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the dream…Saint-Remy de Provence

The Guinea Pig and I took a fast train south, from Paris to Provence. It was our first time in southern France and we  weren’t sure that we’d made the right choice on where to land…that is, until we arrived. Then we knew.  Saint-Rémy was just our speed.

Situated in the heart of the Alpilles,  Saint-Rémy is built on one of the oldest archeological sites in all of Europe. (The next travel post – I’ll share some amazing ruins virtually “next door” – inhabited by the Romans between the 6th century BCE and 3rd century AD.) The current town of St. Rémy is encircled by remnants of its original 14th century walls. Some of the buildings’ facades date to the Renaissance.

This town was the birthplace of the famous astrologer and physician Nostradamus.

(More recently, Van Gogh spent years here…but more about that in a moment.)

Nostradamus

Saint-Rémy is filled with Renaissance facades, residences, convents and chapels. Its winding streets are cobbled and water drains down the center.

The sun shines hard here and the mistral winds blow fiercely when they do.

Pick a color, and then pastel it…or silk it…these are the colors Saint-Rémy wears.

Windows bear shutters

and frequently wear flowers.

~ ~ ~

Because the Guinea and I tend to eat our three squares no matter where we are, we’ve developed a nose for the aromas of good food rising from the stove and wafting out the windows. We found some of our favorite here…

‘Twas so good in fact, we found it twice…

~ ~ ~

We experienced a couple highlights during our stay in Saint-Rémy, apart from the food. One, the Roman ruins of Glanum I’ll share next time;

the other, so moving, was the Cloître Saint-Paul, and with it, the Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was confined for a time. (1889-90)

Some of his most famous paintings were done during his stay here. (Among the many,  Starry Night and Self-Portrait.) When you walk the beautiful hushed grounds here, you’ll see where he set his easel and pulled out his brushes to paint. And you’ll see the magic that was Vincent’s mind.

Vincent’s room, with its view onto the gardens…

I don’t know whether you can understand that one may make a poem only by arranging colors…In a similar manner the bizarre lines, purposely selected and multiplied, meandering all through the picture, may not present a literal image of the garden, but may present it to our minds as in a dream, depicting its character, and at the same time stranger than it is in reality.

from a letter van Gogh wrote to his sister Wilhelmina

~ ~ ~

Out the ancient weathered doors lie the rows of lavender and the beds of irises Vincent so loved.

They weren’t in bloom for us of course.  We were late.

Walking these grounds, seeing the source of some of his most beautiful paintings, hearing his words, standing in his spare and solitary room…

 Vincent’s spirit still permeates this place. The torment that was brought on him by his mental illness still lingers here. And yet, so too does some of the beauty that his dreaming mind and sky eyes saw.

~ ~ ~

A note on the work of the Cloître

and the Dreams of Provence

The facility that was once the residence of Vincent van Gogh still houses and treats the mentally ill. Lining the walls of the covered walkways that surround the cloister, you’ll see their art work…their paintings, their drawings. And you’ll also see photographs of these residents dressed in costume, their expressive faces comic or serious, laughing, embracing, playing the roles they have chosen…

Here is an explanation of this phenomenal on-going project…

p.s. I haven’t forgotten food (no never!)…stay tuned…

52 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful photos, Antoinette, and a wonderful art project — I intend to read more about it now.

    November 2, 2012
    • Sharyn, thank you! You as an artist will so appreciate the work they’re doing!

      November 2, 2012
  2. Mari Anna #

    Exquisite photos Antoinette, you have certainly captured the spirit!
    Chapeau my friend!

    November 2, 2012
  3. carolyn #

    Isn’t this a FOOD blog, purists may wonder??? WHERE are the food pics and the RECIPE?

    But there’s fake food and there’s real food.
    And there’s the kind you eat, then pass.
    And there’s the kind that nourishes you long after you’ve digested.

