Words and pictures: JPM Justice
For me travels are instrumented by a key inspirational feature. Flamingoes entail kitsch, neon affection in certain quarters (alongside the palm tree) what with their remarkably coloured plumage, distinctly awkward dimensions and tropical habitat. Most recently Herzog and Lynchʼs casting of them as ʻeagles in dragʼ and subsequently hostages in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done brought an affectionate glimpse of the bird in domestic captivity. Thus, etched on my mind, they became a natural wonder I eagerly desired to gaze up close, especially before committing one to tattoo needle (alas the stuffed version I had viewed in the Biology department of St Andrewʼs university didnʼt quite sufﬁce for my ink- inducing research).
Not long after arrival in the pilgrimage seaside resort of Saintes Maries de la Mer companion, Frenchie, and myself were able to view, from a distance, the one-stepping gangling beasts. For ﬁve days we encountered them regularly on nearby walks and epic cycle journeys around the inland lakes as they waded through the protected salt marshes of the Camargue in almost unmeasurable numbers. The Parc Ornithologique provided a slightly more intimate aves experience as covert trails winded the wetlands allowing us to sneak out from behind bushes and survey their loving neck-curled grace – they donʼt quite double back this physicality as an egret is capable of doing, but in mating rituals the greater ﬂamingo helixes and enshrines the neck with natural love ﬁt for many a Vegas wedding chapel.
For a few ﬂeeting seconds, which had Frenchie squawking gleefully, we witnessed the full laid-back lanky ﬂight of the animal – cherished spectacularly by the pantone-readied magenta colouring exposed underwing. We felt guilty for having to prompt this experience by somewhat startling the ﬂock but Iʼd recommend this selﬁsh course to hungry feathers twitchers. Subsequently we happily overlooked the fact we had packed inadequate rations for the 70km cycle route; one that had us almost connect the Petit and Grande Rhone arteries.
So there was the stimulus for the trip. A fairly timorous but stunningly curious bird. Of course in this part of Europe thereʼs the opportunity to ogle the famous white horses and bulls in abundance too. As my appetite grew I felt it only correct to sample the culinary offering of le taureau – a decision not so subliminally en-capped after an hour spent in one of the worldʼs most complete bullﬁghting memorabilia collections. Goya, Picasso and designer Christian Lacroix have all lent their art to corrida de toros print promotion. Indeed Alex, the eager proprietor, foraged for editions belonging to our birth-dates some thirty years old. Reluctantly I decided not to purchase the Francis Bacon ʼ92 Nimes offering as it was Alexʼs only copy.
So with bull in mind it was onto the city of Arles. The busy history of the Rhone-hugging port has witnessed Celtic, Greek and Roman civilisations take residence. The latter having dished up a two-tiered amphitheatre for chariot-racing and the odd slice of gory mano-o-mano glory. Presently it can hold up to 20,000 spectators for bullﬁghts (the highlight of the calendar occurring over Easter festivities) but itʼs the shadowy streets surrounding that gave way to this pieceʼs visual offering.
At ﬁrst take they could have been obsolete posters for the Gladiator blockbuster. The brown-papered street art of one anonymous, Roman-loving artist were pasted up over various backstreets as clues to the past. The worksʼ tones and narrative were wholly sympathetic with the nineteenth century townhouses as they snaked out from the amphitheatreʼs central location. It was hard to imagine local residentsʼ dissatisﬁed with this rather constructive, and somewhat touristic addition, as they might do to the lazier ʻtagsʼ commonplace as well.
Happily timing our visit with the week long arts festivities organised by the boutiques and galleries of Rue de la Liberté we were also able to interact with the urban installing of pavment-trawling lizards and ﬁre-hydrant seeping squid. Contemporary art hideaway LʼHosteʼs Vaisseaux Fantomes by Floridian import Reeve Schumacher exhibited a clutch
of roof hoisted sea-faring vessels formed from the feathers and bones of native birds. I assured Reeve should his eloquently precise worksʼ natural palette extend into loud and garish one day then the Flamingo quill we had witnessed some thirty kilometres south should be his next resource port of call. Downstairs in the cellar weʼre calmly blown through the sedate sailing ﬁlm of of M Laﬁlle. Fuzzy boats race in formation as weʼre reminded of migrational birds enduring their lifelong navigational existence.
JPM Justice is an Edinburgh based designer and writer and a founder member of the Go Reborn movement.