The Delicate Diplomacy of Navigating Aix on Foot

Aix-en-Provence is best known for its Cours Mirabeau, the wide, cafe-lined main street that in the heat of summer is filled IMG_0552with the fashionable and those watching them and covered by a canopy of plane trees.

In most of the old city, however, streets are often but a lane wide and sidewalks, or what passes for them, barely match the width of a mountain hiking trail. Only these “trails” are tucked between buildings and metal stanchions that keep drivers from mowing pedestrians down.

Passing another person, particularly on days when umbrellas sprout, can require considerable finesse and a sense of society’s pecking order.  Or, as Kathy put it today, “I love the dance of walking in Aix.”

Here are a few of the rules we’ve gleaned:

1) When possible, cross to the other side if someone is approaching.

2) Step into the street or into a doorway for the elderly.

3) Figure that most younger adults and kids will do the same for you.

4) Always keep an eye out for what’s coming your way.

This can be tricky because it must be accomplished while keeping a sharp eye out not only for cars, motorcycles, skate boards and razors, but also for crotte, the French word for dog poop, which is just about everywhere. (French dogs go with their owners into restaurants, wear sweaters on cold days, and are generally coddled more than children.)

So far, things are working out though.  I’ve only had to scrape off my shoes once, have had but a single flood in our doorless shower (the drain clogged and the water rose like the Mississippi at flood heights), and have avoided smashing anyone on the head with my umbrella. For a klutz like me, that’s a pretty good track record after 29 days in France.


3 Replies to “The Delicate Diplomacy of Navigating Aix on Foot

  1. “Je viens de trouver votre site. C’est merveilleux!” You are doing exactly what I want to do. I recently retired from teaching French for 36+ years and want to live in France for 6 months to a year. And I love that your base town is Aix! I studied there in the 70’s. It is an amazing town. I was there again in 2006–it had changed so much— and it really is a happening place. Now I’m afraid that it will be overrun “avec les americains”! Looking forward to catching up and following your adventures.

    1. Hi Marie,
      Thanks for your note. We’ve found that January and February are lovely in Aix because the city is quiet. By April it does become over-run “avec les americains” as you suggest. But most of them hang out on Cours Mirabeau. The older squares are still fun places to go. Other nice towns to consider are Arles and Lourmarin. But we love the size of Aix, its sense of living life outdoors, its parks and cafes. We’re hooked.

      1. Merci de votre reponse! I know Arles but not Lourmarin. I arrived in Aix to study in January of 1971 and left in June. A fantastic six months living with a great French family in the middle of town. There were lots of american college students but no tourists. “Mais tout a change!” (need accents!)

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