France #7: The Tarasque

Mason ’24, recounts an engaging day learning about the history of Provence.

After being in Arles for a week, we started spending more time learning about the history of the city, as well as the region. We spent some time doing a scavenger hunt to find things important to Provence, including salt, rice, olives, and a flamingo. Once we found all of the objects, we spent some time putting together little skits using them as props. Gracie, Aaron, Mac, Toler, Svetlana and I made up a story about a group of friends having a party, with each guest bringing some ingredient with us. The one thing missing was the meat, so Svetlana put on her mask and went to the zoo to bring us the main ingredient for our flamant flambé!

To learn some more about the history, we visited the Museon Arlaten, a museum full of artifacts and information on the history of Arlesian life, which has a rich history of its own. The museum was founded in 1909 by Frederic Mistral, a French poet, after he won the Nobel Prize. With the money he won, he was able to buy a building in Arles and start his work conserving Provençal, the dialect spoken in Provence, a region that stretches from the Rhone, the river that crosses through Arles, into Italy. It sounds a lot like a mix between Latin, French, Spanish, and a bit of Italian!

We got to see the way Arlesian clothing has evolved over the years, from elegant dresses with lots of layers, bonnets, and stiff corsets, to less complicated scarves and hair ribbons. We saw batons de joute, jousting poles, that were used on boats by Romans for entertainment during long journeys across the river. It’s a game that is still played today! We learned about the Tarasque, a monster that was said to live in the Rhone River and would pull in women doing laundry or animals who got too close to the water. In Tarascon, the town where this monster lived, there are festivals and parades where people will wear a Tarasque costume and run around scaring children. Although it isn’t real, it was probably one of my favorite things to learn about the history of Provence!