Tufts of red and green turn to tones of brown washing up to a blue that melts somewhere between sea and sky. This is what it’s like in la Camargue, or more specifically at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. I went there today with the gym teacher from Hemingway, the same one who took me to Lyon for la fête des lumières.
Just south of Nîmes all the way to the sea, it reaches Aigues-Mortes to the west and nearly to Marseille in the east. It’s a national park which sort of reminds me of what I’d imagine the Florida everglades to be like. There are flamingos, horses, bulls, cranes, cormorants, mosquitoes of which there are thankfully few in winter… I guess the bulls replace the gators. The sea backs up onto sandy shores which give way to marshes looking out upon the Alpilles in the distance, mountains which Van Gogh and Cézanne painted.
The town itself isn’t much to see. It’s very touristy and rather empty in the winter. There is a high population of gypsies for such a small town and I’ll get back to why that is. For lunch, we got a “menu” with an appetizer of soupe de poisson, an entrée of moules frites marinières, and a dessert (I got lemon pie). C really wanted me to try the tellines which she had pointed out to me on the seashore earlier, so we got that as the appetizer to our appetizers. They were quite tasty for tiny little things. As was the soupe de poissons. And the moules frites. And the lemon tart…
The major attraction of the town is the church, dedicated to les trois Maries who were disciples of Jesus (Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome aka Salome, Mary Clophas) and Sainte Sarah. Saint Sarah is the patron saint of gypsies, which, other than the fact that it’s a tourist town, I believe can explain the high population of gypsies for a little town. The story is that the three Mary’s were chased from Palestine after Jesus’ death and arrived in Camargue. Only Mary Clophas and Mary Salome remained with their servant, Sarah, in what became Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Otherwise, the town is pretty simple. Some fishermen, some statues…
On the drive, you see so many rice fields. France actually produces a fair amount of rice, mainly from this region. Unlike Asia, not as much water is used. The fields aren’t flooded. Just enough water to prepare the fields is used. C stopped to let me play with the horses and look at the bulls on the way home. She even let me feed them an apple, gaining me four new equestrian friends. Score! ; )
PS: No, the three M’s have nothing to do with Un long dimanche de fiançailles here, but it’s a great film you should watch if you haven’t already.