A panoramic of beautiful Les Andelys, taken by Henry.
This beautiful French lady chooses her daily pain (bread) from a boulangerie at Les Halles.
And lest you think the Palaise des Papes is only about the ancient past, this fellow (left) is there to remind you of the French peoples' gift for celebrating both past and present. During our visit there was an exhibit of contemporary African art of which our bull friend, rendered entirely of upcycled metal parts, was a part. Below are metal sculptures of the female figure and African trees (bottom right).
Ah Vincent, such an eccentric chap, but, for our time, completely lovable! His brushstrokes were fluid, sure, capturing the shifting movement of life in a way that disturbed the provincial French clientele of his time. We see, in his furrowed brow and tortured eye, the mental agony he endured ~ a brilliant artist, ahead of his time, spurned by most.
Speaking of imagining...place yourself in the time of this Roman amphitheater, climbing these steps with the 12,000 other countrymen, entering these grand doors. And, what wonders will you see once you are inside such a place?
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Arles, for me at least, was the history this city has had with Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent spent the last two years of his life in Arles and painted over 200 paintings in or around Arles, in which he featured the landscape, city life, and the special light that is unique to this part of France. Because of his deteriorating mental state, he also spent time in the hospice (hospital) before taking his own life, although there is some question as to the validity of this (taking his own life, that is). However, while in Arles we visited the hospice where he spent time as well as the garden belonging to the hospice. The city of Arles has restored the hospice and has replanted the garden to be a replica of the garden seen in paintings done from the time that Vincent was a patient there (1889-1890). Not far away is the quaint yellow café where Vincent painted Café Terrace at Night with its charming outdoor bistro vibe, much as it was in Vincent’s day. Although the city had a testy relationship with Vincent during his life, it is clear that the inhabitants of Arles are now quite fond of their adopted native son.
And the theater arts were not the only arts being plied; this man, with his picturesque location below the clock tower (Place de l'Horoge) was an accomplished watercolor artist and appeared to be doing a fine business selling his paintings.
We had a free hour so Henry and I spent some time picking up a few last minute items that I felt I just couldn’t do without, like some lavande (lavender) products from le Château du Bois, Provence, and some jacquard-woven linens from Tissage Garnier Thiébaut. These are nice 100% cotton linens of very high quality that I have quite a weakness for. Finally, we met Valérie in a large courtyard by yet another church and regretfully, we made our way back to the bus.
Sunday, July 30, 2017 (8:35PM Paris time)
Oh dear...this is shaping up to be a very long day. I didn’t plan to write anymore but we are about 6.5 hours out of London, Heathrow and it has been such a bazaar travel experience that I want to document it so I can try to avoid today’s experiences next time. We were up at 0600 and into the shower, packed, and down to breakfast by 0700. Breakfast was quite nice as we said our goodbyes to friends over double shot cappuccinos. At 0800 sharp our cruise manager linked us up with our van driver and soon we were watching the French countryside appear and disappear behind us. We were sharing the van with another couple from Houston, Texas and it was a quite pleasant ride. Now the fun begins...
Café Van Gogh is très chic with its sunflower yellow paint, bright red lettering, and a sprinkling of au courant young people whiling away the late morning.
I love the juxtaposition of the modern ~ motorcycles, the ubiquitous Coca Cola ~ with the antique; of course, this can be found everywhere in France as it is the nature of things here.
We arrived at the airport in Marseille, after driving past more French countryside, and our driver unloaded us, helped us to the front door of the airport, took his tip and disappeared. Henry and I looked at each other; bewildered doesn’t quite describe how we felt. Just then the other couple that traveled in the van with us appeared and, happily, they were a bit more familiar with travel in Europe than we were. By putting our heads together and reading the sparse number of signs printed in English we all managed to get into the correct line, priority, which was only somewhat shorter than the other line. Looking around us, it was difficult not to be reminded of some of the less-than-desirable facilities we had encountered in Mexico.
Finally we made it to the front of the line and a smartly dressed 40-something blonde woman waved us forward. “Your passport, please!” she stated in perfectly French English. We quickly complied while answering her query as to where we were traveling. Soon she was thrusting our passports and tickets back at us waving in the general direction of somewhere while calling the next person forward. Hmmm...more head scratching.
