The second week of February break, my friend Randall, who is an English assistant in Bordeaux and also studied in Clermont-Ferrand the same semester as me, came to visit Valence. The first day he was visiting we decided to take the train down to Provence and see Arles, formerly a major Roman city and probably best known now as inspiration for Vincent van Gogh.
The biggest monument in the city is les Arènes d’Arles, a Roman amphitheater built in 80 AD. While it once was home to gladiator fights and then later got covered in houses, it has been restored and hosts bullfights. I’m not much for bullfights; I don’t think the bull is ever really given a fair chance and it seems more like a formalized slaughter. But, the amphitheater is very cool and although there was no historical information in the monument, it was fun to walk through it and climb to the top for a view of the city.
Les Arènes d’Arles was also the first of several van Gogh sites on our visit. He painted a crowd in the amphitheater at a bullfight in his piece Les Arènes. Some people think that van Gogh got the idea to cut his ear off from the bullfights, where the bull ultimately has its ear cut off after the bullfighter is victorious. Apparently, van Gogh did it only weeks after seeing a bullfight, after in a way being defeated by Gaugin. But correlation is not causation, right?
We got a map from the tourism office, but we mostly wandered around. Arles has many picturesque streets and for the first time in a long time, the sun was shining and it was warm in France. The next attraction we stumbled upon was l’Espace van Gogh, which was the hospital where van Gogh was taking after he had a fight with Paul Gaugin (with whom he was living) and cut off his ear. While he was in the hospital, he painted this courtyard in a piece called The Courtyard of the Hospital in Arles. The “Yellow House” where van Gogh had his studio during his year in Arles was destroyed in WWII from bombing.
Another van Gogh site was the Cafe on the Place du Forum, which he painted in Cafe Terrace at Night. The Place du Forum is named after the Roman forum that used to stand there and a couple pillars from the original structure still remain. Being that it’s not really the tourism season, the Cafe (now called the Cafe Van Gogh) was closed, which is why there is absolutely no one there in this picture. Interesting that Arles loves van Gogh so much now, but in 1889 there was actually a petition circulated in the town to get him evicted. He went to an asylum in nearby St-Rémy later that year.
Our amphitheater ticket also got us into the Thermae of Constantine, a Roman bath, and we spent some more time walking around the center of town and eventually got a coffee.
The sun was still out, so we took the train a short distance to Avignon and walked past the Palais des Papes and to the Pont d’Avignon. I spotted a new Space Invader, shown here. Apparently there are still more invaders to discover in Avignon.
I’m back at work and teaching The Very Hungry Caterpillar again. I’ve started to get more serious about finding a job after my contract here ends, but I’m still not sure where I’ll end up.