Arles feels ripples of racial conflict

Story by Ella Slade

While only a 15-minute walk from the city center, the Griffeuille, one of Arles’ three quartiers populaires, resembles an entirely different city. As you approach from downtown, the Roman architecture and tourist-target boutiques fade into clusters of large, uniform housing projects. 

Many people from these housing projects never go to the city center and vice versa, according to Fanny Petit, the coordinator of La Collective, a non-profit association in Arles that provides social and psychological services for women. “It’s like there is a frontier, an invisible frontier.”

One of the housing projects in Griffeuille, a quartier populaire in Arles. Photo by Ella Slade.

Recent events have shined a spotlight on those living in France’s quartiers populaires. On June 27, in Nanterre, a town in the western suburbs of Paris, 17-year-old Nahel M. was fatally shot in the chest by police, for driving off during a traffic check. The recent death of the teenager, who neighbors said was from a family of Algerian origin, triggered rioting and clashes with police around Paris and other communities throughout France.

In Arles, the reality is complex, leaving both urban and suburban communities with conflicting feelings of solidarity and estrangement. While the Griffeuille  may not seem attractive to tourists, it is rich with diversity and home to a close-knit community, said Zachariah Yazidi, a resident of the Griffeuille, who compared himself to a local mail carrier.  “We all know each other, we’re like a big family. 

Quartiers populaires are categorized based on household income, communities where the median income is equal to, or less than, 60% of the national median wage (1,800€/month). The people who live in these communities are two times more likely to be immigrants than the national average and three times more likely to be unemployed, according to the Institut Montaigne. 

A similar, but not interchangeable, term used is banlieue, meaning a set of administratively autonomous neighborhoods that surround an urban center.

Although it is the largest city in France by land area, Arles has a relatively small population of around 50,000 inhabitants. 

While riots broke out even in many small French towns, protesters assembled peacefully June 30 in Arles’ Place de la République.

People gather for a peaceful assembly on June 30 to protest the killing by police of Nahel M. on June 27. Photo by Deni Chamberlin.

Victor Parodi, who lives in Arles and will attend the University of Paul Valery in the fall, said he thinks that since Arles is a fairly small city, it does not host much social activism. 

“You can see right away when you go to the biggest cities like Lyon, Marseille, Paris. This is where there is the most movement, and where there has been the most revolt and break-up,” Parodi said. “For example, I went to Marseille today. The riots were still two weeks ago and there were dozens of stores with the windows that were totally broken, stores that were looted, that were broken, stolen from.”

“It is also not necessarily in small towns where we will see these riots. The purpose of a riot is to see it everywhere, and in small towns people won’t necessarily see them,” said Samuel Lacassin, a recent graduate of Lycée Louis Pasquet in Arles.

The assembly in Arles included three audio broadcasts of testimonies from Nahel’s family, as well as other victims of civil rights violations and police brutality. 

“There were 200 people [present], which is not enormous, but it’s consequential for the city of Arles, and there were 50 to 70 young people who came from the banlieue,” said Camille, an organizer of the assembly in Arles who spoke to The Arles Project on the condition of using a pseudonym. “Normally, in these political activist gatherings, most people are White and from the center of town.”

According to Camille, many who attended the assembly in Arles were social activists who have demonstrated together in the past. 

Throughout the assembly, those in attendance were given time to speak and pose questions to law enforcement officials who were present. 

“They immediately asked simple questions about their feelings,” Camille said. “A young boy, who is 11, talked about racism that he already knows, as he is a victim of racism at this age, which is very young. He asked the policeman, ‘Why do you arrest only Arabic and Black people, and why do you control them?’” 

The officers, who stood on the periphery of the assembly, did not respond. A spokesperson for the Arles bureau of the national police told The Arles Project no one was available to comment by press time. 

A graffito in Arles calls for “Justice for Nahel,” the Nanterre youth killed by a police officer. Photo by Ella Slade.

According to Camille, even a simple gathering in homage to Nahel and to denounce police racism is considered a threat to government officials in France. The problem is not just the racism of individual officers, Camille said. “It’s the laws around it, and how to live with systemic racism in the states and with the police in particular.”

“In places like the banlieue, where they’re not investing a lot of money and energy into making life better for these people, giving them more work opportunities, and giving them more education opportunities, obviously, there’s going to be economic difficulties,” said Sydney Firsching, an Arles-based intern at SOS Racisme, an organization which aims to combat discrimination and promote community cooperation. “All crime is a result of economic difficulties, really, in most cases, in many communities.” 

Police stop teenagers in the Paris banlieue sometimes multiple times per day, she said.

That’s similar to the reality experienced by Cosmo Arnold, who also recently graduated from Lycée Louis Pasquet in Arles.

“Just the difference between how you interact with the police, for example, between the center of town and [the fashionable neighborhood] La Roquette, is two different worlds,” Arnold said. “I mean, they won’t do a thing if you’re in town, [but] they will chase you if you do a single bad thing outside of town, not even that far away.” 

How can the cycle of poverty, over policing and violence end? “I think it [starts] by taking a step back and realizing how abnormal it is to have a police force that’s defending the state and the interests of a few over everyone else,” Arnold said. “And it’s all about not normalizing it. It’s by normalizing it, that it becomes more prevalent.” 

