Instead of flying to Marseille and making my way from there to my artist residency near Aureille in Provence, I decided to catch the fast train, the TGV and then regular train it to Arles where my host, Vianney Pinon, would collect me. I really wanted to see more of the countryside and experience more of French life. From a tourist point of view, the experience of catching the train was very easy and pleasant. I departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminal 2 and it was clean, well signposted with clear directions about timing of trains, the platform (information is put up 20 minutes before the train arrives) and the exact place to stand on the platform based on your seat number. The only downside was the lack of luggage space in the carriage and there was no way I could heave my suitcase onto the overhead rack! Again, a kind Frenchman did it for me.
It’s a really smooth ride and there were only about four stops. After a while the woman next to me offered me the window seat and then we started to talk to each other – so I had my first real conversation in halting French. She was patient and slowed down when I didn’t understand (they talk so fast!) and helped with words and phrases, so I learned some more. So glad I took French for a few years at high school.
Changing trains at Marseilles wasn’t too problematic but there wasn’t much time and I wasn’t sure where to go but the information booth was helpful and the platform was very close. It was great to see Vianney waiting for me in Arles and to welcome me to Provence. Arles is itself a fascinating town, built originally by the Greeks and then the Romans built it into the capital of Roman Gaul. I intend to explore it today, so will write a later on that subject.
On my arrival at Ateliers Four Winds I was amazed when I saw my beautiful apartment – it is huge and light – it is a quarter of a large house split into four. That evening I had dinner with Vianney and Ursula Hanes, an internationally famous sculptor who has lived there for many years and the next evening I met another of the residents, Sabine’s mother, Jeanne, who was for many years a restorer of paintings at the Louvre and now paints wonderful portraits. Sabine is currently in Australia and is Vianney’s wife – they run this residency together.
I also have a HUGE studio to work in – and in the same area (but quite private) Ursula has a studio, there is a teaching studio and a vast library. There are also cabins to stay in – a couple is coming on the weekend to start their artwork and a communal kitchen/dining area which opens onto a swimming pool (covered at present as it is a bit too cool). The weather has been lovely apart from a cold wind yesterday – The Mistral wind comes from the north and is really severe and cold, but it is the reason for such clear air.
On my first day I checked out my surroundings and walked into Aureille, a charming, sleepy village with lovely haphazard buildings and wildflowers growing all the way along the track into town (Poppies, Irises, Thyme, Rosemary, Daisies, Euphorbia and groves of olive trees). I feel as if I am inside a Van Gogh painting. I gathered some wildflowers after having a cafe au lait in the only shop open (It was Monday – ferme le Lundi) and then painted them as a first work in my studio.
Actually, I have now been to Arles and walked all over the old city – amazing, there are Roman Walls, most of an amphitheatre (in Medieval times it was used as a quarry, so quite a lot went missing! There are Romanesque churches, narrow lane ways paved with cobbles, the Rhone River – which is vast and fast flowing – I walked along the Roman built banks and nearly got blown in (not really!) by the force of the freezing wind and had to take refuge in a book/art supplies shop. Cafe au lait in the Place Voltaire and a bit of sketching and then into the amphitheatre (like the Colosseum) and climbed to the top of the tower to get a magnificent view of the town. More walking through history and then an ice cream and a modern art exhibition in an ancient building on the Place de la Republique. By the time Vianney collected me after his business meeting, my legs were mere stumps!
After all this touristing, my students will be pleased to know that I actually have been painting and sketching – it is very light until quite late – and think I am making progress in developing my artistic style.