France, Provence: A Great Escape

Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Andi Seiler

For centuries, Provence in Southern France has served as a refuge for victims of persecution and for people who are just plain tired of modern civilization.

Alone with my thoughts, I sit on the summit of Mont Ventoux surrounded by a large landscape of rocks and boulders. If you have clear skies, there's a phenomenal overview to the Mediterranean Sea. The locals say you can even see the Pyrenees at times. The daylight of Provence is different from anywhere else in the world and it creates colors you've never seen before. That's why it's such a popular place for photographers and artists because their works usually turn out great.

Change of time, change of surround­ings. Two days before we were stuck in a big traffic jam shortly before reaching Avignon. We are hemmed in by lots of Harley riders and when I asked what's going on, one of them says they are on their way to a big Harley Rally in Carpentras. Even Mickey Rourke and the French rock star Johnny Halliday, both staunch fans of the American brand, are supposed to show up. When we get into Avignon it's already dark. We park, have a quick dinner, and go for a walk through the town center. It's worth it; the overlook to the 'Palace of the Popes' and the old part of town is amazing. Finally, we get to our hotel and fall into bed totally tired.

We are so impressed by Avignon's center that we have to return early the next morning. We walk over to the Place d'Horloge. Only a few artists have set up their easels; usually the place is filled with them. Most of the others are probably sitting in the nearby bars and cafés, lingering over a typical breakfast of café au lait and croissants, and reading the regional newspaper Le Provencal. On the Place de Palais, we watch two young boys playing their barrel organ. A small dog with them howls along to the melody - a strange but funny composition.

We head off towards Montagne de Lubéron, the beginning of the Provence countryside. In Oppède-le-Vieux, we run into the first refugees. During WWII, artists, architects and intellectuals came here to find a place to live in peace without being persecuted by the Nazis. The little mountain village was mostly destroyed at that time, but the refugees around artist Consuelo de St. Exupéry built it up again. After the war, a lot of people left and many buildings disintegrated again before the next wave of refugees came in. Most of them were tired of the rat race in the big cities all over the world: Germany, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, North and South America, et al.

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