Monday, March 8, 2010


Monday Memories..

Lately, I’ve been a little confused about who gets to live on the first floor of the apartments in Aix en Provence because I certainly have not met one of them! Everybody I know seems to live at the top of the building and in the old part of the city, I have yet to meet an elevator. To enter an apartment here in Aix, you generally go through some massive, ancient, beautiful door that opens directly from the street. The door may be delicately carved with fruits or flowers, it may be embellished with geometric designs, or it may be just strong and utilitarian, but in all cases, the doors feel like a door should. Just pushing open one of these heavy antiques causes me to feel a sort of tingling anticipation of the beauty that must surely await me on the other side. 

Then I enter into what looks like...a hellhole. Always! Every time I pass through on of these portals, I am sure I've made a serious mistake and I want to turn and run. Paint peeling off the ceiling, cracks in the walls and the tile, dirt on the floor, possibly a little graffiti thrown in for good measure, and complete and total darkness. I feel like a rat will run over my toes at any moment! It doesn't matter how beautiful the apartment is that awaits me, the entries seem to always look the same. That is, after I've located the light switch so I can actually see.

Then, of course, come the stairs. But the stairs.... they are so beautiful. The steps are tiled with old stone or tile that really is old...not faux old. And the banisters are incredible; each amazing in its own right. Each railing is different, generally ironwork with a metal or wood handrail. The curve of the wood or metal is graceful and smooth from the hands of generations of Aixois who have depended upon it to help support them on their spiraling climb. The finials are all different and each mark the beginning of that long ascent or the final finish depending on which way you're going (down is always the best). As I said, everybody I know seems to live at the top of one of these stairways and believe me, they start to lose their shine at about the second floor. Actually they do lose their shine. I guess those who lived at the top floor weren't nearly so important because that’s about the point where the railing changes and becomes a cheaper and less ornate version of its predecessor.

Last weekend I was invited to a party and, as usual, the party began with the climb. I puffed my way up four or five flights, turning on the narrow, circular stairway like a drill in reverse. I had my eyes down because the stairs were not very deep and my feet are! I got to the top, or what I thought was the top, looked up and realized the final portion of my ascent was a ladder. Yes, a ladder! Oh my God! Now in spite of my shaking legs, I know that right now I'm going to be able to get myself, my wine, and my snacks up into that apartment. But what happens when the contents of my bag have been consumed and my stomach is full and my brain is a little foggy from the wine? What then?

In the interest of a good story (this is all research you know. I'm really not having any fun!), I consumed more than my share of both food and wine and enjoyed myself thoroughly. In this tiny, studio apartment we danced and drank and had an all around good time. I spent a lot of time with one particular fellow who was a fabulous dancer and I have been desperately missing the opportunity to shake it a bit. When the nasty, completely undanceable, 80's music began pounding through the speakers, I could stand it no longer and got out my IPod. I attached it to my belt, gave him one earpiece, put the other in my ear and we danced our fool heads off to some good old fashion soul music. We looked like idiots, and sounded worse because we were both singing to songs nobody else in the room could hear. Sounds kind of romantic know.... dancing to our own beat like nobody else was is in the room.... but actually, I’m certain that we probably just looked stupid. 

I finally had to get out of there so Gérald walked me home. However, not before all the women in the room cast their “knowing” smiles upon me and everyone else in the room seemed to be congratulating him on our apparent pairing up. Oh geez, am I in trouble here? As it was, he was a perfect gentleman and that was that. 

Until Monday afternoon when I stopped into my coffee shop/ bar. Linda and Anne were there (Linda had been at the party) and began excitedly chattering to me in French like a couple of birds. I didn't catch a single word but I did hear Gérald's name several times. I was laughing with them because they were so funny but explained that I had no idea what they were talking about. They continued chattering, and flashing me more of those “knowing” smiles. 

Finally, Anne attempted to help me out in English. It went something like this.... "Where is Gérald" (well how the heck should I know?)? I shrugged my shoulders. 

