The narrow streets are flooded with tourist groups, washed ashore by the mighty river Rhône swollen with cruise boats.
We are in Arles, the South of France. My prince and I have driven into town since we live not far away. We’re looking to soak up a bit of local culture, a noble endeavor for an expat, don’t you agree? It’s a sunny fall day and the town is buzzing with the sounds of many languages and the occasional insect.
Ladies of generous girth amble along the cobbled streets, their ample bottoms comfortably encased in elasticized cotton pants cut off at mid-thigh. Their husbands have their socked feet stuck in sandals or sports shoes and wear floppy shorts shaded by well-fed bellies. Like a troop of obedient school children they follow the tour guide, who, in one language or another, drones on about Vincent van Gogh painting here, cutting off his ear there, and so on and so forth.
I am a tourist too, if not part of a group, but no doubt I look like one. (We’re staying at this funky B&B I wrote about in my last post Bedroom Adventure.) My man and I cruise the streets too, getting lost in the labyrinthine allies of this ancient town. We are in search of the markers set into the street stones indicating the locations where it is believed Vincent van Gogh once put his easel to paint his famous masterpieces. (I know, greater excursions exist, but I’m not so much into rafting down the Zambezi.)
Have a good look at the painting below:
See that little tree to the right of the stairs? Now look below at the picture I took of that same location, 126 years later. This is what happens to a tree in 126 years. Fantastic!
Okay, maybe it loses something in the translation. Maybe it’s one of those situations that make people give a sheepish shrug and mutter: “You had to be there.” Let me just say this: I’m there and I think it’s cool.
When I was a teenager, I had a poster of one of Van Gogh’s paintings on my wall, the Really Famous one called Café Terrace at Night. Here it is.
I thought it was sooo romantic. Being Dutch, I loved (love) sitting on terraces. Being a teenager at the time, I loved stars and dreaming of love and lingering on a romantic sidewalk café with an (as yet unspecified) boy friend. Little did I know that decades later I would find this place in real life, this same building, still a café. And wouldn’t you know, it’s called Café Van Gogh! And now I sit there, be it in the afternoon with no stars, but with the love of my life to share the experience.
Yes, I confess: we’re doing this tacky tourist thing, lounging at the Café Van Gogh. A humorless waiter with tired feet brings us the drinks we’ve ordered, a beer and a glass of rosé. We relax and sip while observing the other tourists engaged in the same activity. And then I do the Really Tacky Tourist Thing: I ask my prince to take a picture of me sitting here on the terrace. So he does.
What can I say? Van Gogh did it better. This photo will never be art, never hang on anyone’s wall.
We linger some more and I think about Van Gogh — poor, nuts, hungry, thirsty, and probably not having money to rest his feet and have a pastis.
The bill comes for our drinks, one beer and one glass of rosé: 10 euros, 13 dollars. I kid you not. Ten euros for a beer and a glass of rosé, in France, in Arles, in the Café Van Gogh.
If only poor Vincent would have known.
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Have you ever visited a place you’ve dreamed or thought about when you were younger? What was it like?
I LOVE that tree painting and photo! Very neat!
So interesting to see the contrast between paintings and reality.
I’m off to Venice (again) but this time with my daughter and am hoping to avoid the worst tourist traps.