Aix-en-Provence: A Place to Be, Not Merely See

I could live here.

It’s the first thing that comes to mind as I again walk the narrow streets of Aix, listening to laughter carried on soft air, languishing in the life-lived-outdoors attitude of those who reside or visit here. I could live here.

This is my eighth visit to Aix, my fourth consecutive May leading students from Emerson College to study at IS-Aix, my college’s partner school, which teaches French to students from around the world.  It’s my last trip as a college professor; I’ll retire in August.

It’s not my last trip to Aix. Perhaps I love it because I know the twists and turns of its ancient streets and squares without a map. I know them better than I do those in my hometown of Lexington, Mass., or my place of work, Boston.  I love its eccentricity, its mix of ancient and modern, its perennial surprises. (Friday it was a Brazilian drumming group that marched down the main drag, Cours Mirabeau.)  I love it because of its simplicity. People here take time to live, not merely do.  They talk rather than surf.  They take their time.

And with its daily market in Place Richelme, in the city’s heart, and less frequent but larger markets that sprawl along several streets and squares on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Aix takes on the qualities of a living organism.  Food vendors fill sidewalks and squares from 8 to 1 and then cafe tables seamlessly roll out in their place after awnings are broken down and streets hosed.  It’s a marvel to watch soccer fans and wine sippers replace the vegetable stalls in short order.

There’s really not that much to do in Aix, which, perhaps, is precisely the point. Oh there are a couple of nice, small art museums, nine movie theaters, plenty of street music, concerts and plays. There are shops of all sorts and sizes.  There are parks.  But mostly Aix is a series of places to sit, sip and stare, to feel the light air and watch the warm light blushing the buildings deeper shades of yellow and red as the day progresses toward dusk.

And should you get bored?  The ocean beckons 40 minutes to the South, the villages of the Luberon 40 minutes to the North. The port of Marseille, France’s second largest and most diverse city, is but a 30 minute bus ride away.   And if you really miss city life, it’s but three and a half hours by high speed train to Paris.

Yes. I could live here.  Even this May, when the weather has been uncharacteristically lousy, much colder and damper than the other five Mays I’ve been here, when a few drops of rain were cause for conversation.  Even this May, when I eat and drink and watch alone, my wife Kathy back home shepherding our grand-daughter Devon through the last weeks of fifth grade.  Even though it is true that some French can sometimes be rude or arrogant or distant. You know, the usual stereotypes.

I’ve found, however, that more tend to be kind, family oriented, inviting and throughly engaged in conversation about politics, literature, philosophy — you name it.  And as America becomes more and more the home of the boorish and the land of our bully-in-chief, I come back to the same thought.

I could live here. Maybe someday I will.




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