Turns out I've made two trips now to Arles for the same reason Vincent Van Gogh did, which is to say it's an inexplicable one. In their sweeping biography of the self-tortured artist, Van Gogh : The Life, authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith tried to noodle out why Van Gogh bolted Paris for Arles. "If he had come to the legendary South of France in search of warmer weather, surely he would have stayed on the train and continued farther south...Instead, he stepped off into snow deep enough to cover his shoes, and trudged through the coldest winter in Arles in a decade... If he had come looking for the “brilliant Midi light” promised by Lautrec and Signac, he wouldn’t have picked as the subject of his first painting a butcher shop on an Arles side street—a sunless, skyless urban vignette that he could have found anywhere in Montmartre. If he had come just for the women...he would have moved on to Marseille...where women of every kind were always available."
Now mind you, I did not have an artist's obsession for light and color driving me to this little town made famous by an act of self-mutilation. (If anything was driving me at all, it was the continuing desire to find a good steak anywhere in France.) And even when I had traveled here solo, I wasn't looking for the kind of women Marseille was famous for (or any woman for that matter... Something, for some reason, compels me to make that clear.)
Besides emergency surgery, the other attraction Arles is famous for is its Roman ruins. I have to say, nothing for me is more of a foot-leadening experience than traipsing around a pile of 2000-year-old rocks that remind us mostly of how reliable slave labor could be to make a building stand the test of time. So why had I put Arles on my list of "must see" places? Beats me.
But two interesting things happened that have renewed my faith in the idea of traveling by wandering aimlessly around. First, as an enthralled Carol took sparkling photos of the Arles Colosseum while I looked fruitlessly for a bench to park my tuckus, we stumbled upon the only froyo establishment we were to find during our entire trip. And not one dispenser offered a non-fat choice!
The other pleasant surprise was finding a cafe that finally grasped the idea of beef that had not previously existed as a purse, pair of shoes, or worse, ran dead last in a Kentucky Derby.
We left Arles with full bellies and a slightly improved understanding of contrast and color in art. Having experienced Monet up close and personal, I do prefer his “fine madness” to Van Gogh’s. Monet loved a good lunch, something closer to my own tastes in the fine arts. Monet suffered for his art, but never let it it get in the way of a canard confit and a good pinot gris.
As for Van Gogh, a tasty entrecote marchand du vin would have made for a much better use of a knife than the one he chose.