I am a pretty big fan of Ironman and triathlons in general, and would most certainly compete in them myself, if not for an unfortunate knee injury, so I was excited to learn that an Ironman would be ending somewhere in Aix this September. I knew this even before I left the US. In hindsight, it probably would have been more useful for me to know more French.
When and where this event would be taking place was another matter, because no one really talked about it much once I got here.
On Sunday, the day of the competition, I forgot all about Ironman because I was so committed to hitting both the Monoprix and the produce market before they closed at 12:30 and 1:00 respectively. My apartment being completely devoid of food was naturally leading to last minute, poor eating choices, after working all day. I also had yet to hit the market since arriving three weeks ago, out of a combination of bad timing and concern about the language barrier. But finally, I was going to do it, and do it right. I mentally prepared myself for this provision gathering morning. I found my bags. I ate some muesli. I drank two cups of Earl Grey tea.
As a side note: Sundays are challenging in Aix, at least for Americans, because that is when we tend to get ready for the week, when we do our grocery shopping and laundry. Not the French, I suppose, which is why most places are closed. I have heard more than one American expat complain about this inconvenience. Then to add to the complication, on Monday morning, shops tend to open a bit later than normal. But maybe out of demand from the American population or those Americanized French, the Monoprix has decided to start opening between the hours of 9am-12:30 on Sunday mornings, to my tremendous joy and relief. Hey, It’s the little things.
All packed up and already cutting it close for time, I charged out of my front door and straight into Ironman. The running course ran directly in front of my apartment building. I was so giddy with excitement that my stomach flipped. I ran back upstairs to grab my camera.
I shot some pictures. Allez! Allez! I yelled and clapped. I noticed that there was not much of an audience, though I did hear a few shouts and an “Allez” once in a while. Then church got out across the street and crowds flooded into the plaza in front of it. Wine was served.
Then runners kept running and the church goers kept drinking, seemingly oblivious.
Older women started to try to cross the road in the path of the runners and had to be directed to the sidewalk, unhappily. When will this be over? They asked the Ironman volunteers, I live on this street.
The spectacle was fabulous but I had to get groceries. I took off for the market in the path of the runners, smiling, clapping like a crazy American.
I passed people in bars that barely looked up from their cafe as the runners flew past. I heard an older gentlemen explain to a curious elderly woman, that this was just part of the competition and that the participants had already swam 1.5 kilometers and biked 90 kilometers, before coming into Aix to complete the 21 kilometer run.
Ils sont fous! she laughed in disbelief and pointed her finger at her head, in the way that the French do when they think something is crazy.
I made it to the Monoprix and managed to buy shampoo and some food staples just before they emptied the store for closing. With my heavy bags, I walked towards the announcement of the winners at the Place de la Rotonde.
I pushed my way through the modest crowd and snapped a picture. When I was looking down to adjust my camera settings, one of the female competitors through her bouquet into the crowd. It hit my arm, bounced off, and fell to the ground. I took this as a good sign. A older French woman picked up the bouquet from the ground, claiming it.
I did not understand what the announcers were saying, and the market was bound to close shortly, so I headed up the hill into the old town, my arms aching from my already heavy sacks. I arrived at the market just in time. Vendors were beginning to break down their stands but enough were still open.
I found all of the produce on my list, mostly by either pointing and asking how do you say this in French followed by, good, I want this or by helping myself. When the vendors weighed the produce and told me how much I owed them, I just held a few coins in my hand and started dropping them, one-by-one, into theirs until they said it was enough, because I am terrible with understanding the Southern French say numbers. I bought a poulet roti from the chicken guy. It was piping hot and straight off the spit.
I trudged back down to my apartment. Overloaded and hungry. The roast chicken kept me going. I felt bad when I walked too close to the runners with the good-smelling chicken because that probably didn’t help matters.
By the time I got back down to my apartment, my arm felt like it might fall off and my knee was aching. Runners, the slower ones where stopping and walking and holding their backs. I did not take any pictures of these ones. I did take a picture of my bags.
It does not look like too much but trust me, these bags were loaded with goodies. Can you see the sequined handles of my new Italian leather bag? I am already putting it to good use.
When I got back into my apartment I ate some of the chicken while standing at the counter. I couldn’t resist the piping hot rotisserie chicken. After I snacked on it, it was not pretty enough to take a picture of, so I didn’t.
I rested for a little while, then I graded for a while, then I started cooking. I had been craving ratatouille since I saw it on this blog post at the Muddy Kitchen and ate it with another resident fellow who is wonderful at preparing French cuisine.
I followed— OK I tried to follow this recipe by Julia Child, but I just kind of ended up stewing all of the vegetables together for a long time and it still turned out great. I am working with a two electric burner stove-top, in a tiny kitchen with limited cookware, so I have to improvise a bit. I made rice with garlic and parsley. I reheated some chicken in the microwave and ran down to the tiny shop around the corner for an inexpensive Côtes du Rhône.
A fine meal.
I hope those competitors stayed in Aix for a while to reward themselves for the hard work of completing the race, hopedully by eating poulet roti and frites with jugs and jugs of rosé. I know I would.
The eating here is quite exceptional.
I’ll bet that if Ironman had anything to do with food, all of the Aix inhabitants would cheer quite loudly, because enjoying farm-fresh delicious food everyday is not that crazy.
Fin!Here are some pictures that I snapped while cooking and snacking.
I did not take a lovely picture of my pile of food because by the time the ratatouille was finished, I was famished and I demolished it.
Je suis désolé.