What a beautiful place, where time seems to have paused somewhere in the early 19th century. Reminiscent of Mexico in some ways and yet unlike anywhere I have ever been before...
The small town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is about so much more than just wine. It is French culture steeped in age, sprinkled with modern conveniences and brimming with a strong sense of heritage. Wandering the streets in the baking heat was an experience in itself. The exploration of winding, cobbled roads led to small and wonderful finds. Passing the church at the heart of the village, one could hear organ music playing within. Further up the path and there was an area shaded by beech trees, small stone benches places strategically out of the glare of the sun. To the top of the hill and there it was, the Chateau built for the New Pope. What remains of what was obviously an immense structure are a few walls and arches, still magnificent on that hill top setting. Standing in one of the windows makes it apparent as to why they chose this spot. The wind is a refreshing change from the heat below, a heat that is intensified in Avignon, where the Pope would normally reside. Add to that the breathtaking view of distant mountains, rolling fields of grape vines and sunflowers and the speckling of orange rooftops from the town. It was something to gaze upon, something to soak up, my back pressed against warm stone, my face lit up by the gold of the setting sun.
In Avignon there were festivities to be found! The high city walls hid streets packed with people there to shop and see the sights or there to make a living. Throngs of performers in odd and delightful costumes roamed between the people, stopping occasionally to give a brief show or to hand out fliers to nearby diners. The distinct smell of cigarettes and sweating bodies was mixed with the scent of delicious provencal food or blossoms growing nearby. At one point there was a magnificent downpour, when the intense heat has built to the point of a thunderstorm. The people all crowded under awnings, waiting for the torrent to finish. When it finally did the air was muggy, dense with moisture. I didn't care one bit, happy to continue along, snapping photos of street art, sculptures and gorgeous architecture, as I had been doing all day.
In Arles the atmosphere was more subdued, as was I after such a long day of discovery. I wandered around the Colosseum, intending to circle it. Instead I found myself distracted by a cool cobbled side street and then a church. I followed the growing shade to a wall overlooking the houses below. Terracotta roofs stretched out, a forest of satellite dishes and antennae protruding from the otherwise ancient buildings.
I can easily say I have come away feeling satiated with the experience. It was entirely enjoyable, as was the company. It's also given me a lot to think about, a lot to reflect on and hopefully, something more to fuel my art.