Part II: Takin’ it to the Streets… of Aix

Part II of my rediscovered bevy of papers written while studying abroad: “Secrets & Stories from the Streets of Aix,” complete with photos and video. Some of these posts have modern day photos of the streets I talk about here.



Besides being an undeniably awesome conglomeration of art, design, and information, a map is a useful collection of labels and place names.

The study of toponymy is the study of these place names. But it is really the study of many things: history, geography, archaeology, philology, etymology, and anthropology. Toponymy shows us the development of urban areas and the process of urbanization, as well as the movements of people; it even teaches us about economics and society. In this way, place names are the greatest geographical reference system available to us.

We can use this reference system to discover the secrets and stories behind seemingly ordinary locations, transforming them from blank stretches of pavement into places of romance and poetry. (I’ve become far less melodramatic since I wrote this….)


This paper aims to investigate the origins and meanings of a handful of the most interesting street names in Aix-en-Provence, as well as the historical events that have taken place there.


VIA AURELIA
Though there exists no sign and it won’t be marked on a tourist’s map, the oldest road in Aix is the Via Aurelia. The name derives from a renowned Roman road builder, Caius Aurelius Cotta (whose name comes from the Latin word for “golden,” reflecting his family’s hair color). This ancient highway, built by the Romans in 12 BC, connected the province of Gallia Narbonensis (today’s Provence) to Italy. A crucial part of their extensive road network, it helped Rome maintain control of its colonies, as well as spreading their cultural and economic influence. The Via Aurelia shuttled armored legions, government officials, traders, and others on a paved interstate “complete with rest stops and chariot service stations every 12 to 20 miles.” After the fall of the Roman Empire and subsequent waves of invading tribes in Provence, the Via Aurelia largely disappeared. Then, in 1508 a Bavarian book collector named Konrad Peutinger discovered a 22-foot-long medieval map of the Roman world. The Table of Peutinger, as it would become known, offered a detailed look at the empire’s entire road network, including landmarks and the location of 550 rest stops. Researchers can now trace the route of the Via Aurelia; in many places it follows today’s Route Nationale 7. It enters the city of Aix from the southeast (Cours Gambetta and Rue d’Italie), heading towards what is now Place de Verdun. Here, where the road was six meters wide, there were two towers marking what was then the official entrance of Aix (or Aquae Sextiae). The road continued its way towards Place de l’Hotel de Ville (the clock tower, as well as other buildings, have foundations of Roman stones) and then up past the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur, where it turned west to meet up with another Roman road – the Via Domitia. (Read this!)


As a young American who simply cannot comprehend the age of things older than the 1700s, I am amazed that my route to school every morning follows along the Via Aurelia. But let us start at the beginning: I live behind the Lycée Militaire d’Aix, which sits on the

BOULEVARD DES POILUS
This road is also part of the Route Cezanne, funneling tourists to scenic destinations at the base of Mt. St. Victoire. Long before that, it was known as Chemin de la Torse or Chemin du Tholonet because it led to the Torse creek and the village of le Tholonet. The village’s name derives from the Latin word telonium, meaning “toll booth,” and it’s likely that the site served exactly that purpose for travelers on the Via Aurelia. In 1875, a military school was built and the street became known as Boulevard de l’Armée and the Boulevard des Poilus. “Poilu” is a term of endearment for military men. Its literal meaning is “hairy one” and reflects the “sturdy male bearishness” and rustic agricultural background of many of the French soldiers. This road crosses Boulevard Carnot and becomes Rue Marechal Joffre. In 1750, this intersection was witness to an event that is recorded in history books as, “A tragedy which shook the opinions of the Aixois.” In the middle of the night, a group of drunken young people stopped a peasant returning to town on his donkey. For fun, they pretended they were a court and interrogated him. The judgment was decided: a sentence of death (for what, we do not know). Using the donkey’s halter, they hung the peasant from a tree.


On my morning walk, it’s hard to resist the smell of fresh baked bread and pastries. Though pervasive in all of Aix (and the rest of France), I find there to be an overwhelming amount of bakeries on the


RUE D’ITALIE
Before acquiring its current name, it was called the Chemin de Saint-Jean after the church built nearby and, in 1646 when it officially became part of the city, Rue de la Porte Saint-Jean as there existed an entrance to the city at the far end of it. Today, we find a street name with two meanings. In translation, Rue d’Italie could mean street “from” Italy or street “of” Italy. In the first case, it would be referring to the fact that this was where the ancient Roman road (Via Aurelia) entered Aix. In the latter (the one that the city seems to mean), it is to honor a young unknown military commander’s successful campaigns in Italy. In 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte made a name for himself by defeating a much larger Austrian army and conquering most of Northern Italy. (*battle unrelated to bakeries*)


