I’ve never been a particularly good solo traveler.
But over these last few weeks, after 46 years of marriage, I’m getting better at it. I’m enjoying my little bachelor pad in downtown Aix, feeling at home in space and in time on this, my last journey here for Emerson College.
Call me a slow learner. Still, it’s a good feeling to know I can relax in my own skin. That hasn’t always been so. In the morning I listen to the chatter and laughter of middle-school-age kids, who gather beneath my window until the bell rings sometime around 8 a.m. Or I listen to cooing pigeons.
Each day, I walk 7 or 8 miles. And though I’ve made some new friends through our French partner school, IS-Aix, I still usually eat dinner alone. So I pick a place where I can sit and watch, carrying a book in case I feel awkward or bored. But I rarely crack it open. The unfolding scene on the street is too interesting: dogs who look like their owners and pee on restaurant menu boards (this really happened last night), cyclists and motorcyclists, lovers gripping at each others arms, fashionistas in spiky heels, families with toddlers weaving crookedly down the street. Scarves tied just so. The rapid-fire music of spoken French.
My favorite watching post here has been a brasserie on Rue d’Italie, where I’ve camped myself three times. Of course, I’ve really never been a bachelor, so I’m play-acting like so many others on the stage of Aix. I married out of college at 22. But as much as I miss Kathy and our 10-year-old grand-daughter, Devon, who lives with us, I’m finally learning to live with my own thoughts, at my own pace, immersed in my own independence. And that should be good for both Kathy and for me as I head into whatever retirement brings and means. It’s a sobering transition but not really scary.
My Aix pad, as it were, isn’t much to write home about. It’s got room for a bed, a dresser, a table, a small fridge and sink. It has a TV on which I watch, and occasionally understand, the news in French.
The coffee maker spews out some pretty bitter stuff in the mornings. I gulp down a cup and savor a better one at a cafe. I’ve managed to boil eggs, make sandwiches for lunch (le frommage c’est tout en Provence), even eat some fruit daily (I’ve been well trained). I wash dishes. I’ve vacuumed once and washed clothes twice. All of which, as pathetic as it undoubtedly sounds, isn’t too bad for a guy whose wonderful partner has cooked dinner for him his entire adult life.
As I sit here, to my right is a small placard that reads, “Men have feelings too. BUT who really cares,” with a picture of a sort of sexy ’50s redhead in a slightly revealing blue gown. I think it says more about my, shall we say, slightly-out-of-touch proprietor than about the French, though sexism definitely has its role in this culture. Over my bed is an odd-looking, largely black painting of some leaves. There’s a mirror over the dresser.
Two of the five lights here don’t work. I told the landlord the first day and he sent a young underling to check things out. He changed the bulbs. They still didn’t work. He shrugged.
C’est la vie. That’s today’s news from Aix-en-Provence. It’s time for French class.