Turns out not even the South of France can salvage the obligatory snooze-sessions that are Orientation. Argh. Where did that word even come from? Did people get lost a bunch on their way to pillage spices from the Chinese? Grumble grumble.

posing with the tiny strawberries I got in the market at lunch. ils étaient les plus petites fraises!

Okay, to be fair. Lots of good information was provided. We got a long lunch break. Messieurs le président, le directeur of academics, and le directeur of the art school, and madame this-place-wouldn’t-be-here-without-me (she didn’t say that, it was just obviously true) are all sincere, funny, dynamic people. Especially Yamina, the aforementioned madame, who spent much of her session regaling us with the escapades of former students – including the time on the Nice-Cannes trip when some very drunk dudes snuck out of the hotel, climbed a fence, and jumped into a neighboring private swimming pool. Now the hotel makes all IAU students promise by signature not to misbehave.

Also it only lasted one day, which is now over. We have other “orientation” events this week, but they’re more of the “come play frisbee in the Parc Jourdan and drink apéritifs” variety. Classes start tomorrow. For the curious, here are my classes, as they currently stand and in the order I will experience them:

FRE 307 (en français): Advanced French II: Conversation & Composition
ART 105: Beginning Painting and Drawing
COM/JOU 307 (en français): Introduction to Contemporary French Media
ECO/ES 301: International Economics and the European Union
HIS 328 (en français): Provençal History and Culture Through Its Monuments

The first one has to be a mistake. I didn’t notice it until I got home, but I’m almost definitely supposed to be in FRE 300: Advanced French I: Grammar and Usage. I mean, I shouldn’t be in Advanced French at all, but then I’ve never taken macro, so I probs shouldn’t be in that economics class either. Little do they know what havoc they’re in for. On the bright side, if I switch into 300, it would rearrange my schedule so that I wouldn’t have class on Fridays at all. This might be excellent.

This whole experience is a little bit like going to college all over again, except in a different country. Soon it will be in a different language also, of course, but for now we’re all still chattering at each other in English and it feels a lot like freshman year. You seem really nice – but will we ever actually get to be friends? Are you just putting up with me because you don’t want to hurt my feelings? I can’t remember anyone’s name! What am I going to need for class, should I bring my backpack? What are the professors going to be like? Everyone in all my classes is going to be so much better at everything than I am!

But, most luckily, I’m much older and wiser now. These petty concerns bother me not a whit.

Hark! Is that the sound of knowing laughter unsuccessfully stifled? EH?

That’s right. I thought not.

And, like college at first, this atmosphere creates certain behavioral pressures. Like the folks at college who are “doing it right” (by some difficult, nebulous, perniciously pervasive definition) by drinking their body weight in beer every weekend, there’s an expectation here. One of our orientation sessions was with Pauline and Loïc – two hip twenty-something Aixois – who talked to us a little about food and bus systems but mostly about bars and clubs. Several people traveled extensively in Europe before coming to Aix. Most want to travel every weekend and see as as many European cities as possible. I mean, we’re already across the ocean, right? That’s the hardest part. If you don’t take advantage of it, you’re wasting a golden opportunity.

These things are not my priorities, I guess. I’m not particularly interested in capital-hopping, spending piles of euros to see Stockholm, Vienna, Prague, Madrid, Brussels, Geneva, Berlin, for (maybe?) a weekend each. Do I still want to see these places? Are you kidding? Yes – but not, somehow, as much as I want to see Provence. There is SO MUCH TO SEE.

And this is only the places I've heard of! I probably want to go everywhere else too!

Not to mention that Paris is only a three hour ride away on the TGV, which means, probablement, that other fabled French destinations are also accessible. Maybe I want to go to Bordeaux, or Limoges, or St-Etienne, or Versailles, Montmartre, Toulouse? OF COURSE I DO. I mean, this is the country I chose. It draws 8 million visitors every year. I wanna explore it. Hell, I’m having enough fun just exploring Aix – Laura and I still can’t get home from school without a map.

Speaking of settling in, here’s some crazy news. In a stroke of greatest serendipity, I stumbled upon a community choir in Aix. I want so much to join and was so afraid that the rehearsals were at exactly the same time as my classes. I emailed the director yesterday and he just wrote me back – it would indeed be impossible for me to attend the rehearsals for that choir, but he also directs a chamber choir, which rehearses Wednesday nights at 20:00 in the nave of a cathedral that’s, like, five minutes from where I will just have finished class. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I’m meeting with him this Wednesday. Cross your fingers. (Shout out to Andrew Tham for telling me to google Darius Milhaud and inadvertently giving me exactly the opportunity I’d been dying for.) (Also if this actually happens I will have to send Dr. Hearne a postcard, even if she is on sabbatical).

Lastly, in case you missed it earlier – there’s a Nice-Cannes trip. It’s this weekend. We’re going to the beach. Say what?