Henry and I began to walk in the general direction, fighting through queues of travelers while attempting to decipher signs written only in French. Soon we gave up and at that point we must have looked very lost because a security guard approached us and as soon as he realized that we only spoke English he waved us over his English-speaking colleague. This man pointed to the sign that said ‘Embarque’ and told us to follow the green signs for special boarding. We walked down several near-empty corridors, past empty offices painted battleship gray, and came to an area where we had to make a choice: try to join a group of hundreds of weary looking people waiting in line behind a plastic barrier with the universal sign for Do Not Enter or follow the green arrow up a short flight of stairs and around a blind corner with no other visible human beings anywhere in sight. It should be said here that we had been instructed to follow the green arrows to our destination. Well, Henry wanted the first choice; I wanted the second; knowing us you can only imagine what ensued right there in the Marseille airport! Suffice it to say that Henry and I don't always agree. Most gratefully, Ken and Barbara, our friends from the cruise, were in a line behind us and just as I was wondering how I could convince my darling husband of the fallacy of his thinking, I saw Ken waving at us to follow the green arrow. Mentally I breathed a sigh of relief as I knew that Henry would listen to someone whom he perceived has more knowledge (or experience) than I. I pointed to Ken, he turned, and to my great relief my husband was soon following me up the stairs lugging our two (50 pounds each) carry-on bags.
Well, there is more: Cappuccino or coffee for those that wanted it and, just in case you did not have your sweet tooth satisfied the first time around, not one but two plates with a selection of sweet little petits fours (interesting direct translation: little ovens). Take my word for it, nobody makes petits fours like the French! I must confess I did try them but I will not reveal the number!
Lavande (above) is a staple of this region of France although we missed the lavender harvest by just days. However, there was no lack of fresh lavande or huile de lavande (oil of lavender) and the real deal was quite costly: I purchased some hand cream for 29 euros, and that's a 1:1 conversion rate!
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Although there are many visitors to Arles, there is no feeling of it being a 'tourist trap'; indeed there is a feeling of quiet dignity with a staunch value for and pride of the product being sold.
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Happily, the French are keen to restore their ancient buildings and this beautiful relic is no exception. Once again, we see evidence of the modern against the hewn stones of antiquity. What a place this must have been!
What follows is an epilogue to our adventure and will hopefully, in the future, serve to steer me away from the hardships of travel.
In the area around Arles sunflowers abound today as they did in Vincent's day. Although he spent less than two years in Arles, and during that time struggled with mental illness, it stands to reason that he was inspired to paint this most lighthearted of flowers.
I was hot, tired, and stressed but at least a little proud of myself for navigating a system I knew nothing about and, said system, was inherently designed to ensure my failure. Soon, however, Henry and I were waiting in the stuffy, 85F degree Marseille airport at our gate. I lifted my long skirt a bit and unashamedly fanned myself with my hat until we were called to board. The flight attendants aboard the British Airways that would take us into London, Heathrow, were just darling; indeed, they were the exact opposite of our experience in the airport. As we boarded we were offered cool rags to quell the heat and a drink to quench our thirst. As the plane lumbered down the runway I tried not to allow this recent experience to leave me with feelings of irritation for my new love, France.
Oh, but the joys of travel do not stop there! We arrived in London having spent two hours in the air but costing us only one due to the time change. Heathrow was quite clearly a giant leap towards the 21st century in terms of the building itself; it was definitely more modern and clean. However, another foray through security proved disastrous. This time they took issue with the contents of both of our cosmetics cases, or whatever it is called for a man. They were put out that we had not seen their very small sign that requires all liquids, razors, etc. to be placed in a sealable plastic bag. That was strike one. Then, after all those items made it into said plastic bag and sealed it had to go back through the scanner and be tested for explosives. And because I had the most liquid items, I, as in my person, had to be tested for explosives. I could write a book! Oh, right you are, seems I have.
So, once again, we arrived at our appointed gate after taking a break in the relatively nice, air-conditioned business class rest area. However, to say that the gate area was mobbed would not be an understatement. People were jostling, vying for a place in a non-existent line, and confusion was rampant. There were at least five or six different levels of flying status, none of which were clearly marked and in this frenzy of sweaty, frustrated bodies, it was more than just the temperature that was heating up. We had not been given a seat assignment (we were told while still in France that the fax machine was over-loaded and it couldn’t be done) so I was compelled to pry my way through this writhing mass to the front of the line to correct the problem. While there, I asked where those with priority should be and the gentleman told me to wait right where I was; so now I had to wave Henry up to the front of the line, lugging our two 50 pound carry-ons, and seeing otherwise very nice folks watching him with venom in their eyes.
