Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Boogey Man

My apartment here in Aix is really adorable and absolutely perfect for me...aside from some of the noises that emanate from the other apartments. 

My 638 square feet of personal space is cute....the entrance to my space is not. Like so many other other old buildings here in the central town, the entrance is horrible. Ugly...dirty...unpainted...scary.  I still remember this phenomenon being one of my first impressions here in Aix. And an ugly entrance is not a good first impression!

I don't know who is supposed to take care of it . Often there is a sydicat who is paid collectively by the owners each month to clean, change lightbulbs, repair anything that's broken and the like. We must not have one. I mean, how many years should one have to look at this on the way up to one's apartment?

When the lightbulbs burn out and nobody replaces them,  entering or leaving is like falling into a deep, dark pit of....I don't know....snakes? I always warn my visitors that they must pass through hell before they can arrive in heaven.

I'm not afraid here. It's a secure building and a safe neighborhood. I've never been afraid....until a couple of nights ago. I descended the stairs, struggling with two large bags of garbage that I set just outside the doorway each night for pickup. I made my way through the section of dark hallway, arrived at the door, set down my bags, opened the heavy port......and stopped short. My stomach dropped to my toes.

Just outside the door, backed up against the wall and clearly hiding, stood a motionless man... obviously waiting for someone to exit. It was apparent that he wasn't very clever because I could see the tips of his shoes.

Still, a stupid criminal is a dangerous criminal!  I stood still, scared to death and quickly weighed my options. I finally decided to exit fast and swinging, so I picked up those heavy bags again, flew out the door ready to smash the SOB's face with old wine bottles and vegetable peelings. I turned to face my would be attacker, bags flailing... and stopped short. After the brief moment it took to collect myself...I burst out laughing...at myself.

Before me...my dangerous, would-be attacker....turned out to be...in fact....

a pair of shoes, set in the proper spot for garbage pick-up. And very neatly set, I might add.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Royalty's Revenge

Yesterday was Bastille Day here in France. They don't call it Bastille Day. The call it quatorze julliet or La Fete Nationale. Nonetheless, the day would be similar to our 4th of July in the United States. It celebrates the storming of the Bastille and the ensuing overthrow of the monarchy. Okay, it was sort of a hijacked and botched attempt at democracy...but every country has to start somewhere! France still had to get through Napoleon a couple of times and another king or two. Nonetheless, it's a big deal and all over the country the day is celebrated with military parades, awesome fireworks displays and cultural events.

I've been to our fireworks event here in Aix before and it is superb. It's held at the Rotunde, the big fountain at the center of the city.  This magnificent display is coordinated with some morsel of inspiring classical music and the most awesome thing is, it's not performed in a stadium, seemingly miles away. Or an athletic field....or across the river. It's right in front of you... over you...smack dab in the middle of the city. No lawyers are waiting in the wings to sign up the injured. No police officers are barring entry any closer than 3 miles from the display.

Last year I attended the military parade in the afternoon. It was fun...interesting....and one military parade is usually enough for me, so I chose not to go this year.

But I'm not going to miss the fireworks. No siree! And...and....and...I read that there was to be a ball afterwards. At the Rotunde. Well just how cool is that? Especially considering that when I was home in May, my darling person-who-birthed-me-whom-I-promised-to-never-mention-in-a-blog-again gave me...yes folks...my life just keeps getting better every day...my very own......TIARA. Complete with pink feathers. She knows how much I've been missing one...mostly because I mention its absence every year on my birthday. And she knew how happy it would make me. And it DID! And now, it would be a perfect accessory for a Ball.

So last night, I donned my tiara, and everything pink to match, and my friend Tenley and I went to the fireworks. Amazingly we found a table at the outdoor cafe just next to the Rotunde. Amazingly, we got a drink. We watched the fountain as it was lit up for the pre-fireworks show and listened to the accompanying music (when we could actually hear it over the ghastly techno music that was playing at the cafe. Why didn't they turn it off?) We wondered just how dark it had to be before our real entertainment would begin. I marveled at how the crowd was just "not what it used to be"(makes me feel so settled to be able to say something like that). Eventually we got up to move closer and we were able to walk in right next to ...I mean within touching distance... of the fountain. We were just so....AMAZED.

