Revisiting Arles, Provence

Provence—I cross the country from Paris through the rustic, wild west to arrive in Arles, my birthplace. To the north are the picturesque hills of Provence, and to the south the severe flatness of the Camargue, a mix of sky, earth, sea. I feel the mistral winds that blow restlessly, sometimes for nine straight days. Smell the mix and match of herbs, fruit, fish, and flowers at the Boulevard des Lices market. Taste the simple Provençal cuisine at the Restaurant Lou Marquès. View the medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence, where the valley looks like Andalusia or Tuscany. At the Museon Arlaten I visit the traditional costumes my grandmother took me to see every week. At the Musée Réattu I reminisce about my college years, when I went there to read, dream, and debate with friends. I touch the marble on the old well at the church of Saint Trophime, feeling the traces the monks’ ropes left in the stone. My tiny house is in the historic center and very Arles in its mix of Roman stones and 18th-century style. It’s good to be in my eternal city again. Arles is like a goddess—part beloved great-grandmother, part decadent courtesan—like Van Gogh’s prostitutes, or the gypsies that passed through twice a year for their pilgrimage to the nearby seaside town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where there are straw-roofed houses, black bulls, white horses, and pink flamingos.

Restaurant Lou Marquès (dinner, $85; 33-4/90-52-52-52) is in the Hôtel Jules César. The Museon Arlaten ( specializes in Provençal history, and the Musée Réattu ( has Picasso drawings and Jacques Réattu paintings.