Europe, France

Arles and Les Baux-de-Provence

Yesterday I took a day trip to Arles and Les Baux-de-Provence.  Arles was one of the first Roman cities in France and still hosts a theatre and amphitheater.  Both have undergone some restoration, but they’re also still used today – the theatre for plays and the amphitheater for bull fights twice a year.  It’s a big city, but walking around in the morning, it felt like just a small little town.  Of course, Arles is also known as being the city where Van Gogh worked when he was in France.  His most famous works (Starry Night, Sunflowers) were completed year in the two years before his death.  It was pretty amazing to walk around and know that Van Gogh also walked down these streets.

Around the same time as Van Gogh, there was also Frédéric Mistral, the founder of the félibrige, an organization to protect and promote Provençal culture.  He has a statue in the Forum, which it’s worth mentioning retains two Roman columns.  Mistral is a big reason why local cultures in France are still celebrated and why all the little towns in this region sell Santons – the “little saints” that populate local nativities.

After a decadent lunch, we drove into Les Alpilles – the little Alps.  Tucked into these mountains is what has been called France’s most beautiful village – Les Baux de Provence.  The town is just a tiny little collection of villages on top of a mountain, but it’s lovely to walk through and they also have an immersive art exhibit that doesn’t require all the stairs.  What is showing in the exhibit changes every so many months, but I was able to see Flower Power and Picasso and the Spanish Masters.  The exhibit is set up inside the mountain; there’s a roof and columns to hold everything up.  Essentially, you walk through a door into the cave where the art is projected all around you with music playing from high up on the walls.  It was an incredible experience, and while I walked all around the cave, I also spent most of the show (40 minutes total) just watching.

The Flower Power one, for example, opens by making the pillars into city streets with 60s music playing.  Pop art literally “pops” into existence.  The Picasso one features works of Velazquez and Goya paired with salsa music along with various selections of Picasso works matched with beachy music or, for Guernica, some drums and violins that were a bit terrifying but also made Guernica my favorite part of the show.   In addition to the music for that one, there was in the video fog billowing up over the walls, and out of the fog the monstrous faces of the painting would appear until it eventually revealed the whole thing.  Keep in mind, similar images were appearing on all the walls, so it was a bit like being surrounded by these monsters.  After the painting faded away, there was a moment of blackness then images of a bombed out Spanish village and newspaper headlines.  It was phenomenal, and really very difficult to describe.  It was definitely the highlight of the trip.

That’s it for now.  I won’t be posting next week since I’ll be on Fall Break, but I will have a nice long post the week after detailing my big trip of the semester.

Until next time~

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