Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Théâtre Antique, Orange

Antique Theatre, Orange
"Have you ever drunk your weight in red wine in a restaurant while waiting for your meal to be served, staggered back to your hotel, fallen down in the shower while fully clothed, and spent the night lying in a crumpled heap on the floor in dripping wet clothes and a pool of sick and vomit?"
I posed the question to a fellow traveller who thought I looked a bit hung-over as we waited on the platform of Orange railway station in Provence.
"I haven't", he replied, "and I don't know anyone who has, either".
"It must just be me, then", I said.

It all happened too many years ago to recall, but I still have the leaflet from my visit to the town's Antique Theatre, the main tourist attraction. That's it above, a bit moth eaten, like its possessor, but still in one piece. The weather that day was superb, I still remember it, but the omens weren't good. I'd had an altercation with a French bureaucratic bank clerk while cashing some travellers cheques, but was in good shape notwithstanding and looking forward to doing some exploring.

Orange is situated in the Vaucluse region of Provence and is home to many well-preserved Roman monuments. According to legend, the valiant Guillaume au Court, nephew of Charlemagne, became its first Dream Lord, and his short nose is represented as a horn on the town's coat of arms, above three oranges. But it is self-evidently a legend, since I've travelled widely in France, and have yet to see a Frenchman with a short nose.

Roman Victory Arch
at Orange
I entered the town proper through the Roman Arc de Triomphe, built by the Emperor Constantine to the glory of Rome. It was constructed on the site of the battlefield of Aygue (105 B.C.) in order to efface the defeat and the ignominy inflicted on the Roman army by the Cimbri and the Teutons.

Orange is a small place and it didn't take long to track down the Antique Theatre. I thought it would be throbbing with tourists, but apart from a couple of teenagers billing and cooing on the terrace, the place was deserted. I stepped over the turtle doves and found somewhere to sit.

The monument dates from the first century A.D. and is the only Roman theatre that still has its stage wall. Gosh! The outer wall measures 103 metres in length and 37 metres in height. There are 16 bays at the ground level, of which four are for the use of the performers. It is still a working theatre in the summer months of July and August when it is a meeting place for artists and music lovers from around the world.

I spent about 30 minutes in the theatre and then made my way to the exit. Romeo and Juliet had passed the billing and cooing stage and were now into heavy petting. Another few minutes and he would be sending the colonel in, so I felt it was a good time to leave. Besides, it was already mid-afternoon and I hadn't eaten since breakfast.

It is at this point in the narrative that things started to go pear shaped. I found a pleasant restaurant but they had finished serving for the day. However, the waitress/chef/owner said that she could prepare a dish for me if I was prepared to wait. So I ordered a carafe of the house red, and then another. By the time the meal arrived (probably about an hour later) I had consumed the second carafe and ordered a third. An hour after that (or possibly two) I stumbled out of the restaurant and found myself in the main square.

Place Clémenceau 
I say the main square, for in fact there are two, and I have no idea to this day which one of the two it was that I was falling down in. But it was either Place Clémenceau, on which the Hôtel de Ville is situated, and whose facade was modified and re-sculptured by Charpentier de Boliène in 1880, and whose bell tower was erected in 1715 and which houses three bells of which one from 1442 (Gosh again!); or Place de la République, with its fountain, trees and flower market. I somehow made it back to my hotel and up to my room, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The next morning it was pouring with rain and in addition the French rail workers were having a 'day of action', which is what they call 24 hours when they don't do anything. I wanted to get to Lyon where a friend was meeting me at the station. Finally a train arrived. It was crowded and I couldn't find a seat. So I went to the buffet coach where a young French woman was sitting with a BBC publication Advanced English Conversations. I struck up a conversation with her and she was able to practice her new skills as the train sped up the Rhône valley through the torrential rain.

Them were the days!

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