BEYOND PARIS

Here are four rea­sons to visit Ar­les, the tiny city in the south of France that’s brim­ming with cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion.

Elle (Canada) - - Travel -

IT’S GOR­GEOUS The city’s streets spi­ral out from a mag­nif­i­cent Ro­man am­phithe­atre. Wan­der­ing along the cob­bled by­ways is like fol­low­ing a re­ally large med­i­ta­tion maze—if your Zen in­volves stop­ping for aper­i­tifs in one of the buzzing squares, snap­ping end­less In­sta­gram-wor­thy de­tails and im­pul­sively go­ing through half-open doors just to see what’s be­hind them. (The odds are it’ll be worth it.) Van Gogh lived in Ar­les, so the Fon­da­tion Vincent Van Gogh Ar­les of­fers a walk­ing tour of spots that in­spired his most iconic images. IT’S HOME TO LEG­ENDARY LADIES This town’s women are re­put­edly so ex­tra­or­di­nary that they have spawned the legend of the Ar­lési­enne: a myth­i­cal creature whose beauty is so great it can never quite be cap­tured, almost like a fra­grance left be­hind after some­one has left the room. STAY Spend a night at Hô­tel Jules César, where the colour­ful decor cre­ated by na­tive Ar­lesian de­signer Christian Lacroix (no big deal) and at­ten­tive ser­vice are wor­thy of a creature of myth, such as your­self. IT HAS SCORED ITS OWN FRA­GRANCE Olivier Baus­san, founder of L’Oc­c­i­tane, has chan­nelled his long-time love of the city he con­sid­ers the true cap­i­tal of Provence into a fra­grance. Hop­ing to dis­till the al­lur­ing spirit of Ar­lesian women, Baus­san cre­ated the scent with three main notes: grace­ful rose, play­ful saf­fron and mys­te­ri­ous vi­o­let. “There is some­thing spe­cial in Ar­les,” says Baus­san. “Be­cause of the legend, there’s this ex­pec­ta­tion: Peo­ple are al­ways hop­ing to catch the trail of the ‘Ar­lési­enne.’” Bonus: The bot­tle cel­e­brates the city’s ar­ti­san-fab­ric-mak­ing tra­di­tion. SHOP Pick up a vi­brant tra­di­tion­ally printed scarf at Souleiado bou­tique; they’ll even teach you how to tie it like a French­woman. IT HOSTS AN AMAZ­ING PHOTO FES­TI­VAL If the idea of a David Bai­ley ex­hibit (hey, Kate Moss!) mounted inside an old Catholic church ap­peals, you’ll love Ren­con­tre d’Ar­les, the city’s an­nual pho­tog­ra­phy fes­ti­val. Over the sum­mer months, ground­break­ing visual art finds a home in the city’s his­toric spa­ces. As out­go­ing di­rec­tor François Hé­bel de­scribes it: “Hav­ing the fes­ti­val in Ar­les cre­ates di­a­logue like nowhere else be­cause it’s a vil­lage. It’s like be­ing a beau­ti­ful lit­tle the­atre filled with liv­ing peo­ple, and you have time to talk to­gether and meet peo­ple you wouldn’t meet oth­er­wise.” SEE Not in town for the fes­ti­val? Take in the fine-arts mu­seum, Musée Réattu, home to its own im­pres­sive pho­tog­ra­phy col­lec­tion (the first in a French mu­seum, in fact!). ■

When I moved to Eng­land to do my master’s in the fall of 2011, I knew I wanted to travel over the win­ter hol­i­day. I felt I hadn’t “earned” a home­com­ing yet be­cause I had only been gone from Vic­to­ria, B.C., for two months. As it hap­pened, my friend Theo was plan­ning a trip to visit fam­ily in Ethiopia. So I did what any ex­iled wan­derer would do: I asked if he’d like company. The cheap­est ticket to Ad­dis Ababa re­quired a 22-hour lay­over in Cairo. We nabbed two.

