Vincent's Yellow

a[n] [auto]biography and a love story.

Arles – Le Café Van Gogh

I came here every night of my stay in Arles, I believe. It is important to call it Le Café Van Gogh, because that is what it is. It is a restoration of the cafe that you painted, not the original. It is meticulously designed. Yet – it rests in the same location. And so irony, commercialism, and ghosts have all nestled in. History and dreams mix, with the bitter aftertaste of emptiness. No one there could tell me if anything was original. Few there knew much about Van Gogh at all — or maybe they were just too busy serving the customers. They do make a killing, as you might imagine. For what tourist would come to Arles and not eat here?

And so they benefit from you. You have a strange version of the Midas touch, it seems, with a century delay. For you did eat here, drink here, paint here. The townspeople did kick you out of here, that is to say, Arles. In fact, I read that upstairs they have the pool table you painted. And so, I went exploring, into the dark:

A pool table was indeed stored in the very mysterious and abandoned second floor.

I went back to the hotel that night to compare. Indeed, neither of the pool tables here have pockets, and the legs look mighty similar. I discovered Carom, or French billiards: a game played on a table with no pockets, and with only three balls, two white and one red. Though my waiter the next night denied it, I still think it must be the same table.

This brings us to the other side of Le Café La Nuit. While the painting of the terrace outside is beautiful, the painting of the inside is anything but, and this was Vincent’s intention:

“In my painting of the night café I’ve tried to express the idea that the café is a place where you can ruin yourself, go mad, commit crimes. Anyway, I tried with contrasts of delicate pink and blood-red and wine-red. Soft Louis XV and Veronese green contrasting with yellow greens and hard blue greens.” (9 September 1888 to Theo)

This is certainly an aspect of the place the owners would want to make disappear, but I found it.

In the stacks of old paintings inspired by Vincent on the second floor, piled, hiding, in the dark.

In the twisted lines – nothing seemed quite straight.

But there was always this warmth, of what you are…

Constantly cutting through the darkness.

Mon, November 23 2009 » Photo entries, Popular Culture, Research, Travel

9 Responses

  1. Timmy Caldwell November 23 2009 @ 21:25

    I love how you examine with a sharp eye those aspects of the café that are not authentic or “real” and then contrast them against those things that Vincent would have recognized today: color, light, and the night. I feel it’s safe to say that he might be unhappy with the blatant commercialization of his likeness, and I feel equally certain that he would have been delighted to encounter you seated at a table in his café.

  2. Judy Veramendi November 24 2009 @ 15:04

    Did you imagine that I would love this and look at it over and over again? The memories warm me up on a cold drizzly Chicago afternoon in November, and will do so forever I am sure. Thank you for such loveliness…

  3. Edwin May 19 2010 @ 15:27

    Can i ask you something?…what is so special about Van Gogh’s Starry Night? I’m only asking bc my ex-girlfriend loves it so much. Help me see why.

  4. A Professora Tia Lilian January 4 2012 @ 10:51

    I loved your site! I really wanted to visit this beautiful place. Seek their friendship on facebook. Success.

  5. Teresa March 8 2012 @ 12:10

    Edwin, I apologize for missing your comment! I hope you see my response, though it is so much later…

    I think people are drawn to Starry Night because it asks the modern question — is there an afterlife? What are these eternal stars above us? Why are they so beautiful? The stars, after all, are the only things humankind cannot change or shape, and so an age-old symbol of the eternal, and thus, our spirits.

    I find it fascinating that science has proven that we humans are made of stardust: carbon was first created inside a star. In addition, in five billion years the earth will be gobbled up by the sun as it expands and finally explodes… This means the stars are the origin of life, and also our eternal graves.

    I think it is this metaphysical connection that people feel strongly in Vincent’s Starry Night. It is also possibly the most beautiful painting of the night sky ever created.

  6. Teresa March 8 2012 @ 12:12

    And thank you, professora! Feel free to email me a link to this cafe’s page, I can’t find it. :)

  7. Michael Freeman August 28 2012 @ 01:36

    For a place that charges €3.10 for a (very small, undrinkable) cafe elonge, you would expect that they could afford to put a lock on the door of the one cubicle in the gents (which was not easily found in the first place: no signs and surly staff). Trying to hold the door shut, leaning from a seated position, made for some exciting times for me, and attracted less-than-enthusiastic looks from parents and children trying to get in and catching me at stool. I did not get close to cutting my ear off: but I would not go there again.

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