Now we’ve reached the Place de Verdun (named after the lengthiest battle in history, lasting from February to December 1916 and incurring 700,000 casualties) and the start of the oldest part of town:


RUE RIFLE-RAFLE
The unusual name originates from an old Medieval French word, the verb reiflare. Its various meanings include: to be despoiled, to steal away, and to take away by force. All of these apply to what happened here during the time of the Black Death: in 1348, every inhabitant of Rue Rifle-Rafle died of the plague. The disease was brought to Marseilles by trading ships from Genoa and moved north into the heart of Provence within a month. The effects of the Black Death, which overall killed 200 million people in Europe, even interrupted the construction of Aix’s Cathedral (followed shortly after by the Hundred Years War, work would not resume until 1472). Today this street ends abruptly in a vault because there used to be another door to the city here. Being as it was a main thoroughfare for foreign traders, perhaps this is why the residents of Rue Rifle-Rafle were so devastated. (“La Rafle” was the term used for the French roundup of Jews during WWII)


RUE GASTON DE SAPORTA
Its earliest name was Rue deis Fouitas and was accompanied by a gate at the southern end called the Portale deis Fouitas (or Porte du Bourg). A Provencal word, it referred to “whips” as this was where convicts would be led up the street and the public, showing their displeasure, could come out to whip them. Then it became Rue Droite, as it was the straightest street in the Bourg Saint-Sauveur. It was changed to Rue de la Grande Horloge when the clock tower was built in 1510. During the 17th century, a peculiar “pont de bois,” or wooden bridge could be seen jutting out over the street. Queen Anne of Austria, regent for her young son Louis XIV after her husband’s death, came to visit Aix with a certain Cardinal Mazarin, whose younger brother was the archbishop in town (and would later design the Mazarin Quarter). Anne was rumored to be secretly married to the older Mazarin, who she allowed to co-rule France with her until Louis XIV came of age. The royal family settled in at the Archbishops’ Palace while Mazarin stayed across the street in the Hotel d’Oppede (now part of the University of Aix-Marseilles). The bridge allowed the Queen and the Cardinal to pass between the two residences without actually having to leave, or be seen by the adoring public. Finally, following his death, the street was named after Louis-Charles-Joseph-Gaston de Saporta (1823-1895). Though he didn’t start researching botany and paleobotany until he was almost 30, he contributed much to his field of study. He became a member of the Academy of Aix in 1866 and its president in 1870. He used his influence to create the Natural History Museum in Aix, donating a large portion of his herbarium and collection of plant fossils. The museum also has on display his correspondence with Charles Darwin about the “abominable mystery” of the origin and evolution of flowering plants.


RUE DU BON-PASTEUR
This familiar address (where IAU is) was originally two streets. The western end was Rue des Trabaux, named after a family who lived there; the eastern end, where one could find artesian wells, or “un puits,” supplied by the nearby thermal springs, was Rue des Puits-Chauds. Directly outside our school, a horrendous event occurred in 1476. Leon Asturg, a Jew, dared to utter blasphemies against the Virgin Mary. When the count of Provence, René of Anjou, heard about Asturg, he put him in prison and sent in a team of theologians to catechize him. Stubbornly, Asturg repeated the same blasphemies (obviously too horrible to have been recorded). René, known colloquially as “Good King René,” sentenced him to be “stripped naked and hung on a scaffold outside his house, then skinned alive” [Chovelon]. When the other Jews in the town heard what had happened, they rushed to the house of René and pleaded with him to pardon their friend, offering him 20,000 florins in exchange. The count considered their offer and discussed it with his friends. Coming to a rather Machiavellian decision, one of his friends addressed the Jews: “The King and I are astonished at your audacity; we advise you to think about punishing your brother for his actions because living amongst Christians as you do, you should respect Our Savior Jesus Christ and his glorious Mother. So, to punish you also, we have decided that you will be skinned alive with your friend.” Horrified, the Jews had a change of heart and convinced René to accept their money without releasing Asturg, but instead being released themselves. René took their offer and excused them. The execution of Asturg continued as planned later that day. Supposedly, a column was erected on the place to commemorate the execution, which became part of the church (aka IAU) wall. The street gets its name from a “halfway house” for repentant girls who became known as Les Filles du Bon-Pasteur, or “the girls of the Good Shepherd.” Built in 1629 and lasting until the Revolution, it was most likely where the student housing sits now. *I am really sorry for the overly graphic image but it’s the only one I could find and, well… this needed an image.*


After enjoying a scholarly morning at IAU, I might decide to stop by the market in Place Richelme for some lunch. Historic street names surrounding the square teach us a lot about the market society of Aix. The names tell us where different vendors, products, and even whole industries were located. While many of these streets have been renamed, or simply no longer exist, their study offers insight into the types of food and merchandise available over the course of history: Rue de la Boucherie (butcher shop), Rue des Bouteilles (bottles), Rue des Chapeliers (hat makers), Rue des Chaudronniers (coppersmiths), Rue des Cordonniers (shoemakers), Rue de la Glaciere (icebox), Rue de la Frucharie (Provencal for fruits), Rue des Menudieres (Provencal for sausages), Rue de la Tricharie (Provencal version of tricherie, meaning cheating; this was where seafood was sold and many customers must have been cheated on the weight of their purchase).

