This holiday is seriously becoming one of unexpected surprises every day. Quite often we’ll go away, know what we’re going to visit and, while enjoying it completely are not exactly surprised. (Surprise is something we both rather enjoy.) This time round, it’s like a Vesta situation every few hours!
For instance, in what universe could anyone possibly expect to find one of these:
This is a Tarasque, a mythical creature once ruling this part of the world. It was tamed by St Martha in one of those really weird combinations of Christianity and paganism that often rears it’s head from some mysterious backside. These days, the people of the town of Tarascon carry a fibreglass version around the town once a year.
I think the story of the Tarasque is very interesting. It seems (in this iteration anyway) that a local king went out with all his knights in order to kill this vicious creature but failed miserably. Saint Martha then came along and with a combination of prayer and hymn, tamed it to the extent that it followed her back to the town she lived in. Although now meek and mild, the local people upon seeing it decided they would kill it because it now seemed defenceless and easily killed.
Saint Martha, clearly having done nothing to save the poor thing having effectively hypnotised it to make it easy prey for the cowardly townsfolk, then told them off, making them feel so guilty that they all converted to Christianity…as you do. She then decided that the town should be renamed Tarascon to honour the dead hybrid sea monster, dinosaur, lion thing. (Actually I think it looks a lot like some mistake from the Island of Dr Moreau.)
The reason I’m talking about the weird thing above is because this afternoon we went into Tarascon in order to visit the Chateau de Tarascon which sits, threateningly watching over the Rhone River and the town of Beaucaire on the opposite bank. It is a seriously scary looking place which was originally built in order to delineate France from Provence. I guess the river was the border in those days.
This chateau dates back to the 13th century when the Dukes of Anjou wanted to protect their holdings in this part of the country. It was used by Louis II from 1399 who then rebuilt a lot of it, making it stronger and, presumably, more impressive. By around 1435, the chateau was pretty much what we see today.
When Provence became reunited with France in 1487, the chateau remained a military stronghold though it also started to be used as a prison (for the Spanish in the 16th century, the English during the Seven Years War, and various Frenchmen at all times). Then, in 1923, the chief architect of historical monuments, Jules Formige, started fixing it up as a visitor attraction. And thus it has remained.
These days you not only get to see the Chateau (and you get to walk all over it in an almost never ending maze of spiral staircases and tiny chambers) you also get to see art exhibitions. Though Mirinda wasn’t that sure that what they exhibited in the rooms was what she considered ‘art.’
A few days ago, we were discussing how we are like our parents and while I said I sometimes see and hear Claire in my lovely wife, I never see her dad. Today, however, Bob came out, gave his opinion of conceptual art then returned to wherever our genetic borrowings come from. It was very funny.
I have to agree with her that the majority of the work was pretty dire but I can’t say they’re not ‘art’ per se because we all see things differently and someone, somewhere might like it. Besides, what is art? Pretty pictures of thatched cottages? Enigmatic women? Naked statues of young boys? Mythical beasts? Photographs? Stuffed animals?
But I digress.
What I found most impressive about the chateau is the graffiti. I know this is also an unpopular stance but I felt it truly lent the place a realism and historic trace of the individual. From the recent…
…to the somewhat older…
…to the more ornate…
…they all tell their own story. Most of hardship as prisoners, some of joy at discovering the chateau as a place to roam and enjoy. I thought it was all illuminating and enjoyable.
Having totally ‘done’ the chateau, we went into the small town of Tarascon for lunch. Mirinda had found a lovely place (TripAdvisor’s #1 in Tarascon) but it was closed so we went to the only place open, Cafe L’Agape. I am so glad we did. What a brilliant salad they make. Surprising and delightful and perfect for an after-chateau bite to eat.
While we ate our delicious salads (I’m not being sarcastic, by the way, they were really superb) another wonderful surprise occurred. We were not aware of the fact that Saturdays in Tarascon are all about weddings. The church of St Martha seems to run them through on a conveyor belt. You can tell when they leave because all the cars blow their horns as if they’re stuck in traffic in the centre of Rome. The cafe we were in was directly outside the Hotel de Ville (basically the town hall) were the more secular weddings are held. And blow me down but we were witness to a most joyful one.
The bride entered the building to the sound of tin drums and returned afterwards, husband in tow, to the blaring of two metre long bugles and a general cacophony. It was fantastic.