Yazidi agrees. “As I explained to you, we are like a big family, and that’s why France is rising up. If someone killed someone in your family, someone you know, [you] would rise. At some point, people need to shout to be listened to by the government.”

Not a performance

Story and photos by Kylie Clifton

It’s a regular day at LUMA Arles. Visitors are milling about; smiles grow like eager crops at the sight of two 90-foot-long intertwining stainless-steel slides. Pascal Coluni, a LUMA welcome agent, collects denim toboggans from guests at the foot of the slide with a wide grin. Guests watch the slides behind smartphones as Coluni checks his watch repeatedly.

And then it starts.

Taking a few steps from his post, Coluni changes his posture and begins to sing. It’s musical, but there are no words. An ethereal echo fills the cavernous tower. The sounds are eerie and bizarre, yet still comforting. Coluni opens his arms to welcome others to join in. A few visitors start singing the wordless song together.

This video shows excerpts from the first part of “These Elements,” a collaborative immaterial artwork created by world-renowned artists Tino Sehgal and Phillipe Parreno. This section of the work lasts about five minutes.

To visitors, it might appear that Coluni has gone rogue – or perhaps a bit mad. However, the song is not spontaneous. It’s the first composition from “These Elements,” a collaborative immaterial artwork created by world-renowned artists Tino Sehgal and Phillipe Parreno. This exhibition was commissioned by LUMA Arles for the opening of the Tower in 2021 and the living artwork has continued daily for two years.

“These Elements” is a permanent exhibition at LUMA Arles, but its existence isn’t documented. Visitors will not find a title, an artist credit, a schedule or a description on location or on the LUMA website.

The exhibition needs to be experienced to be understood, and behind it is a complex list of rules per the artists’ instruction. The first rule: This is not a performance and it should not be regarded as one.

“For Tino’s work, the art is what is born in between the person who does it and the person who receives it,” explained Iaci Lomonaco, head of global engagement for Tino Sehgal. “So, it’s what we are exchanging. Who is singing is [not] the star; [the star] is what we exchange. This really depends on the mood of the interpreter but also the moods of who is receiving it.”

“These Elements” is made up of three compositions and a film. The first element is the immaterial artwork that Coluni participates in. When the singers finish the five-minute piece, they move into a room where visitors are seated on a giant circular couch watching and listening to a multimedia piece by Phillipe Parreno. Once inside the room, the singers join the unknowing guests on the sofa and start improvising electric sounds in a piece called “The Grotto.” The final element, “The Spider,” includes an improvisational duet between a dancer and a pianist. 

From the beginning, LUMA Arles sought to hire existing welcome agents for “These Elements.” Coluni, who started working at LUMA Arles in 2016, was invited to meet Sehgal for a vocal exercise in June 2021. Without any voice lessons or experience performing, he discovered he could sing.

Prior to 2021, he had only ever sung at home and simply for fun. His favorite artists and genres include Michael Jackson, Mariah, jazz and gospel music.

Pascal Coluni, a welcome agent at LUMA Arles, sings the first movement of “Three Elements.”

“It was a revelation for me,” said Coluni. “It revealed my artistic side and the fact that I didn’t know that my voice had that much potential and could cover that great a range in terms of what I could do singing Tino’s work.”

This exhibition is kept alive by the presence of an unknowing audience. Impressions from onlookers can vary from confused to delighted.

“Interaction with people changes it a lot,” said Flore Silly, another LUMA employee who participates in the exhibition. “Energy of the day is always different [which influences the] piece. So every day is different. I learned from those interactions or synergies how to be in flux, to share, to be incarnated in all those different elements.”

Jo Crosby, an Australian who was visiting LUMA Arles recently, heard the vocal piece while viewing another exhibition. Intrigued by the sound, she left her exhibit to find the source.

“I wasn’t sure if it’s an installation or if it’s actually part of the building,” said Crosby. “It’s fantastic to see something that’s not so conservative, that’s brave and yet unexpectedly pushing the boundaries.”

This exhibition is collaborative in nature but not just with the artists — Coluni treasures the moments shared with visitors.

“There was a nurse who had just come out of two years of working through COVID-19,” he recalled. “At the end she came up to me and [silently embraced me]. She had been very moved by the piece and I was also moved by her reaction.”

Bullfighting Controversy Mounts

Story by Ella Lepkowski. Photos by Sam Guzman

Longtime Arles resident Dominique Arizmendi was sitting in the stands of an arena as bullfighters jabbed a bull in the neck several times until it couldn’t raise its head. When the matador finally killed it with his sword, the crowd cheered. But Arizmendi was disgusted. “I felt like I was on another planet,” she said.

When one considers the essence of French culture, the mind often paints a vivid picture, dominated by the iconic imagery of Paris: alleys with old architecture, freshly baked baguettes and croissants with cheese and chocolate on the side, and perhaps even fervent protesters filling the roads. In the southern region of France, however, a vibrant ambiance with distinct Mediterranean and Latin influences continues to thrive, particularly in the provincial city of Arles where the corrida, or bullfighting, season lasts from the second Sunday of March to the end of September.

Now Arles, a provincial city in the South of France, finds itself at a crossroads. With anti-corrida protests echoing through the streets and a growing majority in favor of banning the age-old tradition, Arles has become a battleground for conflicting opinions on the ethics and future of bullfighting. As the spotlight shines on this vibrant Mediterranean city, the clash between passionate advocates and fervent opponents reveals a deeply divided society grappling with the moral complexities surrounding this controversial spectacle.