Soon, an administrative lady came out and, rather rudely, ordered everyone back telling the passengers in her precise English accent ~ that in any other circumstance I would have loved ~ that “all passengers with regular seats should move back, move back, you don’t need to be here for another ten minutes!” And then, “Did you hear me? Move back!” Finally, she turned her back on us and walked away, muttering, “I don’t think they are capable of hearing me.” To say that we were less than impressed with the British system of flying or their manners...well, you get the idea.
So, we now sit on what seems like an antiquated plane (Boeing 747), after our experience coming across the pond on a 787 in the other direction. That said though, the food has been very good, the flight attendants have impeccably good manners (mine is an older gentleman who has on more than one occasion finished a sentence by calling me, “my lovely” which, of course, I am eating up! “Here is a fresh towel, my lovely”) and, there is a fair assortment of movies to watch on my personal telly monitor. Henry has had a glass of champagne upon boarding and a glass of Cointreau after dinner and is now resting fitfully, which is normal for him, anyway. I had been knitting before finishing up my journal of this amazing experience. So, for now, we are comfortable and eager to reach home. I have, however, made a mental note to reread this before attempting another international trip, if for no other reason than to lower my sanctimonious American expectations (insert smile and a wink here). Bonne nuit, mes amies...until next time.
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Although the umbrellas block some of the view we can certainly see that 'this is the place'. Note that the bistro tables are still round with white tops.
Approaching Arles on this sunny morning, we were impressed with the evidence of antiquity...crumbling fortifications flank the entryway to this winsome little town. Stone walls the color of aged parchment line the streets, and narrow, shadowed alleyways beckon exploration.
Dinner tonight was an enchanting affair as it was the Captain’s Farewell Dinner however, I issue a warning: this is not for the faint of heart. We sat with Ken, Barbara, Bob, and Sue and had a splendid and memorable evening. To start, we were offered a selection of red and white wines recommended by the sommelier as well as five different kinds of petit pain (dinner rolls) and beurre (butter). Very quickly the first course appeared: foie gras crème brûlée, a charming little white porcelain pot filled with a silken egg, cream, and foie gras (duck) mixture baked to perfection and garnished with a sprig of thyme. As lively conversation ensued our plates were cleared and the next course appeared: a pumpkin and sweet potato bisque served in a very small teacup that could be drunk or eaten with a spoon. Next, came an appetizer of Parmentier of braised veal shank in red wine sauce. Each guest was served a long platter with a lattice of toasted white bread cut into fingers and stacked on the left-hand side of the plate. In the middle were three rare slices of braised veal shank arranged in a fluted pattern with a tiny garnish of mango and stone fruit chutney. On the right was another small porcelain pot filled with braised veal shank in a red wine sauce and topped with whipped white potato piped on in a fancy swirl and garnished with a fresh sage leaf.
We both decided to take the tour of the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) as well as see Vieux Avignon (Old Avignon) with its ancient wall. Perhaps it is because we have seen so many churches, so many walls, so many cobblestone streets, and so many bridges (the Pont du Gard is the other tour being offered today)...I really can’t say why but...it just seemed to be the right thing to do. Our guide was lovely, a Frenchwoman, named Valérie, who was most charming with that lilting French accent and a very cute sense of humor. She whisked us across busy streets, through the old meter-deep wall, into the market plaza, and eventually we arrived at the Palais des Papes. Once again I was in my own little world of attempting to construct the perfect picture with my camera. More than once I heard Valérie’s voice cut through my reverie saying, “No pictures, no pictures” and then (I'm blushing with embarrassment here) came a tap on my shoulder and the docent-like person said, “Madame, no pictures, s’il vous plait”. Later, when I apologized to Valérie she responded with a casual flip of her hand and a laugh and quipped, “I see nothing!” She went on to say that the reason they don’t want pictures is not because of the flash (you can now turn off the flash on most cameras) but rather because they want to sell more postcards in their gift shop! We cannot say the French are not skilled; they know when they have a good thing going!
During our July visit the commune of Avignon was hosting the Festival d'Avignon, a celebration of the theater arts. All over the square one could see posters of various theater companies offering their wares and you might even be accosted by colorful actors attempting to lure you in for an afternoon (or evening) play. It was a joyous event, indeed!
