Aix-en-Provence is best known for its Cours Mirabeau, the wide, cafe-lined main street that in the heat of summer is filled with 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.