Thursday, January 31, 2008

Van Gogh for a Day

Woke up to a crystal clear day – perfect for another Market and the former home of Van Gogh – Arles. I took the train (18 minutes as opposed to 70 on the bus) and arrived to find the Wednesday market in full swing. This market may actually win the prize for best all around market – not only was the food magnificent (with about three bio stands), and the largest peppers I have ever seen, but also the non-food items were for real people. There were plenty of made-in-China goods, which I have come to accept are appealing to the French, just as they are to Americans, because they are cheap. There were also true bargains to be had – a rummage sale where prices ranged from 1.50 to 10 Euros per item, which was like heaven for this bargain-hunter. There were exotic foods, spices and other goods catering to Arles’ North African population. The market was vast, and full of people – locals mostly. I saw very few tourists.
At the end of the market I made my way around to the various Roman ruins Arles has to offer – an ancient amphitheater currently undergoing restoration, and an arena - coliseum style like the one in Nimes. These Roman remains seemed less commercial and glossy than the ones in Nimes. The amphitheater particularly felt like you were at an archeological site. I wandered through the beautiful cobbled streets of the old town. I don’t know what it is about Arles – something about the light maybe – but I wanted to take pictures at every turn. It has a good vibe – a good size, funky, yet old and magnificent at the same time. I could see why Van Gogh, or anyone for that matter, would want to spend some extended time there.
I stopped in for a brief peek into the Van Gogh Foundation which does not have any Van Gogh paintings. Fortunatey this had been made clear in all the literature I had read so I had no expectations. I browsed and bought a couple of postcards, then returned to my meandering and picture taking.
I had my first wheat in France, a baguette rubbed with fresh garlic made into a sandwich with chevre, tomatoes, basil, avocado, olives and fresh olive oil, all wrapped in paper for 4 Euros at the fab and funky Fad Oli: Restaurant and Huiles d’Olive. Fad Oli is just two steps up a side street off the square – Place du Forum - where Van Gogh’s Yellow Café was painted and where there is now a café of the same name.
Around the corner from the square and Fad Oli is one of the La Vie Claire health food stores at 3 rue du Docteur Fanton. La Vie is closed for lunch, so if you want to buy picnic food there make sure you arrive sometime between 8:30-12:15, or eat late when they reopen at 2:30-7. Otherwise, go to the non-organic, but local and yummy Fad Oli or one of the other cafes in the Place du Forum or surrounding side streets. Or, if you are there on a Wednesday or Sunday, you can buy picnic goodies at the market but plan to arrive well before noon when all the stalls close up.
I happily crisscrossed through the myriad of tiny streets with my camera in hand constantly. I found my church on one of the side streets of Arles – Our Lady of French Buses, or Notre Dame du Les Buses Francais (see photo).
Once back from my very wonderful day in Arles I did my laundry at the local Lavarie which is the winter haven for many alcoholic bums. I made like a French person, said, “Bonjour” and went about my business.
A wonderful day, and I am full of the color and spirit of Arles.

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