RUE DES MAGNANS
What is today named after a rich family was until the 16th century Rue de la Tannerie. This was the main location of leather tanners. As an incredibly noxious and odorous trade, it was often relegated to the outskirts of town or where poor people lived. Famed Aix historian Roux-Alpheran described the street as, “The most filthy and disgusting street one can see.” That’s because the process of tanning leather is not a pretty one. Dried skins arrive at the tannery covered in dirt and gore. They are first cleaned off in water. This is followed by a soak in a vat of urine to make it easier to scrape the hair off later. The last step was soaking the skin in a vat of animal brains, or kneading dog or pigeon poop into the leather (often with bare feet and for as long as three hours). Either process made the leather more soft and desirable. It seems that with the growth of the city, the tanning industry shifted southwards as not far from here there is now a Rue des Tanneurs.


For a change of scenery at the end of my day, I might take a different route home, meandering through a series of tiny streets just south of the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance.

RUE ESQUICHO-COUDE
From Provencal words for “narrow” and “elbows,” the idea is that this road is so narrow you’d have to squeeze in your elbows in order to not touch a person who passes by you. (Picture!)

RUE ESQUICHO-MOUSQUO
This time the name comes from the Provencal words for “narrow” and “fly,” meaning so narrow that even one fly had difficulty passing through.


A survey of Aix’s streets would not be complete without the major thoroughfares:


COURS SEXTIUS
This large road was officially named in 1811 after Caius Sextius Calvinus, the founder of the thermal baths. A Roman consul who conquered the neighboring Salyens, he founded the first Roman city on what would become French soil in 124 BC. It was known then as Aquae Sextiae and is now charming Aix-en-Provence. Historically, the road was the border of the ancient neighborhood of Cordeliers. Becoming a center for commercial activities in the 17th century, it was the typical route that imported goods from the surrounding areas entered the city.


COURS MIRABEAU
Before the establishment of the Cours Mirabeau, the place to be seen for prominent Aixois was the Place des Precheurs. But in 1657, Parliament issued a decree that called for the building of a grand road for carriages, where there was then just crumbling ramparts. It was to serve the public and “never to be changed from the purpose upon which it was founded.” At first, not a single boutique was permitted, fearing that it would ruin the street’s image. In 1748, the first café was allowed, opening the floodgates for the many restaurants and shops that exist now on “the most handsome main street in France” [Mayle]. Since its founding it had been known simply as “le Cours,” but in 1876 the name of Mirabeau was added to memorialize the influential family. Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, count of Mirabeau (1749-1791) was a politician who played an important part in the National Assembly and governed France in the early parts of the French Revolution. In 1789, he was elected to represent Aix in the “Third Estate” – one of three representative assemblies in pre-Revolutionary France. It represented the great majority of the people, unlike the other two assemblies which were limited to the nobility and the clergy. His grandfather, father, and two uncles were also very important to the region of Provence.

The amount of history in an average European town is unfathomable. It makes me wonder: Do the locals know what they’re walking by every day? Are they aware of the age of the stones used in the buildings that house the local bank, their favorite bakery, their own home? Do they know of the illustrious guests who have lived in these same buildings and the shocking events that have played out on the streets outside their window?

Take Rue Boueno-Carriero for example. This translates from the Provencal to “good street.” Has anyone asked why it would get this name? Friendly neighbors? Well-built houses? No, it is in fact a result of ironic freethinkers of the 18th century who frequented the many brothels that could be found there. Before giving it this lasting nickname, it was called Rue deis Peitraoux, “pietraoux” being Provencal for “poitrine,” or chest. This was the one part of town where prostitutes could parade down the street, bare-chested.

By learning the origin of and the history behind the street names, routes previously used just to shuttle you from one place to another acquire a character all their own, and one can learn a little more about the place where they live.

Part I: The Fête-Dieu of Aix-en-Provence

It’s been a year since I studied abroad and I’m finally cleaning out all the paperwork I brought back with me. All my syllabi, assignments, essays, notes, journals, etc. So, in a four-but-maybe-more-part series, I’m going to post some essays from my time at IAU.

