“As You Want”: A Weekend In Aix En Provence

October 11, 2009

It is certainly fall in France. However, while fall in Paris means cold and gray, fall in the south of France appears to mean sunshine, wind, and dried leaves on the sidewalk! I decided that I needed a weekend in another city and I also really wanted to spend some time with Deborah, so last weekend I boarded a train and headed south! Deborah worked on a neighbor’s horse farm this summer (along with France) and we met in my mom’s yoga class. We became friends and she invited me to visit her in Aix en Provence, where she attends university. I am so glad that I went, because our weekend was absolutely fantastic!

It is necessary to include in this entry a short description of Deborah. She is lovely in absolutely every way, and she is honestly one of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met. She absolutely spoiled me all weekend, cooking for me, trying to pay my way on buses, and accommodating my every whim. She also loves to sing, and she’s really funny! I felt very much at home and at ease, and I know we’re going to be friends for a long time.

Okay, but now on to all of the things that we did! I arrived late on Thursday, around 10 p.m. We went back to Deborah’s dorm (very unusual for students in France) and got ready for a night out! She showed me the most popular street, which was all bars and clubs and was so packed with people that you literally could not walk through! We ended up in a square near by, where we sat outside of a bar and talked (in French) with some of Deborah’s friends. Her friend Benjamin and I discussed religion and racism in France and the U.S, which was good French practice and also very interesting (the subject continued to come up all weekend).

Deborah, Benjamin, and William (?) the first night

Deborah, Benjamin, and William (?) the first night

We slept in on Friday, and we spent the majority of the day just walking around Aix and doing a little bit of shopping. Deborah got a makeover in Sephora, which was fun! Aix is not a large city, but there are lots of things to do.  I was able to see an exhibit of contemporary works by an artist named Sama, and some of the sights for which Aix is well known, including the largest fountain in the town, and from the roof of the beautiful Grand Theatre de Provence one of the most important sights of Aix en Provence, namely the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, at sunset. The mountain was made famous by the Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. Unfortunately the large Picasso and Cézanne exhibit which displayed the latter’s influence on the former was finished, but seeing Sainte-Victoire at sunset was still worth the trip!

Deborah and I on the steps of the theater

Deborah and I on the steps of the theater

Sainte-Victoire

Sainte-Victoire

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*Just a note on the photos, Deborah and I shared cameras all weekend, so she gets credit for some of these photographs as well!

That night we went out again, and I made two more friends! Aymeric is nice and quite the joker, and Alexandre is a very charming and cultured individual with a flair for the dramatic! Alexandre has spent time studying in California, and so we talked about the States, differences between our countries, and things that we missed about America! Namely large breakfasts with eggs, bacon, buttered toast, juice, potatoes, and pancakes; real American style cookies; and Taco Bell. It was once again a wonderful night with a great deal of stimulating conversation in French!

Benjamin, Alexandre, Aymeric and I

Benjamin, Alexandre, Aymeric and I

On Saturday Deborah and I went to the food market, and also the flower market so that I could take some pictures. Unfortunately this is when my camera died, but Deborah and I just shared hers for the rest of the trip! I don’t want to bore you with more market photographs, but I am just going to insert one of the mushroom merchant! I am pretty sure that we don’t have mushrooms like this in the U.S.

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After this we took the bus to Marseille for the day! Marseille is not a typical French town according to my French friends. They have an extremely large immigrant population (mostly from the Middle East and Africa) and so the feel of the city is much more culturally diverse. The night before Alexandre asked me if I knew what the second most spoken language was in Marseille. When I said no, he jokingly replied “French”, if that gives you a better idea. Marseille is not my favorite town, but we still had a good experience, and I’m very glad that I was able to see it. We saw the Vieille Port, and we saw a commercial being filmed in front of it, which was fun. We also had a nice lunch at a restaurant by the port-seafood of course! As a note on my cullinary adventures, I tried octopus, but learned that the texture is like elastic, to say the least!

