Learning About St Rémy History Lessons
My French TV Debut
When a producer from the France Canal 3 called me up to ask if I would participate—as the expat writer—in a segment of the travel show Chroniques Méditerranéennes (show details below) with Nathalie Simon, I was ecstatic. A French TV show planning to feature St. Rémy wanted to involve me and my book, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. Woo-hoo!
But, soon, my excitement turned to panic. The conversation with the producer had been all in French. Surely they did not intend to subject their French viewing audience to my “original” version of their revered language? Surely the clever producers intended to figure out a way to let me speak English, right? Oui and non. I planned to shift into high gear to work out my lines—en français—and then rehearse my chausettes off. All would be well.
Learning St Rémy History
As weeks passed and I learned more specifics about the segment, I realized my less-than-stellar French skills were not my only problem. Though the director was interested in my St. Rémy, he wanted to include the city’s rich history and patrimoine, heritage. Yikes, I had some general knowledge about Nostradamus, St. Rémy’s most famous native son, the Roman ruins of Glanum and Les Antiques, and so on, but I didn’t know enough to make coherent, factually correct comments. I’d be spending time with Monsieur Wikipedia. And, after nearly seven years in St. Rémy, it was time to rent the audio tour from the tourist office. Nothing like the promise of public humiliation to jump-start an education.
Six History Lessons
Here are some fun facts to know and tell that I discovered during my research:
In 1864, while staying at a modest inn in St. Rémy, composer Charles Gounod wrote his famous opera, Mireille, which was based on a poem by Frédéric Mistral, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904. (Mistral was born deux pas from St. Rémy in Maillane—there’s a museum dedicated to him there.) Today that simple lodging is the posh Hôtel Gounod. Its upscale, refined bar—including a shiny grand piano—is open to the public from 19h.
Inviting Place Plessier, home to St. Rémy’s Hôtel de Ville was formerly the garden of an Augustine convent. The graceful Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins, built as the centrepiece of the garden, was modelled after a similar fountain in Aix-en-Provence’s quartier Mazarin. Sometimes the fountain is referred to as, “the fountain of three dauphins,” because from any given angle, you can only see three at a time.
Nostradamus’ humble maison natale, now a private residence, was part of St. Rémy’s original ramparts. After saving a cousin of Catherine de Medici, the reputation of the astrologer/ doctor/would-be seer soared. His most famous work, Les Prophéties (1555), which aimed to predict the future, remains popular and controversial to this day. Above the doorway at 10 Boulevard Mirabeau, a contemporary trompe d’oeil mural captures a pensive Nostradamus standing at an open window, contemplating the village scene below. Wonder what he’d make of his home town now?
Luxury Hôtel l’Image was formerly a cinema created by French film director Jean-Luc Godard in the 1970s. This fact explains the film-themed interior décor, which includes a massive vintage movie projector in the lobby. From the expansive gardens, you can see part of a unique suite—it includes a treehouse lounge built into an ancient plane tree. It’s called the Robinson Crusoe Suite—perhaps a fanciful nod to cinematic history? (By the way, the terrace with expansive views of les Alpilles provides a lovely setting for a meal.)
The Musée des Alpilles, which presents an in-depth overview of the history and ethnology of St. Rémy, was established in 1919 by archeologist/geologist Pierre de Brun. The remarkable museum is housed in the gorgeous Renaissance hôtel particulier, private mansion, originally owned by the Mistral de Mondragon family. A superb renovation was completed in 2005.
Smack dab in the middle of the historical centre you’ll find another beautiful former private mansion—this one constructed in 1749—that houses the Musée Estrine. Though it has a large collection of contemporary artworks, interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s work is the focal point here. While Van Gogh was a patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole hospital (1889-1890), he produced nearly 150 works, including the spectacular, The Starry Night. How fitting it would be if one day a genuine Van Gogh made its home in this superb example of 18th-century Provençal architecture.
Take One: Cameras Rolling
On Day One of the shoot, 10 June, sunny skies prevailed. My job wasn’t to speak but to sit at a picnic table next to Nathalie, looking relaxed and content, which was easy because I didn’t have to relate any historical facts. Along with other segment participants—on cue—I stood up for a collective toast, all of us “clinking” our plastic cups of rosé.
On Day 2, I was fitted with a microphone, and the cameras rolled. Until they didn’t. Dark clouds gathered, raindrops fell, and the director called, “Coupe!” The clever fellow then rewrote the script. We would not walk around town but gather under the magnificent chestnut trees on beautiful Place Favier with my Anglophone buddies. Originally, at the end of the shoot, I was to simply introduce them and state their home countries. Now we’d chat about St. Rémy’s virtues from our various points of view.
Though I had little opportunity to show off the fruits of my historical studies that day, I now have increased knowledge of St. Rémy’s rich cultural heritage. And, license for even more bragging rights about our adopted town, perhaps?
The program featuring St. Rémy is scheduled to air on Chroniques Méditerranéennes, Sunday, 22 September, 12:50, channel France 3.