Sunday, August 17, 2014

Postacard from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence - part two


Part two -  a little history, culture, folklore and tradition...

Saint-Remy-de-Provence is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Remnants have been found there dating as far back as 1000 BC. But Saint-Rémy really takes off, (so to speak) under the Roman Empire.

There is an entire area right on the edge of the small town, on the road leading to the Baux-de-Provence (another wonderful place to visit), called Glanum. On this ancient Roman site, there are (amongst others) the fragments of two remarkable  monuments dating back to approximately 30 AD, back to a Roman era also referred to as "Les Antiques". One is the oldest "Arch de Triomphe" in France and the other the "Mausolée des Jules".

 After the Middle-Ages, Saint-Rémy is also noted for its' very rich intellectual and artistic heritage. It could be said that the first great intellectual to mark the history of the place, is no other than Nostradamus, best-known as the author of the "Prophecies". Born in Saint Rémy in 1503, he was a reputed doctor, engaged in fighting the terrible plague epidemic, and a poet.

Nostradamus Fountain - by Liotard de Lambesc - 1814

During the Rennaissance, a rich local family, the De Sâde's, (relatives of the famous and controversial Marquis...) owned a grand home in St.Rémy. It is known today as the Hôtel de Sâde, a museum with a large collection of "Les Antiques" pieces.  

Hôtel de Sâde

Beautiful old Saint-Rémy

The artistic world is also well represented in Saint-Rémy, with the likes of Frédéric Mistral, Charles Gounod and of course, Vincent Van Gogh.

Frédéric Mistral, (a famous writer, poet and lexicographer)  although not a native of Saint-Rémy, was born close by, in Maillane. He led the revival of the Provençal literature in France and was awarded the 1904 Nobel Prize in Literature. His most famous work; "Mirélo", a long poem in the provençal language he so ardently defended, consisting of 12 songs, took him 8 years to complete. It is a Roméo and Juliette kind of love story and in this version, poor Juliette Mirélo dies of sunstroke in Roméo's Vincents' (her love) arms in front of her parents who caused all this drama to begin with by not letting their daughter marry (below her social condition) the man she loved.... Aaaahhh l'ammoouur, toujours....

This masterpiece of Provençal literature (now I'm being serious actually), inspired the famous music composer Charles Gounod, author of numerous Operas and religious pieces (his beautiful "Avé Maria" just being one of them).  Gounod  therefore settled in Saint-Rémy in March 1863 for 2 months to compose what was to become a world-acclaimed Opera: "Mireille".

But Saint-Rémy-de-Provence's most illustrious guest is undoubtedly Vincent Van Gogh.

Van Gogh was treated in the psychatric centre of the Monastery Saint-Paul-de-Mausole (May 1889 - May 1890) as a self-admitted patient. Comforted to find the care and  understanding he was seeking, and greatly influenced by the quality of the natural light and the beautiful scenery around him, Van Gogh painted profusely during his one year stay in Saint-Rémy. He completed some 150 paintings there, among which,  "Starry Night", "the Irises", "Wheat Field with Cypresses"...

The gardens of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole


Starry Night

The Irises

Wheat Field with Cypresses

The time Van Gogh spent in Saint-Rémy is considered a major period in his art and the series of some 150 paintings he did while he was there is also referred to as the "Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy, Series". He left Saint-Rémy and the asylum, in May 1890 for Auvers-sur-Oise, where he died 2 months later (after shooting himself in the chest 2 days prior), on July 29th 1890.

On a lighter note, there are fun traditions to be shared in Saint Rémy too. Like the "Transhumance", the "Féria Provençale" or the "Course à la Cocarde"...
Let's start with the Transhumance

The Transhumance is a seasonal mouvement, usually at the end of May/and/or beginning of June, , where shepherds lead their livestock to higher mountain pastures. This used to take days and days, but now, livestock is moved by trucks mostly. Less charming certainly, but faster and more adapted to modern life!  Nevertheless, to keep up with the ancient  tradition, and for one special day, Saint-Rémy becomes the theatre of a wonderful celebration. 

In the morning, around 10 am, more than 3'000 sheep, descending from Les Alpilles,  as well as donkeys, goats, shepherds and sheepdogs, parade twice around the old town center. The vision of this ocean of sheep along with all the bleating, braying and barking, fills the air with excitement and fun for young and old and for locals and tourists alike.

