Tag Archives: Arles

Quick repeat trip to Arles

I was seconds away from heart failure when I realized I no longer had my wallet, and then just nanoseconds from complete cardiac arrest when I remembered that it also contained my two passports.  It then occurred to me that I must have lost it earlier on the bus from Arles to Aix-en-Provence when I was engrossed in a conversation with a photographer from Stockholm and had been inattentive when putting down my bags.  I made the necessary calls and, would you believe, was so fortunate to be in touch that Friday afternoon (before the long holiday weekend in France) with the bus company that had had it turned in.  That’s when I realized I have a little angel.evening stroll

My Italian friends are so lovely.  Upon learning of my misfortune, they drove me that evening to Arles to meet the conductor who, by slim chance, had spotted my little blue ‘pochette‘ when returning the bus to the depot and reported it.  After the hour-long drive, I excitedly went to retrieve my wallet and returned to my awaiting friends, wallet secure in hand, and whispering words of thanks.resto

fondant au chocolatWe came across the highly recommended and most charming Jardin des Arts restaurant, across from Le Museon Arlaten.  The girls and I had walked by the restaurant numerous times during the week there – Arles is quite small – but rather than be drawn in, we passers-by were merely tempted by its artisan ice creams at the street-front.

But tonight we dined on the outside terrace that opens out to a leafy cloister courtyard adjoining the Espace Van Gogh.  Treating myself to an outrageous dessert, un fondant au chocolat, I savoured my last and unexpected evening in Arles.  When night fell, we headed back home.street at nite

Arles. (All) Things Medieval. (All) Things Roman.

2 worlds meetLa famille Severac hosted us in their home for the week of July 6th-12th, thanks to a little online ad investigating and what’s more likely, good timing.  Due to the town’s hosting of one of the world’s leading photography festivals, Arles was booked solid already months in advance!  A recently retired couple that once owned an olive grove had two bedrooms to share in their private upstairs quarters – the perfect hosts for an uncommercial B&B, no detail left uncovered.  Not yet fully adjusted to their quieter lifestyle, frankly, I think they welcomed visitors.  The decoration of their living room alone completed the experience for me:  rustic furniture, a massive wooden chest which could very well have been Louis XV, Arlesian ceramics, paintings of La campagne, etc – like right out of an Architectural Digest, ugh, no, strike that, a Maison Française magazine.  They took an immediate interest in us – 3 Japanese girls and me.  Thankfully, I speak fluent French so I became the translator for the week.backyard

Every morning, breakfast was prepared and set out for us in the backyard by the pool.  And every day, something new awaited us:  never the same breakfast twice.  A different type of homemade jam (gooseberry, watermelon, apricot), bread or pastry greeted us daily.

The Severacs insisted on making a special lunch for us on our last day there:  homemade pizzas, made in their exterior coal/brick oven.  So early on Saturday morning, in the shade of the porch, the Madame made the dough from scratch while the Monsieur set out to buy only the freshest ingredients at the Provençal market.  I learned that the locals (the Arlesians) go there super early and that it’s only the tourists, like us, who set foot there after 10h00. ☺  The market was situated on Boulevard des Lices but then overflowed through some of the adjacent winding streets.bonhomme We sampled wines, honey, olive oils, sausages, and cheeses (I liked the chèvre/brebis combo), gawked at the colourful produce & flowers, bins of herbs and spices, ceramics, linens, socks & undies and sifted through clothing – most of which was from Italy. After a joyful morning of cruising the weekly marché, one of the largest in Provence, we returned home and, together with their visiting son and his family, we all shared 5 types of pizza under the olive trees and canopy, sipping festive drinks and wine.  Ah, life is easy here in the south.

