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My Dear Friend,
      I am writing to you at a speed of 300km/h, onboard a French TGV that is. Surprised? You should not. You know I could send you postcards from any corner of the world.
      I am currently en route to Provence but no, I am not inspired by Peter Mayle. I know that his <<One Year in Provence>> has once caused a shortage of paper. The business
-executive-turned- writer has single handedly unveiled Provence to the popular world, making it from unpretentious beauty to an instant pop star. Provence's cozy and intimate villages, idyllic and romantic lifestyle, azure sky and pleasant Mediterranean climate, pastoral landscapes full of lavenders (see the back), sunflowers and red poppies, all turn it to be industrial era's last natural and innocent haven, appealing urban yuppies all over the world. In China, for instance, a trip to Provence has become a dream of a life time to many white-collars and petits-bourgeois (the way they prefer to call themselves).
      However, Provence is more than just everything aforesaid. Here, you can savour different archietural styles over the history - the Roman, [continue to the next postcard...]
To: My Friend
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[...continued from the previous postcard] the Romanesque, the Middle Ages, the Classical. I am just sending you this postcard showing the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Arles constructed during the first century. The locals call it Les Arènes. More than two thousand years later, it is still hosting all important events in Arles.
      And Provence has also been a home and inspiration for many artists. Van Gogh, Cézanne and Renoir all lived here for a period of time. Van Gogh's sunflower masterpiece may have been too familiar to you. Do you know it was painted right in Provence at Arles?
      If you have a special penchant in folk festivals like I do, Provence is definitely the place for you. Endless events or festivals are held throughout the year, from big cities to tiny villages. The poster in front of Les Arènes is for Feria du Riz, the Rice Festival, which celebrates the harvest of rice in the Camargue region. Every May in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, you have Fête de Gitan, Europe's largest pilgrimage for the Romans. Of course theatre lovers would never miss the annual Festival d'Avignon... Provence's cultural life is more than diverse. [continue to the next postcard...]
To: My Friend
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[...continued from the previous postcard]

       In a few minutes I'll be arriving in Avignon, a historical Provencal city. I wish I could have a year. But in ten days, Emilia and I will have to rely on a rental car. We will first head to another ancient city of Arles, and the Camargue region at the estuary of the Rhône. The annual Cocarde d'Or event is just underway (see the back of this postcard!). Afterward, we will turn north to the Pays d'Albion near Sault, where the lavenders are at their best. From Sault, we'll enter the High Provence in the Alps - Sisteron, Annot, the Verdon Gorge, Moustier-Ste-Marie, Entrevaux and so on. When all these be said and done, time will be running out, leaving only a day for Luberon. We have to guarantee one and a half day in Avignon for the world-renown theatre festival.
      Now the train has slowed down. I've to get ready for my trip of discovery. Wish me safe and luck. I'll write you more about what I see and hear. Until next time, good bye!

      L.G. 02/07/06 on board the TGV
p.s. I'll tell you more about Cocarde d'Or later...
To: My Friend
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My Dear Friend,

      I hope you recognise the painting on the back of this postcard. I love the imaginary stars in the sky. In Arles, the Place du Forum where the original paiting was created has changed little after 120 years, except it is now jam-packed with tourists and cafés. The square is so tiny and cozy that I call it a miniature. Everyone wants to sit down at a table near the yellow wall, as if he could acquire van Gogh's inspiration, and seeing the stars himself. Emilia and I has a nice dinner here. I have to say I am not impressed by the paella I order. But you must understand that it's worthwhile by simply sitting here.
      Arles inspires van Gogh, who in turn adds fame to the town. Locals start to chip in the profit by showing anything related to the artist. In the lower-right picture, a house near the Arènes is claimed to be the former residence of van Gogh. I really doubt, as I know the yellow house van Gogh and Gauguin used to live has been long destroyed during the war. Interesting?