Ditto for when the gentleman walking around the Rotunde informed us that, no...of course there would be no fireworks tonight. Because of the mistral. Our lovely mistral wind that had so kindly cooled down our city! We moaned, we groaned. Tenley protested, "but I've spent the entire evening hanging out with a woman wearing a pink, fuzzy crown!"

French shrug. "What can you do about the mistral?"

So there we were. All dressed up with no place to go.

We wandered down the Cours Mirabeau, teeming with people enjoying the cool, clear, night. We eventually found The Ball. It was a 12 piece band set up on a grand stage at the head of the Cours. They were performing disco...which I didn't even like when disco was king.  Some people were...LINE DANCING! There was not one single prince in sight and I was decidedly overdressed.

We listened for awhile because the band was good but eventually agreed to leave the ball before midnight. I did not want my precious crown to go poof! At least not before my next birthday.

Still it was a beautiful night with a just waning moon. And it was so nice to be out. And a little promenade while wearing a crown can never be a bad thing. Well, unless it's after the July 14, 1789 and your name is Louis XIV or Marie Antoinette.

Perhaps it's bad form to celebrate the demise of royalty with a crown. Perhaps that is why we never got our fireworks. Some sort of cosmic intervention. Frankly, I don't care. Marie Antoinette never said this...but I will....

Let them eat cake!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Conditioning Myself

I just returned from 10 days in Royan, France,  a seaside resort on the Atlantic coast....where the weather was good and the livin' was easy. By good weather I mean warm, sunny days and and cool nights with a delightful breeze (okay...often a wind). Actually, the nights were cold and we were obliged to wear jeans and sweaters after 5 or 6 pm. At first I wasn't so sure I liked all that chilliness. I happen to be one of those people that revels in sunshine and heat, given there was so little of it growing up in Minnesota.

As Brigitte and I drove the 7 1/2 hours back home to Aix on Friday, I watched the temperature on the car thermometer escalate and with each additional degree, I thought how nice it would be to be back home…in the south.

And yes, it is good to be back home... but I’m missing the cooler weather just a wee bit. It's only July and  we're only just dipping our toes into the caldron that should be at full boil in a few more weeks, but I still had to immediately flip back into summer in the city mode. Lifestyle accommodations seem to be essential in order to battle the heat here. Especially in the city where it is at least 5 degrees hotter than it is in the country.

The afternoon sieste was a tough thing to get used to at first. I mean who, besides young children take an afternoon nap? There are things that need to get done! My resistance to the idea was squashed my first summer here. As was my reluctance to close the shutters against the afternoon heat and live in afternoon darkness. I learned quickly that both are really matters of efficiency. Morning and evening are the times when things will have to get accomplished (which is why I'm writing at night). Unless one can find an air-conditioned store (and believe me they are not all temperature controlled) to do a little shopping therapy.

I’m also taking direction from my cat who seems to have shed 2 seasons worth of fur in every corner of the apartment while I was away. So after I climb all the stairs to get up to my apartment, my clothing is shed into a little pile at the top, to be picked up and put back on later when the sun has decided to be kinder. Luckily, I live in a completely private apartment. The guy across the street, who practices the same personal temperature control, does not.  Three cold showers per day seem to help as well (with the heat...not with the issue with the guy across the street) and if my hair is always wet, it’s like personal air conditioning.

I do have an air conditioner of sorts. On my terrace, I have a little door. The terrace, which is walled and private, is nice and warm in the winter and spring because it's so protected. In the summer it's an oven.  

But when I open that rickety little portal,  I get one kick ass breeze that flows across the terrace and into my bedroom.  It’s cheap to run but does eliminate that privacy thing a bit. What clever person thought of that?

Mid-afternoon yesterday as I was laying on my bed, soaking wet, naked, and trying to take advantage of the terrace breeze, I paged through the advertising flyers that had built up in my mailbox while I was gone. One caught my eye because it was advertising great prices on air conditioners…and I was just a tiny bit tempted. The last page nearly made up my mind for me. 

The sign says that says installation is included. If I should decide to buy one, do you supposed this lovely morsel (who obviously has no air conditioner of his own) would install it ...say...Friday night? Man, what a country!