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Day Trips from Avignon

The aqueduct shown above isn't strictly in Arles itself, nor in Avignon; it is more a neighborhood feature that speaks to age and cultural influence that point to a remarkable place. A haunting sort of history may be seen throughout, from the Pont du Gard pictured, to the 12th century St Trophime church, to the once-Roman cemetery where Vincent Van Gogh often painted with Paul Gauguin.

But a visit to Arles is not merely about old stuff. There is tantalizing food, as in paella shown here (which need not incorporate expensive saffron, although it tastes arguably better if you just spend the extra Euros). This is the window to the Camargue region—think skilled cowboys on ponies with hooves specially adapted to gallop in wet soil, of wide-horned bulls standing sullen in the distance. Think colorful, violent romance (Georges Bizet originally had "the girl from Arles" in mind, when he penned the opera Carmen).


Here is a fraction of the careful, didactic detail that covers every square meter of the church of San Trophime in the heart of the old city.

More Bible stories and more saints legends decorate each capital (top part of the column that holds up the crosspiece) in this cloister adjacent to the San Trophime church. I hope the meditating brothers of yore enjoyed them as much as I did in 2016.

Just downtown a remarkably intact Arena survives and prospers, still used for bullfights and concerts. Its history extends back to 90 a.d. And notice the even more ancient obelisk, below, used, ages past, as a massive pylon/marker for chariot races. Like in Ben Hur.

Note the ageless and untroubled countenances of the life-sized saints shown between the pillars, and the endless procession of the damned on their certain pathway to perdition. The edifice itself is anything but imposing; but the carved stone minutiae present hours of instruction on medieval Christian doctrine.

As in Avignon, the more touristy sites had little if any attraction for me. Hence the Roman Arena went unvisited, likewise the ancient theater and the Constantine Baths. Impressive all, but when it came down to allocating time to my diminished energies, well, one must choose the more vital parts to spend those precious hours in pursuit of. Maybe it's recognizing the difference between merely seeing a thing, and beholding it.

Carved figures top these paired pillars in the  well preserved cloister where for hundreds of years Catholic brothers walked and meditated. Remarkable themes are here, most of them easily recognizable presentations of Bible stories. On the rooftop an earnest young dad endlessly walking with kid in stroller was, I think, giving his wife a much needed rest.

We strolled around here towards dusk and found ourselves squinting at this silent structure spread  across the River Gard. Not a shaft of sunlight remained, but it was plain that these crafted stones needed nothing to enhance their already considerable majesty.


I look forward to walking here again, maybe with Michele. I wonder if one might bring some pastels along, with a paper tablet ... and find a place discreet enough to try to create without likelihood of scoffers passing by? With subject matter like this, it's worth a try.


Romans never buried their dead inside city limits; since that time of course, the city has grown to encompass this great troop of sarcophagi.


Around the time of Roman emperor Maxentius (ca. 303ad), one particular literate soldier was at his daily scribe task, calmly taking dictation from his local-governor boss regarding the troublesome and multiplying Christians. In addition to his military identity, however, he was also a young Believer. The edict being pronounced so offended his understanding of what the Faith was about, that he threw his tablet at the feet of the governor and ran for his life (swam across the Rhone, it is said, no mean feat). He was caught of course, and beheaded. And buried in Les Alyskamps cemetery.  [An early belief was that it was helpful in one's making it to Heaven, to be buried up close to someone whose salvation was certain. Thus uncounted hundreds of these huge stone chambers were crowded here, sometimes stacked many layers deep, to be close to the martyred Genesius. "I'm with him."]

At one time the graveyard's church was a pilgrimage goal. St Honoratus was much revered for his pious and loving way of life; for awhile his remains were housed in the crypt directly under the abandoned church's altar. When those bones were moved to the (relatively) newer St Trophime in the old town, these stately ruins rapidly deteriorated, and the entire burial area became a place for stylish Sunday strolls and, later, a suitably drab  place for impressionists to interpret on canvas.

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