With the first few weeks already past, I'm both exhausted and exhilarated, slowly settling into this quaint, yet chic town. Aix-en-Provence.... what a world this is! Its streets are full of a brisk liveliness, even in these "cold" January days. There are musicians standing on street corners, and Mamans
riding their kids around in their basketed bikes, and sunny cafés, and sophisticated men and women bustling up and down the main street, Cours Mirabeau. There is breathtaking architecture dating all the way back to Romans times (in 122 BC, when the Romans abandoned the plateau of Entremont to settle on a site rich in resources, Aquae Sextiae, "the waters of Sextius," was born), and the beautiful, historic Catholic churches hold elements and artifacts from as many as three different centuries. It's amazing that all of it--the cathedrals, cafés, restaurants and bars, boulangeries
and fashionable little shops piled one after the other-- can fit into the narrow, cobblestone, winding streets.
Of course, along with the aesthetics that reign supreme in Aix, the food is divine. There is no other way to describe it-- after all, it is an art here. It's lovely to look at, and even more lovely to taste and then talk about for the next few hours, as the fourth and fifth courses make their way out. It seems the food and wine culture could be encapsulated in three words: taste, savor, discuss. Eating is a leisurely affair, and you are expected to respect the dining process, rather than inhale what's before you (quite
the challenge when you're used to shoveling it in before class--or after, when you're nothing short of ravenous). But it really is delightful to taste and
savor (still working on the discussing part). Last weekend we all visited (all 30+ of us) an 89 year-old man named Lolo, who lives on a farm about an hour outside of Aix, in the Provence countryside. He alone prepared a five course meal that we enjoyed by a great, big fire, all the while sipping rosé and red wine form a nearby vineyard. Each course was brought out separately, and eaten slowly and leisurely-- after all, the many hours that Lolo put into preparing the whole meal ought to have been fully appreciated (Mom, I think you'd be a fan of this...the work of the chef certainly doesn't go unnoticed)! By the time we each lined up to give Lolo bisous,
a kiss on each cheek, and waved "Au revoir,"
it had been at least a four hour visit... a ritual indeed!
Aside from la cuisine magnifique, I've noticed something else very striking about this place: it is not the land of "whatever." There are clearly defined French protocols: table manners, noise levels, the appropriate greetings, to smile or not to smile; and breaking these rules is apparently an insult (this I learned when I may have smiled a little too sweetly at a random passerby and her petit enfant on the street...oops). It's an interesting thing: the locals are delighted when I ask them a question in French or simply say "Bonjour" upon entering a shop, but grinning for no apparent reason on the street is not so well received.
Along with completing my first few weeks of classes at Aix Marseille Université, my second biggest accomplishment so far has been consuming an entire baguette (only € 0.75!) in a night. So much for not inhaling my food!
A la prochaine,
Emily Blume is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a Sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh.
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