A bull bleeds from the matador’s sword.

While the true history and origins of bullfighting is blurred as it has been influenced by many different cultures spanning a long period of time, historians can trace an idea of how modern bullfighting appeared in Spain. During the Moorish rule of Spain (8th to 15th century), bullfighting in its early form emerged as a combination of pre-existing traditions. Moors created contests involving bull-leaping and bull-dodging, which were eventually blended with local customs.

Controversies rose from the ethical concerns of bullfighting. Queen Isabella I, for example, opposed bullfighting, and the practice went underground in the 15th century. In 1567, Pope Pius V issued a complete ban on bullfighting, excommunicating Christian nobles who supported such spectacles. But by the 18th century, bullfighting was back and had transformed into a highly stylized and formalized spectacle in Spain. Key elements such as the three-stage structure (tercio), the use of specific tools (such as the cape and sword), and the involvement of bullfighters (toreros) began to take shape.

Bullfighting faced a challenge in 2012 when an animal rights organization sent a request for a ban to France’s Constitutional Council. The request, however, was shot down under the premise that the practice is not unconstitutional, and is traditional to the South of France. Defenders of bullfighting also point out the significant economic impact the sport has, as the practice greatly attracts tourists.

Although France’s Constitutional Council rejected the plea for bullfighting to be banned and despite the enduring presence of bullfighting as a cultural tradition, recent statistics reveal that a majority of French people leans toward the anti-corrida stance. According to survey data collected by IFOP (The Institut français d’opinion publique), a staggering 74% of French citizens are in favor of banning bullfighting. These findings and the anti-corrida protests each year in Arles highlight the strong opposition to bullfighting in France, reflecting a significant clash in societal attitude towards the ethics and morality surrounding this controversial spectacle.

“I can’t stand having animals tortured to death,” Arizmendi said.

According to Arizmendi, the primary ethical concerns associated with bullfighting are rooted in the inherent cruelty of the practice.

“It’s hard for me to understand how people can do this,” she said. “It’s not to eat. It’s not a slaughterhouse to get meat. It’s a show for fun, so I don’t understand how people can have fun watching an animal be tortured and put to death.”

To actively participate in the anti-corrida movement and advocate for its cause, Arizmendi and her group, named No Corrida, organize protests in the streets and gather signatures for petitions in hopes that these efforts will help change the law.

Arizmendi differentiates the course camarguaise, a traditional form of French bullfighting that still currently takes place in the Camargue region, from corrida. “People don’t hurt, torture, or kill the bull.” She explains that the corrida is Spanish bullfighting, whereas the course camarguaise is a French tradition that has existed for a long time.

The course camargaise begins with a dance performance in traditional clothing.

 Arizmendi also rebuts the worry that a corrida ban would have negative implications for the economy and tourism. The feria, the fair in which the bullfighting course camarguaise takes place, is what brings in the money.

“All the people who come for the feria do not go to the corrida,” she said, explaining that the majority of the bulls raised are destined for the slaughterhouse, not for the arena.

Arizmendi acknowledges the financial support provided to bull breeders and organizers through taxes, but says, “We don’t want that anymore because these are taxes from French people, and most French people don’t know it. The corrida absolutely does not have any economic consequence for the country, the cities, or the regions. On the contrary, it costs money. It does not create revenue.”

While opponents of bullfighting condemn the practice, claiming it to be cruel and inhumane, the outlook from the other side tells a completely different story. The bull holds a special place in their hearts.

“We love the bull more than anything,” said Charlie Laloe, a retired bullfighter. To them, the corrida represents something wholly unique. “They are not in cages like a meat breed.” 

For some, bullfighting symbolizes a fierce battle, while for others, it is an artistic expression, akin to a captivating dance. Thomas Joubert, a bullfighter and founder of ASSPA, an inclusive sports organization, says, “The first thing I take with me when I go to my practice…is my music. This part is what I like.”

However, Joubert acknowledges the solemnity of the final act, stating, “The moment we kill the bull, I think for most of the bullfighters, is the moment we don’t really like…even more when we spend time with the bull.”

Frédéric Poudevigne, the head veterinary inspector for the Ministry of Agriculture, also emphasizes the profound significance bullfighting has for the practitioners.

“A bullfighter, as soon as he gets a little bit of money, even if he kills (bulls) every day, will buy some cows and buy some mothers and have his own breed, which he will visit every day, and show to all his friends,” Poudevigne said. “If we stop the fight with the animal, we disappear.”

Yves Lebas, president of a bullfighting school in Arles called L’ecole Taurine D’Arles, claims that, in some ways, the anti-corrida movement has brought more violence than corrida itself. He said some activists reportedly sent envelopes with razor blades to the training school for bullfighting. 

In response to the animosity directed toward bullfighting, Joubert emphasizes the importance of mutual respect. “I have to respect your idea, you have to respect mine.” 

Ukrainian refugees resettle in Arles

Story and photos by Gabriela Calvillo Alvarez

As Iryna K. and her 10-year-old son Alex fled the war in Ukraine, migrating from Germany to Ireland to Arles, he would draw pictures showing how he would find a way to go home. 

“First, he denied the war,” said Iryna, 40, who asked that her last name not be published. “He said the war didn’t exist. He told me he wanted to return. Every evening, he would draw me a map of how he would escape. ‘Mom, I will go by this frontier, that frontier,’ and so on.” 

