Yesterday we treated ourselves to two interesting towns in Provence: Les Baux and St. Remy. Les Baux is home to the ruins of a chateau, which we toured. Now, when I think of chateaux, I think of large, enclosed, glamorous places. I didn’t quite get the “ruins” part. Not that ruins bother me. Lord knows I’ve climbed and crawled around more than my share. It’s just that I thought our tour would be a warm, indoor experience. Wrong again. It turned out not to be overly cold, but we were greeted by an impressive wind. Provence, of course, is famous for its wind, but I guess I thought it hit only in the winter.
In spite of feeling blown around like a paper bag, we enjoyed the tour. The metal bauxite takes its name from this town, as the hills were once full of it. It’s amazing to me how, as we go from town to town, each not far apart from the other, the terrain looks so different. This rock I would call “pock marked,” gray with black. Looking out from the chateau, we got great views yet again, though it was too windy for me to feel comfortable taking photos.
Afterward we found the village of St. Remy, a warm and bustling place that thus far feels closest to what we have wanted in our Provence experience. We had a warm, hearty couscous stew with chicken, eggplant, and other veggies in a little restaurant where we were befriended by an American/British couple who now live in St. Remy full-time. They are in their mid-seventies and enjoy living in their little house in town–no Provence farmhouse for them, they like not having to get into their car! They gave us lots of food for thought for future stays and longer visits, should that turn out to be our goal. She said that a lot of the villages, though charming, are pretty dead with just one or two bistros and people who don’t speak to one another. St. Remy, on the other hand, has a lot going on, including a good-sized ex-pat population.
Van Gogh spent a year in St. Remy in the psychiatric hospital, which still exists today and which still offers art therapy as part of its treatment program. During this time, he painted more than 150 paintings (of an astounding 890 or so in 10 years). He would walk the various roads and fields of the area. We walked one of those roads, which was marked from time to time with information about his work and which paintings he might have done in each location or nearby. At the hospital, they had a nice exhibit of his biography, what his room would have looked like, and his treatment. Although he was a patient, they often allowed Vincent to leave the grounds in order to pursue his work. St. Remy was one of the few places that embraced and respected him during his lifetime–in Arles, they found him too strange. I guess when someone cuts off his ear, people get a bit nervous.
We made it back to the apartment for another workday for Henry, but the Internet was problematic yet again. It has power blips, and unfortunately, the router is in another apartment, so we can’t reset it ourselves. This morning, when it went down one more time, Henry decided it was time to go. I didn’t argue with him. I didn’t like the apartment much, and Avignon never did grow on me. I think they are trying too hard to be modern and hip, when what we want is a more traditional Provencal experience. Plus, the town is sort of dingy and run-down and sad. So, we checked out and headed for Arles, where we will spend the next three nights in a local hotel that seems quite charming.
We know that our style of travel involves a certain risk, and things don’t always work out. Last year in Jerusalem we had to make a switch–inconvenient and stressful, but we ended up in a fantastic place that we really enjoyed. We think we’re going to spend our last week in Lourmarin, which has some tourist trade but isn’t overrun, and is still said to maintain its charm. I’m not totally sure where we’ll end up, but we will be fine…just more stories for the grandkids!