Making my way down the hill from my apartment, a scent struck me – pleasant and familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Nevertheless, it made me think about my last stay in this city, all that had happened since, and my fears and anxieties about this trip. A funny thing happened though. As I looked out on the now-familiar sites, especially the mountains and the blossoming flowers and trees, those anxieties began to fall away, leaving behind them the excitement and joy I’ve been longing for. God has answered my prayers, providing exactly what I needed when I needed it most. Thus began my day out and about in Aix.
I had been up for hours, reviewing which archival files would be most helpful for my research and figuring out where to begin in the archives today. The first order of business though was to pick up my bus pass at the station, so I walked to the bus stop to take number 14 to the “gare routière” and waited … and waited. Meanwhile two #9 buses passed me before I realized I could take one to within about 200 yards of where I needed to be. Feeling slightly foolish, I hopped on the third #9 bus without seeing a single #14 in the 15-20 minutes I waited. After explaining clearly (or so I thought) that I needed a 30-day bus pass like the one I had previously (which I showed her), the woman at the counter, confused asked several questions. I again explained what I needed, handed her my passport, and seeing that I was already in the system, she said something else, which I took to mean that the 30-day pass would only be good until April 30. At that point, a woman behind me asked in perfect American English if I needed help. Bless her kind heart! I did. I explained in English what I needed, and after a brief exchange with the clerk, she clarified that it would be better to purchase my card and put 10 passes on it at a time until the end of the month. Thanking her profusely, I paid the cashier for 10 passes on my new bus card, and walked back out into the sunshine, grateful that someone was there to translate and that I understood at least half of what was said.
It goes without saying that I often feel quite overwhelmed and under-prepared, so I am choosing to be thankful for what I do understand and that my comprehension of the language is coming back now that I’ve had some sleep. At least I understand most of what I read, which proved quite helpful as I began my research at the archives today.I am also very grateful that I had the opportunity to come to Aix two years ago because it has made getting around the city and navigating my first day at the archives infinitely easier. After I left the bus station, I stopped by the new Tourist center to pick up a new map, caught the #6 bus that I took everyday on my last visit and headed for the archives. Remembering the difficult introduction to the archives, I approached the building with a bit of trepidation, but registering as a ‘reader’ went so much more smoothly this time. The only thing I should have done differently was clarify that it was my second, not my first visit. I didn’t realize that I needn’t have filled out the paperwork again until I brought it back up and the secretary looked up my information. Laughing at my mistake, I apologized, and she kindly wrote down my reader number and explained that I would have two free days and then would have to pay for a reader’s card. She assigned me a desk and locker and made sure I understood that I could only bring in a pencil, loose leaf paper, my laptop, and a camera. I assured her that I remembered and asked when I could apply for my annual reader’s card – tomorrow at 2:15. I have to say that I was rather pleased that I made it through our conversation, which was entirely in French, with only minimal confusion on my part.
And then I was off to the reading room, hoping I didn’t feel as ridiculous and as much of an imposter as I did last time. I didn’t. Within minutes, I was confidently walking to the anteroom, which houses the folders containing detailed information about the files I needed. Since I had reviewed much of the material in the morning, I had a pretty good idea where to start. I had heard that the archives had digitized their information on Algeria, and a sign helpfully explained which inventories could be found online, which was pretty much everything I needed. That means that my time at the archives can be spent with the documents and not figuring out which folders I need. Anyway, while I was making a note of this, an older gentleman stepped out of the reading room and looked at me as if I was familiar to him. I racked my brain trying to determine whether or not I knew him, but I didn’t recognize him from anywhere. He came up and asked where I was from and what I was studying, so I explained that I was doing a comparative study of colonialism in the United States and French Algeria. His face lit up as he said that he studied Algeria too and that he had been president of a French-American scholarly society. As it turns out, he was born in Bâtna, Algeria and studies the province of Constantine(the same one that I have chosen to focus on)! I couldn’t believe my luck! I don’t really believe in coincidences, so I breathed a quick prayer of thanks and asked if he could write down his name for me. He did more than that, giving me his email address, phone number, qualifications (Doctorates in law and history), and even excitedly introduced me to staff members at the archives. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my research endeavors.
My time at the archives flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to pack up and head back to the apartment. A quick stop at the supermarket nearby on my way, and I arrived ‘home’ starving. Since I woke up late, not having slept a wink the night before last, I didn’t get my run in this morning, so I only ate a light dinner while I relaxed for a few minutes. I couldn’t believe how much better my run felt tonight than last week’s runs. I think a lot of it had to do with getting a good night’s sleep and the much drier air. It is so much easier to breathe here than it was in England. It also didn’t hurt that the first mile-plus was downhill, but even on the return, there was a spring in my step that wasn’t there last week. That definitely gives me hope that perhaps I will be able to get back in shape relatively quickly. I already feel better eating lighter food, now that I have to make my own again. It has been a long eight months of sitting and studying. Our bodies were not meant for such a lifestyle, at least mine wasn’t.
A wise Porky Pig knew when it was time to call it quits, and as he often said – That’s all folks! (At least for tonight.)