      L.G. 03/07/06 from the Place du Forum, Arles
To: My Friend
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My Dear Friend,

                       I forgot to tell you that, tomorrow will mark the opening of the 50th International Photographic Festival in Arles, the so-called Rencontres d'Arles. Delegates from all over the world have already arrived. I wish I could be one of them. But they were, I was told, selected and invited by Raymond Depardon (I wonder if he's still with Magnum). You can see they are obviously proud of the badges with a big carrot logo dangling in front of their bellies.
Numerous venues have been set up in town. There will be symposiums, workshops, portfolio reviews and of course, exhibitions. All you need is to following the carrot flags, as well as the huge venue numbers on a pink circle. Unfortunately, tomorrow I'll be busy in Camargue, and will have the leave the town the day after. I missed the chance to be an uninvited guest. Do feel sorry for me.

                        With a friendly handshake from Arles
L.G. 03/07/06

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My Dear Friend,

                        I am excited, because I accidentally stumbled upon the mental hospital where van Gogh once lived and painted. Arles is a town with winding labyrinth of streets and alleys. You just don't know what you would expect to see when you make a turn.

                        I couldn't really replicate van Gogh's view point (see the stamp). The trees are much more luxuriant now, blocking much of the view. Plus, there was a row of cars in the courtyard I was trying to avoid. Of course the building is no longer a hospital these days. Van Gogh once told his sister Wil about the courtyard: "...an antique garden with a pond in the middle, and eight flower beds, forget-me-nots, Christmas roses, anemones, ranunculus, wallflowers, daisies and so on. And under the gallery orange trees and oleander. So it is a picture quite full of flowers and vernal green...". That is what it is today!

                        Ever yours, L.G. 03/07/06

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My Dear Friend,

                        I promised to tell you more about Cocarde d'Or, one of the main purposes of my trip to Arles. If you ever wonder what Cocarde d'Or is, you only need to flip over this postcard. Bull game is essentially what it is.

                        Bull game is extremely popular in the Camargue and Languedoc regions, especially in Arles and Nîmes. Thus it is also known as La Course Camarguaise. It is held nearly every weekend in the arenas in the Camargue towns. But Cocarde d'Or is the biggest event of the year. It's the climax that signifies the end of the bull game season.

                        The passion of the locals for the game can sometimes develop into madness. Men gather in bars and talk about it, just like do most men all over the world for football during the World Cup mania. You would always tally the largest number of spectators over than other local event. If you ask a young man about his dream, the answer would most likely be winning the Cocarde d'Or. [continues to the next postcard...]

To: My Friend
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[...continued from the last postcard] But La Course is not the bloody Spanish style Corrida, where bulls end up being slaughtered. First and foremost, the bulls are the stars in the games. They are given names, treated with honours, achieving nearly celebrity status. They are sent back to the pasture for recuperation after the game, they can come back next year.

                        La Course is a test of the athleticism and agility of a bull-fighter called raseteur. During the game, some twenty or thirty razeteurs compete to steal the yellow thread tied on the root of the bull horns. This explains the name of Cocarde d'Or - Golden Rosette in English.

                        La Course is also an extemely risky business, even though the razeteurs use an iron claw, instead of bare-hands (see the picture). Often the heros outrun the bulls. But occasionally mistakes do occur and injuries or fatalities do happen. I personally witness a young raseteur being overrun by the bull on the ground. His face was covered with sand and blood. His T-shirt was completely shattered. The entire arena gave out a moment of frightening scream [continues to the next postcard...].

To: My Friend
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[...continued from the last postcard] He was immediately escorted out of the court, given a bottle of water washing away the blood and sand. The game continued as if nothing had happened. In other incidents, the bull had overcome the fence, creating panic among the spectators. People escaped by jumping over to the other side of the fence. So men and bull switched their positions.

                        We purchased our tickets the first day they went on sale in order to have seats in the best section called Tribunes Ombre, the centre stage with shadow. Even though the event started at 5pm, the Camargue sun could still be scorchingly hot. A little shadow makes a huge difference.

                        The seats were tight, especially next to us was an oversize sport journalists who had photographed the event over the years. Unfortunately, my French proficiency wasn't enough to understand a fraction of the friendly man's annotation the rules, the tales and the anecdotes during the entire game. However, from the cheers and geers [continues to the next postcard...].

To: My Friend
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[...continued from the last postcard] on every move of the razeteurs, it seemed to me highly technical of the game.

