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