Monday, June 11, 2012

View on the Rhone



"Why don't you write more about the Rhone?" Remi asked one day while I was putting together yet another post rhapsodizing over the inherent power of the crumbly remnants of time. "What do you mean?" I tossed back with a casual tilt then scratch of my cheek. "The Rhone," he repeated flatly. I blinked and tried to look winsome.


Yes, I know it is the reason why Arles exists, why Arelate or "town above the marshy lands" became so powerful in Roman times. Because a river runs through it. While preparing my first guided tour--given recently to an indescribably lovely group of Australian readers of this blog--its importance was a key thread of the conversation. Having the southern-most bridge before the Mediterranean while intersecting on the roads to Italy and Spain, it was the crossroads of Gaul. Spices and exotic goods came in, jars of wine, olive oil and fish flowed out, offering wealth for all involved. Times have changed--its days as an important port ending abruptly with the arrival of train transportation--but the river's appeal has not.


I love the Rhone deeply. I stroll the recently renovated quay with Ben, my Golden Retriever nearly every day and I am not alone. It is one of the social centers of the city, where one can be lost in thought or cling laughingly to the arm of a companion. It is ever-changing depending on the light, the time of day, the season and roil of the current. Vincent Van Gogh painted it often, also drawn to its mercurial nature.


Which, I realized this morning is exactly why I don't mention it more frequently despite it's being such an important part of our daily lives in Arles--parce que le fleuve coule, it slips through my fingers. I can't capture it in words or images in any way that is satisfactory to me but I can try. I grabbed my camera, called my faithful canine companion and headed out the door.


The Rhone is not neutral, it is nature. The Mistral winds can gather enough force off the winter waves to knock a strong man down. In 2003, the river rose with the rains to kiss the underside of the bridge, spilling over the banks and leaving many homeless for months. But I prefer to focus on all it gives. It is where I have gone on my darkest days, confident that the tide would pull my worries away and where Remi and I walked to celebrate buying our first house here, one whose roof terrace looked onto its shimmering surface. Perhaps that is why the Rhone makes Arles synonymous with home. It is hard to imagine living without it.













42 comments:

  1. Hello Heather:
    How beautifully we drifted along to the lapping sounds of the Rhone which, certainly in our ears, accompanied this post. These mighty rivers of Europe have such a primeval strength that they both tantalise and terrorise simultaneously, always capturing our hearts as well as reminding us of the power of Nature, so much more, so very much more than any Human force.

    You have certainly captured here such beauty, such a golden light and the deepness of waters which touch the very soul.Yes, life giving, life threatening and life enhancing, the Rhone!

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    1. Yes, you have the Danube and I have the Rhone. Not to mention your rooms at Brighton. So our love of being near water is something that we have in common.

      As I was taking the photos yesterday to round out this post, there was a massive tree trunk being slowly carried along the current, equal with my pace as I walked. I contemplated trying to photograph it but it was just a small dot in the middle of the river. It looked like nothing and yet was not not. Yes, the river can be deceptive and is not to be taken for granted.

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  2. Heather

    I have been dying to come to France. Your posts are so inspiring and make me want to visit all the more! Love your dog!

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    1. Thanks Cindy! I hope you do make it here some day--and when you do, please remember there is so much more to see than just Paris... :)

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  3. Sending greetings from Florida's East Coast - Thanks so much for all the beautiful pictures - Brings back so many fond memories from my visit in Sept 2011. I took some of the same pictures... They make a wonderful Screensaver:)

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    1. How lovely that you were here! I hope that you enjoyed your visit. :)

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  4. The scale of the rivers in Europe and America always puts our tiny little humanness back into perspective, I always fancy. So very massive.

    Now, to an Australian, a trickle of water is lovingly called a creek, and what we term a "river" is what the rest of the world would laughingly refer to as a creek. For water in our country is revered beyond all other elements of nature, with it comes life and fortune. Sometimes death and destruction too - but more often life. And to its mighty power we humans can simply stand by and remember that we don't always control everything, much as we like to.

