Art but not as we know it

Imagine this: you are happily sitting in your BMW convertible pootling down some road in Provence, not a care in the world when, suddenly, you are confronted with a truck full of fertilizer. This happened to us today and gave us pause. Previously, while in lavender country, the countryside smelled lush and the fact that we were driving exposed to it all was a delight. The scent of fertiliser, however is a different kettle of fish. In fact, fish would be better.

The reason we were stuck behind the aforementioned truck was because we were headed across the industrial heartland of this area in order to get to the Wednesday market in St Remy. There were a lot of trucks. And a lot of plane trees lining the way.

Eventually the trucks vanished almost as quickly as they had appeared and we drove towards the centre of St Remy which was a big mistake. The market takes over the entire town (almost) including the car park which I’d chosen to use. Stupid Gaz!

Divorce seemed just over the horizon but, seemingly as if by a miracle, another car park was quickly discovered and we headed for it. We pulled in and, quite by accident, found ourselves in a car space almost instantly. I then went over to pay the meter some money.

You’d think this would be simple, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be really, really stupid if you thought that. I joined the queue at the ticket machine and almost cried as one after another people would stand before it and become confused. At one point a woman managed to get a ticket and she fell to her knees and kissed the ground in thanks.

By the time I reached the machine, I thought I had it pegged from watching everyone else. Again I say stupid Gaz! If the French had problems with their own parking machines then what hope do I have?

First up it presented me with a number of languages to choose from. I thought that was quite generous. There was French and German, Italian and Spanish, and, of course, English. I won’t prolong this…the only language that worked was French.

The biggest problem was that the first 45 minutes was free and it was difficult to work out how to move on for more time. There was also the need to add your car registration number. Fortunately I’d worked this out before committing too much time to the machine and had taken the car keys from Mirinda with the number on it.

With the help of a couple of lovely French ladies standing behind me, I managed to sort out the extra time and how to pay and how to collect the thirty tickets I’d managed to print off. I thanked them with great delight, almost kissing their hands. I returned to the car to a gradually boiling Mirinda (it was very hot) and gave her the ticket and a potted version of why I had been so long.

And then the walk into the centre ville.

It’s quite funny that we didn’t get served yesterday because we didn’t get served today either. The first cafe we found in St Remy, we went inside and sat down just about ready for a grand cafe creme each. This was not to be. After 15 minutes I’d had enough waiting so we left. On the way out, Mirinda suggested to a couple standing at the counter that they might be better going elsewhere if they actually wanted anything to drink. They left with us.

This was the first and final bit of bad service today so I’m not going to harp on it. Suffice it to say that we’ll not go back to this cafe either.

The market, as is typical of French country markets, was full to overflowing with stalls and people. Food, clothing, knives, toys, everything you could imagine spread out to entice up and down the narrow alleys and footpaths throughout the town. It’s the sort of thing I adore and only wish we had the same sort of thing at home. Our market is only once a month and isn’t half as exciting.

St Remy, Market Day

We wandered around, checking everything out. We bought some charcuterie, excellent cheese, some tomato and avocado, raspberries and olives and, of course, a knife. Now the knife wasn’t because I’ve grown dissatisfied with the scissors as a cutting device but, rather, because I’d left them in the car and we’d decided to eat in the town in a square we imagined would just appear.

After a while we actually found a creperie where the lovely lady made us each a coffee (though they were so small I thought I’d suddenly slipped into Gulliver’s Travels) as we sat at one of her outside tables. We sat, drank and listened to an odd busker with some even odder instruments.

Having finished our coffee (which took but a moment and a half) we wandered up to watch and listen as this guy performed some truly original music with his weird square guitar banjo hybrid thing. He was excellent and we bought a CD.

The amazing Eric Tarantola

After giving him a round of applause, we managed to find a quiet little corner of St Remy with a number of marble seating places to have our feast. And it was scrummy. I can vouch for the fact that truffles and cow cheese are a perfect combination and it goes particularly well with an avocado eaten like an apple.

But we’d grown weary of the market and wanted to head back to the car so we slowly wound our way back down, avoiding the awful streets for the little criss crossy roads (via a handy tabac where I had a much needed beer while Mirinda used the loo) and, ultimately, arrived at the massive car park now almost devoid of cars.

You’d think that battling a few thousand mad shoppers and forceful stall holders would be enough for anyone to call it a day but not us. Mirinda really wanted to pop over to see the hospital where Vincent van Gogh committed himself before his death. And what a beautiful spot.

It still operates as a hospital for the mentally unbalanced and even uses art as a therapy (you can buy some of the inmates paintings…which are brilliant) the same as Vincent did. he painted over a 100 paintings while there and reproductions of his work are scattered throughout the grounds.

Sunflower thief

It’s easy to see how he would have improved being here. The Saint Paul asylum has been caring for people for a long time with it being around for so long and having such a caring attitude from early days, unlike most asylums around the world. But it wasn’t just the care of the staff, a lot of it was the surroundings. Vincent could paint and paint as much as he wanted. As his mental health improved so he was allowed to roam around the town for an hour at a time. I think the whole place did a lot to aid the genius that he was.

(Interestingly, another famous inhabitant of St Remy was Nostrodamus, the snake oil salesman par excellence! And possibly a little bit mad too.)

We spent a goodly amount of time wandering the many halls that Vincent would have wandered though armed with an audioguide which Vincent would have not had. Actually I wondered how anyone could manage without the audioguide. There were no information boards and just a few explanations. To be fair everything was in French and English but, still, the audioguide was excellent and made it all clear as day.

And the day was very clear, at times reaching such extreme temperatures as 31 degrees. While that may well have been considered mild when we were growing up, it’s bloody awful now and we were thankful for the air conditioned comfort of Celine when we left Saint Paul for our next visitor experience which was one that will never be forgotten.

Back in the 19th century, Les Grands Fonds, a quarry in the small village of Les Baux, was thriving. Surrounding towns loved the bright white stone that was extracted from it. It came to resemble a honeycomb, hollowing out the mountain, forming a massive, cavernous space.

Fast forward a bit and the quarry called Les Grands Fonds closed down, leaving a huge void to be filled. Along came Jean Cocteau (an artist of whom I have been a fan for many years). He saw the place for what it was, a wonderful backdrop for further artistic endeavours. He filmed in the quarry and created his famous Testament to Orpheus.

In the late 1970’s, a chap by the name of Joseph Svoboda saw an even greater potential for the place and he started creating audio visual shows in and on the ex-quarry. And so it has been for over 30 years. The shows change but they are still brilliant. Today we were enthralled with a piece using the art of Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo (who I didn’t think I knew but he was the guy who made the portraits out of fruit and veg).

It’s difficult to describe what they do but, basically, they string together a lot of music while on all the many surfaces around the massive cavern, images appear and disappear from masterpieces. I have a photo of it…

…but it doesn’t really show it in all its glory. I would love to include a short video of the amazingness that is the Carrieres de Lumieres but, sadly, some bunch of music owners won’t let me store my very short piece of video on Youtube which means it’s quite difficult to play it on the blog.

However, I have stripped the video of the offending music soundtrack (I’m not going to mention what it was because there seems little point in giving them any advertising) and replaced it with something I’m sure everyone has heard before. Besides Mozart is rarely wrong.

After such a full day of extraordinary sights and sounds, we had nowhere to turn but back to our room.

Another delight today was our dinner hamper. A lovely mix of French bits and pieces including a local rose. We had a delicious little picnic for two at one of the many tables around the grounds.

Possibly the best day of the holiday…so far.

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