Thursday we visited Arles, site of Vincent Van Gogh’s brief, but productive, stay in Provence the penultimate year of his life. He painted many pictures here and the locations are marked by easel-shaped plaques depicting the paintings in the place where they were created. Unfortunately, not a single Van Gogh original is on display anywhere in Arles. Strange, isn’t it?
We parked on a side street next to the old city wall, paid our parking fee, and walked upward through one of the old gates into the old city. Winding along narrow lanes we approached the Roman coliseum that is relatively intact or rebuilt. It now houses bullfights when it’s not entertaining tourists with tales of Roman gladiators. We didn’t wish to pay to go inside, so contented ourselves with pictures around the outside. The coliseum is undergoing major restoration, so if you are coming to this place in the next two years, expect lots of scaffolds and plastic wrap.
The Foundation Vincent Van Gogh across from the coliseum houses modern art created contemporaneously to interpret Van Gogh. These artists aren’t copying Vincent, merely gaining inspiration from him while working in their own style. We weren’t sure whether we wanted to view it, but the decision was taken out of our hands when we encountered locked doors despite signs that said open. It was well past the typical siesta from Noon to 3, during which most museums and businesses close. However, the Foundation’s doors were still locked without explanation. There is no understanding the French ethics about business hours or responsibility to customers.
The main part of our day was spent walking the streets in search of the places Van Gogh painted. We followed the footsteps in the concrete to find some of the plaques, but we didn’t go in order or try to see them all. There are many of them and they cover lots of ground. Instead we tried to focus on a few highlights as suggested by Rick Steves. The two most interesting were Le Jardin de la Maison de La Sante a Arles and Le Café Nuit. Le Jardin is a wonderful painting of a small courtyard in winter. The trees have no leaves and the light pours into the scene. On this day the trees were fully leafed and the courtyard was deeply shadowed. However, it looks much as it did in Van Gogh’s day. We stopped for lunch at Le Café Nuit, now also called Café Van Gogh. The biggest change from the painting is that they have added many more awnings and tables on the sidewalk. Since French law banned smoking inside public buildings no one wants to sit inside anymore! We ordered two different salads and split them. One was ham, tuna, and an assortment of vegetables on a lettuce base. The other was grilled eggplant and red pepper on a lettuce base. Both were delicious, but the eggplant pepper salad was the best.
After lunch we strolled back through many narrow lanes toward the coliseum before returning to our car. We drove back to Saint Martin de Crau by 3:30 and found a café that has WiFi. That allowed us to check our e-mail and take care of some business. Posting this and photos on the blog will have to await another day.
Today, Saturday, I have enough time to go to the bar and find a table close to the WiFi router. That means I can put up these posts I’ve been saving.