Adventure in France

I lack the necessary gene to learn foreign languages well.  I've stated this over in over but it remains the sad truth.  At least that is what I tell myself to ease the embarrassment.  I have studied German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog and Dutch for various lengths of time.  I'm terrible at all of them.  Just pathetic!  But, a little of what my high school teacher tried to pound into my head came back while I was in Provence.  Merci, Madame Heine.  The students I worked with tried to speak in English to me, some better than others.  In turn, I tried to communicate with them in French.  They were oh, so patient.  And, I am happy to say, we did successfully communicate.  However, the reality of my pathetic French was made crystal clear when I decided to take a day trip by myself to Arles, on a pilgrimage to Van Gogh.  Magalie's seven year old son asked, "How does he expect to go there by himself?"

Even the night before my pilgrimage there was a discussion about the possibility of driving me to Arles instead.  However, in the end, I took the train -- by myself.  My hosts might have had their concerns, but the actual journey couldn't have been any easier.  I made quick connections in Marseilles and soon found my way to Arles.

When you arrive at the train station in Arles, there is a very convenient tourism office right in the building.  I marched right in there to get the necessary map (one Euro so well invested) and was on my way.  Depending on your interests in the city, there are several well marked paths to follow.  I followed the yellow brick markers with a silhouette of Van Gogh.  We all know the yellow brick road is in Oz, and it's suggested that L. Frank Baum was inspired by real yellow bricks in Peekskill, New York.  But, this was the first time I ever really followed a yellow path.

In Arles there are about ten Van Gogh destinations.  I was able to locate eight of them.  Okay, the yellow markers weren't as clear as I would have liked in a few places, and all munchkins in the area only spoke French.  If I asked for help (which I didn't) they probably would have scowled at yet another tourist and said, "Follow the yellow brick road!"  So, I was pleased with the success I had.

I know quite a few of Van Gogh's paintings, but I only recognized two of the destinations.  The famous yellow house where the artist stayed in Arles, as well as that bedroom scene, was destroyed in World War II.  The house was very close to the train station and its marker was the first one I located.  All Van Gogh locations in Arles have markers with the paintings inspired by the scene and some information in French.

I really loved the interior courtyard of the hospital where Van Gogh painted one of his masterpieces.  I stood in the very spot where my favorite artist painted! It was right by the tree where he captured the view of a fountain and some yellow arches.  It was a magical moment for me -- and hopefully for the thirty or so Japanese tourists who wandered into the courtyard along with me.  I ignored them and savored the moment.

I planned my route saving the best destination for last.  The night café, that I have known and loved for years, was located at a small plaza area right in the center of Arles.  I had to eat at that café (and take oh, so many photos!)  Well, I learned something about France in the process.  Cafés served lunch from noon until 1:30 in the afternoon.  After that, you can only get drinks.  So, I had a coffee at the café -- and still took lots of photos.  I definitely saved the best till last.

All connections were made correctly.  I saw what I set out to discover and returned to my friends very satisfied with the experience and my French.  However, that satisfaction doesn’t compare to what I felt while working with the students in Aix-en-Provence.  Several of them wrote to me before my departure.  Some in English, some in French.  It didn't matter.  What mattered to me was what they said.  My favorite comment came from one girl who obviously appreciated the experience.  She wrote that she wished I could be her teacher all the time.  If that were the case, she believed she just might try a little harder with her studies.  That's the kind of connection a teacher always hopes to make.

Copyright 2011 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.