Vive la France!

Vive la France!

Welcome to my blog -- follow us as we travel around France.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Provence - Day 5: La Camargue

Thursday, September 23, 2010
In my last post, I don’t think I did a very good job of explaining what the Santons are.  I said that they are clay figures dressed in fabric clothing, but there is more to them than that.  They are traditionally made by artisans in Provence and they are part of their crèche (nativity) scene at Christmas.  In addition to Mary, Joseph, The Christ Child, Magi, shepherds, etc., they make figures depicting the villagers: baker, butcher, housewife, farmer, etc.  These are then all added to the crèche, which may actually resemble their local village more than it does Bethlehem.   The Santons range in size from a couple of inches to 15 – 18 inches in height & some even taller.  The one I bought is about 10 inches tall and it is an older woman in traditional dress, carrying a basket and umbrella.  I liked her face, so that is why I bought her.
Last night there was a full moon and we watched it come up as we drove home from Les Baux-de-Provence. It wasn’t quite dark when we got home, but we could see the moon through our terrace door and when it got dark, we went out to see the stars.  But, the moon was so bright that we didn’t see any but the brightest of the stars.
This morning we got up to another gorgeous sunrise, and left the house by 9:30, heading for La Camargue, which is the estuary of the Rhone river and it is a National Park.  It is a huge area of marshland where they grow rice and other grains, and harvest salt from the sea (Fleur de Sel). They also raise the small black bulls used for Provencal  bull fighting (unlike Spanish bull fighting, the bull is not killed), as well as white horses.  The horses begin life brown or black and change to white when they are about 3 years old.
About a third of the route duplicated yesterday’s route to Les Baux, then we covered some new territory, skirting Arles, and heading to Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer.  The highway into and out of St-Remy-de-Provence has huge trees on either side, creating a tunnel of leaves.  We believe the trees are sycamores, and I think some of them look old enough to have been there when Van Gogh lived in St. Remy.
We got to Stes-Maries around 11:30, and found a place to park, then had lunch.  We had a “daube,” which is a stew.  In our case it was made from bull meat and had a very dark and delicious sauce.  It was served with locally grown rice and was really good!  We then walked around the town for a little while.  Stes. Maries isn’t a very picturesque town and it’s very flat as it is right at the sea.  It reminds me a little of Santa Cruz, CA.  There is an interesting old church, but mostly it is shops and restaurants catering to tourists.  It was easier for Mom to get around since it is flat and there aren’t any cobblestones.
The legend is that a boat was abandoned in c40 by Jews of Jerusalem which, without a sail or oar, landed safely on the shore of Les-Saintes-Maries.  The boat carried Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Martha and her brother Lazarus, and Mary Salome, the mother of James and John, among others,  including Sarah, the two Marys’ black servant.  Martha and Mary Magdalene went elsewhere, but the other 2 Marys and Sarah stayed in the Camargue, eventually dying and were buried in Stes-Maries.  (abridged from the Michelin Green Guide) The significance of this that Sarah became the patron saint of the Roma people (gypsies), who live in the area, and there is a “reunion” of the Roma people in Stes-Maries every spring.  When we were there today, some Roma women tried to sell us medals and trinkets.
When we visited the Camargue five years ago, we drove down the other side of the river, and didn’t see a lot of bulls or horses, but today, we saw lots of them.  The Camargue is also famous for its flamingos, which arrive here from Africa in the spring and return in the fall.  We saw a lot of the flamingos last time when we were here in April, but not very many today.  Today, we took a boat trip up the Petit Rhone (the Rhone splits into 2 branches at Arles).  We saw several Great Blue Herons, some white egrets, gulls, as well as bulls and horses.  It was a nice trip, taking about 1 ½ hours and since it cost just 10 euros each, it was a pretty good deal.  When we got off the boat, we were in need of refreshment before starting for home.
We retraced our route back home, arriving a little before 7:00.  It was a long day, but a good one.   The weather was good – the sun was hot out on the water – but by the time we left Stes-Maries, it was starting to get overcast.  Hoping for some blue sky tomorrow as we are meeting Kathy & Royal Larison, who are staying in Avignon, and visiting some of the hill towns of the Luberon.
Update on Mom’s pet salamander:  when we got home, he was finally gone from the shower.  We are hoping he was able to get out through the drain.  I think she’d better check her bed before getting in it tonight.  I know I’m going to check mine!

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