Arles

Arles, where the horses are white and the cattle are black, set in the region of rice farming, is the heart of Provence both in location and the traditions which are still celebrated. The Fete des Gardians, a tremendous festival held every May 1st, is very much worth the trek into Arles where ancient Roman holdings and century old stone buildings and monuments can still be seen, such as the arena in Arles with streets around its circumference leading to the base of this mass of handcarved stones like the spokes of a tire.

 In the parades and during a exhibition in the colleseum, the Gardians who have been in existence for centuries and their organization has been in existence since 1512, can be seen. They are the “cowboys” of the Camaraque riding white horses across the plains and low water areas herding other horses, sheep or the black cattle, using long poles topped with a three pronged device to force cattle into desired areas, usually for branding.

On May 1st there is a great parade full of women and girls dressed in the costumes only worn in Arles. They have been wearing costumes like this for centuries, full of tradition and memories. There are intricately designed scarves worn over the shoulders, held in place from possible mistrals with either 3 or 5 straight pins in the back, the hair done up in a type of pompadour circled with a wide ribbon designed to match the long dress its train trailing behind the wearer who sometimes hold the train up out of the street with a length of decorative chain attached to the waist. The jewelry also is steeped in tradition and long chains are seen hanging down waist length with fabulous cameos, or intricate crosses attached. Some wear silver pins of cigales pinned to scarves. Married women dress in colorful outfits but the single women all wear white scarves with little white head dresses tied in front in the shape of a little butterfly. Smaller girls wear simple white caps tied under their chins. The men wore colorful shirts, usually with a tie, a black coat and the easily recognized black hat. Musicians in the parade play flutes with one hand and a drum with the other. White horses go down the street ridden by the men, many with women seated them, their skirts colorfully spread over the rump of the horse.

The members of the parade went into the narrow streets of Arles and ended up in front of Notre Dame de la Major for a blessing all done in Provencal, the old language still spoken here in Provence