Will The Real Camargue Please Stand Up?
Is this what you expect to see in the Camargue?
Or it it more like this?
Or even this? The experienced test-takers among you will have checked All Of The Above, always a good strategy, and in this case you’ve hit the jackpot.
A study in contrasts, the Camargue is at once home to white horses, black bulls, pink flamingos, grey salt, and a black saint. Oh yes, and the Bac du Sauvage.
So, to begin at the beginning, there we were, driving lazily through a truly desolate area of dry scrubby grasses, salty swamps, and run down summer houses, having ignored Mandy, our GPS mistress, when she told us “faites demi-tour dès que possible.” She said it three times, never losing her patience: turn around as soon as possible. Shel ignored her, following his inner radar that told him we’d be able to find Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer somehow, nevermind what Mandy had to say about it. But we were both amazed when Mandy said, for the first time in the several years we’ve traveled with her “prenez le car-ferry.” Huh? Did she say to take a car ferry? Out here in the middle of a featureless salt-grass factory? Mais oui.
After a short wait by a narrow river, the Petit Rhône, as it turned out, a piece of the road detached itself from the bank opposite and began moving toward us, laden with five cars. No one seemed alarmed, evidently all was as it should be. And thus it was, completely by accident and against the best advice of our trusty GPS, that we learned of the tiny car ferry called the Bac du Sauvage.
We were thrilled to drive aboard a bit of floating roadway, and in three minutes we were across the river and just outside the famous town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
We knew we were well and truly in the Camargue when almost the first thing we saw as we drove into town was a merry-go-round with several rideable bulls. But it wasn’t for the bulls that we’d come,
This is Saint Sara, sometimes called Saint Sara the Black. Normally I don’t go out of my way to visit saints, but Sara is special. She’s the patron saint of the gypsies, and every year around 10,000 gypsies descend on Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to visit her and parade her through the streets of the town. She’s lifesize, and we saw her getting hugs and kisses from visitors while we were there. If her story interests you, you can read more about her, and the town’s two Saint Maries, here.
Sara is housed in the underground crypt of a very ancient and lovely church. Normally churches aren’t my favorite thing either, but this one has something about it that even a heathen like me can feel. It was begun in the 9th century, on the site of a sanctuary built in the 6th century. Places that old really speak to me, and since most of the ancient places I’ve visited have been related to the church, I try to keep an open mind about them, to hear the voices calling to me down the centuries.
Those old voices, they don’t speak English, or French, but I don’t care. I listen anyway.
And now, so as not to break the spell by talking about cowboys in the same virtual breath as the saints and the ancients, tune in, as they used to say in my long ago youth, tomorrow.