Aix Marks the Spot

I was in Aix-en-Provence, France, from January to May 2012, during which I attempted to keep up a blog. This is what happened.

Language barricade

Gelato: some things need no words

I’ll be honest: Before I left for Rome and Barcelona, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about my ability to speak French. I was listening to myself stumble over my words in every verbal interaction I had, saying “Comment?” (“What? Repeat?”) just as often. I was experiencing that intense frustration of creating a thought and not being able to express it in words. In my mind, every conversation was an oral exam that I was barely passing. Talk about putting pressure on myself.

Then I was in Rome. As my boyfriend Matt and I were looking for our friend’s apartment, we stopped inside a small cosmetic store to ask for directions. This is what I thought in my head: “Where are we? We’re trying to go here on the map.” I thought it in English. I thought it in French. And I realized I didn’t know any of those words, not a single one, in Italian. I settled on using gestures, and we received a similar response giving us directions. I’ve experienced a language barrier every day since January 27, but this was more than that — this was a barricade.Read More »Language barricade

Hiding places (Des cachettes)

A street in Aix

I am convinced that if I were to live here my whole life, I would never be able to discover all the shops in the city. I spot new ones all the time, even on the walk to and from school, on streets that I’ve walked on dozens of times already.

Chat Rêveur

The reason, I recently realized, is that they have an uncanny ability to stay discreet. For one thing, they’re packed into the city streets the way diners are packed into tiny French restaurants (it’s intimate). You could sneeze while walking down the street and miss a shop or two by the time you open your eyes.

But timing plays a role too. Some shops are only open in the morning; some are only open for dinner. Some are certainly closed for lunch; some between lunch and dinner; some on Saturdays, or Sundays, or Mondays. And when they’re closed, the storefronts are covered with a metal door, so they’re almost impossible to notice. You walk past them like a Muggle walking past the pedestrian entrance to Diagon Alley: You’ll only see it if you have a reason to stop and stare at it.Read More »Hiding places (Des cachettes)

A photo-shoe-t

Let’s say hello to two new pairs of shoes in my wardrobe!

I stumbled upon a vintage clothing store while lost in Aix and saw the coolest burgundy heels with gold accents. I tried them on — and they fit me perfectly, Cinderella-style. I was, if I may make a pun, pumped. (Get it?) I wore them recently to the Monte Carlo casino in Monaco and felt very vintage classy the whole night. However, it turns out that these dream-come-true glass slippers become vices on my feet after a few hours. I’ll have to find some French Dr. Scholl’s insoles before I wear them again…Read More »A photo-shoe-t

Nice & Monaco

Last weekend, I traveled to Nice and Monaco with my study abroad program. Because both cities are on the coast of the Mediterranean, the landscapes are magnificent. Nice, pronounced “niece,” also had the Alps in the background. The Alps stole my heart when I first went to Austria five years ago, so I gladly reconnected with it for a few hours there.

Nice

Monaco

Read More »Nice & Monaco

Lost (Perdu)

There are 360 streets in Aix’s city center. I know because I counted last night on a map of the centre ville while I was watching “Miss Congeniality” dubbed in French.

Here’s a map. That tangled web north of the Cours Mirabeau is the old city. My school is on Rue du Bon Pasteur. Can you find it?

This may explain, perhaps, why I’ve gotten lost every single day in different parts of the city. Read More »Lost (Perdu)