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Arles

Day Trips from Avignon

The image shown above isn't strictly in Arles itself; it is more a neighborhood feature that speaks to age and influence that point to a remarkable place. A haunting sort of history may be seen throughout, from the Pont du Gard aqueduct 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 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).

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

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

I look forward to walking here again. 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.

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Around the time of Roman emperor Maxentius (ca. 303ad), a particular literate soldier was at his daily work calmly taking dictation from his local-governor boss, regarding the troublesome 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 resurrection, to be buried up close to someone who was sure of salvation. Thus thousands of these huge stone chambers were crowded here, sometimes stacked layers deep, to be close to the martyred Genesius.

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 enjoyed it as much as I did.

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It is unlikely that emperor Constantine ever actually bathed here, when these baths were new in the fourth century. But his name has stuck, and the ruins invite the visitor to puzzle out the purpose of each room, and to imagine a swarm of toga-clad clients eager to clean their bodies and to stimulate their ears with the latest local gossip.

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une fois encore