The mother and son left Ukraine in May 2022, not long after the war began. They had lived all her life in Kyiv, where the bombardment was intense from the beginning.

Russian leaders, she said, “hoped that in three days Kyiv would be occupied, that they would impose their government, and that then the war would be finished. Anyway, you see that it still continues.”

Iryna is part of a loose network of women and children who are trying to find their footing in Arles. Many of them have families back home in Ukraine and are waiting to return, while others have decided to stay. 

“I know that last year, we had many people come in, maybe 150,” said Iryna, whose family remains in Ukraine. “But now, a lot of them have left so it’s hard to have an exact number.”

Iryna K. stands in the garden of her home in Arles.

As of July 2023, nearly 6 million refugees from Ukraine are recorded to be in Europe, according to the UN Refugee Agency. France does not have an official database for this information but a report from the U.S. Department of State Humanitarian Information Unit states that as of Jan. 2023, 119,000 Ukrainian refugees are currently in France. 

Arles was one of the cities that provided a haven for Ukrainian refugees. Initially, no official resources were available and it was just a people-helping-people effort. Because she was one of the few who could speak both Ukrainian and French, Iryna served as a bridge for those coming to Arles. While she had secure housing with a local family, she helped connect other women to Arlesians willing to host refugees. 

However, one of the challenges these women face when they arrive here is a lack of work opportunities. Since the city is dependent on tourism, especially during the summer months, it’s harder to have a stable income during the off seasons, such as winter and fall. 

“Arles doesn’t give you many possibilities to realize your professional potential,” Iryna said. “You can go work at a hotel or a restaurant, but you don’t have a lot of choices.”

Iryna was a unique case. Upon her arrival in Arles, she began an association called Ukraine en Provence to help provide resources to other Ukrainian women who have resettled in the region. 

“I did everything because I understood that if I was home alone, with all my thoughts, it would be unsupportable,” Iryna said. “It’s too heavy. It was very difficult to manage my own feelings and in addition, I had to manage [my son’s] feelings, too.”

Iryna K. and her son, Alex, have made a home in Arles even as they miss their family in Ukraine.

Last year, she offered a Ukrainian course, in partnership with the Arles à la carte language school, to teach the history and language of the country to locals interested in learning more about the Ukrainian community.

“For French people, it’s very difficult to understand some particularities of Ukraine,” she said. 

“So I decided to write a little book that’s like Ukrainian in 30 days.”

Iryna studied languages at a university in Ukraine and speaks English and Italian, as well as French and Ukrainian. These skills helped her communicate and find work.

For most Ukrainian refugees, however, language has been another obstacle. Halyna Mamchur, 35, didn’t know any French when she and her daughter, Maria, arrived in Arles over a year ago. She came here at the suggestion of a French friend she knew from art school in Ukraine.

“It’s been a very difficult and beautiful time for me, this one year,” she said. “I met very happy people and I think I try to be happy, too.”

Four months after she arrived, she decided to pick up drawing once more as a way to process her feelings about leaving her country. Her paintings often contain images of her family and faces combined with bird features, to symbolize freedom and strength.

“For me, it’s a normal artist’s life,” said Mamchur. “It’s my emotions and it’s my experience with people, with my friends, with my parents.”

Mamchur’s friend, Nadja Bailly, 37, studied art in Ukraine for a year with Halyna and they’ve been friends ever since. Bailly has been involved in helping the Ukrainian community since the very beginning of the war. She was one of the few who could translate for those coming into town for safety. 

“At the beginning, nobody knew what Ukraine was. Nobody knew its history or the language. But now they do. Everyone knows,” Bailly said. 

While some people like Iryna are settling in Arles, others have decided to go back to Ukraine. Mamchur is one of those women. She left last month. 

“Maybe when the war is finished, I’ll come back together with my family,” Mamchur said. “Right now, I understand that I only want to live in my country. Maria and I speak Ukrainian, we sing Ukrainian, and I love it.” 

Inclusive efforts misfire at LUMA Arles

Story and photos by Kylie Clifton

LUMA Arles is not just an art museum. Guests enter the whimsical, stainless steel-clad LUMA Tower to meet intertwining metal slides accompanied by the eerie echoes of an hourly singing exhibition composed only of sounds. The design inspires excitement and confusion alike — a theme that continues far beyond the entrance. Inside the exhibits, visitors are encouraged to touch the work as if they’re an active member in the creation.

My visit there brings to mind “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Much like Charlie’s journey in Roald Dahl’s children’s book, in which a grim reality was revealed just beyond a fanciful entrance, my troubling fate awaited me beneath a staircase, one of many unique sets of stairs, this one mirrored a double helix.

Our group of American students stood together in a tired sweat as we surrounded our English-speaking tour guide. She introduced an exhibit featuring work by Diane Arbus, an American photographer who published most of her work during the 1960s. Arbus is most recognized for her style of direct and intimate photographs of “social deviants,” which often included members of the LGBTQ+ community, drag artists, nudists and sex workers.

The LUMA Arles exhibition “Constellation” is, with 454 photographs, the largest presentation to date of Diane Arbus’ work.

In introducing the exhibit, the tour guide said, “Diane Arbus’ subjects included … homosexuals and transvestites.”

