Saint Remy and wheat
When we went to Saint Remy we were actually trying to go to Arles, but got lost and more lost and lost again on those two lane Provencal roads until suddenly we were in Saint Remy. We were both tired. Nothing felt fun. What precisely were we doing in Provence? I couldn’t really remember. My son was no help. He was hot and thirsty and tired of looking at things. We decided somewhat sacrilegiously not to get out of the car and instead drove through town until we saw a sign for Roman ruins just past the last few houses. After I convinced my son that these ruins were going to be fascinating and got him out of the car, we couldn’t find them — the ruins, that is (They turned out to be on the opposite side of the road from the sign). Instead, we found Van Gogh’s mental hospital. It was just like he painted it. There were the olive trees, the irises, the wheat fields. We walked down the driveway to the entrance, past copies of his paintings encased in weatherproof plastic stands with captions that said things like, “This is the olive tree Van Gogh painted while here.” “This wheat field is where Van Gogh painted every day.” My son wanted to know why Van Gogh was in a mental hospital, so I told him as much as I knew about Van Gogh and felt more and more dismal. We trailed through the gardens. We went and looked at a replica of his room. We walked around the garden where he walked around. And instead of feeling inspired, uplifted, etc I felt sick. He shot himself. He got kicked out of Arles for fighting with everyone. He was in despair. He was lonely. And then we read a quote from one of his letters: “Even though people look at me and think I am mad, I am still an artist. The wheat is still the wheat even though people look at it and think it is grass.” This is only my approximation of what he said, but what seems important is this idea of knowing you are wheat even when people call you grass.