After the tour of Hotel Burrhus, I bid au revoir once again to Laurence and go in search of the Roman bridge that leads to the medieval town. I wind through the Grand Rue, a pedestrian street, past outdoor displays of handmade goods and designer clothes. Parents grasp the sticky hands of children holding cones of gelato, and several people walk dogs on leashes.
The bridge is a little underwhelming, to be honest, as it is still being used as a road. So it looks like a road. The awe comes in the fact that it has stood there and supported traffic for nearly two-thousand years. Two thousand years. Two thousand years ago, people designed and built a structure that has withstood countless abuse (including the flood of ’92) and has not needed to be improved upon. That is awe-inspiring.
I follow the path up the hill and around the bend, coaxed on by the sound of flute music. As I turn the corner, I find its source: a man dressed in the garb of a medieval jester, standing on a rock near the historic tower and greeting tourists with music. I continue the climb up the hill. The lighting is perfect this afternoon, playing off the cobblestones and windows of people’s homes. The breeze propels me onward, though I am half-inclined to take a seat at one of the restaurant terraces along the street.
I find a narrow alleyway whose sign reads “Rue du Roi”. This path must lead to the castle. It does, but it is not the easiest route. After a block, the paving stones disappear, replaced by dirt, and then barely a sheep’s path winding its way up the steep hill that overlooks the valley. At the top, I can see all of Vaison and beyond to Mont Ventoux. It was definitely worth the climb. The castle itself is only able to be seen from its exterior, as it is too decrepit to be restored. Then I make my way back down, stopping by the old church for a quick glance. It doesn’t take long to regain sight of the Roman bridge, and soon I am cutting across town towards the town’s historic Cathedral and Clositer of Saint Quenin.
On the way there, I stop at the art gallery, Artefact, recommended by Laurence. Its sign is a red silhouette of a rhinoceros, reminding me of an artwork I once saw at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. That is the vibe throughout Galerie Artefact. The proprietor shows me around, inviting me to sit down and flip through some of the work on display. She even changes the lighting on one piece so that I can better view it. I find myself drawn to the work of Ian Tyson, an octogenarian, the proprietor tells me. His work resembles modern-day Chinese scrolls in geometric patterns. In one work, he includes a poem and its translation by Li He. Laurence tells me later that Tyson has exhibited at Hotel Burrhus.
Later, I make my way to the Cathedral, wandering in the side door and resting a while. It has been a long day of walking and site-seeing! There is something about religious buildings that is very calming, whether you’re a believer or not, and the dim lighting and cool air is a welcome reprieve for my tired feet. The Cloister is attached to the side of the church, a welcoming courtyard with a center garden surrounded by columns. I stroll around the perimeter, admiring the way the light changes from different angles.
By Sam Nimitz
Afterwards, I pass by the Chapelle Saint-Quenin, closed to the public most days, unfortunately, but still interesting to see, then I find myself at La Lyriste for a quick, delectable dinner before the play Laurence has booked me.
The Greek Theatre performance is located on the terrace of an old house at the end of a long drive lined with green spiral trees. Upon my arrival, I notice that the majority of people here seem to know each other; each new arrival walks up to the group, exchanging bisous and greetings like old friends. But though I am an outsider, I do not feel excluded. There is an air of camaraderie here that envelopes the place and the people around it. Because of my still progressing knowledge of French, the performance was somewhat difficult to follow. But I’d expected that, and was happy enough to catch a few words here and there, and to see how the actors involved the audience and the whole space of the terrace. I leave the performance feeling like I’d experienced the real community here in Vaison, like I’d gotten to taste the true flavor of the town and the people who live here.
The next morning, I thank Laurence and her husband for their kindness and help over the last two days. They are more than gracious, and allow me to take their picture. After mailing the gifts I found at the market yesterday, I have time left for only one activity before the bus arrives. I drag my suitcase to La Romaine winery and sample—for free—several of their branded wines. The saleswoman is knowledgeable and helpful, allowing me to take my time and making suggestions for what to try next. My favorite is a dry white that has hints of jasmine, and I purchase a very reasonably priced bottle and gingerly zip it into my suitcase before heading down the street to the bus station.
Short Break at Vaison-la-Romaine : Day 2