We never in­tended to see the tourist sites. In­stead, we wanted a day to wan­der—pe­ruse a mar­ket and re­lax in a cof­fee house. But it was De­cem­ber 2011—not the ideal time to visit Egypt. It had been 11 months since the re­moval of Pres­i­dent Mubarak, and, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the an­niver­sary, the protests had started again. As the date of our flight ap­proached, my dad emailed me news items with head­lines like “Worst vi­o­lence since the elec­tions.” He also for­warded me a link to the Cana­dian travel-ad­vi­sory web­site. And the Aus­tralian travel-ad­vi­sory web­site. And the U.K.’s For­eign & Com­mon­wealth Of­fice web­site. “Con­ti­nen­tal Europe still has a lot to of­fer,” he wrote en­cour­ag­ingly.

But Theo and I re­mained un­de­terred. Be­fore we left, I re­searched bus routes and copied a list of Ara­bic nu­mer­als into my note­book along with a re­minder to “Avoid Mi­dan Tahrir.” Wik­i­travel had posted this warn­ing at the top of its Cairo page. The no­ti­fi­ca­tion con­tained phrases like “tear gas,” “ba­tons” and “likely to re­spond with deadly force.” The prob­lem: Mi­dan Tahrir is the cen­tre of Cairo. Nearly ev­ery bus from the air­port ter­mi­nates there. Stay­ing clear of this area is the equiv­a­lent of vis­it­ing Toronto while avoid­ing all the blocks in the down­town core from Front Street to Bloor.

Once we landed in Cairo, we headed to the bus stop out­side the air­port. De­spite all the warn­ings, we knew we had to go through Mi­dan Tahrir. We tried to match the wind­shield num­bers to the sym­bols in my book, but h

that prompted a lot of sec­ond-guess­ing. (“Do the num­bers read for­wards or back­wards?”) Ul­ti­mately, we con­sulted a man who spoke English. He pointed us to the right bus. Nei­ther of us had a smart­phone or a map of the city, so to avoid get­ting lost, we had to dis­em­bark where Wik­i­travel and my fa­ther urged us to not go: Mi­dan Tahrir.

Ex­cept for one man grilling cobs of corn on the side­walk, the streets were empty. We set out to find a caf­feine fix; nei­ther of us had slept on the red-eye. We even­tu­ally lo­cated a café a few blocks from the bus stop. Men smoked shisha on the side­walk. They sipped porce­lain thim­bles of espresso. We sipped our own muddy thim­bles, and around us the air thick­ened with ap­ple smoke and roasted cof­fee.

Wik­i­travel had im­plied the area was a war zone. While the de­serted streets did look eerie, we couldn’t tell whether peo­ple had va­cated for demon­stra­tions or sim­ply mid­day prayer. I didn’t know Cairo enough to rec­og­nize what was nor­mal, so I wasn’t too con­cerned.

The city en­livened as the day con­tin­ued. After the caf­feine fix, we wan­dered to a nearby movie the­atre. Given that we had so much time, and we were so tired, it seemed a safe way to rest. We fell asleep and never made it to the end of Sher­lock Holmes— which I didn’t want to see any­way. I was hop­ing for a more lo­cal flick. Then, re­freshed from our nap, we ex­plored out­side. More ven­dors had col­lected on the side­walks. They sold kushari, a rice, pasta and lentil dish, and hills of pita. I pur­chased a flat­bread for the road—an ele­phant ear of dough, still soft with air. Be­fore we knew it, the sun started to set, and we set­tled into a sec­ond café. It felt like we had wan­dered a long time down crooked roads and al­leys, but we had not left Mi­dan Tahrir. We or­dered more cof­fees and dealt a game of crazy eights.

Then I saw some­thing odd out the café win­dow: a crowd. More pedes­tri­ans had filed into the streets as the work­day ended, but, un­til now, they hadn’t as­sem­bled. A group waved posters as they walked and chanted in Ara­bic. They gripped can­dles. Theo and I watched for the end of the crowd, but it only grew larger. Most of the demon­stra­tors ap­peared to be our age, and most were men, though more women marched in the group than I had seen all day. I had fol­lowed the revo­lu­tion on the news in Canada, and I sym­pa­thized with the demon­stra­tors and the pro-democ­racy up­ris­ing that be­came known as the Arab Spring. How­ever, I could not help but won­der whether this protest would be­come un­safe. I felt ner­vous.