 “ I so happy for you."

 " Gérald, il est trés, trés, gentile” (very, very nice).. ...some french words..... “very smart”........more French I didn’t know...."painter”....French... “intelligent” .... more incomprehensible French. 

I said yes, he is very nice.  

She said, " You loved him?"

What?! Are you kidding me??? Hey I know you people are much more open about these things, but I'm still getting used to this bisous (kisses on the cheek) thing with everyone!

"You loved him.... just a little?” she said. 

Now what the hell does that mean? Is there a particular translation for "loving just a little"? Does that mean, “did you make out?” Does that mean, “do you like him a lot?” Does that mean “did you made a half-hearted attempt at sex?” 

At that point, I was completely out of my league and Anne had sent Pierre to go fetch Gérald because, of course, I must have "loved him just a little" and he really ought to be here. He did arrive (pretty quickly actually) and the two women started in again except it sounded like they had added an entire flock to their choir. I looked at Gérald. He just looked back at me and said, "It's too much". 

Well, no kidding! 

I wonder what floor he lives on?

Originally published in the Wittenberg Enterprise, March 2009


  1. But you never said how you got down the ladder.

    I'm with you on the stairs thing. When I went to visit Mr FF in Paris recently his flat is on the third floor of quite a high building. Again - as you've said - the entrance was like a building site, really scruffy. How I got to the top I never know.

    Were the people living below the studio flat invited to the party. It must have sounded horrendous from underneath otherwise.

    What did Gerald look like?

  2. The top floors were for the servants when those were family houses not broken up into flats.
    I found something similar when I bought my present house...a wonderful oak staircase with what had once been a wonderful stair carpet - I am much further north than you - which turned to drugget once the flight to the servants' quarters had been reached. Their rooms were little cells with straw mattresses, low ceilings and grotty washbasins, as they could not use the bathrooms intended for the family.

  3. Funny story. I remember that the French and the Swiss did not like to invite too many people into their homes, or maybe it was because we were American. But, our neighbors had told us they do not want people knowing how much money they have so it is best to look as if you have none so when burglars come along, they move on to the next home. Made sense to me. There are no buildings in the USA that can compare to those brilliant cement ones in France. I remember construction crews being at one home for what seemed like years.

    Gerald sounds like a real rounder. Oh, but to be so popular! LOL
    Men all over the world can be so interesting. Have fun on your quest!

  4. Hey D
    In the passed twenty seven years I have lived in four apartments in Aix...All of them were on the top floor without exception...I have lugged it all up and lugged it all back down...In one place we had a fireplace...Try hauling a winter's worth of firewood up five floors where no step is the same! The only people I ever met who lived on the ground floor were all a bit strange...(now there is a conversation and a bottle we can share...)
    We just happen to know the lady that lives behind the second door of your photos...( she owns and lives in the whole building...) On the inside of that beautiful door is a sign in french, bien sur, that reads..." Please don't slam the door...It's 300 years old"

  5. FF: I don't remember how I got down the ladder. No, just kidding! Very careful with someone to catch me and someone to let me down slowly. I'm glad to know the entrance thing is not just in Aix. What Gerald looks like is a secret...more to come next week.
    MAWB: Where have you been? I'm glad to hear from you because I've missed your writing. I think the French are more discriminating when it comes to who they invite to their homes. I don't like to generalize, but hell, I don't know if it's happened to you, but I know there have been parties at my house when I barely knew some of the people there! The French seem to be a little more private (about money as well).
    Cory: I've always wondered about the building behind that door. Get me in there! I know, what kind of a whacko lives on the ground floor anyway? I live at the top and moving was bad enough....heating it with wood would be a nightmare!

  6. Fly:And now the penthouse is the best floor! Of course that didn't begin until after elevators. I too am on the top floor under the eaves and to get to the apartment I have to climb tiny stairs half as deep as my feet. My advantage is the current owner of the building originally renovated this one for himself! So it's had a bit of spit and polish.


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