*This is the last of four new posts about my vacation in Provence. To make sure everything makes sense, start with "All Saints' Vacation--The Beginning". I did not add pictures to the posts, but I will upload pictures to the google page as I can. Love you all!*
All Hallow’s Eve Eve. Today, in the supermarket, I passed by a girl with a green-painted face, and a little boy who I think was supposed to be a vampire. No idea about the girl…maybe a witch? I think that’s about all of the Halloween I’ll get, which is more than my father got when he studied in France in the seventies. Papa once (probably more than once, but hey…) told me about the Halloween he spent in southern France, when hardly anyone here had heard of the holiday. He and his university friends decided to go trick-or-treating that October 31st, but they had to explain the custom at every door they went to. You know, the usual, “it’s a weird American thing…kids come to your door, bang on it, and you have to give them candy or something…”. At the end of the night, when my father returned home, he and his friends each had a sack full of wine, bread, cheese, and jars of savory and sweet concoctions (jellies, mustards, and the like). A mighty fine catch, I might say, and possibly (at my age, and my father’s age at the time) better than a pillowcase full of candy. Now, thirty odd years later, most people in France are fairly well informed about Halloween and what we crazy Americans do. There are Halloween parties, costume contests, painted faces, and vampires, but people don’t really go trick-or-treating. I think that if I tried to go trick-or-treating, it might count as a check on my “stupid American” tally.
On the topic of differences between France thirty years ago and France now, I have decided that we are on a time difference of about thirty years. First of all, thirty years ago French people didn’t know about Halloween, but they do now. Also, before I left my father told me to say good-bye to ketchup, but that’s all over the place in France now too. Who wants to take bets on what will be popular in France thirty years from now?
While I can’t say that I am heading out tomorrow night with an empty sack and visions of French cheeses dancing in my head, I have been doing some of the things that Papa did when he was in France. Yesterday we visited Avignon, the city that my father studied at when he was in college. No wonder he still talks about his time in France! The city is absolutely gorgeous, and I would move from Perpignan to there in an instant. The weather was cold and rainy, but luckily we started our day in the Palais des Papes (the Popes’ Place), the place of residence of the Popes when they left Rome during part of the Middle Ages. The palace was absolutely stunning, although unfortunately we were only able to take pictures of the outside, to not damage the artifacts inside with camera flashes. It was also absolutely immense—it basically took an entire village of people to run the place. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. At the risk of sounding repetitive (I think I say this about every historic monument I visit), the coolest thing was imagining the people who used to actually live there. I walked where Popes walked! I stood in the kitchen where papal feasts were prepared, stood in the room where medieval papal bulls were signed, et cetera et cetera et cetera.
After visiting the Popes’ palace, we walked a short distance to the Pont d’Avignon (the Avignon Bridge), made famous by the eponymous song (“sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse et on y danse”…yeah, I had never heard it before either, don’t worry). The bridge was just a bridge, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. It was partially destroyed during the WWII bombings, and so now only partially traverses the Rhône, so it can’t actually be used as a bridge. Did you know that in the Middle Ages people used to build houses and live on the bridges in Europe? Actually, they built houses everywhere, including inside places like the Roman amphitheatres. In the 19th century, when there were cultural movements stressing the protection and restitution of historical monuments like that, the people living inside the monuments had to be evicted, and their houses were razed. Just imagine a portion of a city sitting inside a thousand year old Roman amphitheatre! Hilarious.
Anyway, after the Pont, the weather got worse and it started pouring down rain. We tried doing a self-guided walking tour of the city, but there weren’t signs for anything, and we continually had to watch the sidewalk for the magic red arrows telling us where to go—we weren’t even looking at the buildings in the neighborhood. Also our umbrellas kept getting turned inside out because of the wind. We gave up on the walking tour, and found a café.
After tea, some of us decided to walk around the city to find something more to do or see, and so set off. We found this great little antique shop where I spent way too much time and too much money, but I found some awesome gifts for some of the people back home. We spent the rest of the time looking for monuments that were either closed or privately-owned, but we got to see some really beautiful parts of the city. We ended our night in the Place de la Republique, taking pictures with one head and holdings bags of roasted chestnuts with the other (they were amazing, Papa! Unfortunately, I still haven’t seen a chestnut vendor in Perpignan, so I will have to head to Avignon every time I need a fix. No big deal.).
The visit to Avignon absolutely made up for the failed visit to Aix-en-Provence (it also marked the first day that we had absolutely no problems with the apartment), and today’s visit wasn’t so bad, either. We started the day with a visit to the Pont du Gard, which is a portion of the Roman aqueduct that connected Nîmes and Uzès two thousand years ago. The Pont du Gard is a bridge portion of the aqueduct that stretches over the river Gardon, and is an immense three-tiered structure, 48 meters high. I have always been fascinated by the Roman aqueduct: by its sheer immensity, by the precision of construction required to move water that quickly, efficiently, and far, and by the speed of construction (the Pont took about 5 years to construct; the aqueduct, 14). Much of the Roman aqueduct has been destroyed over the years, but the Pont remains more or less intact, in its original state.
After the Pont, we drove over to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, just west of Avignon. Our timing wasn’t perfect, because we arrived right in the middle of lunch, when everything, and I mean everything, closes. We ate our lunch in the car with the rain pouring down on us, and bided the time until 2:00. We walked around the town for a while, looking at the little shops and restaurants, and wandered upon La Chartreuse, a chapel/monastery founded during Pope Innocent VI’s reign (one of the Avignon Popes). The monastery was giant, but lacking in signs as well, so I really don’t know much about its history. What I do know is that there is a bitchin’ gothic style tomb that houses the remains of Innocent VI.
Finding ourselves without much to do in Villeneuve, we piled back in the car again to drive to a city called Orange, which seems to be a really lovely place, although we didn’t get to see too much of it. We did visit the Théâtre Antique, one of only three remaining Roman theatres in the world. The theatre was, of course, awesome, but a little to big to take pictures of, which is unfortunate. My personal favorite in the theatre was the presence of a tabby cat that followed Isabel and I around. He was the sweetest thing, and yowled when we tried to leave. And of course, because the Romans’ conception of acoustics was so amazing, his yowls reverberated throughout the theatre and the night in Orange.
Tomorrow, we are packing up and leaving the apartment fairly early, and visiting Les-Baux-de-Provence. I don’t really know what there is to see there, but one of Isabel’s teachers highly recommended it. Afterwards, we’re taking the “auto-route” home. I have had a lovely time traveling the French countryside visiting ancient monuments, but I am really looking forward to a quiet weekend home alone before school starts next week. I have some errands to run concerning my carte de séjour, and I hopefully have to plan a lesson surrounding Barack Obama’s big win on Tuesday.