Oh I will get to “Moustache” as he is affectionately called from his co-workers, funny story. Aix-en Provence started off as a trip that was put together by CERAM’s sort of “adventure task-force.” Ha ha, but really they plan trips for students to participate in for a less expensive cost if they were to go on their own. For example this one was headed to Aix-en Provence which is above Marseille, and we started out towards there from Antibes which took around 4 hours I believe, but we all took a huge charter bus type for only 10 Euros. The only issue that I have with groups is that sometimes you have to settle for what the others want to do, but you also have time to go off on your own. Hazel and I had other plans – the excursion was only supposed to be a day long, but Hazel’s uncle had asked her to check out an international school for his son around the Marseille area. You really do spend your day differently when you know you have more time, and everything slows down… much more relaxed. Which makes me realize again and again that to truly experience a place I want to make sure that I allow enough time, more than enough time… to immerse yourself in it, see and experience beyond the surface.
Aix-en Provence or “la ville aux mille fontaines” – City of a Thousand Fountains is near to several thermal springs, in which the Romans laid down their influence and made Roman bath and named Aix “Aquae Sextiae” … so Aix has been referred to by many names, changed hands a few times, you get it. The first thoughts that came to mind of what I saw in Aix was that it had a very Autumn feel to it – I loved it. It had those endless streets with the tall white bark trees with Autumn leaves lining the sides and the air smelled like Autumn, it looked like Autumn, and the atmosphere felt like Autumn. Just so you know, my favorite season is Autumn (late summer, early autumn to be exact) and let me tell you, this was Autumn-town. Beautiful, with the air crisp and the breezes gently blowing, the feeling of peace and reflection. Yes, it feels like this. The turning leaves swirling around you, landing lightly in the streets where time seems to slow down, people walking calmly and joyfully, the smell of roasting chestnuts and cinnamon in the air… okay okay you get it – it was beautiful. Not to mention the amazing and ornate architecture. There is an obvious Roman influence on almost every street. I went to an art museum, where the paintings were indeed unusual, but what caught my attention the most (what always does) were the sculptures in the basement floor… there was one of a maiden that was just awe-inspiring. I wanted to take a picture but the guy was watching me like a hawk – and I decided that I would just commit it to memory and true to this day I remember her very clearly. When you walk down the streets, every so often you look down and see a sort of shiny bronze plaque with a letter and perhaps some inscription on it – these were in several of the villes that I visited. The particular one for Aix has a “C” for “Cezanne” as in the famous artist Paul Cezanne for which there is also a museum that displays many of his pieces.
There is a definite medieval feel to this city, and in fact when I went off to explore I ran into a small festival where they had chestnuts roasting, (very tasty!) homemade delicacies such as marron jam (chestnut jam – really really good. Several weeks later at the Christmas market in Monaco I had some churros served with the marron jam… so good.) and lavender honey, pastes and spreads and many others. They had little tasting spoons so I had the chance to enjoy several of each with some baguette – and I bought some as well. Ha ha they don’t look too fondly on you if you eat their samples and just move on… anyhow they had a musical group come through playing various instruments which added to the atmosphere. So by then I figured I would head towards the place that everyone else would be gathering at, so I had a little time and wandered over to the main street called le Cours Mirabeau. There were cafés all up and down this spacious street and I stopped in one to get a café crème (coffee with cream, you guessed it) and just sat and pondered for a while, making notes about the experience. Then with the rest of the group we toured downtown and entered a beautiful church where a woman was playing the organ, and it had that old world musty smell that I actually love very much. I think it was getting to be around the time that the rest of the group had to go back and Hazel and I had some time before we had to find a hotel for the night, so we said goodbye – not without first walking by a pizza shoppe handing out free pizza! One thing I can say after returning to the states is that (yes, everyone really does just call the U.S. “the states” and it gets into my head too) “why on earth don’t pizza places have fresh basil??” is it too much to ask really? and for some tomato? the simplest pizza is a margherita and I ask a pizza place here and they’re like “basil? why? tomato and mozzerella? oh well, we can sprinkle a little ground basil spice on it…” man. I do honestly miss that about southern Europe. we had some pretty crazy pizzas. The night before Jonathon left to go back to the states we were in Nice (it would have been hell to try and get to his super-early flight by then from Antibes- and really expensive too) anyways a few things actually made that night: The heavy rain, how we got lost because the bus went too far, the surprisingly huge room they gave us at the hotel (called the Picasso room… don’t know why) annnnnd the pizza. We basically had run out of food options at that time of night and we walked down and found a take-out pizza place with a huge variety of pizzas (the put anything you want on a pizza) and it was delicious. But, the rest of that story for another time. It is a good one, trust me, possibly the best night in my experience over there.