Why in the world would you want to read essays I wrote? Number 1: I’m going to reduce them to only the most interesting facts and enhance them with all sorts of photos and videos. Number 2: I only chose super-fascinating topics because I had very few guidelines to follow. Number 3: I had access to and the ability to read a library of French books, articles, and records that you will never find here in the States. Number 4: Because you will learn something and learning is always good, yes?

Without further ado, Intriguing Topics Taylor Teaches To You, Part I:


The Fête-Dieu of Aix-en-Provence


Important background information to know: Some knowledge of Biblical events and history. And the city of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. This is what I’ve already written/photographed about it. In medieval times, France didn’t exist as it does today; Europe was made up of hundreds of different regions all with their own Kings. From the 9th century to the 15th century, Provence was a semi-independent state with its own cultural identity and its own language: Provencal, which is sort of a mix of French and Italian. I discovered the history of the Fête-Dieu while researching street names (part two, potentially) in an 1846 book by Roux-Alpheran (which is available in French online). And no, I have no idea what “bazoche” means.

Largely forgotten in the records of history, the celebration of Corpus Christi was a monumental event in Aix-en-Provence. The Catholic holiday, which occurs sometime in May or June, does not honor a specific event in Christ’s life; instead it pays homage to the Eucharist, or the Holy Communion. In medieval Europe, the day was popularly associated with the performance of “mystery plays” – theatrical performances depicting stories from the Bible. A long series of plays, collectively called the Corpus Christi cycles, could last for many days.

The calendar of events for Aix’s Fête-Dieu (the holiday’s name in French, aka “God’s Party”) included parades, plays, and grand feasts over the course of a long weekend. Almost everyone participated in the grand affair – rich and poor, young and old, male and female. The celebration was a poetic mix of ancient and modern history, juxtaposing the sacred and the profane. Unfortunately, many details have been lost over the years, which serves to make the events that much more curious and mysterious to modern day researchers.


The main record of events comes from a 1777 illustrated book by Gaspard Gregoire (1715-1795) entitled Explication des ceremonies de la Fête-Dieu d’Aix, en Provence. It describes in detail various events, players, and costumes, as well as the history and some of the symbolism behind it all. Gregoire writes that it was established in 1462 by King René, Duke of Anjou. More likely, the games had already existed but René bestowed his personal touch upon the ceremonies, adding new games, new roles, and probably a lot more money. Its main idea was simple: the triumph of Christianity over idolatry and the triumph of Christ over demons. The symbolism and meaning behind many elements has not been explained, but documentation of the event gives an entertaining look at medieval Aixois culture.

A few days before the actual day of the Fête-Dieu, leaders and officers were elected and those wishing to participate signed up for various jobs. A council decided those elected to four principle roles that represented the nobility, the clergy, and the people: the King of the Bazoche, the Abby of Youth (picked from the artisan class), the Prince of Love, and the Lieutenant of the Prince (usually a law student). The Prince of Love was chosen from amongst the young sons of the rich noble families. Sadly, in 1668, Louis XIV eliminated the role of the Prince because many wealthy townspeople had been complaining that it was too expensive – the Prince was expected to give out gifts and host huge dinners, at the expense of the city. Roux-Alpheran’s book includes a menu of an example dinner and it’s easy to understand how vastly expensive it must have been – four courses, over 20 different types of meat, and massive quantities. After banning the Prince of Love, the Saint-Sauveur church leaders took over and had to provide the dinner, though the menu stayed very similar and the guest list increased by 200; it’s hard to see how this would have saved the city any money.

On the eve of the Fête-Dieu, after the elected had been chosen, they all attended mass at the Church of Precheurs, where the King of the Bazoche was awarded the cordon bleu and a plaque. With bands playing and busy workers decorating the town with rich tapestries and diamonds (Aix was very rich during this time period), a mass of people poured onto the main road to receive their costumes for the following day.


At sundown, baton twirlers met in front of Saint-Sauveur and performed the Passado. Drummers danced suggestively towards all the young ladies in the audience, meriting raucous applause from their male counterparts.


At 10 PM, the elected and their entourage left the Hotel-de-Ville and walked the streets until midnight, mingling with the townspeople.

The actual day of the Fête-Dieu, a Thursday, began at 4 AM when a group of men, who would later be demons in one of the plays, held a race at the Place de la Metropole. Whoever lost had to pay for lunch. Shortly after an elaborate breakfast banquet at the home of King René, the procession began, complete with floats for many of the scenes.


The King of the Bazoche, the Abby, the Prince and his lieutenant marched behind a group carrying decorated banners.


Behind them, each carrying a torch, were representatives of the various workshops and organizations in Provence, such as religious brotherhoods or calisson makers.

Then there were the knights, an order instituted by King René, and trailing behind them caricatures of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, riding on donkeys. Rene included this detail to commemorate conquering Urbino in 1460 and, as the crowd jeered and laughed at them, to embarrass their honor.