As wine glasses were refilled we had our main dish: Wellington of Veal Tenderloin with Sauce Perigourdine. This consisted of a quite small piece of veal tenderloin wrapped in a layer of finely minced mushrooms and wrapped again in layers of flakey puff pastry and baked to perfection. Oh, and served with the Perigourdine sauce and garnished with a sprig of rosemary; have you noticed the Provençal theme with regard to the herb garnishes? Also on this plate were fondant potatoes and steamed baby vegetables (carrots and zuchini).
And here, an older Vincent (?), tired, disillusioned, forlorn, he painted many self-portraits, presumably because of an inability to pay 'real' models. Vincent spent his final months in Arles and because of this, the commune of Arles has (wisely) capitalized on his fame.
By this time in our trip we have learned to moderate our eating as well as the pace so, although we were beginning to feel a bit full, we certainly had room for the promise of a delectable French dessert. Tonight’s offering was a beautiful scoop of Neapolitan ice cream set on a bit of butter sponge then dressed from head to toe with a swirl of perfectly toasted meringue and all of this swimming in a pool of berries jubilée! What more can I say?
Down another dreary little gray hall we went until another green sign ordered us into another hallway with only a machine that was clearly meant to scan something. We fished through our paperwork and finally, after two tries, came up with the document that the machine wanted. A little gate opened and Henry walked through, leaving me behind as the little gate slammed shut. Thinking quickly, I rifled through the paperwork once more, coming up with the correct document the first time and voila! I was through.
Around a corner we found ourselves in a security line ~ not just any security line ~ a barking-orders-in-French security line. Remembering my experience in the states, I was fully prepared to be stopped as I was wearing the same dress that had set off the alarms before. But, this is France and they did not care about my dress at all. Noooo, they wished to confiscate most of the gifts that I had bought and (stupidly) put into my carry-on luggage. Now, in my defense, weak as it is: I wanted to wear the same dress because I needed the room in my luggage to consolidate two suitcases into one so that I could get all my purchases into the carry-on because God knows I might never see the purchased items again if they were checked and I could live with the small price of a pat down if the dress were a problem just to have all my gifts and French treasures right under my own nose. That was my defense. Yes, I know, STUPID!
So, there we were, with the French authorities going through my bag (and patting me down) and rudely taking out the terrine in a sealed glass jar, the paté in a sealed glass jar, my €30.00 lavender lotion (that’s about $35.00, folks), a jar of lavender honey, and the list goes on! Meanwhile, Henry who is always detained in the States, sailed right through and stood waiting while I dejectedly watched this travesty. Finally, I had the bright idea of asking if I could check the items and attempted to ask my jailer. He feigned inability to speak English and thrust a plastic bag at me, gesticulating in the general direction from whence I had come. Finally, someone else took pity on me and told me to go back to the front and ask to have the items added to my checked luggage.
I began to walk in the indicated direction, feeling quite alone in the world, but determined to save my treasures. Suddenly, the gesticulating jailer was at my elbow and saying, “Come!” He took me to the front and waved at the long lines of people and headed off quickly toward some vending machines. I had been dismissed by this 'helpful' man and he was off on an illicit break to get a Coke or some such thing! Realizing I had no idea which line to get into I tried asking a man who was setting up a barricade and apparently ordering me out of the way...you guessed it, in French. I moved quickly, realizing that I did not know a most basic phrase for any language, I’m sorry, and said instead, “Pardon, monsieur, could you help me?” Ooh-la-la!, another unknown-basic-French-phrase, he rewarded my efforts with a caustic glare, showed me his shoulder, and continued setting up his barriers. Chagrined, I slunk away and found my English-speaking security guard. He, too, waved me in the general direction that I was meant to take. Masses of people in a foreign airport look like a sea of people to whom you have no access; it was frightening. Finally I found my blond Frenchwoman and began explaining my situation. “No”, she cut in with that lovely French accent, “we do not add items to the bags once you have checked in”. She made it perfectly clear that was the end of that discussion and I would get no further with her!
