The Tour de France (or Tour of France for English speakers) was in Nimes today. This stage was starting and finishing at the same place and Sharon, Jud, Joel, Naomi and Luca wanted to be there for it. One of the reasons we’re all in Arles at the moment is for that very reason. Actually I think it was really just Jud’s cycling mania that has gripped the whole family and he wound up dragging them to the hot and sweaty ex-Roman town. Though, to be entirely fair, there is Sharon’s sewing as well.
Of course I wanted to do my bit so, first thing, I was up and out and headed for the local (300 metres) boulongerie for life affirming croissants and baguettes. I was back before anyone had realised I’d gone, mainly because they were all still asleep.
Eventually, there was some movement and they all started rising like hungry caterpillars emerging from their cocoons to greet the morning as butterflies. Well, apart from Jud who was red hot and raring to go on this, the one day of his life that really, truly meant anything to him.
(That may have been a bit of an exaggeration.)
At this point I have to apologise for eating Sharon’s croissant. It was from a strange conversation that Mirinda had with herself that only I overheard which led me to believe that Sharon had bought some of her own. She hadn’t.
While waiting for the rising, I bought some tickets to go to the bull racing on Wednesday. This should have been really simple. It didn’t help that the site for the arena is only in French but that wasn’t insurmountable. No, the problem was when I came to enter my name and address. Being typically bureaucratically French, the site required that I entered all my information before the computer would allow me to progress. This never happened.
The problem with the French arena site is that, in the country drop down list, there is no entry for the UK. Seriously. It doesn’t matter what you look for (England, Great Britain, United Kingdom, Angleterre etc) it’s just not there. Papua New Guinea is there but the UK? No. It’s as if the French have some problem with the English.
I gave up and bought them from the Tourist Information site instead. I ordered, bought and paid for them and was sent two emails, one containing five tickets and the other, two. I have no idea why it had to be spread across two emails but there you go. Maybe it’s cheaper in France to do things twice as much.
Given that Jud’s madness hadn’t spread to us yet, we headed off before the sun could reach its zenith, intent on seeing some stuff and eating some other. The day was already hot.
Our first stop was the Tourist Information Office. Being what it is, we needed to have hard copies of our bull race tickets. Of course, being forgetful type tourists we forgot to bring a laser printer with us so had to ask them nicely and pay a few Euros. This was obviously fine apart from the fact that try as we might, we could only manage to send one set of tickets to their email for printing.
I forwarded them, I forwarded them to Mirinda and she forwarded them. Nothing was working. Naturally, being French, the woman behind the desk was more than happy to just sit there refreshing her screen every few minutes, her vacant, patient face twitching each time the screen disturbed her lack of thoughts.
It looked like we were going to be there all day when I had the bright idea to download the tickets then compose a completely new email and send that. There’s no real reason why that should work but I was not in the mood to solve mysteries, I just wanted to get out of the Tourist Information Office as it was full of other tourists also failing to adequately seek information.
Anyway, the lone email managed to squeeze through into her email, making her squeak with sudden animation, and she printed the final tickets. She also sold us a museum pass each so we could go and visit sites at leisure for the next three months.
Our first stop was the Roman theatre and, would you believe it? There was an odd little performance scheduled for today. Mirinda knew about it and was manoeuvring things to get me there before it started as a surprise. What a lovely wife I have.
It was quirky but fun in an All-French language way. Well, All-French apart from when one actor started reciting Latin poetry to the accompaniment of a lyre. The heat then made itself very apparent and we decided to walk around in the shady bits. Obviously it was a lot cooler in Arles during the Roman occupation so they were able to sit around in an open air theatre with the sun beating down on their lack of hats.
Disregarding the heat, it was an excellent beginning to our day (I’m ignoring the bull race tickets as it was a blip rather than a beginning) and we left with a spring in our step and joy in hearts delivered by the actors, the Romans and the Arles preservation people who have done an excellent job in keeping the theatre viable after 2,000 years, a lot of which was spent in masonry theft.
We then figured it would be a good idea to visit a church given the rapidly increasing heat and the fact that churches are generally quite good at remaining cool in the heat. We popped into what was once a cathedral but has since been downgraded.
The Church of St Trophime, bishop of Arles, was built sometime around 1152 because that’s when the Saint’s bits and bobs were sealed into a small box and delivered. Though Mirinda claims it was probably the earthly remains of some stray cat. It’s hard to say because the church has such faith that they are his remains that they will not allow DNA analysis to actually see who or what they once belonged to. Faith or fear? It’s not for me to comment.
