Arles was our final destination. Best known as the inspiration for the several hundred canvases Van Gogh painted there in 1888 and 1889, this small city is sunny, cozy, and colorful. Indeed, parts of it are unchanged since
Van Gogh’s day and on the morning we visited we were duly directed to a café with yellow awnings in the center of town, still open for business, that Van Gogh immortalized as “Le Café la Nuit” and later to the hospital where he was taken when he had his breakdowns.
Less well known is Arles’s affection for bullfights, a seasonal attraction mounted in a coliseum built by the Romans two millennia ago and resuscitated at the beginning of the 20th century.
As we know, in Spain the bullfight is over when the beast is killed. In France, the exhausted bulls are allowed to go home afterwards to recuperate and fight another day — at least if they’re French bulls. Sometimes the bulls in Arles are imported from Spain. Much bigger and brawnier than their French cousins, these bulls are killed at the end of the match.
One way or another, the butcher shops in Arles are pleased to offer gardiane de taureau and terrine de taureau. Buying or making one of these delicacies on our shores wouldn’t be like snapping your fingers, but it’s easy enough to read about them. Here’s a recipe.
That afternoon the venue changed and I attended a show designed to appeal to our more elevated sensibilities. Held at Les Carrieres de Lumieres in the ancient town of Baux-de-Provence, it was devoted to the work of the painter Marc Chagall.
The museum projected huge blow-ups of Chagall’s work onto the walls of a limestone quarry while music from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, and Prokofiev played. It was magical.
The Les Baux boutiques also had their charms. I hadn’t planned on it, but it was right there that my Christmas shopping began.
The Husband, tired of culture high and low, stayed in Tarascon, where we were docked, and visited the local cemetery on his own. It was quiet and beautiful, he said, crowded with graves, but empty of other living humans. He returned to the ship refreshed.
And that was it. Back on the Heimdal for our final dinner, we ate and drank well and enjoyed grown-up conversation with some of the friends we’d made during the cruise. As ever, the service was super-competent and friendly. Indeed, Viking takes care to hire and train an exceptional staff. We were especially impressed by Nicholas our program director, a young Belgian who spent years growing up in Phoenix. Smart, funny, and organized, Nick was the glue that held us all together. What more can I say? This Viking cruise of the Rhone River turned out to be the perfect way for The Husband and me to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.