Monday, October 4, 2010

The Ascension

I climbed the mountain St. Victoire yesterday. Yessireebob, I’ve finally done it! I am woman! Hear me roar! I am strong, I am invincible…I am 51 ½ years old and today my feet hurt, my knees ache, my body is stiff and if I had enough energy to stretch, I would. But I don’t.

One of the young men in my new class at the University, decided to organize an “activity” for the weekend. I’m all for that. I learned in my last class that it serves all the students well to become a sort of team. It helps us lose our inhibitions so we’re able to speak, explain, and question in French without worrying about how stupid we sound.  So I was game to the idea. Well, that and the fact that I was staring down the throat of a completely empty, single-person weekend. And besides, I’ve lived here in Aix en Provence for nearly 2 years and have never climbed the mountain. This had to be remedied tout suite!

In the final moment, it turned out to be just me, and 3 young Chinese boys, one of whom bailed at the last minute. He took one look at the two young men and me and came up with an excuse not to go. I have absolutely no doubt that he lost interest because none of the cute young girls in the class had chosen to join us.

There are dozens of entrances to the walking paths and dozens more paths that criss-cross the terrain. Our goal was to reach the summit, not to take one of those meandering-around-the-forest-for-the-fun-of-it sort of hikes. We had a destination! However, we didn’t want to kill ourselves either.

The paths are marked on a map as to their difficulty but not on the actual trail and by the time we were ¼ of the way up, I was wondering if I had gotten my French words mixed up. I’m sure facile means easy…I’m just sure of it! And I was told that this was the facile trail. I was feeling like an out-of-shape old bat until the young men began to ask if we could stop and rest.

“Oh of course…if you NEED to, I can take a few moments.”

Actually, I didn’t say that. It was more fun to commiserate together. So we plugged along trying to chat as we went. I can’t decide which is harder, climbing a mountain or trying to understand bad French in a Chinese accent!  But every time we caught a glimpse of the cross, Le Croix du Provence, which is perched on the summit and surveys all the valleys below, there were exclamations of disbelief from all of us. And those translated perfectly well! That damned cross (will I be struck by lightening if I use the word damn as an adjective to describe the word cross?)  never seemed to get any closer and always looked completely out of reach.

So, in between deep breaths and trying to ignore the red-hot bands of steel that seemed to be steadily tightening around my knees and thighs I just kept repeating…”on peux faire ça, on peux faire ça”. We can do this. It kind of became a rhythm to move me forward and upward.

Just before reaching the summit, we passed the Prieuré de Sainte Victoire, a 17th century priory built around a 5th century chapel. It had the feeling of an oasis, a soft garden holding it’s own against the cold white rock of the mountain. And just past that, we spit out on the summit next to the cross.

Standing on top of the world…at least my immediate world... was worth every muscle-searing minute of the preceding hours. Perhaps a dozen people were lounging on the peak, resting, eating, chatting…one guy was even sleeping. The view was extraordinaire…the sky its stunning Provençal blue with just wisps of clouds to make it interesting. The air was clear and clean with a light breeze and and not the devastating and often dangerous wind that is often the case up there. And as we were resting our weary bodies, smiling into the sun, some guy popped up over the other face of the mountain…out of nowhere!  He just popped up like a jack-in-the-box! I went over to the edge, where he had made his startling appearance and peered…almost straight down a rocky mountain face. Okay, now I understand why our path had been called “facile”.

So before all this I was kind of thinking that I’m all that…young for my age, in good shape, ya da, ya da. Until I attempted to get out of bed this morning. Well, that and the fact that the two young men (whose ages together don’t even add up to mine) addressed me as “Madam” all day yesterday! If I can move tomorrow and actually walk the several miles to class, I’m going to immediately put an end to that Madam business.

 Because, in fact, I checked the map today (yes…the day AFTER the expedition) and the trail we had climbed was not labeled the welcoming colors of green for “très facile”, or blue for “facile”. It was not even the warning color of red for “moyen”. That trail we had taken was actually at the top of the list…. in dark, dangerous, how-can-you-be-so-stupid-to-not-read-the-map-first purple…for “difficile”. So I am sort of all that…. and that’s Madam All That to you!

