Aix-en-Provence is a university town about the same size as our own. (After that, the similarities cease!) It’s about 20 miles north of the south coast of France and has been on the map since the second century. It’s university and cathedral date from the twelfth century. It was home to Cezanne and, for a time, Van Gogh. The cobblestone streets of its historic city center wind every which way, sometimes barely more than six feet wide, opening onto large squares here and there. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of car traffic. We spent two nights there, enjoying it from sun-up to sundown on Wednesday, August 6. It wins the prize as our favorite destination of all. We would go back in a heartbeat.
Wednesday 6 August, 1:00 p.m.
We’ve just eaten – a pizza for Mike and a salad for me. We’re sitting at one of many busy tables under umbrellas in a shady square – Ancino Place de l’Archevescat. We’re sending a couple postcards. The ground beneath our feet is ancient stone. We slept in a little this morning, then wandered the streets, through the PERFECT market and into an almost as perfect (the market was THAT perfect) fabric shop where we gleefully parted with 94 Euro for a bag of treasures, including oil cloth to cover our table from now till forever. We watched a man in a food stand make us a crepe and fill it with nutella. We wandered the Cathedral de Saint Saveur, finding a sixth-century baptistry and a lovely little cloister – how these things capture the imagination!! The woman eating behind us heard our stumbling conversation with the waitress and inserted herself, the quintessential French woman, perhaps 50-55 years old. Elegant and exuberant. She told us where to go for our picnic tonight.
We bounced around town for two hours today. The Mediterranean lifestyle scored one on us when we returned to the food market after lunch to find it all gone and washed away. So for our picnic we assembled the basics – bread, cheese, grapes, 16E worth of chocolate, a bottle of delightful dry-but-sweet red wine – from various shops. The bike rental plan was for nought, a discovery hard-won by searching out three address around town without satisfaction – one was closed, two wanted the bikes returned too early. So we saved our budgeted 32E and spent 4E instead, hopping the city bus with our books and our picnic for a feat of precise timing, getting off one to buy a Cezanne for Mike’s mom and back on another to ride it to the end of its route for a scenic tour of the countryside and back, to where we eventually recognized we were in the wrong place (and unwilling to walk the distance) for the vista picnic we’d planned. We settled for a grassy park set back from the road, itself high enough on the hills to the north of town to make for a few views and a lovely sunset. A bubbly French woman – uncommonly (but only slightly) overweight, about 65-70 years old, sat nearby and came to make conversation. We conversed for a half hour easily, she in quick, eager French, we in slow but improving French, and we understood a surprising amount, even Mike. It was a hilarious exchange and we giggled about it after she left. She’d watched us incredulously as we’d approached – tourists, obviously – but warmed to a grin when she saw us lay out our very French picnic. Clearly she approved. When she came over and discovered we were drinking straight from our bottle of wine (she professed deep affection for “le vin rouge”) she was slightly horrified, mostly amused, and even more so when she apprehended our intent to polish the whole thing off. We assured her we’d ride the bus. Eventually she went on her merry way and soon we went on ours, disembarking from our bus onto Cours Mirabeau just as darkness set in. We shopped a little more and sat at a cafe for a night cap, enjoying more hilarious conversation, the best of all – the moment Mike saw the rising moon and made note of it, sounding EXACTLY like Josh: “Leh Mooooon.” Now everything is “Leh” this and that and I think Bryonie and I share ever more in common.