But the most notable new addition is in the remnants of those former train repair yards: Luma Arles, a still-under-construction artistic center that is the brainchild of Maja Hoffmann, a pharmaceutical heir belonging to the same family that built the Foundation van Gogh as a gift to the city. Luma’s raison d’être is to support contemporary art in its myriad forms. “We want it to be pluricultural,” said Coline Lacire, my guide on a free tour of the site, “so not just photography, but dance, design, philosophy, literature, gastronomy.”
During my visit, the center was hosting both a retrospective of the collaborative British art duo Gilbert + George, and an outdoor “gastronomic installation,” in which the Michelin-starred chef Armand Arnal of Arles’s La Chassagnette makes soup for anyone to cook with him and enjoy. In another building, called Atelier Luma, artists work with scientists to use local materials like sunflowers and algae to create biodegradable drinking glasses and vases that might one day replace plastic.
One gorgeous, mosquito-filled night, I caught the first performance in L.A. Dance Project’s two-month residency. They performed in the open air, beneath a gleaming Frank Gehry tower that may or may not be done by 2020. Maybe, Ms. Lacine suggested, the tower will have evolved once again in two years. “We don’t want to be static,” she said. “We don’t really use the term ‘finished.’”
One Arlesian I met, though, was just waiting for the festivals, with their legions of outsiders, to leave. Martial Gerez runs what seems to be the most popular sandwich shop in town, Le Comptoir des Porcelets, and disliked the way festivalgoers seemed to treat his hometown as if they were the ones who lived there. “It is like one planet visiting another planet and they are not communicating, so the first planet sits on the second planet,” he said. “The problem is that Arles is not just old stones. Arles is people. So the festival comes here and it’s a massive attack. Fwah!”
We spoke and I ate his wonderful sandwiches, made from homemade bread and a very limited set of ingredients he’d prepared that morning. Mr. Gerez ran out of food at least half an hour before his published closing time. Regulars seemed unperturbed when he turned them away. “They know me,” he said, then announced he had decided not to open for dinner that night because he was tired.
Home Is Where the Art Is
I stayed in an Airbnb in the old town, run by a sweet, retired couple who picked me up from the train station. But a friend had raved about her B&B experience with Ms. De Bierre, in her fabulous 17th-century mansion where art world friends were constantly dropping by.
Ms. De Bierre invited me over for a home-cooked lunch in her huge house, which she bought when it was “a ruin” and has restored in eclectic fashion. Her wonderful kitchen, filled with Provençale copper pots and burnt yellow furniture and English cottage tableware, felt like a hug. (Alessandro Michele, artistic director for Gucci, loved it so much when he stayed with her a few years ago that he recently stopped by just to look at it again.)