    Your photographs and words absolutely do it justice - I can sense the almighty power that this beautiful river possesses. A most wonderful place to walk each day.

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    1. Gosh, I don't think that they do it justice but it is hard to wrap around something so huge. And yes, I can only imagine the value of water for you, something that you have grown up with--quite different than in the States where we utterly take it for granted. And it is a lovely place to walk! I will be heading there with Ben in a bit.

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  5. You live in a magical place, Heather, and Ben is such a good companion.
    Best...Victoria

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    1. He is Victoria, although a lazy one! He knows the exact point where we turn back and only then will pick up the pace!

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  6. Fantastic post, Heather! I can't believe the timing! I was thinking last night about the reason for the historic settlement comme the oldest and large cities in France. I was thinking about the marshy Camargue, the Rhone and the Seine and about Arles and Paris. Why there in those places, what was there in ancient times that set them apart from any other location? I love the history of an area. am always very curious. This history of place or things seems to melt into my soul. Please extend my gratitude to Remi and many thanks to you for your photos and this post! Stunning... in so many ways!
    Big Hugs, Chris

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    1. Thank you so much Chris! The history here is overwhelming at times, the layers upon layers of it. You might be interested to know that in Roman times, the bridge was made up of a series of boats that were joined together with a passageway on top. They were placed just beyond the bend in the last photo, where the current slows down before making the turn and could rise and fall with the water levels far better than a set structure! Amazing, non?

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    2. Mais oui, bien sur! Aujourd'hui, je pense, oui, the bend in la Seine ou la Rhone, etc., the river slows, an almost circular geography terre et eau. Et voila, vous dit la meme. C'est toujours l'eau, n'est pas? I'm going with that!
      So interesting...for me to hear of, and you to live close to the cradle of civilization and the milieu of that totality today.
      The 'bridge' info, truly, is amazing considering the same solution still exists today, in sophisticated places like Seattle.
      I love what you write...the layers are present there as well.
      A la prochaine. Merci pour votre reponse!
      xoxo, Chris

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  7. These images transport me. There's something very stark yet peaceful in them. That sense of history that is lacking in many areas of the US, that somehow grounds us.

    There's so much of France I've yet to explore. Espérons... un beau jour...

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    1. Yes, and I hope that for you as well! Your kind comment made me remember something that I had wished to write--concerning the weight of water pulling within us. More than a cool hand on a feverish forehead. As the Hattats so perfectly wrote (and I often feel that I should just let them write my blog for me)--a primeval force.

      I have been saving your last two posts for a chunk of time when I can read them uniterrupted! Looking forward to it.

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  8. Lovely post Heather, I am always awestruck by the scale and lengths of French rivers. The Rhone is a mighty one indeed and with such a rich history.

    I especially love the photo of the river and the wildflowers, it reminds me of a Renoir Painting.

    XXX

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    1. Methinks you are being all too kind but I will take that compliment nonetheless! :)

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  9. Arles was one of the first towns I visited in France in 1995 (I came up from Spain). I fell in love with it then and that love has remained. How lucky you are to stroll the quays of the Rhone daily!

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    1. I agree Liza. And how lucky are you to be able to go to Treasure Mart, get Cottage Inn Mediterranean Pizza and splurge at Vinololgy? ;)

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  10. I had no idea Arles was so big or on the Rhone. Ben looks like he's very happy looking out over the water. You live in such a beautiful place.

    XX
    Debra~

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    1. Hello Debra! Believe it or not, Arles is the largest city in France land-wise--it is takes up ten times the space of Paris!! And as for the history, I really need to write more about it because it is fascinating!
      xo!

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  11. The Rhone is so big! And you captured its moodiness in both the words and the photos. I like that now I can think of you and Ben taking your walk by the river that once was "the crossroads of Gaul," while Karina and I are taking our daily constitutional in the woods where Thoreau once roamed.

