During our visit to Aix-en-Provence today, the thought that kept running through my head was, “jour raté”, a phrase taken from the Marguerite Duras book that I translated last year, which means “day failed”. In Duras’ book Le Navire Night, the phrase is “film failed”, referring to her failure at capturing the story told in “Le Navire Night” on film. Aix-en-Provence was a complete failure. We got our water back in the apartment last night, so we were all able to take showers and wash the piles of dishes on the counter. For some reason, the water was freezing cold, so I may or may not get pneumonia soon. I’ll keep you posted. We woke this morning and began to get ready for our early start to Aix, and the electricity switched off. And then the water stopped. Luckily, I had already heated my coffee in the microwave and filled my water bottle. The landlady came downstairs and tried to explain the problem, which had something to do with a stupid plumber yesterday and her old pumphouse/well combination. She promised that we would have water, hot water, and electricity when we returned in the evening, and so we trudged to the car in the cold grey morning. When we arrived in Aix, we found the Tourism Office, from which we were to take a guided tour of the city. The tour guides heard us speaking accented French, and kept insisting that we could take the tour in English, despite the fact that two out of four of us don’t speak English. The tour took us through the old city, which mostly dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. We toured some lovely streets lined with what are called “hôtels particuliers”. I am not sure what this really means in English, but basically they are these awesome homes that the aristocracy built during that time period, with decorative facades facing the street, and that open into a courtyard in the back. The hôtels particuliers line the streets without breaks between them, and are generally three stories high. The first and second stories are inhabited by the family, and the third story is reserved for the staff. Generally a grand staircase connects the first and second floors, and the third is reached by a simple wooden stair. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I am sure you have all seen them before, and also I took a ton of pictures.
During the tour, the guide explained a lot of the city’s history, and gave a lot of architectural information. I am so glad that we studied architecture a little in some of my French classes, because otherwise I would have only understood about half of the tour. Aix-en-Provence is famous for many things, of course, but it is in Aix that Paul Cézanne and Emile Zola met each other at the age of 12 or 13, and where they stayed friends together for around fifteen or twenty years. It is also the city where Paul Cézanne died, after painting for too long out of doors. There are tours of the city that focus on Cézanne’s influence and life in the city, too. We also visited a cathedral, the oldest part of which dated to the 5th century. It is one of four places in France where the old-style “baptisoires” (I don’t know the English word, but it’s the thing you get baptized in) still exists. It’s basically this hole in the ground surrounded by eight marble columns, and it looks, at first sight, like the site of some creepy ritual…Which I guess it kind of is. But it makes more sense when you see it. I didn’t feel comfortable taking pictures in the cathedral, but I did take some pictures outside the church, in the little cloister that was built a few centuries later.
Sometime during this lovely romp into the architectural history of Aix-en-Provence, it started to rain. Not like the rains we have had in Perpignan, but like a good, nice, hard, Bellingham rain. If I hadn’t planned to be outside visiting a city today, I might have enjoyed seeing the rain, because it reminds me of home. But I got soaked, and I was wearing flat shoes with no socks. My feet were wet, and my jeans were wet almost up to my knees. Luckily I had had the foresight to wear a hat and a coat, but I still had to buy an umbrella (I can do that here because people won’t make fun of me…Also they actually work because the rain doesn’t go sideways) in a small shop we passed. We hurried back to the car to eat our sandwiches and decide what to do, stepping through cobble-stone streets that turn into dangerous puddle-holding holes in the rains.
At the car, we looked at the map of Aix and found a movie theatre not too far away from our parking garage. Luckily there were several movies starting soon after we arrived, and two of my companions decided to go to “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (which I still need to see) and Tom and I followed the line of parents, children, and pre-teen girls into “High School Musical 3: Nos Années Lycée”. Chelsea, by the way, there is a High School Musical game for the DS. We need to get it! I have been waiting for this for so long! Unfortunately, it was dubbed, but they did, at the very least, leave the songs in the original English, which is really the most important thing anyway. It was everything that I had hoped for and more, and I am just waiting for plans for the university chapter to be released. Seeing “High School Musical 3” was the highlight of my visit to Aix, which is unfortunate, because I am sure it’s a lovely town…But not today it wasn’t. After the movies, we walked briefly around the town doing some window shopping, but headed home not long afterwards. Now, I am waiting for the pork roast in the oven to finish, and looking forward to Avignon tomorrow. Avignon is the city where my father studied when he was in France, so it will be cool to see some of that city. And I am keeping my fingers crossed for better weather.