A high pitched racket, imitating the cries and gnashing teeth of those in Hell, announced the arrival of the series of plays relating to Pluto. The first part was the “Lepers of the Bible,” or Leis Razcassettos in Provencal. One man wore a dirty old wig and three others jumped around him, trying to comb it and cut it with scissors. The exact meaning behind this has been lost.


Second was the Golden Calf game, though it was called Lou Juec dou Cat colloquially. This showed Moses with his divine law tablets and Aaron trying to explain them to the Israelites. However, they were too busy dancing around a golden calf icon. Meanwhile, one Israelite threw a cat, wrapped tightly in a sheet, into the air repeatedly.


Next a scene of King Herod, being attacked by demons with pitchforks and pikes, shaking their bells in his face. The demons were accompanied by a “diablesse,” sporting grotesque makeup and hair, trying to attract Herod to her.


And to finish off this series, was the Little Devil’s Game, or L’Armetto because it was symbolic of the soul (ame). A young man held a cross in his right hand while being harassed by devils. But his guardian angel, wearing fake wings, also held firmly to the cross and defended him against evil.


The most curious, but purportedly most enjoyable show followed: that of the prancing horses. Historically, men had stood on horses’ backs and did tricks but too many fell and were killed. So, real horses were replaced by fake horses made from thin wood and fabric that fitted around the person’s body and were attached at the belt.  The group of 8 or 10 men then pranced joyously around, mimicking the movements of a horse.


In the next set of plays, Queen Sheba visited King Solomon, accompanied by three finely dressed lady friends and a court dancer. The dancer did balancing tricks with a small white castle figurine sitting on top of his sword. The spectacle dazzled the ladies and King Solomon, who accepted their salutations and invited them to leave with him.


An interlude of fifes and tambourines then began. A dance troupe performed all the latest dances, and was followed by a group of younger dancers, who received joyous applause from the audience.

The chariot of the gods was the most elaborate float. Richly decorated and carpeted, it was pulled by six magnificent white horses. Each ancient god had their own throne: Jupiter with his thunderbolts at the top, Juno, sitting at his feet with an exotic peacock, and Venus and gods representing games and sweets beside her. Walking behind the chariot were the Three Fates of Greek mythology. They each held balls of yarn, rolling, spinning and cutting it to represent their control over the lives of mortals.


The final set of plays began with the scene of Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents. Children ran in a circle on their hands and feet, frightened and crying. Suddenly they all fell to the ground as Herod, looming above them, fired a gunshot (post-1400s). The children tried to pull themselves away, which is where it got the Provencal name of Leis Tirassouns, meaning “those who drag themselves on the ground.”


A happier scene followed. First, La Belle Etoile where the three Magi of biblical lore followed a man carrying a star raised high above his head. He meandered back and forth, from left to right, and the Magi followed accordingly.


Behind this line was a line of apostles and evangelists. A small scene was acted out in which Judas betrayed Jesus. The traitor then walked in front of the line of apostles and evangelists, who hit him on the head with long batons inscribed with biblical passages.

Gregoire’s record of the events end with this, however the series of plays and characters was constantly changing. As early as 1490, many ancient plays and characters had already been removed, such as Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel. The beginning of the end came in 1645, when the archbishop wanted to remove the secular aspects of the ceremony. The townspeople were so upset they threatened to burn the town hall, forcing the bishops to give up. The final end for the Fête-Dieu came in 1789 when the French Revolution overthrew all Catholic ceremonies, including Aix’s parade. Some tried to reprise the celebration in 1852, with the visit of Louis Napoleon, but the spirit and enthusiasm was lacking and it has been abandoned ever since.

And totally unbeknownst to me at the time of writing this, there is a giant painting of the procession of the Fête-Dieu:

And it was about 200 feet away from my school, hidden in this building that turns out is actually a museum. Dammit.

Marseilles, Marchutz, & Mazarin

Yesterday, I had a field trip to Marseilles with my archaeology class. I’d only been once before for my medical visit and after this I think I’ve seen it all! Marseilles is France’s 2nd biggest city and (according to a newspaper article I read) there are at least 300 crimes (major and minor) each day and in summary is NOT. APPEALING. In fact, many people in France don’t like it and they say, “You might as well go to North Africa while you’re at it.” It’s different from any other city in France and when it was named “European Capital of Culture 2013,” all of France laughed. They don’t believe it is in any way related to their culture. The city is pretty much completely run by the mafia, their government is controlled by the mafia, and my archaeology teacher complained that the site we visited was not being preserved because they (government/mafia) don’t allot any money towards preserving anything of historical value (hence, the irony of “capital of culture”). The site overlooks the main city area and the public housing that was built in the ’60s and should be avoided by all means necessary and is the site of many a car burning (among other things, like murder). The historic Vieux Port where we ate lunch has many a body, their feet in cement, resting at the bottom of it.


