Armand, Celine, who are you?
I am Mediterranean-born, a cook and the proud father of Bettie and Gaston.
I am the mother of little Charlotte, who is almost five years old, mischievous and funny, and I play mum to a little kitten named Paloma. My life is all about expression. I write, dance, and play. Creating is essential, and everything is a potential subject for creativity. I love the life of the trouper, I lived it while I was playing at the Avignon festival when I set up galleries and during the shooting of the short films I made. I love the bohemian life, the gypsy spirit. I find it here in Arles where everything is movement, cheerful and bustling, and where encounters can be incredibly simple and yet rich and valuable.
What does Arles mean to each of you?
I first encountered Arles with Anne Igou, the owner of Nord-Pinus hotel, who introduced me to the city and, above all, to the incredible story of the hotel and all the artists who have stayed there, people like Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Peter Lindbergh and great bullfighters like Luis Miguel Dominguín.
I came to Arles for years during the Rencontres de la Photographie. I went alone, and then with my daughter, and adapted exhibitions and shows for her. I’ve always loved coming here. The city has a real buzz, and exciting things happen everywhere, even in the street! Going to La Chassagnette was part of my routine every time. I was, of course, going to see Armand – he’s been my childhood friend since we were 12 years old – the chef of this unique restaurant, both for his poetic cuisine and for the place itself: such elegant simplicity in the heart of a vegetable garden with delicate roses too. Nowadays, I get there as soon as I can. I’ve met wonderful people like Anne Carpentier, who owns the gallery Vaste Horizon, who also invited me to read Dora Maar’s poems and perform a dance I created with choreographer Elvina Pascal for the occasion, and which was inspired by these same poems. It’s going to become a travelling performance, along with the drawings shown by Anne, and other speakers such as Brigitte Benkemoun, who wrote the book Je suis le carnet de Dora Maar. Other friends are involved: philosophers, psychiatrists and also exhibition curators from Beaubourg. We would like to arrange a gathering of experts to talk about the case of Dora Maar and to do something extraordinary in her house in Ménerbes.
How does this amazing city inspire you from day to day?
I’ve always been fascinated by the Camargue. By the cracked soils with the red colours of the salt-flats, the silhouettes of the tamarisk trees, shaped by the Mistral, and the banks of the Vaccarès, but also the beaches at Beauduc… and then there’s the light! Pure and immaculate. All these influences feed into my work at La Chassagnette on a daily basis.
It’s the light that’s the most magical thing. I’ve lived in different cities, and I’ve never been more aware of it. How beautiful light can be; how soothing and yet lively it can be! It’s a light that hits the white stones and reflects an energy that makes you want to take a deep breath or to grab your brushes and create a masterpiece. The light in Arles is all of this.
How are you coping with its transformation into a cultural and tourist destination – a trend that grows year on year?
It’s an extraordinary opportunity to experience it from the inside! We feel a buzz that goes beyond the summer season. Arles is enriched by the people who come in search of calm and authenticity, seeking creative inspiration.
I’ve experienced it from the outside and, recently, from the inside! It’s a bit like the slight change of phrase from “to” Arles to “in” Arles; it’s not a question of pretentiousness but really of how we travel through the city and what it decides to offer us. You feel protected by its ramparts. I heard it was a city with a rare telluric energy. That could help to attract all this creative momentum! What is extraordinary, is to meet people so easily that you would never even dare to approach in other places or in more conventional circumstances in other cities like Paris, where they say things are happening. But what ever happens without meeting people? And can we emerge without meeting the person who will be able to reveal all the talent or potential of the creative soul. We are in the middle of Rencontres de la Photographie, the photography meeting week, the first in July, and that’s where it all happens. We run from one art exhibition opening to another, or to attend parties in historical locations and in houses too. Celebration and discovery are omnipresent!
Do you participate in it too, in your own way?
I participate in various community and culinary projects, including one in particular called Des étoiles et des femmes, which helps women in difficulty find work in the restaurant industry. I also work with the Luma workshop, which is a centre unique in the world using design as a tool for environmental transition and Food Cercle, which is a collaborative cooking project.
For my part, I am going to take part in a dance workshop with choreographer Dimitri Chamblas, organised by the Luma workshops where Benjamin Milllepied is also in residence. I’m working on a book and I would very much like it to be published here. Arles is a bit like a mother hen! (Laughs) Finally, we have a project together (which we’re refining) where everything could be intertwined.
What is the story behind this apartment and its historic setting?
The apartment is located in the arena district. We occupy the first floor of a family house where the owner was born and still lives. It’s a rare place for the city, a lively place.
The ceilings are reminiscent of those in Venice, the rooms are spacious, the hexagonal floor tiles and high windows are undeniable assets!
How did you make it your own?
We created our living rooms on the street side. The bedrooms are on the courtyard side, for more calm, light and above all, birdsong!
A kitchen that is, inevitably, designed for discussion while cooking, walls covered with photographs, and chairs, a real passion!
Which is your favourite room, each of you?
The bedroom. The plaited reed screen gives it a cabin feel. At siesta time, we drift off to sleep, watching the movement of the leaves of the chestnut tree in the courtyard.
The sun floods into the room when you are settled down on the bedroom window sill. It’s the perfect spot for reading.
What, for you, are the unmissable events that bring you to Arles?
The “Fête des Gardians”. Every May 1st in Arles, the cowboys, the Confrérie des Gardians ride their Camargue horses and gather in the city centre parading around accompanied by ladies from Arles. They pay tribute to saint George, their patron saint.
The costumes are gorgeous! There are headdresses, all in lace, that twirl around! These traditions are wonderful. To that, I would add during the whole summer period the Rencontres de la Photographie events and the rice festival, the “Féria du Riz”!
And finally, some unmissable places to go if you want to know more about the capital of the Camargue and its heritage?
The Departemental Museum of Ancient Arles, the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, the Nord-Pinus hotel for a drink, a visit to the cloister of Sainte-Trophime, a stroll in the Alyscamps garden. Finally, the sunset on the banks of the Rhône and, if you can, a long walk in the Camargue.
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily