Oh, hello everyone. I did not mean to let this week go by without an update, but as soon as I wrote a post about time moving slowly in Aix, I got really, really busy . . . of course.
Starting from last Saturday, the day after I wrote the post about doing my laundry, below are some photos, observations, lessons, and anecdotes about life in France, week three.
By now, everyone knows that I am a teacher, right? A full-time lecturer at a University, to be more specific. And what brought me (fortuitously) over to France is exactly that, my work. And let me just preface what I am about to say with this: I feel very blessed that my already fabulous job, just got even better. I feel lucky everyday to be teaching in France, even when I am out of sorts.
The only downside of working in France (you can roll your eyes, I would) is that I am actually quite busy with my classes, much like I was back home. And it is easy to get back into the same patterns of living, walking quickly along the same path, neck craned forward, lost in planning, forgetting to eat breakfast until two in the afternoon, when no one is serving lunch anymore, much less breakfast.
It is probably also useful for you to know that I
am have always been a very dedicated worker bee. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you: this girl never stops to smell the roses. I am Martha in the parable; the one in the kitchen stirring the pot while Mary sits idly by listening to Jesus’ sermon. Do you remember that one? When Martha complains that Mary is not helping, Mary is praised for sitting there, at Jesus’ feet.
I always disliked this parable, and every time that I heard it, I thought to myself, Mary is just sitting there pretending to listen so that Martha has to do all of the work. That was a long, long, time ago, though I do remember that story, and still think that I had it right.
The problem is: it is far easier to fully commit to the labor, the means of survival, the paid work, the pot stirring, when your surroundings do not beckon you so. Living in Provence —as so many fiction and non-fiction writers, painters, poets, foreign retirees, and locals, have discovered—
facilitates encourages a more contemplative existence.
In Provence, more than in any other place that I have lived, I find that I want to sit in silence and just look out at the world. I want to wander, kind of lost, and then discover that I am on a street that I have traveled before, just walking in the opposite direction. I want to sit in a cafe long enough for the breakfast crowd to change over to the lunch crowd. I want to notice when the afternoon light changes the ochre of the stucco to a warm peachy color. I want to explore every street, taking photographs of every plant that sits on the narrow ledge between the shutters and the window. I want to write, read, paint, and lay in vineyards thinking about life.
What I do not want to do quite as much as I should, is work.
Of course, I do. Work. I run into cafes and order my shot of espresso a emporté and shove my sandwich into my briefcase on my way to campus, having spent all morning grading my online course discussions. I run past tables of French people lingering over their meals, enjoying their two hour lunch breaks, I run past the beautiful Provencal Baroque buildings, and the spindly plants in the windows, and the fountains, and the couples holding hands near them, thinking: je suis un peu pressé, people, get out my way with your kissing and slow walking. I mean, if Martha hadn’t kept cooking that night, who else would have fed all of those hungry men?
But I am not made of stone and Provence is very convincing.
As a side note: In addition to teaching my courses, I have been sitting in on others that will be helpful to me both personally and professionally, including a French Cultures course that I love because the instructor is like a French, female version of my Dad. But on my way to class the other day, something funny happened.
First, I noticed some unusual music, fast drumming and what sounded like a bagpipe. I decided to set my path to class in the direction of the music, just to see.
The music was entrancing. I stood there, watching the men play at break-neck speed for a while. Then I noticed that is was the vendor market on the Cours Mirabeau, and that the road was closed off. I checked my watch. I have time.
The market was more engrossing than I imagined it would be. I bought a five euro scarf that I love.
I found beautiful quilts that I would love to buy but cannot.
I checked my watch. I still have time.
I kept wandering.
I walked by a man playing the accordion by a fountain and I listened for a while. The sound of the fountain and the accordion went well together. The drums still sounded in the background. I checked my watch. Maybe I am cutting it a bit close. I guess I’ll skip breakfast.
I saw a man dressed like he is part of the French Court during the Belle Epoch, with some cats on his arm, and a little can of cat food in his hand, to make them climb around and stay. His placard said that he was not a vagabond. When I shot a picture of him he raised his hand and said, that is not how this works and pointed to his can, so I gave him a euro.
I checked my watch. I am going to be late, I had better hurry.
But then someone was selling Italian leather bags at unbelievable prices. I had not bought myself anything besides the absolute bare necessities since I arrived. But today with the music, the cats, the smell of the bread, my rumbling stomach, the drumming, the drumming, the drumming, and the light flickering between the rustling leaves— I caved.
One of the leather bags had sequins sewn to the handles. The light made them flicker.
I checked my watch. I will just skip class, after all, I am learning a good deal about French culture in the market.
I bought the camel-colored Italian bag with the sequined handles. I do not have a photo of it yet, but trust me, it is fabulous and worth every penny.
I wandered up into the old town on a road that I had never traveled.
I found a new square and a new restaurant that is also a gourmet shop. The waiters had tattoos and the terrace was filled with families, suited men and lunching ladies. Not a tourist in sight. This is going to be good.
I ordered the most American thing on the menu accompanied by a glass of rosé.
I ate bread dipped in olive oil that made me wonder how I could go on living after eating something so simple yet so delicious.
I sipped my rosé.
I stayed for coffee.
I am sure that the teacher will understand.
Provence won this time.