My second time eating in a restaurant – “Pasta Carbonara”


The archaeological site that we visited – my professor used to work here


My prof (I should probably stop taking picture of people while they’re talking)


“Boulevard of Sugared Bread.” How I’d love to live on a road with a name like that (added to summer apartment wishlist).

Today, it was absolutely gorgeous out. Didn’t even need to wear a coat. So Paige and I walked to Marchutz (the art school connected to IAU) so that I could see what it was all about. Pretty unimpressive, but delightfully art-y. I like being around artists and art supplies. Maybe this comes from spending all my lunches with Taylor N. in the art room in high school. I enjoyed it.


Path to the school

After that we walked to the Mazarin Quarter because Paige had never been there and I had never photographed it. I really didn’t find anything to take pictures of but I might go back later at a different time of day. It’s the part of town that is laid out in a grid (the ONLY part). It was built during the 17th century as a luxury residential area, and still is today. It’s also home to the St. Jean-de-Malte church which I think has a far prettier interior than the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur. I think I will do a church video because it’s hard to capture the atmosphere of churches with just my camera.


These are everywhere in European cities; do you know what they were used for? They were added onto walls during the Plague (meaning the 1300s to the 1700s) so that people didn’t have to leave their houses to pray. They could just lean out their window.


This places serves BAGELS and CUPCAKES. And it’s reasonably priced. This is incredibly rare and incredibly exciting. I will visit it soon, even though it is very obviously catering to people like me and is not authentically French. I have reached the halfway point and now I long for the comforts of home.

A Few More Scenes from Aix-en-Provence

I discovered a map in an old book. It was like discovering the Marauders’ Map and I almost fell out of my chair with excitement. Someone, at some time, had labeled this map with all the fountains and churches and historical monuments of Aix. So expect more Aix-focused blog posts in the future.

[Side note: These French children do not like Harry Potter. They love the Simpsons. But when I asked, “Don’t you like Harry Potter?” Rayan laughed at me and said, “Ahh non, il est stupide, avec sa petite baguette! woo woo!” Petite baguette means wand. Crazy (the children and the translation).]

Today I went to school and brought my camera (with both lenses!). So here are some more pictures of the area around my school:


Rue Gaston de Saporta (the main road up to the Place de l’Universite and my school)


And the view when walking up it.


Place des Martyrs de la Resistance, where one of three IAU-related buildings resides (right side of photo). It’s not a building so much as one room.


Stairway in the third building (two classrooms and offices on the second floor)


And the view from the window.


How French people park their cars… single file in a line and no space on either side… which makes sense…

Also, I went to the “Language Lab” at the University here (the French one) and participated in an experiment where I got paid 20 euro! They hooked me up to a bunch of electrodes:

And then I read words on a screen and hit a button if they were real words, or fake words. And whenever I saw a city/country name. And I got paid for this!

The Wonderful World of French Idioms

French idiom – literal translation

Things that mean I’m really hungry!
J’ai les crocs – I have the teeth of a crocodile
J’ai une faim de loup – I have the hunger of a wolf
J’ai l’estomac dans les talons – I have my stomach in my heels (?)

Il vaut mieux l’avoir en photo qu’à table – It would be better to have a photo of him than at the table – He eats so much that it’d be better if he wasn’t here.

Moi, je vis d’amour et d’eau fraiche! – Me, I live off love and fresh water! – My life is good! When you are in love, love is enough. You don’t eat very much or need many material things.

Il a ri dans sa barbe. – He laughed in his beard. – He laughed discretely, to himself.

Il boit l’alcool d’une seule traite. – He drinks the alcohol of a single milking. – He drinks a shot of alcohol.

Il fait cul sec. – He does dry bottom. – Bottoms up! (drinking)

C’est le jus de chaussette. – It’s sock juice. – A beverage that tastes disgusting

C’est le pipi de chat. – It’s cat piss. – Disgusting beverage again.

Tu bois comme un tonneau. – You drink like a barrel – You drink a lot.

J’ai un verre dans le nez. – I have a glass in the nose. – I’m really drunk and laughing a lot.

J’ecris avec des pas du chat. – I write with the feet of a cat. – I write badly (handwriting).

Il pleut des cordes. – It rains in ropes. – It’s raining a lot, cats and dogs!

Tu chante comme un casserole. – You sing like a pot. – You sing badly.

L’argent ne se trouve sous le pas d’un cheval. – Money is not found under the foot of a horse. – Money doesn’t grow on trees.

J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter. – I have some other cats to whip. – I have other fish to fry.