I’m not sure what kind of wedding it was but it sure looked like a lot of fun.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the umbrellas, it tried to rain today. It was the first day we’ve had without sun. The rain was virtually non-existent. It’s a shame when the region clearly needs some. Everything is so dry and brown and dying. It’s been a bad year all round.
Mind you, I am always relieved when I realise that, in Australia and America at any rate, there is no man-made climate change. Phew, how lucky are we all? I do realise though that when Australia legalises gay marriage that it may cause the weather to change dramatically.
After such a thrilling treat, we returned to the Domaine de Clos for a rest up before tonight’s gourmet dinner and it was a good idea we did rest up because the night was no less thrilling than the day. In fact it ended up quite the wild ride.
It started off easy enough. We drove into the town of Beaucaire, heading for a car park close to L’epicerie de Cecile, a highly recommended restaurant in the heart of the old town. This would have been simple enough except that halfway to the car park, an automated bollard appeared in the middle of the street and a red light said stop. A helpful if somewhat rough looking pedestrian helpfully told us we had to turn left. So, turn left we did and found the biggest car park in Europe with a lot of cars in it.
Even so, there were many spots for Celine so we parked up then headed into town. As we walked around the town walls which end at a Chateau perched on a rock (very imposing), we noticed that men were using a truck to close the town gates. We managed to squeeze through one set before being locked in.
Walking through the old town we realised what a rough and unpleasant place Beaucaire really is. Groups of men hang around everywhere looking dumb and threatening. There are very few women around and the general life on the streets appears to have left sometime in the 16th century. It wasn’t very nice and made us wish we were somewhere a little less unpleasant. But then we found the restaurant and made ourselves known.
The thing with Cecile’s place is that there’s no menu. You get whatever she feels like cooking. The other thing about Cecile’s place is that her cooking is no-nonsense, delicious and reasonably priced. There’s no hullabaloo, there’s not even a bill. The man (we assumed he was her husband) just tots it up and tells you.
As I said, the food was simple fare though, oddly, all served on the one plate. The wine was a choice between colours and size of carafe. The seats and tables were cheap picnic sets. Never mind the simplicity, it was a wonderful evening and just like going to eat at a friend’s house. It was very, very enjoyable. It wasn’t until we tried to leave town that our problems truly began.
Of course all the town gates were closed so we had to climb the town walls then climb back down the other side. This sounds awfully intrepid however, there are stairs so it’s not that difficult. Inconvenient perhaps but not difficult. Once back in the car park we hopped into Celine and started to follow Linda’s directions back to the Domaine de Clos. Unfortunately, the gentle folk of Beaucaire had different ideas.
We were parked on the opposite side of town to where we needed to be but, as we tried to turn left each consecutive road was blocked by thickset, black puffy jacket wearing men with trouble in their eyes and hair on their faces. They were quite adamant although their barriers were but temporary Heras type fencing rather than stone walls. They were clear that no-one was getting into the town…or out, it seemed to me.
It was like one of those episodes of Dr Who when the aliens invade and stop the humans from entering so they can carry out their evil plans for world domination. And these guys could easily have been Vogons. I guess they wanted to save us from being assimilated for which I’m glad.
So we kept driving around the town on the river side, causing Linda all sorts of conniptions. Eventually though, she stopped telling us to make a u-turn and we joined a highway that sort of skirted the town. Which was fine until we were forced to stop because of a rather extensive accident ahead of us. We have no idea what type of accident because we were rather abruptly stopped by a policeman who shone a torch in our eyes and expected us to know what he was signalling with his invisible arms.
To be fair, he did sort of realise how impossible he was making things and put his hand over the torch. We then worked out he was saying that the road was closed and we’d have to go back. Mirinda wanted to know where we could go but he was far too busy to tell her so we left it to Linda and my native GazNav skills.
The trip from Beaucaire to Domaine de Clos is about 7kms. Because of the closed off town and the accident, our trip back took us about 20km and we were forced to travel through some of the skinniest roads we’ve so far encountered this trip. Fortunately we did not encounter any tractors coming in the opposite direction.
We did finally arrive back at our lodgings, safe and sound and breathed a sigh of relief that we don’t live in the ghastly town of Beaucaire.
I almost forgot. The title of this post refers to the video below and is in honour of the fact that my historical post entitled ‘Naked Jenny Agutter’ is still getting views from expectant pervs.