                        The loudspeakers were endlessly announcing the prize donations from enterprises and individuals. Every time, the atmosphere was pushed to the climax when a razeteur had successfully grabbed the golden rosette.
The beauty queen of Arles, who sat just a row in front of us, obviously enjoy the game. I had seen her pictures over the internet. She had been the centre spot in the horse parade at the beginning of the event. This time, she was waiting to perform another important duty - presenting flowers and prize, and kiss ing the heros at the end.

                        I am writing to you from an outdoor café. The day time heat has not yet subsided. The human flow still fill the streets. I hope my postcards could transmit the heat and pulse from Camargue and the entire Provence region.

                        A long handshake from Arles, L.G. 03/07/06

To: My Friend
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My Dear Friend, You may heard of the term arlésienne before. George Bizet used it to name his orchestral suite, so did van Gogh for several of his paintings. These music and paintings often bring about many fantasies.

                      Unlike genderless English, French is a precise language. A woman or lady from Arles is called arlésienne, while a man would be arlésien. In fact, arlésienne often refers to a woman from the region encompassing Avignon and Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

                      The arlésienne costume is a symbol of classical grace and elegance. Even nowadays, modern arlésiennes, from young children to elderly woman, still proudly wear during holidays or special occasions, like yesterday's Cocarde d'Or. Their skirts are always in simple yet unique and exquisit Provençal motif. The lace scarves, decorative fans, umbrallas and baskets make them more like figures come directly from fairy tales.

                      [continues to the next postcard...]

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My Dear Friend, [...continued from the previous card] In the previous postcard, you may notice the difference of costumes worn by different age groups - children, adolescents, married and unmarried women. For example, there is usually an apron for children.

                      I took a number of pictures of the Queen of Arles. Our Cocarde d'Or tickets put us a row directly behind her on the grand stand. She stayed with us during the entire bull game. At the end, she gracefully presented the prize and flowers, and kissed the hero to complete the fairy tale.

                      Interestingly, my photographic gear sometimes helped me gain advantage over the general tourists. An old arlésienne, who apparently mistook me as a pro, came forward rather enthusiastically and led me to the place where young ladies gathered. I wish I could show you more pictures of arlésiennes. But with the limited space in the postcards, I'll have to wait until I return home.
Your very truly
L.G. 04/07/06

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My Dear Friend,
I can't talk about Cocarde d'Or without mentioning Abrivado, since it is an integral part of the whole event, partly a necessary process and partly a ceremony. The morning of Cocarde d'Or, the bulls are gathered at the pastures outside the town, then led by a group of cowboys (not in Texas) and arlésiennes on horses to the arena through a streets of the town. Local people would cheers along the way. They often ran along with the procession with their bikes, scooters etc.

                      I was hoping to take some wonderful pictures at the bridge of Trinquetaille, where they would pass. But things did not happen, until suddenly, when I was still puzzled and disappointed at the intersection of Lices and Emile Combs, the whole procession rumbled toward me with unstoppable speed. I was completely caught up. Both of my cameras had little memory left. Within half a minute, the cowboys were already distance away, leaving me dusts and weakening noise, and my scrambling replacing my memory chips. C'est tant pis, as the French say.
Yours truly L.G. 03/07/06

To: My Friend
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My Dear Friend

                      Today we set out for our adventure the Camargue. We decided to devote a day, for we were both attracted by the wildlife in the marshland. The Camargue horse is one of the more beautiful creatures I have ever seen - tall and robust, a perfect model for sculptors. This is also true for the wild bulls, although they often lack the kind of elegance of their equine counterpart. And there are flocks of flamingoes, stand in the shallow water gracefully like a ballerina.

                      But these are all pictures in the tourist brochures. In reality, we often found ourselves bound by the handful of roads in the region. The wetland was off limit by wire fence, our views were blinded by the tall grass.

                      We arrived in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer late in the morning. The town centre was somewhat a disappointment, with numerous modern villas not far from the shore, and fleets of yatch parked in the marina. [continues to the next postcard...]

To: My Friend
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[...continued from the last postcard] Shops and stalls clustered around the landmark church, selling uncharacteristic souvenirs.