J’ai la moutarde qui monte au nez. – I have mustard up to my nose. – I’m getting angry.

J’ai une poupee dans le tiroir. – I have a doll in the drawer. – I’m pregnant.

Va te faire cuire un oeuf! – Go cook yourself an egg! – Get lost!

C’est la fin des haricots! – That’s the end of the beans! – That’s the last straw!

Il ne faut pas pousser mémé dans les orties. – It’s not necessary to push granny into the nettles. – That’s taking it a bit far/to the extreme.

J’ai le cul bordé de nouilles. – I have an ass lined with noodles. – NO FUCKING CLUE. I need a French person to translate this for me.

Haunted Places in Bham: Wardner’s Castle

I did some research on Wardner’s Castle because *drum roll* I’m part of an amateur ghost hunting crew (through KVIK).

I’m really not that confident that there are ghosts. In Bellingham, especially. I just really want to be scared by something and after my high school years where all I watched was Ghost Hunters this is sort of a living out a childhood dream kinda thing.

However, Wardner’s Castle is legit.

This guy, named James Wardner, made tons of money mining silver in Idaho, moved to Bellingham, and built himself a gigantic mansion.


He also bought Eliza Island (one of the San Juans) and told everyone he was planning to use it for the “Black Cat Consolidated Co.” His business plan: find stray black cats (free), raise them on the island, then skin them and sell their fur as “seal fur” for a lucrative profit. To sustain the population, he’d feed the dead cats to the live cats, with maybe some salmon on the side. (This probably didn’t actually happen but) The whole country freaked out and there were articles about him from coast to coast talking about what an awful person he was. Anyway, that’s why there is now a “black cat” (ou Le Chat Noir) restaurant in Fairhaven. And, according to local legend, a healthy supply of stray black cats in the area.

Story #2: So there was a couple who lived in the house during the 1980s. They commissioned this local artist named Laura to paint a mural on all of the third floor. Meaning every wall. Every single one.



That’s the artist with her creation. The painting showcased all the “spirits” who haunted the house or had some connection to it. She thoughtfully included black cats everywhere and ghost ships and Eliza Island. And a disembodied hand that represented the artists’ dead father who drowned in Bellingham Bay while she was painting it. She also painted herself into the mural, right at the top of the stairs (where she’s sitting in the picture), inviting everyone to come see the mural. She dies in a car accident a few days after finishing her painting.

FAST FORWARD: The couple sells the house to a guy who makes it into a bed and breakfast (Castle Gate House B&B). He thinks the mural a little too creepy and not so appropriate for a B&B (rightly so) and covers all of the third floor in a new layer of drywall and a normal solid color on all the walls. Soon after completion, “paranormal activity” begins to occur and the guy gets freaked out. He asks for advice and is told that Laura the artist is angry that no one can appreciate her artwork anymore. He decides, he really truly decides, that the BEST, the most NORMAL idea would be to uncover the part of the mural that shows her face. Just her face. Not even her whole face.

WTF. This is now the image that awaits you at the top of the third floor stairs. I can’t wait to do a ghost hunt here (cross your fingers).

Waiting For Superman


(Go watch this movie! Or if you have, this is my reflection on it which I had to write for school. Again, felt I should post it on the general internet.)

(And again, F*CKING LOVE INFOGRAPHICS.)

Ever since I first heard about it, I had been dying to see this documentary. The goal of the film is to highlight the “inconvenient truths” in our public schools, then revamp the system in the hope of improving our test scores and the educational experience of students in our country. After finally getting to see this film, all I can say is: WOW (I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this. I could literally write a 30 page paper on the topic of education and education reform).

As expected, I was in tears by the end of the movie. The topic of education is a subject very dear to my heart, as I love school and learning and believe in the ideal that “education can solve all problems.” I can only hope that education will be able to solve education’s own problem. For most of my life I dreamed of being a K-12 teacher. When I got to college, my vision changed as I became interested in videography and design. I now want to make documentaries. I see this as an extension of teaching. I want to make documentaries because I love engaging people in what they learn and I want people to see topics in a more fascinating way than they are usually presented in textbooks. I want to teach people all about history through stories from real people, using old video, interviews, pictures, etc. Not just text on a page (because, though I can find this equally as fascinating, most people cannot and have no interest in the topic). So, in sum, I love learning and teaching.

Seeing all those kids vying for a spot at a charter school was heartbreaking. They were all full of this desperate hope, so eager to learn and they’re being cut off from a great educational resource. Turning them away from the charter schools is basically like telling them they can no longer go to school because returning to their public school will definitely not help them at all. It’s not fair. Those kids could all be equally or more smart/driven/responsible as me, but because of their geographic location and economic standing, they don’t get the same opportunities as I did. And because of a PUBLIC school system! A public resource, a public good that is not providing for everyone equally. The only reason my school is “good” is that it is in suburbia, an area where people don’t mind paying/can afford school levies. I was lucky, and they were not; I get to go to college and get a high-paying job, and they get to struggle towards that same goal with limited means and a worse education. That is so wrong.