Right, so I got way off topic there. So after running through the town we just got a little better at figuring out where everything lead to, because left Hazel’s bag on the bus thinking we would get it later as to not have to walk around with it all the time… and realized.. ha, wait. wasn’t your bag on that bus? hahaha priceless. Luckily we got it before they left, sweet. After visiting the tourists office we found out that there was a concert scheduled that would be playing on the other side of the city, a cover band for The Who, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. We still needed to get dinner and find a place to crash for the next two nights, so we walked in the general direction of where some hotels would be, saw a few sketch ones, and eventually we had to walk across the bridge that went over the A8 (sort of like their interstate). I actually said to Hazel “wow. this is bad, but I actually miss this.” “what- traffic?” “No… I dunno, just the sound of cars whizzing by, the lights as it gets darker… I know, it’s strange.” “Yeah, you’re weird.” ha ha I don’t know I guess in a way it reminded me a little of Northern Virginia. We both agreed that it didn’t feel like France anymore in this section of Aix and the feeling was indeed.. out of sorts. We ended up finding a hotel that we had looked up the night before that had a fair price, set our things down (it was actually a really nice room!) and then ventured back out to find food. We finally stopped at this… well, for lack of better description, it was an Italian place/ it served more Italian dishes than anything else. So we were seated and our waiter comes later and I swear I was half “I should probably pull my jaw up from the floor…” half about to straight out ROFL. This gentleman who was about to serve us had the thickest French accent and it was like he had the pure essence of a true blue French maître d’ – complete with the most impressive moustache that I have ever seen. We sort of glanced back at each other in awe, minds syncing “This is really happening, please don’t laugh or I will too.” He was very sweet, very genuine and very professional – he had a twinkle in his eye and called us “mademoiselles.” We felt like princesses. I ordered the penne carbonara (best. dish. ever. In an Italian restaurant). I can’t remember what Hazel ordered but she liked mine better. As she should, it’s penne freakin’ carbonara afterall. So we were enjoying ourselves and noticed these two men at the table next to us, both around 40 years old or so. They started talking to us, and offering us some of their bottle of wine – which I accepted (later Hazel said “what were you thinking it could have been rufied!” which was strange because she is the daring dangerous one afterall). So then they proceeded to talk to us, and we started a discussion about… American real estate. Commercial real estate. (Here I was thinking “man, I come all the way to France to get away from this sort of blather and they want to talk about commercial real estate in America” woo. ) So it was basically Hazel and I trying to understand their Frenglish and not getting their concepts of building structures and flats and pricing strategies…. yeah. So finally they started going on topics that I would have gladly gone back to hearing about real estate. I think I tried to pretend like I didn’t understand what they were getting at but let me tell you body language is a dead give-away sometimes. So Hazel caught on faster, that they were asking us to go dancing with them after dinner. Annnnd they asked where we were staying – which could have been just wondering where to pick us up and see how far we had to walk. In the very least they wanted to give us a ride back. And so there started the elaborate schemes of Hazel and I to elude them and their invitations of a night of half-drunken dancing with men that were old enough to be our fathers and still ok with the fact that we could barely understand a word they were saying and their intentions were unclear… Veeeery sketch. At least Canada and America can agree on one thing, eh Hazel? But at least we enjoyed our crème brûlée, hmm? Ha ha when we finally bid farewell to the two gentlemen and their sorrowful faces we wanted to find our waiter and say goodbye, but we couldn’t find him so we asked the other servers at the door and we couldn’t think how to ask so I said “S’il vous plaît, Moustache! Où est Moustache?!” lol. Which asked where Moustache was and they exclaimed “Ah! Moustache!” And they called out for him throughout the restaurant! “Moustache!” Which almost made us giggle, (almost) for the fact that they too, called him that name. So he came out with his glorious pair of moustache and smile combo and we asked him for a picture with us, and he obliged very happily and wished us bonne nuit.
We walked out into the night with our spirits high and stomachs filled to the brim, later to learn that our night was not over. I won’t bore you much longer with all the details, but it involved: Walking in the night alongside the dimly-lit roads hopping from traffic circle trying to follow the signs to where the concert would be. We were stopped for directions, (nope, not the other way around) we ran after a hedgehog, we got lost, we got lost again. Finally since it was getting a bit chilly we decided to head back and get some sleep. So we did not get to see the band after all, however we were pretty content with the night, we learned a lot about each other, and still more yet to come. And then in the morning Hazel almost smokes out the hotel microwave-style… but more on that later. Ha ha.