Literature and pop culture is speckled with examples of people tumbling into the world of a painting. Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Woody Allen’s newest film, Midnight in Paris, and the Harry Potter series, to name a few. Personally, I’ve always loved the idea of becoming entangled in the fantastical world of a painting. Arles you ready to hear my story?
With my newfound ability to just hop on a train and head to a new, fabulous French city for the day, I decided to make a visit to Arles. As I’ve learned in other places, such as Nimes, the different periods of history have left their architectural marks on European cities. In Arles, certain sections of the city are clearly influenced by a specific era. The ones I saw are the Roman, Medieval Ages, and Renaissance sections.
More interesting than the fascinating remnants of eras past, for me, is that Van Gogh painted many of his famous works in Arles. I believe second grade was when I was first acquainted with his works and have been a fan since, so it is no wonder I was very excited to stand in place of his easel and gaze upon the same sights.
The first site we stumbled upon, literally and after too much wandering, was Terrasse du café, la nuit. The yellow awning and patio appeared just the same as in the painting, which was conveniently placed next to the optimal viewing location. The only problem was the giant pink umbrellas of the café next to Café La Nuit which partially blocked the scene.
A side cultural interjection is necessary here. While touring the Avignon Papal Palace, my group learned that for centuries, people were not concerned with preservation of historical buildings. Even a structure as special as the palace from the dynasty of Avignon Popes could have been taken apart so the stones could be used elsewhere, but the building was recycled and used as soldier barracks and a hospital. Eventually, it was restored to showcase the papal history and now serves as a museum. So, perhaps this sentiment continues for the French, thereby causing the invasion of the giant pink umbrellas.
The garden of the asylum, which is certainly no longer an asylum if it ever actually was, was the next site we found. We reflected on how amazing it is to be stand on the same cobblestones as one of the most renowned painters of all time, and look at a scene in the exact same way he did. “The tree is bigger now,” my friend noted. I was oddly excited and tingly when I skipped into the garden to take a picture as if I was in the painting.
Nuit étoilée sur le Rhône is another painting of Van Gogh, but during the day, this was the least exciting spot. The stars and lights were not shining on the Rhône. Since it was not particularly magnificent, I didn’t jump into his painting for that one. Still, the view of Arles was good from across the river. I can certainly see why Van Gogh chose to paint in this charming city.