At the beginning of July we spent a week in Provence. The mere mention of Provence conjures up images of fields of sunflowers and lavender and of long lazy lunches taken in the shade of a huge tree in a village square…..
I took so many photos during the course of the week that I have grouped them into several slideshows. The first contains photos of some of the art in the exhibition called “Textiles” at the Fondation Blachère – very interesting. It was the first time I had been to this complex which houses exhibition space, a shop selling African artefacts and books and a small café. I think my favourite was the one entitled “lost memories” featuring framed photographs which had been wrapped in red wool. The strands of wool dangled down to the floor where the ends had been arranged in words. These words were “written” in yarn about memory, salvage, rejuvenation, hope, etc. There was a very striking sculpture of a pregnant woman entitled “motherhood”. Close inspection revealed that the filling was made of plastic dolls heads and rags. I was allowed to take photos but without flash.
We left at about 4pm and drove to Gordes and then to the Abbaye de Senanque where we arrived just in time to join the 5pm tour (the last of the day) for a fascinating guided tour around the mediaeval part of the abbey which today houses 6 monks aged between 40 and 87. It’s a Cistercian abbey (like my favourite abbey of Orval in Belgium) which means that it is very austere with very little in the way of ornamentation in the church (so the monks don’t get distracted). Today the monks are allowed to read newspapers but not to watch TV.
The columns of the cloister are decorated with images of plants and birds. The garden in the cloister provided medicinal herbs and was also where the monks washed, were bled 4 times a year (the only occasions they were allowed to eat meat to restore them after the bleeding) and were tonsured. The Cistercian order is a silent order and the chapter house is the only place where they can speak. On the wall opposite the entrance to the chapter housea is a devilish figure called a tarasqua, situated here to remind them that they are re-entering the world and all its evils when they leave the chapter house. The Calefactory (warm room) housed the scriptorium, the only room that was heated. The conical fireplace was built to accommodate upright tree trunks. Today the monks earn their livelihood from the sale of lavender and honey.
One day we went to visit Saint Remy de Provence where we visited the Mausole de St Paul where Vincent Van Gogh was hospitalised for a year and where he painted some 150 of his paintings. It was an interesting place to visit and the boutique was even more interesting because it contained works of art produced by patients undergoing art therapy. Some of the pieces were very good indeed. In the cloister there were two art installations – metal grids with coloured pieces of fabric knotted to squares in the grid to form a picture of Van Gogh’s face. It was only when I viewed the second picture on the computer that I realised that it was a portrait of VG but in the shape of an ear!
We then drove to Les Baux and the Cathedral of images where we watched the show. The last time we had been here was years ago before they had moving pictures as part of the show. This time the theme was Australia and it was a stunning show – well worth the €7.50 entrance fee. The Cathedral of images is inside a disused stone quarry and the images and videos are projected on to the walls and floors.
We then went to Le Paradou to visit the “village des santons” (the village of santons). “Santons” are miniature figures depicting characters from all walks of life. The miniature village depicted a paper mill, a flour mill, fishermen, gypsies (complete with bear), a lively bar scene, a market scene, schools, church, a bakery, farm scenes, etc. All the figures were completed in minute detail. The most popular santons are those produced for Christmas nativity scenes and, because each one is handmade and painted, the smallest ones cost nearly €50.
In Tarascon we found the chateau royal without too much difficulty and visited it – it’s huge and had lots of enlarged pictures on the wall of the illustrations from mediaeval manuscripts (possibly those written by the king Rene). There was one beautiful illustration of a girl sitting in a garden. Most of the original manuscripts appear to be preserved in the national museum at Albi. In one of the first rooms was a picture of the monster and a woman. I said to DH “that’s St Martha exorcising the monster”, he said “exercising the monster?” “no, exorcising” “ then why has she got it on a leash?”. This was the same monster whose face we had seen just outside the chapter house in the abbey of Senanque (it is called a tarasqua or tarrasque).
After the visit I left Paul with the car and went for a quick walk through some of the old streets. “La rue droite des juifs” (Jewish straight street), “rue des etoffes” (fabric street), “rue des poissons” (fish street) indicate who lived there or what was sold. I discovered that the Souleiado museum is in the old quarter here. If we had had more time I would have liked to visit it. Next time maybe.
On our penultimate day we went for a boat trip from Avignon to Arles where we had some time to wander round before returning to the boat. Arles is famous for its amphitheatre which regularly features contests with bulls (the bulls don’t get hurt or killed in these, they are a vehicle for displaying the skill of the guys who try to snatch the rosettes from between a bull’s horns). There was supposed to have been a large flea market there that day but I could only find a couple of dozen stalls. I think maybe the heat put some of the stand-owners off (it was nearly 40 degrees centigrade that day).
Here are some miscellaneous images of our week in Provence