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.

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

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

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:

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)

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.

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).

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.

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!)

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:

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.

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.

La plus belle ville du monde

The other night I saw “Midnight in Paris” (because! I’m volunteering at the Pickford Film Center and you get free passes and it’s awesome and I can’t wait to see all the sweet independent films/documentaries to come) and I decided that I should finally make that Paris post that I never did. In the movie I saw all the same streets I walked, all the same buildings I photographed, all the grand parks I sat in, and felt the same awe and… I don’t know… deep overflowing nostalgic love and longing for the most beautiful city that could ever be?

But I really hate all these pictures. I wanted to just walk around the city without my camera. But I knew I’d probably regret that so instead I half-tried to take a bunch of shitty photos which I also regret. Anyway, try to enjoy these?

A Parisian morning at the Jardin du Luxembourg

I love all these little booths along the river. They sell all the typical tourist stuff (postcards, magnets, etc) PLUS old books, maps, art, records… pretty much everything I love encased in this small green hut.

Me and Notre Dame. Want to watch the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” right now.

I forget what this is? Maybe a museum?

We went on a boat tour – “Les bateaux mouches” or fly boats – that travel along the Seine. Worth it.

My first real view of le tour d’Eiffel.

And the view from the almost-top of the Eiffel Tower. We waited in line for 2 hours. Then walked up the stairs. Also worth it.

There are a bunch of these little fake worker statues as you walk up the stairway. Don’t know why.

Sacre-Coeur in Montmarte. It’s a-top a hill so you have a gorgeous view of the city. There is also a ton of artists here. I really liked it so therefore I took no pictures. 😦

This is the park in the nearby town of Sceaux, where I was staying. This is the view at the halfway point of this giant expanse of a lawn. Europe really knows how to do ginormous parks.

Also, this spur off the main lawn. Just a small pond. For this small town.

The monstrosity known as Versailles. Touring the inside was like being in a slow-moving flood of hot human molasses. But once outside, I really liked it.

The famed hall of mirrors.

Want my bedroom decorated like this.

Many pointless rooms in this complex. This is the 1830 room.

The grounds are massive. Miles upon miles of gardens. The royal family’s “summer home” is (for Alicia and I) a 1 hour walk away.

Marie Antoinette’s “hamlet.” Her own little getaway. JUST LIKE A FAIRY TALE!!!!

A little farm so she could pretend she was not living in a palace for a few days.

So, for the weekend we went to Cabourg, in Normandy. We left at night and arrived at night so I couldn’t see anything and I was tired and fell fast asleep. When I awoke, I looked out my window and saw this.

Yes, a thatched roof house. This whole town was like a fairy tale. THE. COOLEST. ARCHITECTURE. I’ve ever seen.

Where I was staying…!

The beach, just a minute away. Where we spent two whole days. Wow. How badly do I want to return.

And I don’t want to make a whole separate post for this so I’ll do it here. Right before leaving, my roommate and I hiked up Mt. St. Victoire.

The goal, from the road.

I love lakes this color.

And, for our last dinner, Paige and I made some “American” foods. Which was really hard! Finding ingredients and stuff. But the kids just absolutely adored it which was really funny. I hope they come visit me here some day.

Caesar salad, chicken strips made with potato chips, Kraft macaroni & cheese, and Nutella cookies (they don’t really make cookies over there…).

And finally, this is the bounty of stuff I brought home with me. Not including all the new clothes I bought. Surprisingly, I still have a lot of it.

C’est vrai; Paris, je t’aime!

I only took 100 pictures total of both Paris and the town of Cabourg in Normandy. That’s all, for a whole entire week. I was really depressed whenever I saw gangs of tourists, armed with their cameras and brochures, taking snapshots and posing in front of every single monument. It was like a race to see as many things as they could and take pictures to prove that they’d been there. I used to have that same feeling, but not anymore.

