Hotel Burrhus Vaison-la-Romaine : interview

by Hayley July 14, 2014

A Conversation with Laurence from Hotel Burrhus

Back at Hotel Burrhus, I take my bread and olives onto the terrace to have lunch. The merchants in the square are packing up; the market begins the process of closing at one o’clock and is completely dismantled by two. Below, three performers in traditional Greek costumes and masks—reminiscent of Comedia Del’Arte—pass by restaurant terraces, making lewd gestures and posing for pictures. There is a Greek theater festival starting tonight, I’d heard, and Laurence, owner of Hotel Burrhus, has promised to get me a ticket.

After I finish my meal, I sit down with an art book from the hotel’s extensive collection. There are dozens to choose from, and I flip through one about Claude Cahun before picking up a slender volume with vibrant photographs. “That’s from the expositions we’ve hosted,” Laurence says, coming into the room. “We pick an artist at random and have them work on a single installation in a guestroom. Many of their works are displayed throughout the hotel.”

“Is that different from Supervues?” I ask, looking up. My French needs work, and Laurence admits to not having practiced her English in a while. She has a kind, slender face, if a little anxious. Our conversation is a mixture of our two languages and is accompanied by many hand gestures.

“Supervues happens in December,” Laurence explains. “We close down the hotel for three days and have mini-expositions in 35 guestrooms, inviting the public to view the art.”

“So it’s like a gallery?” I ask.

“Yes, except that we don’t sell the art. It’s more of a permanent collection. Like in a museum.”

“How long has Hotel Burrhus been open?”

“Nearly 20 years. And we’ve always been involved with artists—had expositions here. It keeps the job from getting boring—changing things around all the time.”

“Are you an artist, too?” I ask, genuinely curious.

She laughs self-consciously, “No, no, but I’ve always been interested in art and helped to promote it.”

“So you were here during the floods in 1992, then? What was that like?”

“Oh, it was horrible. No power or water for three days. But in a way it was good. It strengthened the community. Everybody in town pitched in to help one another, and people from outside of town, too. There were so many people. Trop de monde.” She laughs.

Touring the Town and Thereabouts

I ask her to tell me about her favorite sites in town and she lists them off for me, circling them on a tourist map that the hotel has available for visitors. The Roman Ruins, of course, the Medieval City. “The Cathedral. You have to visit the Cloister of Saint-Quenin there,” she insists. “It’s beautiful.”

She tells me about the famous mountains in the area: Mont Ventoux (Petrarque wrote a poem about it called L’Ascension de Ventoux), Montmirail and its Dentelles (the rock formation I saw from the bus on the way here). The Tour de France passes by here, so the town is very cycle-friendly, with cycle paths on many of its streets. “Mont Ventoux is famous for its unique flowers and vegetation that you can’t find anywhere else in the world,” Laurence tells me. “People like to hike or cycle it. But it’s 1900 meters, so I think I’d need an electric bike!” She laughs again, and I join in. If I had more time, I’d venture out towards the nature trails. But that will have to wait for a return trip.

Hotel Tour

Then Laurence takes me on a tour of the hotel, opening rooms for me to see and telling stories about the artwork throughout the building. My favorite piece, a sound installation, imitates the sounds of crickets and cicadas when visitors walk by.

“Where do you find your furniture?” I ask her.

“I pick it all out myself. At antique warehouses and street sales. But we had a designer build the wardrobes and design the bathrooms. I love the minimalist mid-century modern look.”

In one room she says she is not sure she likes the color of the drapes with the wall and wardrobe colors, though she is probably the only one who notices such subtleties. “There is always room for improvement,” she says. As we pass by another bookshelf overflowing with art books, her face lights up. “I love that book,” she points to one on the top shelf. “It is full of hilarious illustrations.” I flip through it and find myself giggling at the cartoons. But Laurence is already thinking of something else. “Eventually, we’d like to put up bookshelves in the dining room so that we can have room for all of the books we’ve collected, and people can see them all in one place.”

After the tour, I thank Laurence and apologize again for my poor grasp of French. She smiles and says not to worry, and that she hopes I have a good afternoon. I descend the terracotta steps of the hotel and emerge into the square. Next, I’ll cross the ancient Roman Bridge to explore the Medieval City. 

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