Thursday, August 12, 2010

Arles, France--Bull Fights and Vincent Van Gogh

Arles was one of our first stops after we left Nice. A city guide met our group and walked the town with us, explaining the buildings and telling stories along the way. Arles is in the Provence area and is built on steep and winding streets, so narrow only only one car can drive on it, and yet, no one-way street signs like we're use to.

Many people make a living as a city guide. Their job is to help tourists discover a town and its history, what it has to offer. They appear to be a chamber of commerce on foot. We've never had a poor city guide in the trips we've taken. They must weed out the ones who leave tourists yawning.

In Arles, the Roman influence is evident, stemming from the Roman invasion of France long, long ago. A large ampitheater that the Romans built still stands and is home to regularly scheduled bull fights. It surprised me, as I think of Spain and maybe Portugal as bull fighting countries, not France. As we looked into the interior of the ampitheater on this pleasant warm morning, a light breeze now and then, it was difficult to imagine the crowds cheering the bull fighter on, and maybe some people cheering for the bull to win.

We folllowed our guide to a series of buildings built around a courtyard. It was here that Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted for a short time. Another painter, Paul Gaugin, lived there in the same period. The two were friends who often fought over various things. The legend of Van Gogh's ear being cut off has two different versions. One is that Van Gogh did it himself, wrapped it in a scarf and presented it to his mistress asking her to keep it. The other story says that Van Gogh and Gaugin had a big fight with swords slashing through the air as these two master painters came at one another. With a final swipe, Gaugin neatly sliced off the ear of his friend.

As much as I enjoyed hearing the story about the two painters, I relished the way the guide told the tales.
Her enjoyment in telling the story showed in the many hand gestures she used the expressions on her face, and the inflection in her voice. She had her audience (us) in her hand. I wondered if she had ever tried writing. If she did, I think she would be successful if she could transfer the emotion in her storytelling onto paper.

We finished our visit to Arles with time to visit the shops which were filled with products of Provence. Lavendar, herbs and olive oil reigned supreme, but the lovely fabrics with the sunny colors of the Mediterranean caught the eye of many a shopper.

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