Creeks, Cathedrals and Fountains, Oh My!

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
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Flag of France  , Provence,
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yesterday (Saturday 8/21/10) I went out and explored the weekly Saturday market.  It was incredible.  There were some traditional folk dancers/ singers from Russia or Romania or something like that.  They were really fun.  There were all sorts of artists selling innumerable arts from woodcrafts to paintings of all different styles.  I really hope to bring back some local original art if I can fit it in my budget, (not to mention my suitcase when it's time to come home).

                There is a small door, that one would barely notice that takes you down a long narrow alleyway.  We only found it by accident when we were lost.  Otherwise I probably never would have found this door.  We call it the secret door to Narnia or Diagon Alley.  But it takes you to this big square with several large, old and beautiful buildings surrounding it, and of course a fountain in the middle.  And in this square is the largest market I have ever seen.  Even bigger than the one described above, which is on the main road in Aix.  First there is a large section with used book vendors, music, random trinkets, hats, antiques, etc.  Pretty much anything you could ask for in a flea market.  Then there is a huge food/produce section.  Kind of like a giant gourmet farmers market.  Cheese, cured meats, fruits, vegetables....  There were some fruits and veggies there that I had never even heard of.  I bought some fresh apple juice and had to restrain myself from buying the goat cheese.  I figure I’ll wait until I move into my home-stay so that I can put the left-overs in the fridge.  But then there was an entire new section that wandered through several other adjacent streets with all sorts of clothes and fabrics.  There were used, homemade, wholesale clothes of every different style.  I’ve never seen anything like this market before and plan on returning next Saturday.

                Later that afternoon I decided that I wanted to see what was down the other end of the street that our hotel is situated on, because we always go the other way to get to downtown.  I wandered down it and found a beautiful little park that followed a creek.  It kept going really far and connected to various parks and fields, where locals played soccer, took naps, played with their dogs or read books.  There were hundreds of dragon flies there.  They had ones like we have here zipping in every direction.  But there were also these fascinating black ones with black wings that fluttered around more like butterflies.  I had never seen anything like them.

 I wandered out a different entrance than the one I had used and found an old French cemetery which was very ornate and beautiful and VERY Catholic.  I wandered back to the hotel, bought myself an apple and an Orangina for lunch and was just finishing up when a group came down and told me that they were going looking for a park they had found on a map.  I looked at the map and saw that it was the same park I had just discovered by accident.  I told them I would show them where it was, so we set out for yet another hike.  This time when we got there we went down a different path than I had taken before that in the end took us to the very end of the park and in to a much more rugged path.  But we found some wild blackberries and some kind of plum native to Europe.  At first we weren’t going to eat it as we weren’t sure exactly what it was, but luckily Yuliana, (who is from Romania originally) recognized it and confirmed that it was safe to eat.  Being the tallest in the group I pulled down the branches so the girls could reach the fruit, but not recognizing the fruit myself, let Yuliana eat the first one.  Not seeing any signs of immediate poisoning and upon seeing the universal expression of someone eating something delicious spread across her face, I tried one myself.  It was of course delicious.  We wandered some more and found some signs that read "do not enter", “Danger” and “private property” in French.  Which of course to a group of college kids on a hike is basically an invitation to keep going, which is what we did.  So while being cautious and half expecting a guard dog to come chasing us away at any moment we approached what turned out to be a very large and quite beautiful house tucked away out in this park.  Funnily enough there were several old abandoned cars rotting away in the front yard proving that the French really aren’t that different from us.

                We eventually found our way back to the center of town stopping to rest in another park, with yet another fountain.  This one was filled with naked French children playing in the water.  We found an English pub where Chris proceeded to teach us all about the different beers (Chris apparently previously worked at a Bevmo).  I feel that I am much more likely to come home a beer snob than a wine snob.  The beer here is indescribably superior to the beer we drink in America which is essentially dirty water by comparison.  The beer here actually tastes better warm or room temperature, whereas if American beer reaches the same temperature you have to hold your nose and chug it in order to avoid the terrible flavor,( or you wait until no one’s looking, poor it out and get a new beer.)  We met a very charming British couple there who gave us many good traveling tips and offered to let us stay with them in London if we managed to make it up there.  They said that when they were young and traveling everyone was so kind to them that now it was their turn to return the favor.  I hope to take them up on their offer.

 I came home with the intention to rest then go back out but was so tired I simply passed out and didn’t wake up until this morning, in time to go to church at the large cathedral of Aix Le Chathedral de San Sauveur.  The mass was simply beautiful, (although not simple at all).  They had six trumpeters, a timpanist, and an organist.  And this was just a regular weekly mass.  They had six priests and used a large amount of incense, (which up until now I have only seen used at Christmas and Easter mass).  But the music was beautiful, however everything else was pretty much in Greek (but really in French).  But being Catholic I was pretty much able to follow along.  For those of you that aren’t, it’s pretty simple; you just stand when everyone else stands and sit when they sit.  Then at the end they have snack time, where everyone gets in line and the priests give out free crackers.  I hope to make Mass a regular thing.  I hope it will help me improve my French, plus it is just so beautiful.  And there are so many beautiful churches I want to try them all.

After lunch, at a quite good (despite the incredibly rude cashier) Mediterranean kebab place, I packed mon sac a dos (my backpack) with my sketchpad and a book, picked up a small bottle of wine on the way and went in search of Paul Cezanne’s studio.  It was not long before I was quite lost.  Although it has been my experience that when you are lost or wandering aimlessly, (which are almost the same thing) you find some very interesting things, often as interesting as what you are in search of.   And today was no different.  I found another nice park with… you guessed it, another fountain.  I also found a tombstone store.  No, not the pizza, actual tombstones, and they were having a sale!  Anyone interested?  After that I wandered further in what I thought was the right direction, (and I was kind of right, but way off none the less).  I eventually wound up at the freeway, which needless to say was not where I was trying to go.  However it did help me find where I was on the map, (which by the way is almost entirely useless, with lots of symbols but no key and no compass rose).  So I had to head back down the hill, just to head back up the hill but on a different street.  Eventually I did find his house, unfortunately I only had 20 minutes to see it before it closed.  However it was fascinating.  He had designed his studio specifically for his purposes.  There was a door about 12 feet tall but only food wide just to move his large paintings which were too big to fit in his old studio.  The studio was essentially untouched since his death.  The statue of the armless baby, which is featured in several of his paintings is still there as are many of the same bottles, bowls, skulls and sculptures which he painted in many of paintings.  It was eerie.  His cane and several of his jackets were hanging on the wall.  One of which was his painting jacket, with paint still on it.  I couldn’t help but think how the paint on this jacket was likely the same paint as on some of the most priceless artwork in some of the greatest museums in the world.  Unfortunately I was hurried out of the grounds by the staff before I had the chance to relax and enjoy the grounds as I had planned.  So I hiked back down into town, found a nice park, pulled out my wine and began to sketch.  It was a very nice relaxing day.  Tomorrow I get to see the university.  I hope it’s as amazing as everything else has turned out to be.
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