Wandering through the town of Arles, it’s easy to understand why Van Gogh got so depressed here and killed himself. Oh sure, he was fueled by absinthe and he was probably bipolar, but even with that, I can totally see how this town would depress someone after spending two years here.
VG spent two years living and working here. He supposedly had no friends. Now maybe that was his fault, but the French are not the friendliest people in the world. I don’t find them rude, as some have said, but they seem to merely tolerate anyone non-French or from anywhere other than their home town. In Arles, they have to be polite. Their source of income is completely tourist-driven at this point. Back in Van Gogh’s day, they didn’t even have to be pleasant in order to make tourist dollars. There were no tourists. Gauguin came to visit VG in Arles and hated it.
Arles locals are visible and they are clique-ish. If you are there off season as I was, the locals hang out from early in the evening when they meet to have a pastis or an espresso. Everyone appears to know everyone in this tiny town, and no one makes an effort to speak to you. If you spend a few days there, you feel like an outsider. I empathize with poor Van Gogh who spent two years in this isolation.