ode to aix-en-provence

i’m sitting at my desk, drinking a delicious coffee, and listening to the sound of rain out my partially open window… church bells are going off in the distance. funeral, or wedding…either way it’s amazing. it’s otherwise quiet here, and nearly noon, which is sort of strange for a friday but i’m not complaining.

i was thinking this past week about things i will miss when i go home. because, i’m very excited to come home (less than 3 months now! – june 23!), but let’s face it: niagara is not the south of france, and st. catharines is certainly not aix-en-provence.

aside from the obvious (ex. it’s europe. i can take the train or fly to any number of extremely cool, history soaked and famous places for less than the price of gas to drive up north), i will miss the idiosyncratic quirks, whims and benefits of living here, in aix. for example, i will miss riding in to school in the mornings and listening to the ever french accordion music being played by one of a few characters here. i will miss my bike, pepe, and i will miss just being able to ride in to school – and i might even miss the uncomfortable cobblestone streets (but not likely the terrible drivers). i’ll miss my richelme square, with the coffee roaster, my favourite bakery, l’unic and the patio culture, pizza capri (a hotspot at lunch hour), and that one convenience store with the weird owner. i’ll probably miss having all these fabulous boutique shops around, but my bank account (and father) will be happy. i will definitely miss the market… oh the market. with my honey guy, who gives me a discount now, every kind of fruit and vegetable and fungi, olives, tapenades, cured meats and cheeses…. i don’t need to go on, i’ve gushed about the market enough times before. although, having to dodge the stinky fish water as the seafood stand is closing up is not likely something i will miss.

i think it goes without saying how much i will miss my fabulous friends; cooking with them every night in our seriously under-equipped kitchen and complaining about everyone else’s pigsty-ish ways in residence – or bugging each other about various disparities in our country-specific terminology. i will miss being in town and just knowing that any one of my friends are around somewhere, a text away, and can meet me for apéros on a café or brasserie terrace – at any time of the year, patio heaters or not. i will miss my lavender plant on my desk that i got for my birthday. i will miss getting all my meat at the butcher in the place de prêcheurs across from the palais de justice, and the fabulous greek feta that we always get at corbeille d’orient. i’ll miss having a fountain at every corner! i will miss being able to purchase wine anywhere, not just a governmentally designated and controlled store, and i’ll miss 4€ wine! (actually no, probably not). i’ll miss the task of restaurant searching, as there are so many fabulous ones here and we’re always trying to work within a student budget, and i’ll miss the other task of deciding what movie to see at one of three small cinemas in town; do we see one in french at le cézanne? do we see one in english with french subs at renoir or mazarin? do we see one in arabic with french subs?? oh the decisions! and after deciding, i will definitely miss grabbing a crèpe from the street-side stand before heading in to the theatre.

in any case, a piece of me will definitely be left here, as pieces of me have been only recently discovered here, and some pieces created here. i know i have still almost 3 months. why would i jump the gun and get all nostalgic already, you might ask? i just needed the reminder, i think, to really soak it up in the remaining time. to appreciate how blessed i am, and how fortunate. and to not wish the time away. i certainly did not miss having a canadian winter and the sooner i leave here the sooner that looms…

and look! the sun has come out. aix-en-provence’s own shade of blue sky is again visible from my window. now i can go pick up my bike from the repair man and ride it home with brakes that work! maybe i’ll pass the accordion man. and then perhaps i will go sit in the park and read.

c’est bonne, la vie, n’est pas?


one weekend at a time

before this weekend and its plans hit, i should probably finish this post of last weekend’s festivities – a post i clearly started last week and am only now completing (hence the incorrect posting date. no, don’t worry, you have not travelled back in time).

the aussies’ friends shaz and stu arrived on wednesday and thursday, respectively. shaz came all the way down from dublin, whereas stu, as you may recall, studies in paris (it was his apartment alex and i stayed in over the holidays). on thursday night we had a fabulous evening of food planned. josh had spent the previous two days preparing a boeuf bourguignon (burgundy beef), and it was simmering on the stove with the newly added potatoes. in my room i put together an international cheese platter, including the sharp american cheddar josh brought back from new york. the semi-firm fresco something-or-other i brought back from italy, and a french roquefort purchased from the fromagerie here in aix. we had some rhône valley wine (decanted in my decanter that i got for christmas from josh and claire!), sausage, grapes, tapenades, jellies, rillette, cornichons, and bread to eat it all with (living the good life, even on a student’s budget!). and that was just the appetizers! the real dinner was fabulous, as has come to be expected from chef josh, and we finished the evening with coffee and a raspberry tart.

