Some days you just don't want to be where you are. You want to be somewhere else entirely. Arles would do. Here it is, as at looked in June 2000, late afternoon - from the top of the old Roman amphitheater. The balcony in the upper right would do, with the wooden chair. Or perhaps a pastis in the deep shade at the café right in the middle of things. Van Gogh and Gauguin shared a place near here. Ah well, November in Hollywood will have to do. But that was a fine hot day in Arles - a long drive from Avignon with a few hours in St Remy and another stop for a walk around Les Baux, but worth it.
But one must remember that things didn't go well with Van Gogh and Gauguin in Arles. Towards Christmas of their year there Van Gogh snapped - he argued with Gauguin, threw a drink of at him in a bar, the next day stalked him with a straight razor, then hacked off part of his own earlobe and collapsed. A few days later, as the New Year began, he was writing to Gauguin and his brother Theo, telling them to relax - they had made a fuss over something of no great importance. But the neighbors weren't impressed - they insisted that Van Gogh be transferred to a mental hospital in another town - St Remy, actually. The asylum is still there.
Troubles everywhere. Maybe it's best to stay here.
A slow afternoon in Hollywood, and thinking it may be time for another visit to catch up with Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - haven't chatted with him face to face in a few years. But on the right is not April in Paris. It's a December day in 2001, from the Pont des Arts, walking back to the hotel in Saint Germain, glancing up to the southwest. Rooftops and that strange tower. It's not Hollywood, or even Paris Las Vegas.
Later, from the hotel window, light in the heart of the left bank - l'église St-Germain-des-Prés in the afternoon traffic, and in the second chapel of this church a stone marks the spot where philosopher Rene Descartes is buried. The abbey here was founded in 558. It was rebuilt between 990 and 1021, and restored again from 1819 to 1823, thanks to Victor Hugo (see a history here and the current website here). To the left is Les Deux Magots - Fréquenté par de nombreux artistes illustres parmi lesquels Elsa Triolet, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Prévert, Hemingway, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, pour ne citer qu'eux, il accueillit les surréalistes sous l'égide d'André Breton, bien avant les existentialistes qui firent les belles nuits des caves du quartier. Jim Morrison of The Doors frequented this same café it's said - Morrison was buried in Paris of course. This intersection, Boulevard St-Germain at rue Bonaparte, is a good place to be. Drop a line for details - a good jazz club, odd shops, goodies in the Buci market a few blocks to the right.
That's Paris. But a pleasant train ride north, just an hour or two, is Rouen, in the heart of Normandy. It's old in a different way. This was June afternoon, six years ago. Sip some calvados. Good place.
Way south. Everyone associates Arles with Van Gogh, of course. But drive down from Avignon, through St-Remy (visit the asylum where Van Gogh spent some time after he cut off his ear), through Les Baux (a mountain fortress town that has an odd history having to do with Richelieu and the Huguenots, and metallurgy, as aluminum ore, bauxite, is named for the place), and you finally get to Arles. It's old in a different way - Roman. This is the old coliseum, the same summer. They use it now for French bullfights, the kind where the bull lives. You get good light and shadows there, and that means it's been in a few movies, as right here John Frankenheimer filmed that shoot-out in Ronin - so if you're not into art, or bullfighting, or Roman history, there's always the Hollywood angle, as Robert De Niro was here too.