I can truly say that Arles is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever visited. As I stepped off of the train, I immediately encountered a vast river that runs down the middle of the city. There is a very significant mix of architecture here in the city. Many of the houses are three stories, very narrow, with large windows and tiles, and huge flowers that seem to flow out of the houses like a waterfall. The streets are adorned with cobblestones and many of the city’s avenues are narrow, with just enough room for a street-side cafe or for a smiling man to play his accordion.
The breezes skim the surface of the river and push through the ancient street walls and against the tall houses, many of which are about 400 years old. As we walked through the city, we saw restaurants that served paella, crepes, southern French cuisine, thai food, chinese food, and restaurants that exclusively serve tea. Walking through the midsection of town, there are fountains and a huge obelisk that stands in front of the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) with a melange of architectural styles.
As you walk away from the centre-ville, you encounter a beautifully restored Roman Amphitheater. Its walls are domineering, yet very soft and inviting as they bend the light and shadows that pierce the interior of the theatre. In the opposite direction, you can see miles and miles of beautiful clay rooftops, with tiles that glow with the heat of the sun and small children chasing their dogs in the parking lot of a local church.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I met the other 27 students in my program who have traveled from all over the world to study in Arles. Everyone was really nice, and I think we share many of the same interests. That evening, we walked the streets of Arles, up and down the avenues and around the cafes and historical landmarks. There is even an Irish Pub in Arles, that I’m certain is administered by French men, where everyone screams "Happy Hour" in a very guttural French accent.
After two days in the hotel, my host family arrived to pick me up. The family name is Brenot. The father is a cartoonist, who works from home, but unfortunately, I have not met him because he is away on a business trip to Paris. The mother of the family is Farida, a beautiful, caring, and hilarious French woman whose parents were of Algerian descent. They have two sons, Thomas and Simon, who are very intelligent and very eager to teach me French culture and slang. We watched about an hour of corny French rap videos yesterday! I will post pictures of their beautiful three story home very soon.
I will be taking a sociology class on Immigration while I am here in Arles, as well as an advanced French grammar course. The Brenots live in an area that is very diverse, full of native French and immigrant families, so I have a chance to truly witness the dynamic of a multiracial French home, and a multiracial French community.
Since I’ve been in Arles, I have met very interesting people. I have become quite close with a group of French film students, who are living in Arles until the end of June, and DJ an avant garde jazz radio station. They are Parisians, and have been very helpful in teaching me about French politics, and the pros and cons of many prominent French politicians. I’ve also met a group of artists from a Mauritania and Morocco, who are displaying their art in exhibits throughout the city. Most of their art challenges the Western perception of "time" and seeks to bridge the gap between the memory and power of dead ancestors and the present. Even though these artists come from different cultures, all of the art is painted in the colors of the sunset of their homelands.
I must say, building relationships with people in another language is a little weird but it has been very enriching. There is a huge musical festival that is going to begin this week. Artists from all over the world are going to arrive. Also, during the upcoming market day, there will be a bit of segregation in the street. There will be an arab market on one side of the street, and a european market on the other side of the street. I think this is going to be interesting, and I’m curious to see how, and if, the two walks of life will intersect.
- Ryan Forbes Morris ’08