1 walk into Aix, 2 epiphanies

We returned to our apartment in Aix-en-Provence from Paris faced with the usual grave decision of the day: What shall we eat? IMG_0139

So, with cupboard bare, we headed to the smaller daily market at Place Richelme on a Wednesday, when the biggest outdoor markets don’t open.

This led to my first epiphany of the day: If you’re visiting Aix and looking for fresh food to cook, don’t shop on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday,  when everyone else does. Go on a quiet day, like Wednesday, when the vendors have time to talk and shoppers can look carefully at the food.  It’s more relaxed and more fun.

What’s more, after 10 weeks of vacillating between the markets in Place Richelme and Place des Precheurs, we’ve decided we for the most part prefer the vendors in Place Richelme, where food is sold daily. The produce seems fresher.

Mind you, we have our exceptions. We remain absolutely loyal to our Place des Prescheurs’ honey guy, who gives out samples and loves to explain the different varieties. And we love the couple who sell their incredibly fresh eggs and fresh cooked chickens at Precheurs at well below the price of the competition. But from now on, most of our shopping will be in Place Richelme.

Oh yes. Did I mention the other epiphany?  Walking home today, we decided  that after retiring in a couple of years, we’re going to try spend at least four months of the year in Aix each winter and spring.  Returning from a great week in Paris, Aix feels like coming home. It’s a self-contained city, easy-going, easy to walk around, interesting but not overwhelming.  The tulips have opened in Pavillon Vendome three blocks away.  Right now, 30 different films are showing in Aix theatres, some that start their first showing at 10:45 a.m.  There’s no shortage of concerts. Bookstores in English as well as French abound.

And the market food? Well you have to see, smell and eat it to understand just how fantastic it is.

No, the French will never throw open the front door and invite their new neighbor over for a Sunday barbecue.  It’s not part of their culture. But we get weary of the tired American assumption that the French are arrogant and unfriendly.  Today we bought train tickets to visit the mother of a friend in Montpelier.  The ticket seller not only waited patiently as we debated whether to take the express or local train, but he looked around the office for props to give a dramatic demonstration of the difference between une chaise (a chair) and un fauteuil (an armchair).  A seat on the train, by the way, is the latter.

A little later, as I leaned across the checkout line at Boucherie du Palais in an effort to read the phone number on a release about a jazz event, a woman in line began reading it to me.  Rude?  The opposite. Day to day we have far more of these kinds of experiences than those such as one with an impatient ticket seller at the Aix TGV (fast train) Station 10 days ago.

Bottom line: Cultures vary and all have their crabby people. But give the French a chance and most will surprise you with their small acts of kindness.

5 comments for “1 walk into Aix, 2 epiphanies

  1. Patricia
    March 26, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Glad you are “home” in Aix after the excitement of Paris. There is nothing like returning to the familiar. I have found that if you make ANY effort to speak French, or even to apologize that you don’t speak French, that all French people are kind and helpful. Much more patient than I think Americans would be in general with someone struggling in English with buying a ticket or making themselves understood. I fear we are the “provincial” ones! I developed a standard phrase (said in French) early on which goes something like “Do you speak English” The response usually is “A little, but not so well.” My response is “Would you rather speak your bad English or listen to my bad French?” This always elicited a laugh, a smile, ALWAYS the choice of French “because it will be good for you Madame”, and a very patient interchange with lots of help on my pronunciation! I think I learned more from that than any class! I envy your plan of 4 months a year in Provence!

    • Slowlanefrance
      March 26, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      That’s a lovely line Patricia. (Would you rather speak your bad English or listen to my bad French?)

  2. Al and Yoly
    April 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    We share the same feeling coming back from Spain. It felt good to be back in Aix. I love your second epiphany of spending four months a year in Aix. That means we’ll have friends to visit when we come back to Aix for more french lessons.
    I believe having learned some french for this trip has helped us tremendously. The other day while staying at L’Echapée Trémoussante Guîte de France, we had a wonderful reception from the owner and not to mention the longest conversation in french ever which we enjoy very much. We talked from roads to our lives and family. We learned SO MUCH. It is so beneficial to speak the local language to appreciate other cultures. We have met kind and wonderful people here in France and thankfully we have not seen a sign of arrogance in our travels.
    Yoly

    • Slowlanefrance
      April 5, 2014 at 5:34 am

      Hi guys, Sounds like a great conversation. We had Marine, our teacher at IS, over for a light dinner the other night and we all talked for four hours! Was really wonderful. Language and people (yourselves included, of course) are what we’ll carry back more than anything else. Wish the language improved faster, but bit by bit it certainly does. Thanks for the note. A reminder to me to catch up with your blog this morning (which I will). Hope all is well.

    • Slowlanefrance
      April 5, 2014 at 6:03 am

      We’ve had a couple of those long discussions lately and they are wonderful. One with the mom of a friend from Boston in Montpelier and then Thursday, Marine (our IS teacher) came for an apertif/light dinner and we talked for four hours. Really wonderful. I’m going to write down that guite because we’ll be heading that way in June. Thanks for the tip.

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