My mind stopped, and I was taken back to Pride 2019 in New York City. Outside a sea of rainbow joy, transphobic protesters roared vile messages and “transvestite” was their slur of choice.

However, the tour guide’s usage was different. She wasn’t angry; she was addressing the subjects of Arbus’ work in a calm manner. I was struck. I had only heard this word paired with rage. I kept asking myself two questions: “How could this be said so casually? Is it possible they said the wrong word?”

I raised my hand, my only instrument to break the silence. “Why is it necessary to use the word transvestite?”

“Is there a different word you’d prefer?” the tour guide responded.

“Well, perhaps the word transgender or…” I offered.

Before I could finish my sentence, the tour guide told me there is a significant difference between the words transgender and transvestite. In the same breath, she said this was the language tour guides were instructed to use for a plethora of reasons — including the fact that Arbus used that word to title her works.

I knew the difference between the words and realized I should have used the word cross-dresser. The 11th edition of the GLAAD Media Reference Guide says cross-dresser has “replaced the offensive word ‘transvestite.’”

The tour guide serves as an educator and, in that role, has tremendous influence. I fear if global visitors to LUMA Arles hear a tour guide using the word, they will use it, too, without realizing how offensive it is.

This usage of this word upset me in 2019 and now again in 2023 for the same reason, but I too often forget that strangers don’t know why. I think everyone should be concerned about the usage of offensive language, but this word cuts deeper for me. I came out as transgender over eight years ago with pride and fear that still lives inside me. Today I have the privilege of “passing” as the woman that I am.

Each day I function like the entire universe knows that I am transgender. I’m always on guard, but it’s a personal battle only I’m aware of. To my knowledge, the LUMA tour guide didn’t know. This left me thinking, if she had known would she have used the word transvestite around me?

I take issue with the fact that Arbus had enormous power over her subjects. She was a cisgender white woman who was born into a wealthy family. There is a distinct power dynamic in which she held a remarkable amount of privilege over her subjects. She’s celebrated for her intimate portrayals of underrepresented subjects, but to me all of her work feels exploitative, as if she crossed a line that wasn’t hers to cross. I’m not the first to raise this issue; it was debated in her own era. 

Yes, this was language that was used at the time, but the term transgender was coined in the 1960s, and people had been challenging the gender binary long before then. It’s possible that some of the drag artists Arbus photographed identified as transgender but hadn’t begun transitioning or more likely feared to start. We don’t know, but using more neutral language or even supplying context for the word would be an act of respect to Arbus’ subjects.

Instead, the conversation with the tour guide became an uncomfortable argument. This was not my intention, and as it continued, I felt the eyes of my peers with pain. What was I doing? As a proud and open trans woman, I am acutely aware of how important it is for me to speak up, but I always forget how difficult it is to do.

At the moment the group was silent, I had to excuse myself. My embarrassing fear was realized, I was the trans woman tearing up in the corner who couldn’t handle confrontation. However, I can recognize now this was not weakness, but strength.

At the close of my tour, I wanted nothing more than to leave and never be seen again. As a trans woman I yearn to be accepted in every space I enter, and often I’m the only one in the room. I wish to be able to blend in and be quiet. This time I spoke up.

After the tour, I spoke privately with the guide. She was apologetic and pledged to speak with her superiors about the use of the word. I recognize that the tour guide was not acting out of malice, but I question the attention to inclusive language in her training.

I don’t care what she titled her pieces; Arbus should not be the authority to follow.

This is a personal reflection and does not necessarily express the opinion of The Arles Project or program sponsors ieiMedia or Arles à la carte.

Fashion history comes alive

The Fête du Costume is Arles’ most prominent celebration of Provençal tradition. It is a three-day festival full of parades, bull games, and an overall exhibition of traditional clothing. Only people with at least three generations of ancestry in the city can participate. The fabrics needed to create an ensemble are expensive. Costumes range from the 18th to the 19th century.

The festival started in 1903, instigated by local writer Frédéric Mistral when he created the Festo Vierginenco (Festival of Virgins). According to Avignon & Provence, young girls were invited to wear the dress and hair ribbon to symbolize their passage into adulthood.

Up to age 15, girls wear the Mireille costume composed of a cotton skirt above the ankles, an apron, a black bodice and a simple scarf.

After that age, they wear a more sophisticated dress style that evolved in the 18th century, with the use of jewel-colored satin fabrics, a ribbon and a habit. A delicate lace bodice and shawl complete the costume, flattering the silhouette.

The queen of Arles is elected for three years after showing her knowledge of Provençal history, literature, architecture, arts, traditions, culture and language. The queen is accompanied by women called the “Maidens of Honor,” who are ambassadresses of the region’s traditions, attending local officials at cultural and traditional events. Also present at the festival are gardians, the Camargue “cowboys,” who herd the black Camargue bulls used for the course camarguaise bull games in southern France. Camargue horses galloping through water is a popular and romantic image of the region.

Climate change reaches the Camargue

Story and photos by Anaïs-Ophelia Lino

When tourists think of the Camargue and its sprawling tall grasses, shining blue seawater and picturesque white horses, few would imagine it could disappear in a couple decades. But climate scientists say its grass is becoming too salty for pasture and its beaches are receding, and in 50 years its central city, Arles, will be under water.

“What shocks me most is that when I arrived in 1991, there were big, large beaches,” said researcher Nicole Yavercovski. “Today, they’ve disappeared.”

