Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Aix revisited

Aix en Provence is 13 km north of Marseille. It was founded in 123 BC. It was regularly invaded but by the Middle Ages was the capital of Provence. Aix has had many influences but these days it's a mecca or tourists looking for elegance and chic in the Provencal sunshine, sipping a glass of rose and admiring the fountains, 300 year old mansions, art history, and shops.

The Cours Mirabeau is a wide thoroughfare, planted with double rows of plane trees bordered by attractive houses and decorated by fountains. It's sometimes referred to as the Aix equivalent of the Champs Elysee.

Cours Mirabeau follows the line of the old city wall and divides the town into two sections. The new town extends to the south and west; the old town, with its narrow, irregular streets and its old mansions dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, lies to the north.

Along this avenue, which is lined on one side with banks and on the other with cafés, is the Deux Garçons, the most famous brasserie in Aix. Built in 1792 and still going strong. Paul Cezanne was born, lived and painted in Aix. Other impressionist painters also visited, enjoying the clear air and bright light. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Emile Zola made their way here for a time.

It's not the first time I've been here but it's one of few places I'd love to spend the rest of my life in. A cultured city, with good transport options to other parts of France, universities and language schools are clustered here.

My enjoyment of the place was further stoked by meeting one of my readers, a fellow Kiwi who lives in this beautiful place. He went out and bought the book promptly, read it, wrote a lengthy and positive review. In fact, Grant is the ideal reader. He completely understood where my book and I were coming from, so it was great to finally meet him in the south of France, under a cafe umbrella, in front of the beautiful Hotel de Ville, where he, my daughter and I enjoyed cold drinks, mostly wine.

We discovered we are the same age, born only days apart in the same city. Weird! We also concur on some of the things about France that don't work though our paths here are rather different. What great and positive experiences he has had.

I enjoyed hearing about his project overseeing the contract to supply helicopters to New Zealand, his clear appreciation of Provence and his growing excitement about what he'd find to do when he got back to NZ after his contract ends next year. He's been living here on contract for almost five years. Lucky man. The down side of his sejour is that his wife had no legal right to work in France and so little opportunity to integrate, learn the language, socialise.

This is often the sad state for expat wives. I hope she won't suffer reverse culture shock going back. Maybe not, but I think I definitely would, as I still find France fascinating, have made useful progress with my French and always try to integrate (as much as France and opportunities will allow).

We didn't explore a lot of Aix as Laura was tired and my damaged foot was protesting, but we did take a look at the night markets and met a Polish photographer living and working in Aix.

He specialises in gorgeous, atmospheric shots of Provence and doesn't believe in spending a lot of time on his computer using applications to improve his work. He said "If you know what you are doing and have set the shot up properly, everything you need will happen inside the camera." I would have liked to buy something but money was tight. Laura succombed to the call and bought a copy of the photo with the orangey tones of a courtyard/place, tree and character buildings in a yummy light. You can see an example in the photo.


Anonymous said...

I spent a semester in Aix when I was in university and have visited a few times since then. I absolutely love it there. It's so beautiful and charming and by far one of my favorite places in France! I really need to plan a visit there as it has been too long.


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