Saintes-Maries is one of the holiest places in Provence. Allegedly. Mistral called it the "Mecca of Provence". It was founded when the three Maries (Salome, mother of James and John), Jacobe (the Virgin's sister) and Magdalene landed here in the boat of Bethany after the crucifixion. Allegedly. Also on board - allegedly - was a black servant girl named Sarah, who has been adopted by Gypsies from all over the world as their patron saint.
As a result of all this, and a fortuitous finding of assorted relics of the assorted Maries, there is a superb fortified church in the centre of the town, featuring the Black Madonna in the crypt.
But this is about as holy as Saintes-Maries gets. In every other respect, it is a small seaside tourist town, devoted to trinkets, cheap but expensive clothing, ice cream, bars and restaurants. It is not even very French: one could be anywhere from Majorca to Blackpool and find the same stores selling the same stuff, with the same kind of people wandering around in the same kind of gear and having the same kind of conversations. In fact, if anything, the prevailing culture here as throughout the Camargue is probably more Spanish: it's bulls, flamenco and paella around every corner.
But Carol got to see her flamingos. Jill got to see the sea. And I got my fish soup. Pretty good it was, too.
An unfamiliar town which is replete with restaurants makes choosing the venue for lunch something of a problem. Sure as hell was for us. We walked up and down, looking at menus. We checked out the diners and watched the staff. We even entered one establishment, but the absence of service and an increasingly loud flamenco singer/guitarist drove us away before you could say 'cinquante et un'. And what a blessing we left when we did: we walked off the main drag into a small square and straight into Le Tourne Broche.
A three course menu. Fish soup, moules frites, and dessert. 13 euros 80. Smiling service. Tolerable wine by the pichet. I'm not claiming it was an El Bulli-style religious experience but, in this holiest of seaside towns, it was certainly a minor miracle.
Today's listening: The Pixies, 1st of May 2004 show in Indio.