Monday 16 April 2012

Blown away

Today we got arty, with a lecture about poor, crazy Van Gogh, who spent a lot of time here in Arles, painting furiously; and then we visited a number of sites around the town that feature in his pictures. The streets were still fairly quiet and many shops closed this morning - because, apparently, they were open on Saturday, and with the national working week being limited to 35 hours, that meant shutting on Monday. Thirty-five hours!

Then we were bussed out of Arles (or, Arrrles, as our guide Marie called it) and went to Les Baux, a ridiculously photogenic village perched on a limestone outcrop with a castle and churches and little winding streets lined with pretty shuttered houses and shops selling lovely bright textiles, pottery cidadas, lavender and soaps. Totally touristy, but so very pretty and on such a spectacular site with long views across plains of olive plantations and rows of cypresses. We also visited an olive mill where Magali gave us tastings of green and black olive oil and tapenades and was charmingly enthusiastic about notes of asparagus, artichoke and fresh hay, and I nodded sagely and thought about Pseud's Corner.

The main thing about today was our introduction to the Mistral, the perishingly cold wind from the north that funnels down the Rhone Valley and blows for 3, 6 or 9 days at a time, incessantly, strongly (gusts up to 120kmh today on top of Les Baux) and maddeningly. Until fairly recently, 9 days of Mistral was accepted as a mitigating factor in murder cases, reducing the charge to a crime of passion - after today, I can quite understand why.

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