    These photos are not to be approached like the usual servings of beauty platter that bounce at us, and off of us. These hold a particular fineness of quality that requires a b s o r b i n g.

    When I do this, something shifts in me. It’s deeper than my mind’s continuous narrative, “Oh, that’s pretty! Oh, THAT’S pretty!! Oh, that’s PRETTY! ” If I truly listen with my eyes, I get filled by something gentle, deep, gliding, and completely unimposing.

    And I’m surprised at which ones touch me the deepest. They offer so much more than a wonderful, fleeting aesthetic. To my hungry heart, they offer transformation.

    Try it! When you can take a little time, simply pick any of her photo’s and s t a r e at it.

    November 2, 2012
    • I am so humbled, Carolyn, that nearly all words have left. I know that you too can barely peel your eyes from what you see…there is just far too much beauty in this world to comprehend! Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for such lovingly beautiful words as these! xxoo

      November 3, 2012
  4. Beautiful … Thank you for transporting me to such a lovely place.

    November 2, 2012
    • Thank YOU Mar…it was purely my pleasure! 🙂

      November 3, 2012
  5. Such an eye you have, Spree! This is a lovely part of a beguiling country and, truth be told, one would be hard-pressed to find a poor shot. Even so, that doesn’t in any way diminish these photos. They’re not just beautiful, Spree; they’re stunning. Simply stunning. Thank you so much for sharing them, and your talent, with us.

    November 3, 2012
    • You’re so right John, look left, look right, look up…yet another spot of beauty! And for eyes so steeped in sights and histories only a couple hundred years old, this sort of landscape is just wondrous and endlessly beautiful to me! (I appreciate so much your kind words John!)

      November 3, 2012
  6. You see why I love France and living in her.

    November 3, 2012
    • I do I do I do! If all my loved ones weren’t here, the temptation would be very real!

      November 3, 2012
  7. What a very, v ery beautiful place – have never been, but you know now that it´s on the list?!

    November 3, 2012
    • It seems to me, the more we see, the longer the list grows of what we’d yet love to see! I hope you’ll make it Tanya…St Remy was such a quiet and lovely place to spend a few days.

      November 3, 2012
  8. Ah wandering down twisting and turning streets. interesting to see what your eyes see and what is new to you.
    I had no idea about the art project, thank-you.
    wonderful photos too !!

    November 3, 2012
    • Claire…so here’s the thing…living in the western part of the US, our oldest buildings are only a couple hundred years old. (and there are precious few of those.) Our history is new, not ancient. Almost no streets cobbled, almost no windows shuttered, almost no paint pealing. So to see an environment so steeped in culture and history is just Marvelous to me! At the same time, I can appreciate (well, sort of) how “ordinary” it is if you’re living in it. And you’re so right, what is “new” to me is all this “oldness!” 🙂

      November 3, 2012
      • I totally oved seeing Europe through your eyes, it reminds me a bit of my first trips as a young teenager, and seeing things first hand is always a delight. But you know what I think th eolder you get the better travel gets – you see so much more from that table at a street cafe !

        November 3, 2012
  9. Lovely photos of a wonderful part of Provence…one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing.

    November 3, 2012
    • I figured that you had spent time in this part of France Karen, and loved it well! Entirely my pleasure to share! (but YOU know that!) 🙂

      November 3, 2012
  10. Oh my goodness. This post truly makes me want to weep. The beauty. The sorrow. The project. The photographs — that one of the wicker wheelchair by the window kills me. This line — “Pick a color, and then pastel it…or silk it…these are the colors Saint-Rémy wears.”
    I agree wholeheartedly with Carolyn: this is nourishment of the deepest kind. Connecting with soul, art, beauty in all its unexpected ways. Through the door of pain, through peeling paint. All of it. My word.