Oh !  I want to be meeeee....

Next, the Féria Provençale.

It takes place around mid-August and lasts about 3 days with different highlights; the "Carreto Ramado", the "Encierro" and the "Roussataio". The Féria is probably the most popular event of the summer.
The Carreto Ramado, or 'flowered cart' is a very large cart, decorated with flowers and branches and filled with fresh produce from the area of Saint-Rémy. It is pulled by 50 strong horses, all 'dressed up' and lookin' good! After being blessed, the cart and horse 'équipage' tour the town. Men, women and children, wearing beautiful and traditional Provençal dress, parade along proudly.

The Carreto Ramado filled with goodies

 The Encierro is basically the 'running of bulls'. The bulls,  although escorted by horsemen through the town streets, are pretty much left to run free within security (hopefully - as long as people stay behind them...) barriers. In other words, this is supposed to be 'controlled' running! 

Horses parade too..and it's called the Roussataio. On the last evening of the Féria celebrations, 100 mares and foals run loose around the city escorted by the "Gardians" - Provence's answer to the Cowboy.  The Gardians are the cowboys of the Camargue region where bulls are raised and where this fine, sturdy and trusty working companion - the 'Camarguais' horse - is bred and also still runs wild in the Camargue marshes...(but that's another story...).

Speaking of the Gardians...I really like their 'working' clothes (just like I loooove cowboy stuff...) and you can buy items of Gardian clothing in Saint-Rémy at 'Esprit de Famille'. Interested?...Here are a few pics to get your attention...


Quelle allure...  I may just have to get this jupe-culotte for winter...

 or these cuties...


I think these make pretty nice fashion statements...don't you ?

So, to finish up; back to folklore and tradition in Saint-Rémy... (I guess I can never stay away from 'fashion' for too long ...) 

A very amusing and entertaining event to go watch is the "Course à la Cocarde". Lots of fun and very athletic too...

 When we went to see this, there were no tourists (except us!!) only locals.... quite unique in the middle of tourist summer season. 

The 'race for the cocarde' is a traditional game in a small village arena (which is used as the 'bullring') involving a young, vigorous, feisty bull, weighing about 500 kilos (mais oui...) and 4-20 fine young men (vs 1 bull... !) wearing tight white pants (but that, of course, is beside the point...) ! How does this work you may ask... Well, for starters, nobody (man or beast) gets hurt; and if anyone gets scratched, it's not the bull ! The men wearing t-shirts with their names in black letters are the "raseteurs" or skimmers, and those in red letters are the "tourneurs". Their job is to distract the bull so the raseteur can position himself at best to snip off with a special knuckle, claw-like tool (very scary looking, btw...), the ribbons and tassels (cocarde et glands) that have been attached between the bull's horns. Not an easy task considering you have a 500 kilo bull chasing after when there is no further escape, the raseteur soars through the air in airborne acrobatics, flying to the safety of the railings of the arena. All this much to the delight of the public and with a local band playing and wearing 'hawaian' shirts (no kidding - got pictures to prove it...) !!!!
Each move is worth a certain sum of money (quite sensible I reassure you - this is not Monte Carlo!) and every successful move generates more bidding by local shops and businesses whose names are blared from the loud speakers, et tout ça in that singing accent Provençal!   

Voilà la cocarde (ribbon), glands (tassels) and scary looking whatchamagigger....claw thingy...

see....Hawaian shirts...told you...

Big Bull

"One, two, Freddy's coming for you"...A nightmare on Elm's Street...? Noooo... an afternoon in Saint-Rémy

Les Belles Dames

It's a's a's RASETEUR !!!

Men in Black... Men in Red...and...Bull, Bully, Bull Bull...

 Whew... c'est fini...but there was so much I wanted to share...when it comes to Saint-Rémy I get carried away ! What can I say ???  I just Love the place.....

 I promise my next postcard will take you to an amazing site, not far from Saint-Rémy, a place that changes every year : a chameleon-like place I love...

so join me for my next post...

Postcard from... Carrières de Lumières...

A très vite...

Credits:- wikipedia,,,,,,,,,,


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