My next idea was to look for a place that I could, perhaps, mail the items home. I scanned the sea of French-language signs and came up empty-handed. Just then, I saw our friends, Ken, Barbara, Sue, and Bob, waiting in the blond lady’s line. Hellooo, why didn’t I think of this sooner? I walked over and explained my situation and asked if Ken and Sue, being from Scottsdale, could accommodate my items. No, they had trouble getting their luggage zipped for precisely the same reason. Dejected, I began to walk away. But then the idea struck me that maybe someone else would be flying into Phoenix. I turned around and there was a couple, I don’t even know their names, who reside in Tempe. We had had a lovely conversation with him while on the boat, and frequently would say hello or greet each other good morning but that was about it. Well, happy day, I walked up to them, and once again spelled out my plight. Immediately this wonderful gentleman agreed and we quickly made plans to meet at the baggage claim when we all got to Phoenix. What relief I felt! I wanted to kiss this most agreeable fellow but instead thanked him profusely and walked away feeling a renewed bit of hope for the human race in general.
I made it back to where the machine with the fast-shutting-little-gate was and, with not a soul in sight, learned that the blankety-blank machine no longer recognized my document when I tried to scan it. I began to walk back the way I had come and passed a young couple walking in. “Pardon me, do you speak English? I tried. “Yes” came the most-welcome reply. I explained my new problem and in a most perfect Queen’s English (God, how sweet those words sounded in that moment!) they agreed to let me pass through with them. From behind me the man said, “But you had better stand really close because the gate closes very quickly. I mean hug her!” Well, I knew the gate shut quickly but did not fully appreciate this fact until it hit me on the shoulder on the way through. A fleeting nightmare of sounding alarms and French prison cells passed through my agitated mind but was quickly put to rest when nothing happened. I thanked my new friends profusely and went back to go, once again, through the security line and into the arms of my dear husband who was waiting ‘on the other side’.
The painting, Garden of the Hospital in Arles, left, painted by Vincent in 1889 shows how very beautiful the courtyard of this healing place was. (The nurse in me wonders how modern medical practices could have possibly lost sight of the healing potential of plant life.) Above can be seen the current effort to restore the courtyard garden.
And, finalement, there is a cheese course for those so inclined, which we were not. For now we were gorged and it was getting quite late so, while some retired to the lounge to listen to a local singer and drink some more, we decided that bed sounded like a better option. And so, mes amis, bonne nuit until tomorrow, our last full day in France.
I cannot tell you how many stone walls I touched, running my fingertips over the cool stone, wondering at the labor necessary to build such a wall, imagining daily life that passed by the wall when first it was built; this is a tactile memory I shall always cherish.
It is now past 2200 (10:00PM Paris time, 2:00PM Arizona time) and we have packed everything safely into four suitcases, we have spent down our euros, our airline tickets are accounted for, and we are properly exhausted but exhilarated. I can honestly say that this is a country I would love to live in and if that is not possible, then at least visit again...and again...and again! We have spent a very happy two weeks in France and although I miss my Arizona home, a part of my heart now belongs to France. And now, to slumber and, to Paris.
Following this tour we walked back through the narrow and ancienne cobblestone streets to which we had become accustomed, until we reached the more modern market area of Les Halles. Here you will find, in an indoor setting, flowers, fish and meat, boulangerie for bread products, patisserie, fruits and vegetables, and even clothing and parfum. How fun it was to walk from vendor to vendor and observe how the French live.
The splendor and richness of the Palais des Papes cannot be underestimated with beautiful carved wood doors and statuary, vaulted Gothic architecture, and original hand-painted tiles (below) now in cases to preserve and protect them.
The following is worth your time if the Palais des Papes at all interests you. Be sure to click on Les Luminessences d'Avignon.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
We awoke today with a bump and a quick look out the window revealed that we were docking at Tarascon not far from Arles(pronounced arl, rhymes with Carl) on this, our final day in France. Less than two hours later we were bouncing along a country road in our bus heading into Arles for our last tour. Valérie was once again our guide; we had so enjoyed her yesterday that we requested her again (in truth, she had to put up with me again with all my picture-taking; she was a good sport!).
Grand Francecontinued from: Notes From the Easel, Part One
Back on the boat we enjoyed a delicious lunch with some friends, Ken and Barbara from Scottsdale, and Bob and Sue from Santa Rosa, California. They had just returned from a tour of the Pont du Gard aqueduct that spans the River Gardon and reported that it was just fabulous. “A miracle of engineering”, so said an enthusiastic Sue. Ah well, next time. But we are quite exhausted so for now, our lovely English bed awaits us for our daily afternoon nap.