Taking Refuge in Arles

Summer (and come to think of it, fall, winter, and spring) escapes are always wonderful. One summer trip that I took was to the south of France. I travelled with a long-time girlfriend. We’ve been friends for over 30 years (time goes by all too quickly) and this was the first time we had ever travelled together.

It was a leisurely vacation, taken at the start of the holiday season in Europe. Ignoring all the common sense warnings about booking hotels in advance, we made our travel plans daily. With only a few must-see places on our wish lists, we followed our whims and the recommendations of the very friendly locals and travellers from France whom we met here and there.

Our first overnight stay was in Annecy (the one and only pre-booked hotel). On the second night, we took refuge in Arles.

Arles Rue du Refuge L: Mine  R:Andrea Shaffer

Arles Rue du Refuge Photos L: Mine R:Andrea Shaffer

Below, is the view along Rue du Refuge, so very Arles-like. It’s a narrow cobblestone street, lined with row-houses having pale stucco walls and brightly painted shutters. Pots of bougainvillea greeted us with fragrant bursts of colour.Rue du Refuge faces the Amphitheatre.  Built in 90 AD by the Romans, the Amphitheatre’s design is similar to the Colosseum in Rome, a little smaller, with room for ONLY 20,000 spectators. When the Roman empire fell in the 5th century, the site became a shelter. Later, it contained houses and chapels. In the early 1800’s, they were torn down and the Amphitheatre was restored. More here.Arles France Ampitheatre We meandered through the streets, finding wonderful vistas around every corner. No events were going on at the Ampitheatre while we were in Arles. Since we weren’t dodging crowds (or bulls), our relatively slow pace allowed us time to catch up on each other’s lives.

Arles France Reattu

Arles Twisted Columns

Arles Street and Street Art

Photos: L:Katherine Hala, R: Mine

Arles Shutters Paired

While walking through the city, in search of a restaurant on our second night, we passed the Thermes de Constantine. Originally Roman public baths, now a Unesco World Heritage site, they date from the 4th century.

Roman Public Bath Ruins, ca 4th Century. Arles, France.

Roman Public Bath Ruins, ca 4th Century. Arles, France.

Arles has a vibrant arts culture. One of the annual highlights is The Rencontres d’Arles, a summer-long international photography festival. The works, including still photography and film, are exhibited in beautiful historic venues throughout the city, many of which are only accessible to the public during the festival. If you do have the opportunity to attend the photography exhibit, allow at least 2 days to take it in.

Also not to be missed, are the street art installations. While strolling the side-streets and alleyways we came across many gems. We met the adorable gentleman below by the Rhône. He was looking slightly lost, as he made his way to the doorway that led nowhere.

Arles Street Art Ruins Losing the Ice Cream

Actually, the door to nowhere led to a shaded courtyard. The shade compliments of a majestic plane tree. I liked how the tree was admiring its reflection in the window.Arles Plantain My girlfriend and I spent two days in Arles before carrying on with our travels. Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin spent nine weeks together in Arles

Van Gogh moved to Arles in early 1888. Later that year, in the studio that he named “The Yellow House,” Van Gogh took steps to set up his long hoped for artists’ colony. He envisioned a collaborative environment. In a letter to his brother Theo, dated May 1, 1888, Vincent lightly mentions Gauguin as a potential artist to join him at the studio. Six months later, after receiving many invitations from Van Gogh, Gauguin arrived at the studio. Below are images of the self-portraits which Van Gogh and Gauguin exchanged shortly before Gauguin’s arrival in Arles.  Arle Vincent Van Gogh Paul Gauguin - Self-portraitTheir studio “collaboration” ended abruptly with the infamous “ear” incident. There are two theories about what happened. The original one, suggests Van Gogh sliced off a piece of his ear in a fit. According to another, yet inconclusive theory, during a violent argument between Van Gogh and Gauguin, Gauguin sliced Van Gogh’s ear with his sword after being attached by Van Gogh. This alternative is based on 10 years of research undertaken by the German academics Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans. They dug through police records, letters written by the two artists and other documents, eventually writing the book “Van Goghs Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens” (title translates to “Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence”).

While Van Gogh and Gauguin’s weeks together in Arles were disagreeable (appropriately called a “Clash of the Titans” by writer Lyn Bolen Rushton in this article) and ended tumultuously, I am happy my friend and I did not meet the same fate. Our ears are intact and we are still friends. I hope to travel with her again in the future.

 

Additional Reading and Sources:

1. Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, Douglas W. Druick and Peter Kort Zegers
2. Van Gogh’s Ear, Adam Gopnik for The New Yorker
3. Van Goghs Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans (in German only)

Photographs: All by Sara Lynne Moffatt, with two exceptions. Right-hand photo of Rue du Refuge is by Andrea Schaffer.  Photo of the mother and child (left of the Bulls mural) is by Katherine Hala. Images of the paintings per the links.