“Daily Life” in Aix:
For now, this “home” away from home: building #9 in Parc Mozart. 🙂 Though my room is spare, it’s comfortable, and the apartment itself is a good size, with plenty of space for everyone. When I moved in, I had three roommates – a couple from Italy and a professor from Spain. The couple has since left, and I’m waiting to meet my new roommate. So far, everyone has been wonderful. They have been patient with me as I work on my French, courteous, and easy to live with.
And… we have a plant! I realize this isn’t a big deal to most people, but with the bare floors and scarce decor, it’s nice to have something green and living.
As I leave the apartment, I have a few of the Alps, which are about 2.5 hours away – not quite Sainte Victoire, but beautiful nevertheless.
On my way to the school where I’m taking French, I pass the site of the ancient Roman baths, which is still a luxury resort that takes advantage of Aix’s famous hot springs, Thermes Sextius, founded in 122BC.
After 1+ mile walk, I finally arrive at IS, the International School, affiliated with Alliance Français, which is designed specifically for foreigners learning the language. It offers intensive courses from 2 to 12+ weeks. I will be studying here in the mornings for 3 weeks and participating in a number of activities organized by the school. (Tomorrow, I’ll be in Arles all day for the Fete des Gardians since May 1 is a public holiday in France and everything else is closed, including the archives.)
After class on Friday, I meandered over to the Cours Mirabeau in another effort to find the best way back to the Rotonde, where I meet my bus to the archives. Along the way, my stomach began to growl as I passed the delectable sites and smells of the cafés along Cours Mirabeau, so I stopped by one I hadn’t visited before, La Belle Epoque, for a quick salad before continuing on my way.
While I enjoyed my repast at Belle Epoque, I realized that the street (Rue Joseph Cabassol) across from the cafe looked really familiar. Digging through memories of my last visit, I associated the street with two of the most interesting bookstores in Aix. I couldn’t resist – I had to know if I was right, so…
As I made my way down the side street, I rediscovered Aix’s Music Conservatory, below left, a former city mansion, built by a 17th century noble, and All Books, which lives up to its name, offering publications in more than a dozen languages (below right). Just a few buildings down, on the other side of the street is Book in Bar, an English language bookstore, where I discovered a whole shelf devoted to Bilingual books! I picked up William Faulkner’s The Wishing Tree for pleasure reading and hope to quickly move to some of the classic French works in the original language – The Count of Monte Cristo – among them. 🙂
I finally tore myself away from the bookstores with the promise of soon being back at the archives (both pictures below). The sun was shining, and I reveled in the warm wind that seemed to animate everything. Feeling much more comfortable with the language, I approached the archives with a renewed enthusiasm, even though I knew more microfilm awaited me. Reading the beautiful but nearly illegible handwriting has become so much easier since I began the French course. It has been well worth the investment of time and energy both for my research and simply living and getting around Aix.
Although cloudy, Saturday dawned humid, warm, and windy with the promise of rain that night. Even though it wasn’t the nicest weather, I headed to the market to meet “my” vendor again. I took a different route this time and discovered numerous little shops and more restaurants than I could visit if I went to a different one every night from now until mid-July. I made it to the market just in time, as the vendors were beginning to pack up, but I was able to find what I needed for the next few days, and vendor remembered me! In a city of strangers, it meant a lot to be recognized and greeted with an “aha!” and a smile that said he hadn’t forgotten.
After a quick lunch, I hurried to catch the bus that would take me close to the Indian Forest where the Parcours Acrobatique (Ropes course) awaited me. I had to ask directions from several people since the bus didn’t take me to the entrance but rather about a quarter mile behind it. However, the walk and wandering was well worth it… I had to cross the bridge (below left) and was surprised to find that I was familiar with the place. I had run right under it during my last visit, never knowing what was above me. Below right is the entrance to the ropes course.
One of the platforms, from which you climb the rope net up to two parallel cables, one above your head to hang onto as you walk (or inch) along the cable below it! The last time I did a ropes course, I was about 50-60 feet up in the air most of the and was distinctly uncomfortable. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though this course was much more challenging, I felt so much more comfortable. It was a good thing too because it wasn’t guided, and the only way to go was forward – to the next zip line (my favorite) or ropes to swing across the river below, ladders to climb ever higher, elevated bridges that swung in the wind…
It is definitely motivating when there is only one way to go and that is forward. I’m actually rather proud of myself for choosing a route that made me a little more uncomfortable than other options. At one point, I was clipped into a rope about 40 feet in the air flying along a line about a hundred yards long to crash into cushionsand rebound, which forced me to climb the rope to reach the net, and then clamber up the rope ‘spider web’ to the next platform – mentally and physically challenging, and exhilarating! At one point, I got separated from my classmates (the two who joined me were actually from my class out of the 100+ students!) and ended up chatting with a young girl who was swinging her way through the course ahead of me. She must have been about 10. Kids are so amazing. They have so much energy, and she was light as a feather.
At one point, we reached a rope-net tower (left) that you had to crawl inside and then climb up. She convinced me that the view was worth it. After a couple of big heaves, she was at the top, holding the rope for me to clip on. I, on the other hand, took much smaller steps, but finally made it to the top, and she was right. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t bring the camera, so I don’t have a picture of the view that encompassed the mountains, the Indian Forest that surrounded us, and the city.
When we finished the course, she excitedly introduced me to her grandmother, who spoke fluent English but spoke French after I explained that I was in Aix to learn the language and conduct research. We chatted for at least ten minutes while I waited for my colleagues to return – Mirko and Sandra, had wanted to go back into the course when they finished because they followed a different route that brought them back faster than mine did, but I don’t think they found it because after I walked through the course and came back, they had already taken their gear off and Sandra had lit at least one cigarette. We sat and visited for quite a while in French with the occasional word in English or German for clarification, but it was very good practice for me, and enjoyable to boot. The conversation ranged from a comparison of politics in Switzerland, Germany, France and the US to the type of news that is reported in each country to our thoughts on our French course. At last, we decided it was time to head out and said our goodbyes.
This week promises to be even busier than last. As I mentioned, tomorrow will find me in Arles. On Wednesday, I will be back in class and the archives. Thursday evening, I hope to take a Provençal cooking class, and Sunday, I will be traveling to Cassis and La Ciotat. I don’t have any plans for Saturday yet, but Sandra mentioned going to the movies… we shall see!