I stayed with my former exchange student Alicia and spent a wonderful week just relaxing with a friend. I saw some, but not all, of Paris and learned more new aspects of French culture and life. We made crepes (and also grilled cheese, chicken strips, sugar cookies…), read many books in the “Asterix” series, went to Parisian pet shops, had drinks at a sidewalk cafe, relaxed on the beach in Normandy, went on bike rides through town, played French board games I’d never heard of, and watched “Lost” in French. There was no pressure to see every single tourist attraction (though of course we did see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Versailles… but not the Louvre!).

It was just so refreshing to HANG OUT and not be a tourist every moment of the day. I feel like I’ve been doing that every day of the past four months. I love traveling but that’s been the primary hobby of a very tiny handful of hobbies I’ve been able to enjoy for that whole time period. I miss all the other things I like (and the people!). If I was trapped inside of a bakery for four months, I’d probably end up getting tired of baking cookies at some point (though that’s hard to imagine right now since I sit here everyday looking at, my hands aching for baking utensils and ingredients and a reasonable oven). The point being – I’m ready to come home, not be a tourist, live in a familiar culture, and return to my normal “boring” life.

I’m sorry I didn’t take many pictures, and the ones I have I’m not sharing. I’m just done and none of the pictures are very interesting because I put no effort into it. Not to sound really cheesy but my memories are enough; I didn’t feel the need to take pictures and record everything I did. Besides, I know I’ll be back and I’m sure that I’ll then have the desire to take pictures. Northern France has stolen my heart from the South – I don’t know what it is, but for some reason it’s so much better. You’ve all seen pictures of Paris; it truly is that beautiful and magical. Walking along the Seine there are people selling vintage maps, old books, 10 cent postcards (CHEAP!), baguette magnets – what more could I have asked for? Trying my first macaroon (one raspberry, one green apple by the way)! Fantastically dressed males (fantastic as in perfect)! Girls in skirts riding cool old bikes (I want to be them)! And an unfathomable amount of art and history!

Now, I do have something for you. Alicia and her beautiful family are the nicest people in France (maybe Europe) and took me out to dinner – once in Paris and once in Caen (as well as serving me delicious home cooked meals the other nights of the week). Our dinners were real French dinners – a bottle of wine, a carafe of Evian water, bottomless baskets of bread, a waiter that never talked to you besides taking your order, the whole thing lasting a minimum of 3 hours, and each person ordering their own appetizer followed by an entree and a dessert. You can eat a lot more food when your dinner lasts for that long. I loved every minute of it (which is weird because I am usually a person to eat quickly and move on to the next thing). Everything I tasted was out of this world and reading through the menu with all its exotic combinations and ideas was an experience in itself. I did manage to take pictures of all of these dishes. 😉

Gros escargots de Bourgogne – I finally did it, and they were really quite good. Just don’t look at them because then you can recognize the snail shape/body parts…

Saumon de Norvege avec les pommes de terre et creme roquette – I will only make my mashed potatoes with olive oil from this day forward, and I will try really hard to figure out how to make that sauce (it’s from some sort of lettuce leaf).

Steak tartare et frites – Alicia’s dinner but I tried a bite. For those of you who don’t know, that’s completely 100% uncooked ground beef mixed with some flavorings. Texture is bizarre (kinda like mashed potatoes!), but it’s not awful. And I didn’t die from eating raw meat.

Ile flottante – Again, Alicia’s dessert but I tried a bite. This is an “island” of meringue “floating” on vanilla/banana custard (hence the name), and sprinkled with almonds.

Gazpacho de fruits rouge avec petit pains d’epice et creme vanille – Genius idea. So simple and at the same time DIVINE. Just a cold “soup” of red fruits (strawberries, raspberries, etc) with spice bread “croutons” and a vanilla cream in the middle. This is #1 on the to-make-at-home list.

And now for French dinner #2:

Alicia’s and I didn’t write down what this was! But the salmon was just cooked on the top, the rest was raw and – guess what – REALLY GOOD.

Soupe glacee Parmentier et langoustines roti – My appetizer. A cold potato soup with a fresh chive cheese and “langoustines” which Wikipedia tells me is a type of prawn.

Brochettes gambas et rouget avec tagliatelles legumes – Skewers of shrimp and a red fish with shredded vegetables on the side. That’s a lemon foam on top.

