was converted into a fortress, encircling houses and chapels. Today it hosts bull fights and concerts.
#6- The Arena in Arles, 1888
Van Gogh's version is a snippet of the inside, focused heavily on the crowd and individual people.
One of the many things I love about old European cities is the juxtaposition of ancient and modern––at least when contemporary architecture isn't ugly or over-the-top.
Here are some lovely examples from Arles:
From there, we went on to St. Rémy de Provence, where Van Gogh was also hospitalized and painted many more incredible paintings. His night-into-dawn view from his window resulted in the famous Starry Night.
Next time: Day Two: Les Baux de Provence...
La vie est belle!