    November 3, 2012
    • Ashley, now I’m the one who needs to cry. (OK everyone, this is not for public consumption… this is a moment between my daughter and me… 🙂 ) I know you understand how deeply moved we were by our experiences in St Remy. (THIS is why we travel, right?) And like I said to Carolyn, there is far too much beauty in this world (but also far too much sorrow) for us to comprehend. I’m so grateful for the eyes you see the world with, for your deep heart, and so happy to share this journey with you!
      such love, your mama spree

      November 3, 2012
  11. Beautiful pictures, and a wonderful travelogue and introduction to this fine place… a very enjoyable read. Thank you.

    November 3, 2012
    • Thank YOU Shimon! Happy you enjoyed.

      November 3, 2012
  12. Your sweet poet’s self comes through in these lush photos, spree.. I, too, loved Provence.. the culture, food, it’s where I long to reside one day.. and I’m certain you would too? ..at least to linger.. Perhaps a month of summer with photography, painting classes, glasses of absinthe (well, maybe white wine), writing workshops.. Yes, this is on my bucket list. I especially enjoyed your visit to Vincent’s rooms.. it was heartbreaking to read about the suffering of such a talented artist. xx

    November 3, 2012
    • Ahhh linger for sure! And how to linger? Your picture sounds about perfect. One day, you and yours and me and mine will meet…if we’re especially lucky, it will be in Provence!
      I know not everyone would want to hear this, but I know you’ll understand…so touching, moving, heart-breaking…the heart such a part of that experience that I’ll never forget our time in Vincent’s place. Thank you Smidge, so much, and always. xx

      November 4, 2012
  13. You know Spree, when I was reading through the begining of your post I was thinking ..oh how I would love to try and paint a few of these scenes!
    But then came the wonderful work of Van Gogh, isn’t it amazing how so much beauty can come from so much suffering? or is it that creativity and beauty are our attempt to heal or balance the harshness of suffering?
    A single lonely white iris in a sea of purple ones, or is it a single unique one? a leader? a visionary?.. paintings are indeed poems that only the eyes can hear..
    Thank you is such an understatement Spree for sharing this with us

    November 3, 2012
    • Oh Sawsan, I’d be so happy knowing you painted one of these scenes! And if you do, will you let me know?
      But then, yes, Vincent…I think you’ve struck upon the very truth of the matter.Of course this doesn’t apply to all artists…but it does to some of our greatest….there is this driving force to paint (to sculpt, to compose, to write) so great that when one is not doing it, one is consumed by the thinking of it. Some have this singular drive that doesn’t allow them true contentment – unless they’re in the midst of their creation…and then, I wonder, is THAT truly contentment, peace, balance? Or is it merely heeding the compulsion that ends (momentarily) the angst? You know what I mean? On the one hand I come very close to envying that assured singularity of purpose…but what stops me is the question, is there happiness for them apart from their art? Of course I don’t know!! In van Gogh’s case, it’s not disputed that he had a mental illness and fought against serious and debilitating depression…but was he ALSO a visionary, and to that, I have to believe (without question) yes. So you can imagine Sawsan, this was a very very touching experience, being “somehow” so near him. Thank you so very much my friend!! Your comments mean a lot!

      November 4, 2012
  14. Kelly Loggan #

    Your photos are “most” exquisite…lovely symetry, lines, color, depth, light and shadow, balance and hue…another feast for my eyes. Thank you for taking me on this journey with your expert “capturing” of this place and it’s story…loved it 🙂 and you honey bunch…your writing brings me in to such a savory sigh…thx Sweet Pea

    November 4, 2012
    • You are so kind Kelly! Thank you thank you!

      November 4, 2012
  15. PROVENCE is just so beautiful and you have captured that magical atmosphere, adore the internal shot of the bistro 🙂 your forte!

    November 4, 2012
    • (of course that was one of my favorites too Lesley, forte or not! 🙂 ) And yes, such a beautiful place…imbued with some sort of elegant and earthy grace. We so loved it!

      November 4, 2012
  16. What a Cute Place to explore – loving your photos – thanks for sharing!

    November 4, 2012
    • Thank YOU so much. Happy you’re along!!