Feuille a feuille citron vert et fruits rouge – OH MON DIEU. I changed my mind upon seeing this again – this is now top of the things-to-make-at-home list. Thin sheets made of cooked sugar and fruit pulp, topped with a vanilla-lime flavored sorbet/custard type goodness, and slices of strawberries. Accompanied with a “red fruits” sorbet. Best dessert I’ve eaten in Europe, hands down.

Expect variations on these meals when I get home.

*Also had lunch at McDonald’s one day. My first time this trip. I got the “1955 Special Edition Burger” which is apparently supposed to mimic some burger that McDonald’s originally had? With grilled onions and barbecue sauce and a way too salty meat patty? And I love, absolutely love, how every country has different McFlurry flavors. Trying every single one of them has been added to my life to-do list. I had the “Daim” flavor (caramelized toffee-type candy?), but they also had M&M peanut and Kit-Kat (I hear they have Rolo flavored in Spain… can’t believe I missed that!!!).

**And I now have the ability to try non-supermarket, non-typical American cheese. Though I still probably will not like them (can’t live without goat cheese though; will eat that every day of the week, with every meal). I tried Roquefort, which was WAY WAY too much “smelly cheese” for me. And the weirdest one was “taupinette.” It looks like this:

Little Villages of the Luberon

Trip #3
The Luberon, a region of hills, farms, and tiny perched villages with picturesque chateaus. I was a big fan.

First, Lourmarin to buy lunch.

Second, Lacoste to eat lunch in the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s chateau and see the old buildings being restored by an American design school.

Third, Roussillon for the red ochre hills and some more ice cream.

Fifth, a quick photo op at Gordes – everyone was to exhausted to actually go to it.

A Whirlwind Weekend of Things Around Provence

I had two field trips and a school trip. And it was 80 degrees. It was quite the tiring weekend. Here are trips 1 and 2:

Trip #1

With my “Speaking of Provence” class, we traveled to a mountain that was home to a “holy cave” – St. Baume. According to legend, Mary Magdalene came here after Jesus’ death and lived in the cave for 20 some years. It was a nice 20-30 minute hike up through a “magical” forest (because there are rare and very old plants).

Trip #2

With my archaeology class, we went to Arles to see the arena and theater. Arles has the cheapest market in all of Provence, or at least that we have found so far. It is amazing. Some highlights: a caramel-filled donut, fig-flavored ice cream, and 5 croissants for the price of 1.80 euro (which is the same as 1 croissant in Aix). Besides the market, the city was also awesome so I think I will try to return before I leave.

We also went to the archaeological site of Glanum where I took no pictures even though it was beyond gorgeous. Here’s an example from Google images:

And this is the doormat I really want to buy:

Candy Factory Tour!!!!!!

I have the best French class ever. And I’m behind on posting about what we do in it, but here’s one about our tour of a candy factory here in Aix:

I. Love. Sugar. This was a great day. I want to go home and buy candy molds.

Aix is famous for the “calisson” – a melon/almond candy in an almond shape (or a smile, according to the legend). Once upon a time, at King Rene’s wedding, his bride-to-be was not much of a looker and very unhappy. The royal baker gave her a new type of candy he’d developed and she actually smiled after tasting it! The word “calisson” comes from the Provencal word for “smile.”

Step One: Fruit soaks in vats of sugary water for months, until pretty much all the water content has been replaced with sugar.

Step Two: Almonds are ground up.

Step Three: The fruit and the almonds are combined into a paste.

Step Four: The paste is made into an almond, or “smile,” shape and coated with a layer of white icing.

This is the antique hand press.

Step Five: They dry.

Step Six: They are transferred into bins on their way to be boxed up!

The store!

The Carnaval d’Aix

Sunday in Aix-en-Provence:


Nuns on parade.

Cute vested child on parade.

“Papa’s Beard” aka cotton candy. Way better name that I will now use in the US.

Appears as though I gained about 80 pounds while eating these “churros con Nutella” – 15 of them for 4 euro!!! Best food deal I’ve ever received in France.

And so it begins!

BTW – the theme was “Tim Burton.”

And then it was done.