Monday, September 28, 2015

second chance seaside

Years and years and years ago, on a rainy, cold November day in 1976, my friend Joanne and I took the bus from Arles (where we were staying) to Saintes-Maries de la Mer. I travelled, back then, with my head in the clouds, and with plans based mostly on beautiful photographs I had happened upon in National Geographic and travel agency folders, so I expected to see red roof tiles, sea, salt flats, and wild white Camargue ponies pretty much all in one glance. But, yeah, it was November, as I said, and grey and miserable, and the town was deserted during low season. All the shops were shuttered, and not a single café or restaurant was open.  The tile roofs were red, yes, but slick with rain. The seaside was empty and desolate, and -- silly me -- the salt and the horses too far away to visit on foot. We took the next bus back to Arles, and I was terribly disappointed.

Les Saintes-Maries were given a second chance last week, when my husband and I drove down to the Mediterranean coast from our holiday location in the Cevennes. The weather was glorious, and the town bustling. We saw the Camargue ponies on our way there, and the salt flats on the way back. The view from the roof of the church was spectacular. The sea was blue.

This time, four decades later, the town was alive with tourists, and all the shops and eateries were jammed. Rather disappointingly, souvenir stalls outnumbered businesses aimed at locals, and a slightly tacky tour-bus atmosphere prevailed, but it was good to experience the town awake, instead of sleeping, and to replace my monochrome memories with infinitely more colourful ones.

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