La 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.
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. 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.
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.