There are so many things wrong and unfair about this system, it is hard to comprehend. I always knew that we were falling behind in test scores. I didn’t realize that a large part of the problem was the tenure system created by teacher unions. However, I’d like to point out that this film did an unfortunate job of demonizing teacher unions. According to an interview with the film’s director (Davis Guggenheim), he didn’t mean to do this but that’s the way it comes across in the film because it’s hard to make an argument and give all sides to the story. That’s a fair thing to say, but consider the removal of tenure from your contract if you were a teacher (you are, actually!). You would definitely feel threatened by that. If someone was telling you, “Hey, we’re going to remove this safety net you previously had and we’re going to start firing any people we deem ‘bad teachers’”. I think most teachers would be very fearful and would rightly question whether they were a “bad teacher” or not. Of course this fear is going to cause you to vote against any changes to your contract. The problem is that they need to think bigger than themselves. They are hurting so many children in this practice.

Another drawback to this movie: it very much glorifies charter schools. Charter schools are not the answer. We should not rely on charter schools to fix our education ills. We should LEARN from charter schools, about what has worked and what hasn’t, and apply that to our national public education system. Charter schools are inherently exclusive and do not really close the education gap but perhaps adjust it so that instead of rich vs. poor students, its charter vs. public school students. In some ways I also see them as increasing the gap between minority races. When I was in Arizona, I saw an incredible amount of charter/private schools. I’m pretty sure I only saw two public schools, one of those being Arizona State University. There are two reasons for the large proliferation of charter/private schools there: 1) the AZ government has cut almost all of their education spending (don’t even get me started on how much I hate that state and its politics) and 2) they have a huge immigrant population. Charter/private schools increase segmentization as certain ones cater to the Spanish speaking population, and others exclude it.

I’d like to mention my favorite statistic in the movie. The cost of keeping someone in prison for four years is $20,000 more expensive than sending them to a thirteen (K-12) year private school. This is such a waste of my money it almost makes me want to stop paying taxes (but I am rational so I won’t). I know that prison reform is a completely different concern but it’s just pathetic what we’ve chosen to spend our money on.

Overall, I think this movie works as a good motivator for change. Just like “An Inconvenient Truth” did for global warming, hopefully this does for education reform. It’s not the most fair and balanced movie and it misses a lot of other problems in our education system; yet it’s a movie with a big-name director and a lot of money and sponsorships (Bill Gates included!) behind it. It will at least help to get the ball rolling, hopefully.

Things I didn’t fit in the essay but I’d also like to mention/complain about:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan: “Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?”

Producer Lesley Chilcott: “In a land where I have 14 choices of peanut butter, kids are entering a lottery to get into a decent school.”

The Dance of the Lemons: Are you kidding me? Sending the bad teachers around because you legally cannot fire them – is this not obviously wrong? What profession exists where you can’t fire someone for FAILING at their job??

Teach for America programs put poorly trained teachers with no experience in the hardest classrooms in the US, which experienced teachers try to avoid. This is just failing kids more. They won’t have stability in teachers (which means they won’t learn as much material) or well-trained teachers. It does no good for students who must endure their teacher’s inexperience. Teaching is seen as a charity act/volunteer work instead of a career.

Teaching lacks pay and prestige; therefore our lowest performers are hired to teach while the highest performers become doctors, lawyers, CEOs. In countries like Finland, Singapore, South Korea, first-year teaching positions are seen as important as medical residencies – the beginning of an elite career. Teacher-training programs are elite and competitive; but basically anyone can go in the US.

IAU Course Schedule!

Got an email today about the classes I’ll be taking in France! There are no time conflicts for the ones I had requested (without knowing the schedule) so I was able to get into them all! VERY HAPPY!

My classes:
FRE 307 – Advanced French II: Conversation and Composition (slightly intimidating but we’ll see how it goes!)
POL 307 – The European Union
ARC 310 – Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations (“includes excursions to sites in Provence”!)
COM 312 – Speaking of Provence (the area as seen through history, literature, and media and “includes excursions to sites in Provence”)
HIS/COM 314 – France during the Occupation 1939-1945 (I LOVE WWII HISTORY and, yet again, “includes excursions to sites in Provence”)

And it gets better.

Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, none of my classes start until 14:00. That’s 2:00 PM!!!

Tuesday and Friday my first class is at 10:30. But Friday, I only have that one class!

And to me, this all adds up to a large amount of weekend excursions to other places around Europe. SO PSYCHED.