Something I will comment on though is the fact that the church has a massive collection of relics from various felines…I mean saints…among which is a small casket containing some bones of St Sebastian. Of all the St Sebs I’ve collected over the years, this was obviously the pinnacle. Imagine, an actual bone from an actual saint. I found it very difficult to contain my excitement.
My apologies for the lack of quality of the photograph but the church has such faith in these relics that they make it very difficult to photograph. Still, what a major part of my mythological collection.
I should explain that the church was downgraded in 1801 when the main seat of the church moved to Aix-en-Provence. This doesn’t deter from the fact that this simple parish church that once was a great cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, of course, there’s the St Seb thing.
Speaking of saints, there was no Joan in the church which was somewhat distressing though, as if to reassure me that she is still loved and adored, there is a niche high up in the corner of a building quite close to where we’re staying in which she stands, clutching the French flag and looking skyward for a message from an owl…or some such.
Having wandered the many chapels (there was a St Roche for Mirinda to coo over) and aisles of the church we figured it was time to rediscover the Road of Many Restaurants we’d sighted earlier to find a cool lunch spot. Oddly this turned out to be a tapas place which was cool and very inviting because of it.
The place was called Bodeguita and I recommend it for the food, the cold beer and the cool interior. We enjoyed it all for about an hour out of the heat.
But soon enough we headed for the cloister, a bit of the church that is no longer used as anything but a tourist site. Mind you, it is part of the World Heritage Site listing as being part of the church so, naturally, it had to be done. And it was a delightfully quirky cloister as well.
For a start the inside square was not a market garden, or, in fact, any kind of garden at all. It was used to bury the dead monks in once upon a long time ago. Ignoring that rather odd revelation, the pillars surrounding the grave yard are decorated with many mythological stories, both Biblical and local. There’s even one of our old friend the Tarasque of Tarascon being beaten by St Martha.
Mind you, my favourite of all the carvings was the one of an angelic Marty Feldman directing the souls heavenward like a winged traffic policeman.
There was even a second level to the cloister where one could promenade and look down on those beneath you. Literally. (That’s for Jud who seems to have some difficulty in ascertaining what is literal and what is not.)
By the time we left the cloister, we were ready for a rest though we did have to pop into an ice creamery for some chilly fuel and a boulongerie for some dinner fuel before lugging everything back to the apartment.
Our rest, however, was merely long enough for freezing cold showers, a change of sweat drenched clothes and a short sit down before we were headed back out, this time to the Musée Réattu, not far from the apartment.
Actually, to be completely honest, there’s not much that is particularly far from the apartment. It was an excellent choice by our hosts (Sharon, Jud, Joel, Naomi and Luca).
Jacques Réattu was that rare thing, a very rich artist. He inherited enough money to live on for an eternity so he could concentrate on doing what he loved, painting. He was that even rarer thing, a very rich artist who was talented.
He was so rich that after a bit he bought back all of the paintings he’d painted and sold, and displayed them in the house once owned by the Knights of Malta (they were there in the 12th century while Jacques was from the 18th) which sat right up against the river Rhone with some amazing views. Then Napoleon came along and built dam walls all along the edge of the river so his house now has a sort of empty moat around one side but the views are still spectacular and, I guess, the damp problem was solved.
Now, I’d never heard of Jacques or seen any of his art. The reason I really wanted to go to this museum was because Picasso donated a whole swag of art to the place in 1971 two years before he died. Of the 57 pieces, obviously only a small selection is displayed on a rotating basis however, I really wanted to see them.
But then, in the earlier rooms, I discovered, not just Jacque Réattu but also his extraordinary artist uncle, Antoine Raspal who created some amazing every day scenes from Arles life in the 18th century. He was the first to paint the Women of Arles (Arlesienne) which other painters found fascinating enough to emulate.
We managed to last the entire collection (though Mirinda didn’t bother with the photographers on the top floor and I can’t say she actually missed very much) before heading back to the apartment via the shops for some very important alcohol supplies.
And then, we settled in, waiting for the return of the intrepid Tour-ists.
Now, I sort of promised to take the piss out of Jud but I have to say they all had a wonderful day which was given a resounding tick of delight from his whole family and his judgement and planning were both spot on and perfect in every way. Besides, a picture paints a thousand words and I think another thousand words would just be too much.
Just one final thing. I feel I should explain the title of this blog post because unless I do it’ll be something only Naomi and I know about. Again, there’s a photograph. This one is not of Jud but of the door leading out into the street from the building in which our apartment resides.