For Ann and me, we were in a place beyond our dreams of travel; walking the streets of Arles in southern France. Arles is the city of Vincent Van Gogh. It is a city filled with sunlight, historic buildings, corner cafes, and a strange young woman with a gold ring.
Although exhausted from travel from Missouri two days earlier, walking through the ancient city felt refreshing; our first day of touring the Rhone Valley and Provence. The previous summer, 2010, we lived on the Cote d’Azur for two weeks, this summer we wanted to see the places Van Gogh worked and went crazy, taste the wines from the vineyards of Provence, and enjoy the beauty of rural France.
After tiring flight from New York, we landed at Nice. Now there’s an interesting airport. When the airfield is in sight, it looks as if the plane is landing on an aircraft carrier. The Mediterranean is the approach; it’s a little unnerving. Besides of the uneasy landing, flying steerage for eight hours, and no sleep was exhausting. Outside the terminal, a bus waited for the group with which we traveled. I found a seat in the back of the bus hoping to stretch out and sleep during our trip to Arles. Disappointed, I found the back seat was not a bench with cushions, but instead there was a series of plastic indentations to accommodate the passengers’ posteriors. No hope of napping.
Having traveled to southern France before, I was familiar with the city of Nice, so as the bus moved out of the terminal area the familiar sights appeared–it was nice to be back in Nice. As the familiar landmarks passed by, I realized we were not traveling in the wrong direction. The bus driver maneuvered narrow streets and hairpin curves. Slowly, it crossed my exhausted mind that we were going east, not west to Arles. When the bus finally stopped, we disembarked and found ourselves deposited at a hotel in Monaco. I always wanted to visit the principality, but my body and my brain told me I needed rest. I found a couch in the lobby and fell asleep sitting up. Ann went out to see the city and took some photographs.
Several hours later, awakened and directed to a new bus with its nose pointed west, I boarded the new coach and relieved knowing that possibly our group would arrive at its planned destination by nightfall. Again, hairpin curves, busy streets, gave every indication the bus driver was on the correct route. We did reach Arles before dusk. As we disembarked the vehicle, people who seemed to know directed us to a riverboat on which we were to tour the Rhone Valley. We rested and recovered from a full day, two days actually, of travel. The next morning we planned to visit Arles. A city I have wanted to see for many years.
The southern French city of Arles at the mouth of the Rhone River in Provence is both beautiful and interesting. The Romans built a great arena for bullfighting in Arles. The city is famous for Van Gogh and his brilliant paintings. However, for my wife Ann and me, it is the city of the gold ring.
Fully refreshed from a good night’s sleep on our riverboat, we walked the streets of Arles pausing now and then to poke our noses into some interesting storefront. As we approached the famous Roman bullfighting arena, now a performing arts center, a young woman came up to us asking, “Is this your ring?”
She showed us a gold ring, a wedding band, and asked if we had lost the ring. We assured her that we had not lost such a ring and never owned one like it. Insisting we must have lost the gold band as she put it on Ann’s finger to demonstrate that Ann undoubtedly was the owner. Surprisingly, the gold band fit. Nevertheless, we insisted that despite the demonstration, the ring was not own ours and we had not lost such a piece of jewelry.
The young woman, flustered, attempted to come up with a reason the ring was ours, but she finally gave up. She started to talk, telling us that she was from Yugoslavia and that she had just a few minutes earlier found the ring on the street among the cobblestones. We looked around to assure there was no danger of mugging or slick-fingered pickpocket lurking. The three of us, the young woman from Yugoslavia, Ann, and me, were in the middle of the lane alone. To thwart pickpockets and muggers, we had taken precautions, such as carrying no more money than we could afford to lose, only one credit card in our pockets, and also our driver’s licenses tucked away. Only once did the young woman from Yugoslavia touch Ann, when she put the ring on Ann’s finger. Ann’s rings were still where they were supposed to be.
Forlorn looking, with long auburn hair, a yellow sweater, and blue skirt, deeps set dark eyes on the verge of tears; she then said, “I’m famished, can you give me something for breakfast?” Since we had no plans to make any purchases, or even small ones, and as I have mentioned, I carried only the money I could afford to lose, all I had in my pocket was loose change. My loose change amounted to a Euro plus a few cents. I gave it to her.
Putting the gold ring into Ann’s Hand, the Yugoslavian woman, whom we guessed was a Gypsy, said, “Here, you keep it. It’s a nice ring.” With that, she turned away, and we suppose she found a place serving a cheap breakfast or that there was another gold ring in her pocket.
We pondered the incident. Our Yugoslavian Gypsy Woman somehow, we guessed, failed at her task. He tears were not welling in eyes because of hunger but instead of failure to con two American tourists walking the narrow lanes of Arles. We never saw the woman again, nor were we approached by anyone to sell things, or suggest we might have lost another piece of Jewelry.
Ann kept the ring, gave it to our daughter, and later discovered that in fact, it is gold. The ring is our souvenir of Arles.
Painting: By Vincent van Gogh – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. link, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=151842.