Monday, February 1, 2010


This article was first published in the Wittenberg Enterprise a year ago. I know it's not "good form" to continue publishing old articles but in fact they tell the story of my first year here in Aix en Provence and though there are some who have already read this, many have not. So my apologies...but you're stuck with least on Mondays!

My jeans are resting comfortably on the drying rack after a lovely dip in the warm waters of my teensy, weensy washing machine. They are relaxing their weary seams and positively chuckling at their final good fortune. I fully expect them to jump up and dance as if they had the starring role in a fabric softener commercial. They were so weary and dirty after their very long journey…as was I. And when they’re dry (dryers are practically non-existent here) we will dance and laugh together. Because look at where we are!

I arrived in my new city, Aix en Provence, two days late because of the foot of snow that hit the entire Mediterranean coast. So…. I’ve just left a perfectly nasty Wisconsin winter to arrive in..... a perfectly nasty Mediterranean winter? I’m thinking perhaps I didn’t research my final destination very well!

However, as it turned out, this phenomenon hasn't happened in decades and thus they are ill prepared. The runways were finally cleared after a day and a half…. okay, cleared is the wrong word; they were rendered passable. (They actually looked just like our driveway used to when it was my husband’s turn to shovel. A couple of clean paths from the garage to the street, perfectly spaced the width of the chassis and wide enough for the tires.) This monumental job was accomplished with bucket loaders borrowed from construction sites all over the city and travel commenced, if not in a timely fashion. However, my bags did not arrive, and me, my jeans and my cowboy boots had to learn to live in harmony in spite of our growing mutual aversion to each other…. for another 5 days!  My feet were perpetually wet for 6 full days and this can never be a good thing!

My landlord, Liliane, is a lovely,

miniscule woman who speaks not a lick of English, but was kind enough to meet me at the bus station in Aix and bring me to my new digs in her tiny car. It was actually a good thing that I did not have my luggage because there was certainly not enough room in her car for more than one of my oversized, American bags. She deposited me at my new apartment in the Centre Ville...the oldest section of this beautiful city.

My apartment is also miniscule and I found myself turning in circles like a dog, trying to find a place to rest my weary body. The “kitchen”, which is in the living room, is two feet wide with nothing but a two-burner hot plate, a beverage refrigerator and a tiny sink. It sits next to the tiny table, which sits directly next to the pullout couch. When the couch is opened the room is impassable. But luckily I have a small bedroom, which in this old but most beautiful part of town, is a luxury  (at least in my price range). And I have a lovely terrace which is…you guessed it…diminutive. If I  should ever try to lay on it to soak up some sun I will have to choose between tanned feet or a tanned face because one of my ends or the other will have to actually be inside the apartment! But it is a treasure and I adore it.

And I will get used to small. I must. Because everything here is small! Small...small...small!

Except for my calves! I am THE ONLY WOMAN IN AIX NOT WEARING HIGH, FLAT RIDING BOOTS. So, of course, it was imperative that I go shoe shopping! (When is it not imperative to go shoe shopping?). Apparently, even the calves of women in France are small because I cannot get the damned things zipped up, let alone tuck my jeans in them, which also seems to be part of the fashion equation here. I shall prevail however.  I WILL solve this fashion dilemma! In the meantime, however, I was a little concerned that my feet might actually rot!

My first evening here I somehow managed to connect with a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend and spent a lovely evening getting to know some local "characters".  That continued on to an evening of stone-oven-baked pizza and live music. The following day, connections from that night resulted in a dinner party complete with a tub of fresh, raw oysters, fondue and copious amounts of champagne, wine and aperitifs as well as a very drunk young man named Pasqual with a foot fetish. I told him, very kindly, to buzz off and Marie Rose apparently enjoyed his attentions instead. Mind you, I really don’t know what I said to him, nor do I know what anyone said during the entire evening because I DON’T SPEAK FRENCH! Perhaps I should have made sure that this particular item was checked off…or at least considered…. before I got on that plane! But all in all I was pleased with myself for jumping in with both (wet and rotten) feet. And I now have 8 new, French friends.

The Mediterranean sun is shining down on me once again as I sit on the terrace…shivering. The cold mistral wind is blowing as well but I’m trying to ignore it. The sun and the incredible blue of the sky is what is most promising. And these are not tiny, or miniscule, or diminutive, or any of the other words for small. They are grand and glorious and saturated with color. Exactly as I feel right now. 

January 2009
photos of the day I actually missed courtesy of Gérald Wiechert

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