The Camargue is seeing radical changes due to climate change, according to researchers such as Yavercovski at the Tour du Valat, which has been studying the Camargue’s flora and fauna for nearly 70 years.

For decades, the region has attracted tourists for its flamingos, bulls, white horses and Mediterranean beaches. In the last 30 years, climate change has had severe impacts on all of them.

“In the very long term, it’s true that all of the Camargue will be under water,” said Jocelyn Champagnon, ornithologist for the Tour du Valat.  “I think nobody wants to address this question because it’s difficult to accept it.”

Wildlife has already been affected. Birds don’t need to travel as far south anymore to find warmer weather. Some birds from Switzerland that would have migrated to the Camargue stay near Paris. 

In the heart of the Camargue lies the Vaccarès Pond. It’s crucial for water birds but has lost the eelgrass that feeds most of them.

Meanwhile, the Camargue’s agriculture is being affected by low precipitation and a rapidly heating planet. According to Champagnon, sea levels will rise dramatically in the next 20 years. That means that there will be less beef and rice production.

In fact, that is already happening. Rising temperatures, low precipitation and human interference such as irrigation and increased water vapor is causing salt to rise quickly to the top of the surface and into the soil. 

“Agriculture is very sensitive to the salt,” Champagnon said. “You have a strong impact on the production of agriculture. So, this is already an impact of climate change.”

The shrinking beaches of the Camargue still attract many tourists.

While salt is one of the region’s most valuable exports, this is causing less production of rice and making some grass inedible for grazing animals, like the Camarguais bulls and horses. Rice farmers have to push past the salt and plant deeper, and bulls that graze in the Camargue are eating less, according to Yavercovski.

“I think there will be a big change in Arles’ socio-economic way of life,” Yavercovski said. 

The city of Arles in the south of France is the country’s biggest commune by land area, almost seven times as big as Paris’ zone. Its economy depends mostly on tourism and the production of salt, rice and beef in the surrounding countryside. “Everyone will be affected by climate change,” Yavercovski said. 

Yavercovski said farmers blame ecologists for wanting to regulate the use of the land.

Olive and hay farmer Benoit Cauvin responds that the tensions stem from the perception that ecologists have more pull with the government and greater access to land. 

Situated in the Crau, just on the border of the Camargue, Cauvin’s farm produces expensive Crau hay that can only grow in that region. 

Cauvin has experienced bizarre weather. A hotter winter helps his olives grow but hurts the hay.

“Climate change doesn’t worry me as much, but winter is less cold now,” Cauvin said. “Climate change means having to adapt.”

Slowly, ecologists are gathering interested parties, including farmers, duck hunters and managers of protected areas, to summarize new discoveries and collaborate on solutions. 

“We are working with the farmers in order to find solutions for them to not disturb [ecology] too much and  to understand [it],” said Champagnon. “But this is really just the beginning.”

An Arlesian brew

By Sophie Wyckoff

In 2016, after years of research and experimentation in his kitchen, Florent de Oliveira took the plunge and started Brasserie Artisanale Arlésienne (BAA), which now produces one of the most popular craft beers sold in Arles. 

De Oliveira is originally from Doubs, France, where he began a petrochemical engineering career, but he wanted to get involved in a profession that combined his passions – craftsmanship, nature and of course, good beer.

He launched his microbrewery in Saint Martin de Crau, 15 miles southeast of Arles. BAA is brewed with water extracted directly from under the brewery in the Crau Plain.

Elefante Remi, whose main job is to brew and prepare the beer for transportation, is the only other employee in the company.

Remi and De Oliveira’s workdays commence around 8 a.m. and end at approximately 6 p.m. From straight malt to bottling and ready for shipment, it takes around 8 to 10 hours for the entire process to occur. 

Once the brewing procedure is complete, the two men put the kegs in a warm room in their warehouse, otherwise known as a chamber. The kegs are then sent to clients, including businesses and individuals, in Arles. 

BAA has four types of beer: rice beer, hibiscus and its bestsellers, classic and brown beer. 

Photo by Sophie Wyckoff

“Our classic flavor is categorized as a blonde beer because the malt isn’t ground, which gives the beer a lighter color,” Remi explains, “while our brown beer has a chocolatey color because the malt has been ground.” 

The malt, wheat, rice and barley BAA uses are locally grown. De Oliveira carefully handpicks the hops and barley, selecting only the perfect ones to make his brew. De Oliveira strove for organic production, and his entire range of ingredients is certified as Organic Agriculture (AB) and European Organic Agriculture (Eurofeuille).

Remi and De Oliveira said brewing the perfect mixture demands pure water, hops for the bitterness and conservation of their beer, and malted barley, which will provide sugar that the yeast will feed on during fermentation. This combination develops into a sweet malt mixture that is then put into fermentation vats. The BAA is bottled semi-manually by its two employees and sent in cardboard boxes for shipment. 

Brasserie Artisanale Arlésienne is the most popular beer sold in town. When asked why or how his beer was so popular among the Arlesian people, De Oliveira responded jokingly, “Well, that’s easy; it is made with love.” 

De Oliveira pours his heart and soul into his company, making “this beer special in Arles because it is easier to drink and taste than most. I am my first customer, so why wouldn’t I want to enjoy the beer I make? This allows the public to enjoy it too.” 

