Now that I’ve lived in Aix for over a month now, I can proudly profess that I’m a regular at a few places around town. Back home (in Pittsburgh), I always loved sitting in Starbucks, or the loftof the Bagel Factory, or of course, my “secret spot” in the Cathedral of Learning, and writing papers and essays for hours and hours. There’s something about having an unlimited amount of time by a warm fire, books and papers sprawled out in a 5 foot diameter around me, and Spotify up and running on a continuous (often repetitive) playlist. Lost in an author’s world, in my own thoughts and theories—or in a pile of books, papers, and handouts—is the best way to spend a cold, grey Saturday in Oakland. Surely, I miss this, but a few weeks ago I discovered that I don’t miss the noisy, hurricane-like atmosphere of the Forbes Ave Starbucks, for example, where I would drown out the barista’s shouts by cranking up Fleet Foxes. To my great and happy surprise, I found a coffee-shop/library/lounge called “Book in Bar” that is only a couple blocks from my apartment, sitting on a corner of another very narrow street, with a British flag flying by the door. Apparently this is the English bookstore in Aix. Like most places here, it is exceptionally small, quaint, and cozy, with wood floors and little, round wooden tables and chairs, wooden bookshelves lining the perimeter, and antique lamps and furniture. Aside from the teenage boy and his French tutor sitting beside me reviewing English grammar (I was happy to be of help a few times when their translation skills failed them), it is blissfully quiet and peaceful. I love that I can come in, order a café crème or pot of tea, and stay for hours and hours without any disturbances; and the fact that I can’t even get internet access seems to make my time here even more well spent. After a weekend of traveling and bus-hopping, map-reading and direction-inquiring, there’s nothing I want more than to sit and read and write, to be by myself for a time, and reflect; so many different places that each evoked their own reactions, and that each deserve some time for thought. I’m already finding that my time here is flying by, but how much faster would it fly if I didn’t stop and take time to think. This is the perfect place to be quiet and peaceful.
Though I love Book in Bar dearly, I simply have to be outside on a bright, sunny day. Where to go on such a day? The market, bien sûr! Fruits, vegetables, spices, meats; 365 days of the year, rain or shine; always fresh and grown a few miles away. It’s quite a thing of beauty! Brightly colored red and yellow tents, tables and tables of glowing, sweet-smelling fruits and veggies, people carefully and scientifically studying each and every piece of food, feeling it, smelling it, weighing it in their hands. I remember going for the first time last month: having been accustomed to buying in bulk for 10 people when I’d shop for Mom, I had a bit of a hard time warming up to the idea of going to the market every morning and buying fresh food solely for that day. Suddenly it was quality over quantity, toujours! I’ve started to learn the growing seasons, the local farmers, the vagaries of weather. I love the idea of going to the market not as a chore, but as a regular, leisurely outing. A few weeks ago I spent an entire Saturday morning strolling through the bustling stalls, trying to find the perfect apple (J’adore sweet, pink apples… but not too pink, nor too sweet. I’ve become quite particular, for better or worse). They have to be crunchy, flush with color, fragrant, without chemicals or waxed. Clearly aware of my amateur shopping habits, one of the farmers standing behind his booth said to me in French, “Mademoiselle, a word of advice: let your senses choose!” As you wish, Monsieur Farmer. I was almost light-headed after all the smelling and sniffy.
Though I’ve meekly tiptoed around the cooking threshold since I’ve arrived in this culinary bastion, I haven’t yet crossed it, but I do feel like I’m slowly mastering the art of market shopping. And while all French women might not be goddesses in the kitchen (though good luck trying to prove so), they certainly know how to peruse the farmer’s market as if it’s a life or death decision each time they pick up a pepper. Like I said, for better or worse, it’s wearing off on me.
Finally, another favorite spot in Aix that I find myself wandering towards on sunny days is Parc Jourdan, a pretty little park with green grass, winding paths, and a carousel. Like Book in Bar and the market, I could stay for hours. I love to find a spot on the grass and lie down, listen to the birds, children playing, and even the occasional puppy yapping. After hours and hours of class, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.
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