Years ago, I'd spent six of the most wonderful weeks on a year's travel sabbatical in Arles, France. At the time, I was- among other pursuits- researching the possibility of yet another in a near countless number of tomes, on the work and life of Vincent Van Gogh. might I add, to very little loss of the world at large, one which finally went unwritten. Clearly with so much of his mark on everything about me, V. would be the primary focus. I had no clear idea there would be so many and so varied other sources of pleasure in that stay touching upon a vast array of experiences such as multiple Roman remains everywhere. Also I smile at recall of the local amazing ever so slightly effervescent white wine, available in the town centre only on Saturday mornings, and poured directly from the barrel, into one's own five litre plastic containers, incredibly cheap for the quality because it didn't travel well over distances without the missing costly preservative processes.
A further wonderful awakening occurred when friends introduced us to the Camargue, getting me out of town on the afternoon of my later evening's surprise birthday party, one which would feature thick steaks seasoned for hours and then seared in an open centuries old dining room fireplace, a technique fancifully and beautifully French. The perfect prelude to that perfect night was filled with mistral winds, gaucho looking cowboys, boleros, horses, colorful birds, prairies and impressive cattle reminiscent of the nineteenth century American or Canadian West.
This was not a show, but the real thing with real people living real and working hard in this choice of lifestyles. The experience was inordinately different from anything I'd ever imagine finding in France or anywhere across the Atlantic, and altogether pleasing and memorable for it. Another unique Arles cultural surprise of sort involved the day we too our kids to a travelling one ring circus which had stopped in Arles for a day or two. We paid for four first row seats, inexpensive as they were, and wiped the horse and elephant mucus from our faces in sheer delight while..., ah, but that's another story, isn't it?