The Vieille Port

The Vieille Port

We continued our day by going to an exhibit of visual poetry, namely work the work of Pierre Albert-Birot. He is apparently hard to categorize, as my brochure in French describes him as neither “futuriste, dadaïst, ou surréaliste” though he lived and worked throughout all three movements. In spite of his vague categorization, his work was still quite interesting and varied.

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After this we saw a really amazing exhibit at the Musée Cantini, which was on the subject of theatre in painting and drawing. There were some pieces I was very excited to see, having just studied them in class (works by David, Delacroix, Ingres and Cabanel) and there were also works by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Klimt to name a few. We finished our day in Marseille by taking a bus to the highest point in the city, the magnificent Notre-Dame de la Garde. The church itself was closed because we arrived at sunset, but the view was simply magnificent!

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We went back to Aix and had thin-crust Italian style pizza for dinner, which was delicious! The rest of the night was also wonderful. We went out (again!)  and met up with all the same people from the night before, plus two American friends of Deborah’s, Jose and Robert. It was really strange and difficult to speak in English after nearly 2 days of speaking exclusively in French. I was shocked that my brain couldn’t understand English, and that my first response when spoken to was to commence saying something in French! It was so exciting, but unfortunately nearly 21 years of English won out, and once I started to speak with Jose and Robert my native language came back twice as strong, reducing my French to what can be summed up in one phrase: “tu n’a pas rien dit!” (you didn’t say anything!) according to Deborah when I tried to tell her that some of our friends were leaving. I spoke in Franglaise the rest of the night, because Jose and Robert couldn’t understand when we just spoke French, and Amyric, Benjamin, and Deborah couldn’t understand when we just spoke in English! We spent a few hours in Jose’s apartment, sipping wine and talking about American history (specifically that of the Native Americans), racism in both countries, and religious freedom, in particular women’s rights and Islam. It was a passionate discussion in 2 languages, but in the end we’re all still friends, and I now know that I am capable of translating complicated things when necessary!

I had to leave today, so we spent a quieter morning with just the two of us. Deborah and I visited the Atelier de Paul Cézanne, (the studio where he painted and worked from the last 5 years of his life) and it was a really lovely way to end the visit. I want very badly to go back to Aix, especially since I have so many friends to see next time! However, I am hoping that before then Deborah and the others will be able to visit me in Paris. I want to be just as hospitable to Deborah, I need to show my fellow art-history major Robert the museums, I have to buy Benjamin a crêpe, and I have to introduce Jose to my favorite Parisian Mexican restaurant…

I left out the young man from Singapore I met on the street Friday night, and the young Mexican man who I picked dessert for in Marseille, and also many of Deborah’s other friends, because it is late and I have to go to bed. But my lesson from the weekend was that language isn’t that big of a barrier, and language differences can actually introduce you to new friends. You just have to say “bonjour”! A bientôt!

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5 Responses to ““As You Want”: A Weekend In Aix En Provence”

  1. grandma said

    Hello Victoria, I have been enjoying my trip to France w/you. Grandpa and I are wishing you a Happy 21st Birthday. I suppose you will be having special plans w/your friends but having a birthday party in France sounds very special no matter what you do. Enjoy your birthday…Love from the both of us.

  2. Lizzie said

    Hello, dear Victoria,
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! – tomorrow: but I’m leaving then for a visit to North Africa, so I send my wishes and love today. I love reading your diary and I am so glad that you liked Aix: it’s a lovely place, though I think you saw far more of it than I have ever seen. By the way, I too dislike octopus: altogether too chewy! I admire your having deep conversations in french – I always became tongue-tied and had to resort to franglish, so it shows me that you are really speaking the language – fantastic! Have a wonderfully happy day: here we miss you, but have great pleasure following your adventures (so many of them culinary!!)
    Love as always, Lizzie and Bill and the dogs.

  3. Danielle said

    Hi Tori,

    Just wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday and I hope you continue to have a wonderful time in France.

    • Victoria said

      Thank you so much Danielle! I wish you could visit, because I think there are a lot of things here you would just love! I miss you a lot, and if you decide to visit, just let me know! (We could go medieval dancing!!!!) ❤ ❤ ❤

  4. Savannah said

    Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.
    LOL,

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