Flat Lands and Legend (Part One)

Photo: Public domain

The Camargue is almost not France. Windswept and flat, the winter Mistral howls relentlessly across the salt marshes, whipping up the waters of the ragged Rhône delta and the Etang de Vaccarès from which thousands of pink flamingoes take flight, in spectacular V-shaped formation, their long necks extended like fighter jets.

Photo: Public domain

Wild horses, the hardy white breed thought to be one of the oldest in the world still live semi-ferally and are the  traditional mount of the gardians, the cowboys who herd the fighting bulls. At the southern apex of the delta lies Saintes-Maries de la Mer, the capital of the Camargue. Catholic tradition has it that there were three Marys at the foot of the Cross, Magdalene, also Salomé and Jacobe, sisters of Jesus’ mother and mothers to Apostles. Exiled by the Romans, they came with Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea and a black, perhaps Egyptian or Ethiopian “child servant” called Sara to the shores of the Camargue and brought Christianity to France. The Romani gypsies venerate this ‘black virgin’ at an annual ceremony where her effigy is carried waist-deep into the sea by the gardians.

Photo: Public domain

Today, the little town is full of well-heeled tourists – a pair of cowboy boots can cost as much as two thousand euros and the beaches are long and sandy. With few adjoining condominiums or big hotels, they are far less crowded that their immediate neighbours on ether side of the delta.

Last weekend, the town came alive. But for quite a different reason. End of Part One.

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