BAA beers are now available in almost every grocery store, liquor store restaurant and bar and at local events in Arles.

A haven for entrepreneurs

Story and photos by Ella Ehlers

Long known for its cultural and historical significance, Arles is now developing a reputation as a hub for entrepreneurship. The city aids new businesses financially and supports them with resources and networking opportunities. 

Using local products is an important value for many entrepreneurs here, especially for those in the food and beverage industry, who can draw from the fields of rice, lavender, durum wheat and herbs that grow in the region.

Arles holds an Entrepreneurs Day each year where new and aspiring business owners can learn everything they need to know to start and sustain their companies. The annual event begins with practical workshops on real estate, financing, and legal and tax issues.  Next comes a pitch session where entrepreneurs can pose their idea to a jury of professionals and get feedback. In the afternoon, participants meet in small groups to further develop their ideas and meet potential partners. 

This special day in Arles brings entrepreneurs together and lets them fully implement their business plans. 

Initiative Pays d’Arles, a member of the National Initiative France network, is another source of support for entrepreneurs in Arles. Established in 1998, this initiative provides technical and financial support to entrepreneurs in the region. In 2021, Initiative Pays d’Arles supported 272 companies and gave out 1.6 million euros in no-interest loans. 

Magdalena Lataillade, the economic development officer at the Chamber of Trades and Crafts of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, said, “Arles is home to 150 businesses, and 70% of them are micro-businesses,” which are companies that have only one employee, the entrepreneur. 

Magdalena Lataillade, the economic development officer at the Chamber of Trades and Crafts of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, helps businesses in Arles.

Lataillade explained that Arles is a city where many people want to start their own businesses, but there is only room for so many. Lataillade’s office supports new businesses by providing them with a cheaper space to rent and helps them network with other artisans in the area. 

The Chamber of Trades and Crafts has three spaces in Arles offered to entrepreneurs at low rents to help them get started. Entrepreneurs struggle with money in the first year, so these spaces are helpful for these new businesses.   

“It depends on how they do, but often, in the first year, many businesses make less than €10,000 (about $11,000 at the current exchange rate),” she said. “People do this because of a passion, not because of the money.”

Because Arles is surrounded by orchards, rice fields and other agricultural lands, many entrepreneurs incorporate local ingredients into their products. Natural resources like salt and crops such as rice, flowers, spices and herbs can be turned into food, beverages,  sachets and other products.

Many images come to mind when imagining an entrepreneur, but they all have one thing in common: hard work. Thomas Bigourdan, the creator and owner of Bigourdan, a gin distillery in the city center of Arles, proved that persistence and hard work are essential in his business. 

“You cannot give up after one challenge,” said Bigourdan, who started the distillery in 2018.

Florent de Oliveria, the founder of the Brasserie Arlesienne Artisanale Craft Beer, better known as BAA Beer, also saw Arles as a good place to start a beverage company.

 During an interview, Oliveria explained that “this company is very time-consuming which has led to a divorce and less time with my kids.” This is just one example of how devoted the entrepreneurs in Arles are to their companies. Oliveria is very hardworking but also has a contagious passion for his work. 

“Lots of businesses are created every year,” Lataillade said. “But only the strong ones make it.”

Meet two entrepreneurs from the Arles region:

Thomas Bigourdan, founder of Bigourdan Distillerie de Camargue

Florent de Oliveria, founder of the Brasserie Arlesienne Artisanale Craft Beer

Cultivating bulls –and tourists – in the Camargue

Story and photos by Alexie Zollinger

At the Manade des Baumelles in the Camargue region of the South of France, the sound of cowbells clanking breaks up the numbing noise from the cicadas, and distant exclamations can be heard coming from two employees. The hollers are tracked to two men, the older one giving instructions to the younger, who is hard at work, with irritated mosquito bites covering his legs from long days in the marshy wetlands of the region. 

The men step between slim planks of wood about a foot wide, laid across a corral holding three large Camargue bulls, idolized in the region due to their importance in traditional bullfighting and bull games. The men take turns carrying large double braided ropes through the slats, leaning their bodies back in order to apply the weight needed to lead the hefty animals beneath. They explain they are trying to attach a label to the ears of the bulls as a way to recognize bulls of their herd before the main event; they will run the bulls through the region on horseback, a well known and popular tradition in the Camargue.

A 16-year-old intern at the Manade des Baumelles helps wrangle bulls beneath him in order to place tracking labels on them.

Since the 16th century, the Camargue has been at the roots of established traditions in the region. With 360 square miles of sprawling farm land, its primary economic function, up until about 50 years ago, was as pasture for white Camargue horses, and breeding grounds and caring for bulls for the purpose of bullfighting and bull games. Now, the jobs of the Camargue’s inhabitants have changed– in addition to herding bulls, they are also herding tourists. 

The Camargue is Western Europe’s largest river delta. In it lie 150 manades or ranches, dedicated to the raising and care of Camargue bulls and horses. The Camargue has often been called the “wild west of France,” with the manadiers its ranchers and the gardians its cowboys. 

When the Camargue traditions started, these modern-day heroes were no more than agricultural laborers, and many of the inhabitants of the Camargue lived in poverty. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that nobleman Marquis de Baroncelli, infatuated with the Camargue’s beautiful scenery and inspired by the gardians‘ dedication to the land, swore to elevate these men, and promote them as protectors of the land. This status remains intact today – but many aspects of these traditions have changed. 

