Tag Archives: Italo Calvino

The Camargue and the Spirit of Travel

ImageTo capture the essence of a place, one needs to explore the local imagination. Such is the mysterious Camargue, with its saline water, pink flamingoes, white horses, and wild bulls.

There are echoes of ancient Rome throughout the region, and at its tip the Saintes Maries de la Mer – where a ship without a mast or rudder arrived from the Holy Land after the crucification, carrying the biblical Marias – including Mary Magdalen (the suggested bride of Christ in “Holy Blood and Holy Grail” as well as the “DaVinci Code”).

Were her remains buried in nearby St Maximine or spirited away to Vezelay (the “sacred hillslope” of Burgundy), crossroads of the great pilgrim routes? Certainly these are some of the ancient stories told throughout the region – Not just of the “Marias'” but of their maid servant Sarah as well – patroness of the gypsies, the ancient nomadic migrants, once from Himalayas, who come annually to her festival in the Camargue in search of healing and health in the sprawling delta of the Rhone. 

It is also here that the Gypsy Kings wrote songs of love and where Bizet’s “Carmen” came to life in an atmosphere of bullfights, gypsy lore and music. 

The unique feeling of Arles – where Van Gogh painted what he felt;  Picasso mused that “It takes a long time to become young”; and Ernst Hemingway, inspired by Cezanne’s blocks of colour in his paintings of Mt St Victoire, arranged his paragraphs into acute formations. 

The fragments of these and other ideas spread throughout the Camargue is representative of the “soul” at the heart of every traveller – for as Italo Calvino (the famed Italian writer) offered in his lectures, “Who are we if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined”. 

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