Sunday October 8 dawned cold but clear for our drive from Aix en Provence to the small town of Saint Remy and the location of St. Paul de Mosole the beautifully preserved and restored former mental institution where Vinvent Van Gogh spent part of his life and where he painted many of his most famous art works which he could not sell in his lifetime of poverty but which today fetch millions of dollars and reside in the collections of the world’s great art collectors. The cold stone of the building and the photos and reproductions of some of the pieces which Van Gogh created here give one a sense of what it must have been like to live here in 1888. Vincent’s bedroom remains as it was during his time at St. Paul in it’s stark simplicity and the reproduction of his famous painting of it is a reminder of how amazing and strange his artistry must have seemed in the late 18th century. The grounds of the institutions are beautifully kept although at this fall season of the year the many lavender plants are in pale green and not in their lovely violet color. Never the less the lovely trees, the shrubs and the tastefully done and located reproductions of Van Gogh art along the paths of the grounds lend a sense of quiet and reflection to this most unusual place. I recommend it highly to anyone spending some time in Provence.
Our late morning was spent exploring the amazing site of Les Baux de Provence the location of a powerful medieval fortress high above what later proved to be the place where bauxite was first discovered and mined. One of the old mines the Carrieres de Lumiere has been turned into an amazing auditorium where works of art by various artists, during our visit those of Marc Chagall, are projected on the walls and columns of the old mine accompanied by a variety of musical selections. My daughter and I both truly enjoyed the approximately 18 minute spectacle in spite of our initial reservations. It is something that one must experience in person to really appreciate.
Our final stop of the day was in the ancient Roman city of Arles located on the banks of the Rhone River with it’s Roman arena and Roman theater both very well preserved. Unfortunately, the grandeur of the arena is currently marred, in my opinion, by modern, aluminum stadium type bleachers which cover a great portion of the interior of the structure. One can still imagine the spectacles which must have unfolded here 2000 years ago when gladiators and wild animals fought to their deaths. The Roman theater is much less affected by modern intrusions and remains today the site of theater and musical performances. Arles today is a wonderful place to experience all that Provence has to offer in lovely architecture, lively squares, restaurants and of course it’s people, so much a part of today but living in a city full of history. Arles is a city where one could spend many days exploring it both for it’s modern delights and it’s glimpses into history.