We de­cided we should leave. As soon as we ex­ited the rel­a­tive safety of the café, we found our­selves be­ing jos­tled on the side­walk. “We shouldn’t be here,” I said to Theo. As I looked back to the café, one of the men there raised his arms in the air and his ex­pres­sion in­di­cated that he, too, was wor­ried for us, but in the crowd, no one seemed to take any real no­tice of us. Still, we wanted to slip away in case it got vi­o­lent, but there was nowhere to go. The demon­stra­tors were march­ing to Tahrir Square—and our bus stop. We couldn’t re­main on the side­walk; we had large packs strapped to our backs and kept get­ting nudged and bumped. So we walked with the crowd. Two stupid tourists in a sea of Egyp­tian youth.

After walk­ing with the group for a cou­ple of blocks, we broke off and turned onto another road. How­ever, this road was blocked off with wheels of barbed wire. Be­hind the wire, we could see riot po­lice with har­poon-sized guns. I couldn’t stop think­ing about my dad—how dev­as­tated he would be if some­thing hap­pened. What was I do­ing here? This was real life—not a news item I could pe­ruse from the safety of my house in Eng­land. With­out any other op­tion, we turned back to­ward the pro­test­ers. As we did so, I felt like a voyeur. I didn’t want to be. I travel to un­der­stand the world bet­ter. But how could I “un­der­stand” the out­rage of the demon­stra­tors after a few hours when I was ba­si­cally just trip­ping through this place? Even after spend­ing a few days or weeks some­where, how could a tourist un­der­stand?

We even­tu­ally forked paths from the pro­test­ers and caught our bus—long be­fore our 22 hours were up. Our lay­over in Cairo was trun­cated, but con­sid­er­ing the cir­cum­stances, we felt for­tu­nate to re­turn to the air­port with plenty of time ahead of our flight. As the bus pulled away, I looked out the win­dow, search­ing for the demon­stra­tors. Our voyeurism fell be­hind glass—it felt dif­fer­ent now. We were still un­in­vited but also un­no­ticed: flies on the wall in­stead of in somebody’s soup. Out­side, the city beat on. Ven­dors threaded be­tween the ve­hi­cles with wheel­bar­rows of dates. A boy cy­cled by, a plank of wood on his head, its moun­tain of pita im­pos­si­bly bal­anced.

This same sense of voyeuris­tic shame re­turned later that week in Ad­dis Ababa as Theo met his aunts and un­cles and I looked on. But as I got to know Theo’s fam­ily, I be­gan to feel less like an un­in­vited spec­ta­tor. They in­cluded me in cof­fee cer­e­monies. Theo and I fell into a rhythm of bus­ing around the city, me with my note­book, so I could ab­sorb the odd phrase of Amharic. How­ever, I’ve not rec­on­ciled the re­la­tion­ship be­tween be­ing a trav­eller ver­sus an in­truder. I ex­plore other cul­tures to gain new in­sight, but it seems that knowl­edge will al­ways be fleet­ing—re­duced to mem­o­ries and sin­gle snap­shots. n

most Academy Award win­ners would be hard- pressed to find a des­ti­na­tion where they can go un­rec­og­nized. Cer­tainly Halle Berry, with her all-Amer­i­can good looks and that killer body, would draw at­ten­tion even if she weren’t a house­hold name. But when her he­li­copter touches down in El Cuá— one of the poor­est and most re­mote re­gions of Nicaragua—it’s clear that the group of lo­cal labour­ers who have gath­ered to watch have no idea who any of us are, Berry in­cluded.

The ac­tress is here to raise aware­ness for Watch Hunger Stop, the char­ity founded by Michael Kors to raise money for the United Na­tions World Food Pro­gramme (WFP), which pro­vides emer­gency food as­sis­tance and food stor­age to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Kors started work­ing with God’s Love We De­liver, which pro­vides meals to dis­ease-af­flicted in­di­vid­u­als, 20 years ago; ex­pand­ing his fo­cus to global hunger was a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion. “It’s shock­ing to think that one in eight peo­ple go to bed hun­gry ev­ery night,” says the 55-year-old de­signer. “But the num­ber of

L’Oc­c­i­tane Ar­lési­enne Eau de Toi­lette Spray ($48 for 78 mL, loc­c­i­tane.com)

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