                      We altered out plan, and reached Salin-de-Giraud, only to find a deserted town. Noon time in Provence is like midnight elsewhere! Hungry and tired, we lost our goal, We aimlessly crossed the Grand Rhône by car ferry, and found ourselves on the street of equally deserted Port St-Louis.

                      Our luck finally came when we headed west to the fortified town of Aigues-Mortes, to admire its perfectly preserved 13-century towers and ramparts (see the stamp). Even today the whole town is still enclosed by the squared fortification, accessible by a few gates at each side. Strolling on the narrow streets amid of ancient architectures, I found Aigues-Mortes the best model to the world in integrating modern life into our ancient heritage.

                      A friendly handshake, L.G. 04/07/06
p.s. Here in a shop in Aigues-Mortes, I've sampled a cookie with a pleasant scent of orange flowers...

To: My Friend
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My Dear Friend,

                      You can't visit Provence without noticing two things: the planatus trees and the cicadas (the French call them cigales), for their universal existence. The humming of the sonorous insects has been following me ever since I stepped out of the TGV in Avignon.

                      If the cicadas are audiable but not visible, the planatus trees (also known as syncamore) are the opposite. Their smooth but strong tree trunks make them like robust athletes. They always grow in lines, align better than guards of honour.

                      In the hot Provence summer, if the lush canopies of the planatus create perfect shadows for those prefer a round of boules game in the afternoon, the cicadas might be the best does of somnifacient for a lazy siesta.

                      Good afternoon from the sleepy town of Salin-de-Giroud.
L.G. 04/07/06

To: My Friend
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What is the most favourite pass time in Provence, my dear friend? You might think of football, but Provençal men would tell you otherwise. It's the boules game, also known pétanque.

                      Similar to lawn bowling, boules are is usually iron ball with fist size, and played on dirty surface. From country to towns, men, especially elderly, play it the entire afternoon under the planatus trees. It's partly a game, but I think more importantly it's a social partying among the locals.

                      The objective of the game is to throw your balls as close to the target calledl cochonnet (lit. piglet) as possible, and bump your opponent's away. Boules can be engraved with different patterns. Players often carry a small magnet with a string, so that they can pick up the balls on the ground like pendulums without bending their backs. What a lazy 'sport'!

                      I am writing while watching their game now. I wish you could be here to start a round.

                      Playfully yours, L. G. 04/07/06

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My Dear Friend,

                      The place on the back of this postcard is called Alyscamps, an ancient Roman necropolis in Arles. It had been the main burial ground in Arles for 15 centuries. Can you imagine, by 4th century it had already had several thousand tombs, with three staking layers of sarcophagi (stone coffins).

                      Alyscamps is a short walk from Arles old town. From the intersection of Boulevards Emile Combes and Lices, go about 500 metres south, crossing the railway, you should be in front of the gate. It is much smaller than I imagined. There is only one short avenue (~300m) with numerous sarcophagi along its sides. At the end of the avenue there is a chapel.

                      It was noon time. We were the only visitors in the park. I wish you could be here to share our imagination of van Gogh and Gauguin painting side by side somewhere behind the tree. They have painted quite a number of pictures for this place you know.

                      Yours, L.G. 03/07/06

To: My Friend
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My Dear Friend,

                      Last night, when we returned to the hotel via the Trinquetaille Bridge on the Rhône, I saw a scene that was extraordinarily familiar - a row of street lamps is reflected by the river, forming luminous light ripples on the water. If you don't know what I mean, just look at van Gogh's painting Starry Night Over the Rhône, although I saw no dramatic stars in the sky.

                      Van Gogh painted a number of pictures for the quai and the bridge. Today I went back to the head of the bridge, stood at the same spot where he painted his The Bridge at Trinquetaille. As you see, the bridge has since reconstructed with a steel structure. Its cover has also been removed. The baby platanus tree in van Gogh's picture is a testimony of these 118 years of history.

                      I know, I know I keep mentioning lunatic artist. But what can I say? Arles is van Gogh's town!

                      Yours, L.G. 03/07/06

To: My Friend
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