For more about St. Victoire click here                                         

 Le Croix du Provence photo courtesy 


  1. Hi Delana! I came over from one of the delicious French blogs I follow and you hooked me in with your tale of selling up and moving to Aix en Provence. Wonderful! Isn't it the dream of so many of us 50-something women? Good for you to grab that dream and just go! I've been dreaming of just that for quite a few years now, but satisfy my French-lust through reading, writing, blogging, and travelling to France every chance I get! Heading back 'home' early next year.

    Loved your tres difficile ascent of St Victoire. You are definitely no madame! Go girl!

    Looking forward to reading more of your adventures..:)

    L'Aussie invites you to check out her French blog

  2. I love those photos!!!

    What a marvelous accomplishment. So cool. You definitely look younger than your age, Delana.

    On peux faire ca. I'm going to keep repeating that phrase.

  3. You've earned that Skippy !!!!!

  4. Bien fait, madame!
    At least, not being French, they did not address you as
    'Ma petite dame'..the pits!

  5. Well done Delana! keep on climbing...

  6. You are my heroine: what more can I say?

    Just one question: wasn't coming down almost worse than going up???? I mean, those thighs.... I climbed part, a very small part, of Mont Blanc many years ago and the descent was the worst part of all.....

  7. You go, girl! And let them just try to translate that in French!!!!!

  8. And by the way, how does one add a photo to one's name on your blog??

  9. You are mighty, Delana!

    On peux faire ça! On peux faire ça!

    This should be the rallying cry for all women "of a certain age."

    I, too, am often surprised at what we can ascend (literally and figuratively) when we set our minds to it. Sore muscles, be's so well worth it!

    How in the world did they build St. Victoire on top of a rock like that? It looks both incredible beautiful and incredibly desolate.

    Fabulous photos, fabulous post...thank you, Delana!

  10. Well done Delana!! you must be very proud of that achievment. What a great idea for bonding in a class and such a pity that the other members didn't participate.
    I think you're a star.

  11. How well you did - and it wasn't even the easy path!!!!!!! I applaud you and your thigh muscles of steel.

    Years ago I climbed a sort of a mountain in Austria with a friend. The best way to get me to keep going upwards was for her to keep the little bag of chocolate and give me another piece for each ledge we decided to rest on. Never again I said at the end.

  12. Welcome home! You are in great shape. That is fantastic. Being a bit sore the next day was worth it. Thanks for dropping by and glad you are impressing even more people Rock!

  13. Hi Aussie- Welcome to my blog. Yep, we 50 somethings still have a lot of living to do. Tell me where you go when you come to France?

    Ah Lisa- You always know just what to say! It probably wasn't that great an accomplishment. I just like to whine.

    Jeanmarie- You're damned right I did. And it was all I had the energy to eat when I came home.

    Jo-They probably used beasts of burden and built it only during the month of May when it's not too hot and not too cold. Why? I guess when the brothers want a retreat, they're not kidding around.

    Fly-If anybody addressed me as "Ma Petit Dame" I think I'd deck 'em. It's never happened, probably because at only 5'7", I'm as taller or taller than most of the Frenchmen. Okay, slight exaggeration but I'm on a roll today and you started it!

    Aidan- As always!

    LibbY-How can I be YOUR hero if you did Mont Blanc. Geez, St. Victoire is just a HILL! And yes, the descent was worse. My knees were killing me.

    Holly- It must be Allez Ma Petit Dame! As for the photo, I have no idea. It looks to me like everyone with a photo has a blog. Start a blog.

    Dianne-Well if I can get the cute girls to come, I can get the boys to come and then I'll have it all wrapped up. Next outing...dinner at my house. College kids can't refuse dinner and a little wine, can they?

    FF- I laughed out loud about the chocolate. I can just picture it. I have missed you.

    Lynn-I don't think I impressed anyone. It just seems like at the gym, French women don't like to sweat much. I stick out like a sore thumb! Thanks for your support.


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