      November 4, 2012
  17. Without trying to sound poetical Spree, my heart truly feels bigger and lighter for having looked at your beautiful pictures. Absolutely stunning! Thank you.

    November 4, 2012
    • Oh you’re not going to get all poetical on me now are you Brydie? 🙂 it makes me very happy to hear your heart was lifted by what you saw. Truly makes my day! Thank you! xx

      November 5, 2012
  18. deb #

    I have such a desire to see Provence now, and hope to one day. Seeing where Vincent Van Gogh resided made me very emotional (especially the wicker chair). For now, I will enjoy the lovely photos and stories, again and again. I was so touched by it all. Bless you for sharing what was clearly a special trip for you & your Guinea 🙂 xo

    November 4, 2012
  19. Beautiful photos. I was there on a bicycle tour about 10 years ago. It is such a beautiful place. Thank you for bringing back the memories.

    November 5, 2012
    • Thank you! I’m happy you stopped by! While my husband and I were there we saw lots of bicycling tourists in St Remy and thought this would be a lovely way to see Provence up close and “slow”. Glad to have brought back memories! 🙂

      November 5, 2012
  20. Wonderful pictures from what seems a very wonderful place. My favorite is the window with the light blue panes and flowers.

    November 5, 2012
    • Oh thank you! That’s a favorite of mine too! (glad you stopped by)

      November 7, 2012
  21. Absolute stunning photos – you have caught the France I love so much …. You and your camera is a fantastic team. Wonderful.

    November 5, 2012
    • That I’ve captured the France YOU love too makes me happy Viveka! Thank you very much for stopping by and leaving such a nice compliment!

      November 5, 2012
      • Your photos .. are just like France that I love and that I want it to stay as. Stunning.

        November 6, 2012
  22. I don’t mind about the food. What a fabulous place, and a fabulous post this is..

    November 5, 2012
    • Johanna, I’m sure a few lot of the foodies may be yawning by now, or have left the room entirely. There WILL be food but first there will be more photos. (I’m grateful you at least don’t mind! 🙂 ) And thank you very much for leaving such kind words behind!

      November 5, 2012
  23. Wow and Wow and Wow..sorry I am running out of w’s. This is a terrific blog with an exciting collection of photographs. You have really given us a taste( no pun intended) for such a stunning part of France. Thanks for the info regarding the reve de provence project, best regards James

    November 7, 2012
    • Well wow back! Thank you so very much! I’m really happy to have you as a follower. I so enjoy seeing your work!

      November 7, 2012
  24. The photo of the street with the curved arches that went on and on just captivated me. And the pastels of the buildings, too. But Vincent’s room and words touched a special place I have al;ways held for him. While in school I read his letters to his brother, Theo, and Theo’s replies. How I wish he could have known how loved an artist he turned out to be.

    November 8, 2012
    • Ronnie…I’m really grateful for your comment! I read the book too of the letters between Vincent and Theo…so incredibly moving, touching that was! We have to wonder don’t we (?) what a difference it might have made to him to know how loved he was, how treasured his work, how lovely his soul! Again, thank you for sharing what you did!

      November 8, 2012
  25. Stunning. You most certainly landed in the right place. I love this town and it’s surroundings.
    To say your photos are postcard worthy really doesn’t do them justice… they are beyond.
    What a wonderful experience.
    And I like your mention of lingering. Personally, actually living in a dream such as the kind evoked in these photos can be different than our fantasy. I’ve tried a few times and now I’ve finally realized as much as I adore these otherly worlds, I want to come home…x

    November 12, 2012
    • Wendy, I so appreciate your kind words! Thank you very very much!
      So far, I’ve never made it past the “dreaming” stages…thinking, ohhhh, what would it be like to actually Live here, to wake here every day…ahhhh? I permit myself the luxury of blissful ignorance, because, like you, I so love dreaming and I so love Home! x

      November 12, 2012

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