My mom and my Aunt Miriam arrived Saturday. Amazingly, they arrived with no problems considering all the strike issues we’ve been having. As is my policy with visitors, they are not allowed to take a nap when they get here, even though they’ve likely been awake almost 24 hours. I’ve gotta get them off jet lag and on schedule! By the time I fed them that first night, they had both fallen asleep, sitting up, at least once during the conversation. Okay, I think they’re ready. Off to bed with you.
So we spent Saturday afternoon, wandering about Aix en Provence, them in contented fog and me trying to get them acclimated to a city where this is no small feat. Even my little sister, who possesses a near perfect sense of direction, gets all turned around in Aix. It actually scares her sometimes, because this just never happens to her.
The streets, some of which are the width of cow paths, go off in all sorts of directions, change names every block and not only that, they each have two names; the Provençal appellation and it’s modern French name. Add to that the more than 100 fountains that one seems to bump into at every turn and, well let’s just say… never tell anyone you’re going to meet them at the fountain just off the square…
There is a method to my madness in trying to teach two bleary-eyed travelers the layout of the land. You see, I must spend my days either at school or at home trying to write papers or prepare a speech in French. At least until my 5 day vacation begins Friday. Which means these two are on their own. And this scares me!
Not that they’re not perfectly capable human beings. It’s just that my mom has a tendency to wander. Not a dementia driven sort of wandering. She just finds so many things interesting along her path and as we’re walking she often just drops off the face of the earth. (She’s always done this but now she’s doing it in a country where she doesn’t speak the language…or know the names of the fountains.) And the most bizarre thing about this is she seems to be unaware that she’s doing it. In fact, I’ve been known to find her (after a good hunt) still talking like I’ve been right beside her all along. When I call her on it, she claims she’s talking to herself. I have serious doubts about this.
Anyway, yesterday I did the driving up to Isle sur le Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse. Today their plan was to go to Arles and St. Remy and this morning, after they dropped me off at school, I reluctantly handed over the keys. I had gone over the map with them, marked all key spots and one-way streets, explained what a “do not enter” sign looks like and clarified that they need to watch how French drivers maneuver…and to do it more aggressively! So armed with the scribbled-upon-maps, my phone that I keep strictly for visitors, and a full tank of gas, off they went. I went to school and tried not to think about it.
They finally called about 8:30 as I was sitting on Place Richelme, about to have a drink with my friend Tony.
“Where are you?”, I asked.
“Well, we seemed to be in town…but now we’re not. We’re in a posh residential area…. what’s a sign that looks like a T again?”
“Ah, that’s a dead end. You’d probably better turn around.”
“Okay the street is…I don’t know…what does sortie mean…. there are no street signs. We’re up high and there are gates on every driveway”.
First, I explained that sortie means exit (oops, forgot to explain that sign) and further explained that there are gates on every driveway…and I have no idea where they are. And that if they’re up high, go down. Aix is always down. And to call me when they find signs to central ville. I ordered a wine.
Another phone call 20 minutes later. We’re parking the car. We’re at a corner by a patisserie and in the center of the square there’s a fountain…. or a monument or something. Now what?
Oh geez! That helps. This is France. There’s a patisserie on every street here in Aix, a fountain or monument next to nearly every one of them. I still can’t help you. Can you give me a street name?
“I don’t know. Something with “art” in it.”
In the town of Paul Cezanne, this really doesn’t narrow things down much either. I was waiting for them to tell me they there’s a sidewalk café across the street and everybody is speaking French!
Between Tony and I, we sort of figured out where they might be and gave them directions to get them near my apartment and told them I would meet them when they got close. I settled back to finish my wine, having almost zero expectation that I’d ever see them again and if they ever did call, I would probably be good and drunk by that time! Ten minutes later, another call.
We’re in front of your door! They sounded surprised. I was surprised. I hadn’t even finished my wine yet…. not even close to a buzz and, of course, not on the other side of my door. But within 5 minutes we were all together again recounting the events of the day.
I’ve got to say, I’m pretty proud of these guys. I still can’t find my way into Aix with certainty and these two pulled it off in just an hour from entrance to finish. So tomorrow, maybe I’ll send them to Marseille. This should raise the bar. We’ll see if they can accomplish the same feat while trying to maneuver around mountains of old garbage that are rotting in the streets because the garbage haulers are on strike…or the cars people are burning because nobody has anything else to do while not working. If they can do that, I’m going to make them do the driving and navigating on our trip to the Dordogne next week. I’ll be in the back seat…. sleeping while sitting up.