Throughout history, and up until about 50 years ago, gardians lived in the Camargue in traditional cabanes de gardian, small whitewashed homes made from materials often found in the Camargue – walls made from mud and stone, roofs made from reeds and sewn together with iron-weaved thread, and topped with limestone at the point. The homes are very small, with only one room and an open air fireplace for warmth and a small living space. Now, these homes are almost all renovated or built new, and listed as vacation rentals and Airbnbs, for upwards of $200/night in peak tourism season. 

The biggest building on any manade would have housed the manadier and his family in the 19th century, and would be made of stone. Now, they primarily serve as reception areas or small hotels for tourists, who visit the Camargue to see the legendary black bulls and white horses, and learn about the origins of bull games and bull fighting. 

Due to this popularity, the job descriptions have changed for the gardians and manadiers. They often give informational tours of the manade to tourists, and manadiers also become hotel managers, balancing tourist bookings with the traditional practice of raising and caring for the vital heart of the manade–the actual livestock.

Ronarn Faure,the sole gardian of the manade, says caring for the animals of the Camargue and protecting the traditions are his passion.

The Manade des Baumelles is a renovated manade complete with a hotel and two restaurants on the property. The manade offers horseback riding, tractor tours and other Camargue excursions. 

The relationship is intertwined now, and everyone who is involved in the traditions of the Camargue has been forced to adapt to these changes over time. They have found that one cannot exist without the other. Emile Astruc, an employee in the manade, said, “Without tourism there is not enough money coming in to have the Camargue or the gardians or the hotel; everything does go to the Camargue.”

Astruc believes all of the employees in the manades of the Camargue, whether they have an agricultural job or a job in hospitality, work in the manade because they are passionate about the traditions. She herself drives over an hour and a half from her home near Marseille every day at 6 a.m. to be in this position. 

Faure is the sole employed gardian of the Manade des Baumelles, and has been working in the Camargue professionally for six years. As a child he devoted much of his time to volunteering, as the traditions of the land are his passion.

Similarly to Astruc, Faure says that his career is a labor of love. “We don’t think about [it as a] job. I know that I work and that makes it my job, but it’s a passion because it’s never the same, because you see a lot of different things and because it’s pleasant.”

He says he is grateful for the increase in tourism, because it is thanks to tourists that he can keep his traditions alive, even if they have changed. Through tourism, Faure can continue to educate the public on the history and traditions of the Camargue. In modern times, in the face of so much opposition to bull activities, Faure believes tourism helps spread the defense of the practices. 

“It’s scary,” Faure said. “It is true that today there are people who are fighting to have all that abolished. And it’s true that likewise, if that were to be the case, we wouldn’t work anymore and there wouldn’t be any point in raising bulls.It is important to preserve working with a wild animal in the wild and to make a difference, and to perpetuate the traditions around the horse and the bull.”

Faure said his hope is for “traditions [to] continue… and to manage to make people understand that this must continue, that [bull] breeding is made to make this show and that we should not fight against [it.]

Roles have adapted to incorporate tourists, but it is through tourist dollars that the traditions are intact, and it is through educating tourists that the traditions can continue to be celebrated, said Faure. 

“It’s not just a story of money,” said Faure. “No, tourism is also important to share our culture.” 

A gin that tastes of the Camargue

By Sophie Wyckoff

After 14 years working in marketing and communications for L’Occitane en Provence in London, Thomas Bigourdan was ready for a change. A visit to a gin distillery gave him an idea.

“It was while I was visiting a distillery in the East of London that I started imagining my distillery,” he said.

In 2018, he founded Bigourdan Distillerie de Camargue, a gin distillery in Arles, that uses local products like immortelle (eternal flower), lavender, sage and thyme from the region to create a unique flavor. The gin is made from 13 ingredients, most of them grown in the Camargue.

“I wanted to make a ‘real’ London Dry, fairly classic and recognizable, then give it a sharp, almost brutal Camargue temperament,” he said in an interview posted on the company’s website. “I started from the sensations and impressions that can be experienced in the Camargue – the gasp, the salt crunching underfoot, the sand burned by the sun – to translate them into taste.”

Bigourdan said immortelle, tiny yellow flowers picked from the Camargue, give a warm and dry finish to the gin. Immortelle is also an antimicrobial compound that promotes skin cell regeneration and is used as an essential oil.

Customers browse in the Bigourdan shop in Arles. Photo by Sophie Wyckoff.

Currently, two flavors of gin are available to purchase, the original and the limited edition summer flavor, which includes essence of citrus. The limited edition is distilled in two batches which contain 500 liters, so when the product is gone, it’s gone. The original flavor and limited edition summer flavor come in a 50-centiliter bottle. The original sells for 41 euros, and the summer flavor for 43 euros.

On top of gin, Bigourdan also produces and sells three ready-to-serve cocktails. Negroni Matador uses the Immortelle plant for a maple syrup taste, Soho Negroni is a sweet orange taste, and the N°1 Negroni has a lemon and orange zest that grows at the foot of the distillery. The three bottles are packaged together for a selling price of 52 euros. 

Photo by Sophie Wyckoff.

Bigourdan initially faced many challenges as a solo entrepreneur. He states how stressful his job was and how “you do everything on your own and can only count on yourself.”

An international reporting project co-sponsored by ieiMedia and Arles à la carte.