the next day, stu, josh, shaz and i rented a car and headed off to the luberon, with little planned but to sight-see. it was quite incredible, and i was SO glad i joined them. we had lots of fun and i saw parts of provence that i had really been wanting to see – the provence you read about and imagine before even coming. we had lunch in the perched town of gordes (where some filming of the movie “a good year” took place), drove through apt and stopped for a couple hours of exploring in the small town of bonnieux (even more filming took place here). after that we just drove around some more, taking photos and admiring the general splendor of provence. we even happened upon a cave du vin, did a little tasting, and came out with half a case of wine! (it wasn’t expensive stuff).

gordes (click the photo to view large)stu and joshblue windows on a building in gordesshaz, walking up to the cathedral on the hill in bonnieuxblue car, bonnieuxjosh, looking like a random homeless boygrape vines in provence

saturday passed without much fanfare, and on sunday claire, caitlin, brianna and i hopped on a tour bus to go to monaco. it was nearly a 3hr bus ride, but the drive is of course beautiful (and this tour cost us half the price to get there and back as it would have otherwise!). monaco was sunny and 15 degrees, and smelled like florida to me (it was amazing). and clean! so clean, and so beautiful. of course, that’s what one should expect from a place soaked in so much money. which of course was the tempering undertone of the day – how to reconcile the beauty with what one can only describe as greed. and why do only rich people get to live in such a beautiful place? it’s such a great inequality. granted, i’ve already made retirement plans involving the place so who am i to say? 😛

claire, jardin japonais in monaco
monaco coastline, as seen from the oceanographic museum
the crew, minus caitlin
one of many harbours filled with giant speed boats and yachts
brianna, my canadian compatriot
one of many excessively expensive cars. though this one WAS pretty cool… (batman!)monte carlo casino, as seen in the reflection of the fountain mirror
monte carlo casino (10€ just to go inside)
me and cait, enjoying the afternoon sun at café de paris, just in front of the casino

so it was a full weekend. lots of photos were taken, and lots of ground covered. i think we’re all starting to realize how fast the days are going now (less than 100 days left), and want to get in as many things as possible. tomorrow (saturday) we might take the 1€ bus to cassis to spend the afternoon walking along the water. weather pending, we’re going to bring picnic lunches and just take it easy. i’ll post another update soon!

blue skies in avignon…

…and an early, early morning for me.

after spending much of the night trying to erase the memory that very thin walls and very close neighbours imprinted in my mind, i woke up three hours later to catch the first bus to avignon with some of my favourite people, caitlin, claire and josh. by 7:30am we were grabbing brioches, pain au chocolats, and [unfortunately very bad] coffees from in town (the roaster wasn’t open yet), then onward to the bus station.

1.5 hours later, we were walking under the old walls of the city of avignon, and the familiar feeling of apparition–i mean…time-transporting–came over me. the skies were crystal clear and blue as anything, and although the breeze was cold, we chased the sunshine through parks and down old cobblestone streets until we found a café terrace still warmed by the morning sun (and helped by some patio heaters). a crèpe and a much-needed coffee later, we began to wander, somewhat aimlessly, through avignon’s old downtown centre, to the gates of the old palais de papes (the largest gothic castle in europe), up the hill it is built into, and to a stunning vista of avignon and the bouches-du-rhône. when we stopped taking photos of distant castles and snow-capped mountains, we sat down in a sheltered place for awhile and pondered our next item – lunch.

morning skies in avignon beyond an old cathedralfriends!
caitlin and her cute toque
palais du pape
basking in the sunshine
me, at the palais
fountain atop the les roches les doms

prior research directed us to a lovely spot off the main drag where we waited awhile for our menus, but it turned out to be worth it. i had a delicious pork tenderloin dish, served with a sweet potato and potato purée, the others had tuna with saffron risotto and a tarte à la provençal. this was only topped by the fabulous dessert we allowed ourselves (i felt i deserved to treat myself more-so than usual, what with my harrowing experience from the night before): gâteau au fromage blanc, avec sorbet aux framboises, and of course a chocolate gâteau as well. after taking ample digestion time, we ventured out again to see the famous pont d’avignon (built between 1171 and 1185, and no longer spanning the entire rhône river due to a number of floods and such), and turned down the 3.50€ fee just to walk along it (seriously?? 3.50€ to walk on an old bridge that doesn’t even go anywhere??).

pont d’avignon, aka pont saint bénezet, half-spanning the river rhônefilet du porc avec jus, et purée des pommes de terre (et patates doux)
gâteau au fromage blanc avec sorbet aux framboises

the afternoon found us window shopping–lèche-vitrines en français (window ‘licking’)–and just meandering around the old streets. we relaxed with magazines and tea until it was time to head home.

a few episodes of arrested development and a phone chat and i fell into a deep, and thankfully undisturbed sleep. now it’s sunday, and i’m planning the next excursion with the girls… monaco next weekend??