Every Wednesday at 17h00 is ‘La course camarguaise’, the Camargue bull game, in les Arènes, a historic Roman arena.  Naturally, I insisted on going and was able to convince my travel buddy Elli to join me.  We didn’t know what to expect other than the fact that we were assured that the bulls are not killed at this event as they typically are in French & Spanish bullfighting, la corrida.  Athletic young men, ‘les razeteurs’, who train all year long to face the beast, are dressed in white and in this run, try to pull off strings tied to its horns, putting their lives at risk.  Each of the attributes is worth points and a bonus; thus, they are ultimately added up and money is won.  In the course of shepherding the bulls, now and again the creatures are pegged with a stick or a rake-like object.  Granted, it is not nearly as brutal or inhumane as traditional bullfighting, however it was pretty cruel and painfully obvious to me that the bulls didn’t seem to like it one bit.  Not one iota.  Instead of charging towards the lithe white sprites scurrying around the field, and to the dismay of the crowds, they repeatedly attempted to flee the scene, hurling their large torsos over the fence.  Bulls are at the center of many of the cultural traditions.  Their presence in this official sport contributes significantly to the economy and it’s not going anywhere soon.acrobatsIMG_2099-1

Upon entering the arena, to shield myself from the scorching afternoon sun – Arles gets, gasp, more than 300 days of sun per year! – I bought a typical straw hat from one of the vendors.  However, on the way home, and before I could object, a quick unexpected breeze handed it off to the Rhône River.

Arles Photography Festival 2009

fanfare2009 is the 40th anniversary of Les Rencontres D’Arles Photographie, which runs from July 7th to September 13th, when photography envelops the ancient town in the south of France.  If you’re a die-hard photography fan, you can partake in over 60 exhibitions that are located in an incomparable setting of 12th century churches and former industrial buildings.  From what we could see, just about every free wall in Arles included some form or shape of an official or a fringe photographic exhibition:  posters, stickers, invites to vernissages, etc.

My friends and I attended the Opening Week’s events, at which the great and the good of the art, editorial, and documentary photography from across the globe traditionally gather in Arles.  During those first few days were scheduled symposiums, workshops, special exhibits, book signings, night-time screenings and portfolio reviews.  A couple of my friends registered for the portfolio sessions – a series of 20-minute discussions with curators, agency heads, and photo editors – where the artists benefit from a critical assessment of their work, as well as advice and contacts that may potentially lead to exhibitions or publications.  One came away with possible gallery leads and the other sold a piece of artwork on the spot.  The week presents a wonderful opportunity for any aspiring photographer:  it’s both a celebratory and educational promotion of photographers & creative photography, against an inspiring and inherently theatrical Roman backdrop.street glimpsearlesian street snackphotogsone exhibition spaceexhibition space

The festival’s highlight, the ‘Night of the Year’ (‘La Nuit de l’Année‘) took place in the Parc des Ateliers, the area of the former SNCF railway workshop, located in the heart of the city of Arles.  On 15 screens and building façades that you could visit in any order were projections presenting the best photography of 2008-2009 from the top dailies, magazines, and agencies. It was a festive atmosphere and along with hundreds of other photography aficionados, we walked the site and viewed arresting images of war, of intimate moments, of fashion, and contemporary portraiturenuit_2nuit_1Under the night sky, in open-air spaces, we thrilled at the dramatic images one after another.  Of particular interest to me was a documentary on Nan Goldin, an American fine art and documentary photographer and the Principal Exhibitor for this, the 40th anniversary year.  Although renowned & highly controversial, I personally hadn’t heard of her until this week and was intrigued to hear her story of photographic journeys into the hard-drug and drag subcultures of Boston and then NYC.

For some it was a long night of music, and sharing, of discussion and business networking.  For us, it was a cold night and we didn’t last long.  No matter what anyone says, you can overdose on photography.  I was feeling the effects of the week’s visual overload.

On the last evening of the Opening Week, we attended the special event in the Théâtre Antique / Amphithéâtre, a Roman theater founded by Augustus in the 1st century.  Squeezing our way through the bottleneck at the gated entrance, we made it in and ascended the crumbled steps to some small seats just underneath the stars. It was an Awards’ Night revealing, among others, the winner of the many artists who competed for the important Discovery award. Following the speeches and accolades was a 700+ picture slideshow of Nan Goldin’s photos, her work being a major influence on contemporary photography since 1987 when she shocked and delighted viewers with a visual diary on intimacy, drugs and violence.  A huge crowd showed up on this night for her screening, which was accompanied by beautiful yet sorrowful music of the Tiger Lilies band that gave a (seemingly never-ending) screen-side performance.big night

Personally, I would have been fine with just seeing half the images.