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    1. That made me say "Oh my" out loud! I love that. More photos from your walks please!!!

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  12. Thank you for this wonderful post. It brought the portion of the Rhone that flows through Arles right to us. What a gift you give your readers!

    I live in Portland, Oregon, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. With Henry, our 9-year-old Golden Retriever, and Bob, our 6-year-old long-haired dachshund, my husband and I boat on those rivers, usually picnicing on an isolated stretch of sand on the Columbia and swimming with the dogs, most summer evenings. All four of us have so much fun in the river. Do you and/or Ben like to go in the water of the Rhone?

    The Columbia is a mighty river, but it, of course, does not run through the loveliness of an old European town or city. Thanks to your inspiring words and photographs, I think that our next trips to Europe will focus on exploring the great rivers from land.

    Your admiring reader Leslie

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    1. Leslie, thank you for this lovely response! My oh my, that sounds like Heaven--a summer picnic with the puppers on an isolated beach! Wow. To have our own boat is one of the many dreamy dreams (as in far off) that Remi and I have. Lots of folks do here and go exploring the Calanques near Cassis. Have you ever heard of it? This will give you a tiny idea: http://www.destination360.com/europe/france/marseille/calanques

      Sadly, the Rhone is far, far too polluted for Ben to be able to swim in it. :( We take him to the beach for that!

      I think that exploring the rivers of Europe would be a wonderful trip! But you can always explore them by water too. I haven't done it but know that there are often boats to rent for both bigger excursions or something as simple (for you) as the Canal du Midi--people often rave about that. Don't hesitate to contact me if you want further ideas.

      One last thing--I am fascinated by your town! I proposed doing a story on the food trucks years and years ago (before we heard about them everywhere) but it didn't happen. Something to look forward to!

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    2. Heather, having your own boat may be more feasible than you realize. To purchase and own a boat like ours (in Oregon, at least) is not terribly costly. Our boat is older than our children (built in the 1970's), but sturdy, powerful enough for the big rivers (a strong inboard-outboard engine), wide, safe and easy to clean...perfect for boating with wet dogs and/or kids. Because an older boat like ours is not "glamorous," one in good running order can be had for $2000-3000 (or less) here. Since the engine on our boat is in good shape, our main ongoing expenses are for fuel, insurance and materials for re-doing the upholstery and floor every few years.

      Yes, Kristin at French-Word-A-Day introduced me to the Calanques near Cassis, and exploring that area is high on our list. Thank you for the link; I'll take a look at it as soon as I can find more than five open minutes!

      I'm so sorry that pollution is that bad on the Rhone. That used to be the case with the Willamette, but a couple of major efforts to clean it up and keep it that way has brought it back to good health. I'm glad Ben gets to swim at the beach. Henry and Bob love nothing more than to play in the surf at the Oregon coast.

      Thanks to you, I realize that we must do careful pollution research if we plan river explorations around being able to get in the water. If all of the bigger French rivers are badly polluted, we'll probably switch our focus to the coasts.

      Come visit Portland (and us). You were very prescient in spotting the allure of the food trucks. They are everywhere around the city now, and we need help in deciding which ones to patronize. Come and write a guide (with Remy and Ben)!

      Back to you, my favorite explorer!

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  13. Heather, that first photo just brought the biggest smile to my face. Ben, I think, should star in an advertising campaign for visiting the land of the Rhone. Isn't it interesting how some of the things that wear the most familiar paths in our lives are the hardest to write/capture/speak about?

