That’s a pretty common idea on college campuses, but somehow, until now, I’ve never quite understood it. Usually I just work. Now there’s no self-pity there – bizarre as I am, I really don’t mind it. But, nevertheless, I am often to be found in the Commons on a Friday night, taking advantage of the absence of others to catch up on my politics reading.
All this is to say that my life here is almost as different from my real life as it is possible to be while still residing in a developed country. The academics are, pardon my slight judgement, not at all difficult comparatively speaking. This lends a certain fluidity to the days which makes them pass with startling speed, but also, and best of all, frees up weekends to be purely adventurous.
For instance. This Saturday, we up and went to Cassis. Using our miraculous tickettreize bus passes, we managed to get all the way to the charming seaside town (and back) for a whole €2. Besides stunning views of the Med, Cassis is famous for the “calanques” – long cliffs which jut out into the sea. Braving the sun, the mobs of tourists with backpacking poles, and the at times nearly vertical trail, we set out to hike to the beach between the final two calanques (only accessible by foot or boat). For hike-ophiles: Not long or hugely arduous, but so gorgeous. So unique. Good thing, too, because when we got to the beach, it was quite crowded, and the sun had dropped behind the right-hand calanque so it was a bit shady for swimming. For my cowardly self, at least. Crazy Martin and Adam, on the other hand, climbed onto the last sunny rock and leapt into the chilly sea. So not so much a swimming day, though we had a very successful picnic. However, probably the coolest hike I’ve ever done.
On Sunday, we bounced out of bed (or lurched, depending on soreness from the hike – agh quads) and rallied around Yamina in front of the Office de Tourisme for our second IAU-sponsered day trip. They very thoughtfully set up these trips to take us places it would normally be difficult for us to get to, not generally having access to cars. Sunday it was the Luberon, that prettiest hilliest region of Provence, made immortal in the minds of generations by Peter Mayle, that funny Brit, and his seminal work of travel literature, A Year in Provence. He’s right – I can’t imagine there’s anywhere else like it in the whole entire world. With the rolling green hills, neat vineyards, Roman ruins crumbling casually in fields, and abundance of medieval hilltop villages, it’s a bit unbelievable, actually.
My friend Andi, at least seven times on Sunday: “Guys, I don’t think this is real life.”
We went first to Lourmarin, where the aforementioned Mr. Mayle lived in a self-renovated country house until moving sometime this past summer, and which is so charming you just want to hug the 16th-century buildings. We were lucky enough to tour the Old Château there, 15th-century itself, though parts of it are built on the ruins of an 11th-century fortress.The gardens were full of flowers taking advantage of the Indian summer to show off just a little more, and the rooms were impeccably furnished with historical items from all over France (china from Apt in the kitchen; engravings by Piranesi in the dining room; furniture from Lorraine in the music room; Provençal cupboards and chairs in the bedroom).
Actually my favorite part was a small display on the third floor called “Art From the Trenches” which was, as one might guess, a collection of art pieces created by soldiers during wartime. Pretty inspiring. Also interesting to note how observational ALL of it was; miniatures of everyday items, perfect replicas of fighter jets. These men weren’t trying to escape their reality. They almost seem to be honoring it.
After poking around in Lourmarin for a cup of café and picnic supplies (yeah, we picnic a LOT) we bused over to Lacoste (of preppy polo shirt fame, though the village couldn’t seem further from overpriced American shopping malls). Lacoste, so tiny there isn’t a bakery – can you even be a town in France without a bakery? – also has the dubious honor of being home to the château of the Marquis de Sade, now much restored after several centuries of being pillaged for stone by nearby farmers. You have to climb all the way to the top of Lacoste, one of those hilltop villages, to see it, but the château and the view from the plateau on which it stands are breathtaking. Oh goodness, so much picnicking and picture-taking was had in that place on that sunny Sunday afternoon. (Incidentally, I was shocked when I got home to find how few pictures I’d actually taken. I think I registered every time a shutter went off in my general vicinity as a picture, thus inflating my photo estimate by about 400).
Our last stop was the village of Roussillon, which gets its reddish hue from the earth all around it. The French call it “the Colorado of the Luberon”, which makes me chuckle – red rocks, large sweeping massifs, there certainly were. We thought it looked a little like Utah, but then really it didn’t look like anything else we’d ever seen. We left with shoes covered in red dust and eating gelato almost to the man.
See?!!! Weekends. And this one will be almost as bad. And by bad I mean AMAZING. (It’s also my birthday.)
Other hip-happenings! Been to two wine tastings now (one wine AND cheese, om nom nom nom) with Brian and Hilary, the extremely knowledgeable and hilarious young owners of Wine in Provence (ps only English-speaking wine tastings in Aix. go there. look them up). I’m still an absolute novice, but my aunt and uncle may be pleased to know that I am no longer utterly clueless. For instance, I now know that the “New World” of winemaking (think Australia, South America, and the US) generally refer to wines by grape, while the Old World (France, Spain, Italy) refer to them by region.
“Oh my goodness, I just love Pinot Noir,” says the rich lady from Napa Valley to her country-club girlfriends. “And I had a simply fabulous sauvingnon blanc last week at that new tapas restaurant downtown.” Meanwhile, in France, champagne comes from Champagne, bordeaux comes from Bordeaux, dijon mustard comes from Dijon, and rocquefort comes from – you guessed it – the village of Rocquefort. Unsurprisingly, this pattern can be traced back to France’s love affair with bureaucracy, which I believe I have ranted about elsewhere. I think we’ve successfully wheedled Brian and Hilary into setting up a special wine and chocolate tasting as well – i.e. I can die happy after that night.
We’ve also been painting away at our master copies. Unfortunately we are now out of class time – tomorrow we head out into capacious and intimidating Nature, and attempt to, uh, “paint what we see.” Hmmm. I envision many more hours at the atelier.
Also tomorrow (eventful day!) we head out to Entremont, ruins of the village that preceded Aix, on a field trip with our history class. So many field trips! So much adventure.