TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… France – Arles’ Category

* Arles … Roman amphitheatre, Van Gogh’s cafe, and French bullfighting

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 13, 2010

We had been to Arles twice before, both for short visits. This time we had a little longer to wander.

Our first stop was a museum called the Foundation Van Gogh, containing works by many artists in tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. It is always astonishing to remember that Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime and that his works now sell for as much as $39 million.

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Roman amphitheatre in Arles

The main attraction for me in Arles was the Roman arena, built around 90 AD, large enough to hold 20,000. It was formerly the site of battles to the death between gladiators, for the amusement of the wealthy Romans. Today, we learned to our surprise, it would be the site of the French version of bullfighting, in which the bull is not killed.

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We found a new hat for Pat and had an excellent lunch in the Place du Forum, looking at the restaurant which Van Gogh painted in his famous “Cafe at Night.” As is frequently the case, with Van Gogh and others, the painting looks a lot better than the real cafe ever did. And the lady looks great too.

Pat's hat, Van Gogh's "Cafe at Night" and the cafe now

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Real bullfights, Spanish style, come to our town of Collioure once a year. Two years ago we went. We will never go again. It is a disgusting exhibition in which the bulls are taunted and weakened to reduce the danger to the matador, then finally killed and dragged out of the arena.

French bullfighting is different. In this form of bullfighting, introduced in 1402 in this very Amphitheatre in Arles in honor of the visit of Count Louis II of Provence, the bull is not killed. There is real danger, but the ones in danger are the young men who run in front of the bull and try to snatch strings tied to the bull’s horns.

The bull enters the ring, walks around, snorts, paws the ground. He is experienced. He knows what will happen. After a few minutes the bull is joined by a dozen young men, all extremely athletic. They take turns running in front of the bull, taunting the bull to chase them. When chased, the young man will try to grab a string from the bull’s horn and then save his life by leaping up and out of the arena, frequently smashing into the higher fence beyond. If he slips even slightly on the gravel, or doesn’t jump cleanly, he is in mortal danger. And sometimes, just to make it even more interesting, the bull jumps over the fence after him.

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