    I wanted to make sure to thank you for all of the kind comments and cheers you've left for me on my blog and to answer your question about whether I'll be doing something with my art. The short answer is, yes! I do want to develop that side of what I love to do. It makes me happy, it seems to make others happy, too, so hopefully I can build something there. But first. The big plan is to do a little bit of nothing. At least until fall. I've signed up for a blog class here, an art class there. But mostly I long to loaf. I've done very little of that in the past 20 something years. So a few months of precious laziness, and in September I'll start making some concrete plans. And until then, all the wonderful encouragement from people out there like you means an awful lot to me. So big hugs and many, many thanks to you! XOXO

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    1. When Ben was younger, I used to joke that I was going to put a little sign on him saying "Welcome to Arles!" especially as he approaches all and sundry with a wagging tail and his goofy smile. And yes, you are so right! The more that I look over this post, the less happy I am with it but happily I can attack it another time.

      Hooray! You know how much I was hoping to hear this. Because yes, your work really makes many people happy--I see it all over your comments and feel it myself. It goes straight to the heart. And I know that the blogging community will back you up in a big way for whatever you decide to do. Not that you would even need the extra push with all of your marketing skills but it can't hurt.

      But I am equally pleased to hear that you are giving yourself the huge gift of time to breathe a bit. Have you ever seen "The Artist's Way"? That might actually be interesting for you to do this summer. I have done it twice during key turning points in my life and it really helped on many levels. Anyway, she talks about the importance of refilling the well and that is exactly what you can do now after having depleted it for 20 years!

      Big hugs right back at you and know that I am supporting in you in all of your efforts when you do go forward. :)

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    2. Yes! The Artist's Way is on my Kindle (I downloaded it years ago and then could never find the time to do it) and I started working through it a couple weeks ago! Thanks again for all your support, Heather! XO

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    3. Wah! Really? How cool is that? :)

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  14. Was just reading your response to Debra - I had no idea Arles was the largest city in France (land-wise)! It was lovely to see the water today - such a powerful part of the region in , as you say, so many ways. And also nice to see so many of my blogging friends connecting - I see Jeanne and you are now well acquainted as well - isn't it amazing how small the world becomes?!

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    1. I agree Stacey. It is the best part of this blogging shenanigans, that is for sure!!

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  15. The last time I was there, the might mistral was blowing freezing winds along the Rhone - brrrrr!!!! It looks much more inviting now; good thing I am coming there IN EIGHTEEN DAYS to enjoy it in the summer!!!!!!! And, yes, let's put a "welcome to Arles" sign around Ben's neck and greet other visitors! : )

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    1. Ooh, something tells me it will be a sliiiightly different experience than in winter. :) Yippeeee!!!! Let the countdown begin!

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  16. No sooner had you mentioned food trucks (see above), Heather, than I ran into an article in The New York Times titled "An American Rood Truck in Paris, Greeted With Open Mouths." A long and interesting article, it was on the cover page and page A3 of the Monday, June 4, 2012 issue. If you can't access it online, let me know and I'll send you the hard copy.

    Once again, with every good wish, Leslie in Portland, Oregon

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    1. Thank you Leslie, I saw that article! And yes, those trucks have caused quite a stir. Oh my, if only I could bake as well as my Sister I could open up one here in Arles for the summer months, filling it with all sorts of goodies and I am POSITIVE it would be a huuuge success. The only kind of food trucks we have here are pizza trucks but it isn't even good pizza! :( I would be thrilled beyond belief for taco truck, a Korean BBQ truck, anything!!!

      Have a great weekend. If you ever feel so inclined, I would love to see a photo of your puppers! My email is robinsonheather@yahoo. com.

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  17. amazing blog!!!! thank you for the pics. I would love to go in Provence for a summer trip. Before I plan that trip. I will surely drop by to check for tips!
    laura from Rome

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    1. Grazie Laura! You are welcome back any time. What an amazing city you live in!

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  18. thank you so much for visiting the blog and for the nice words. Your blog is an inspiration for some Provence inspired posts. It's a real window on such a wonderful part of France.
    je te souhaite une bonne journée!!!!! A' très bientot!
    laura

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    1. You're totally welcome Laura--your blog is so lovely! Wow!
      Wishing you a wonderful Sunday. :)

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  19. Such beautiful pictures. One day, I will get there!

    ~ Clare x

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