Thursday, September 23, 2010

Down the Up Escalator

How many times in a given week can an American in France make herself feel ridiculous? The answer, unsurprisingly, is "countless." And what's the easiest way to accomplish this? Tourism.

On Friday night, one of my new AUCP friends and I went out in search of dinner. We wound up in a little Vietnamese take-out place where we bought sizeable portions of delicious unknowns, requested baguettes in place of forks, and sat down to eat on the steps of the fountain in front of the Hôtel de Ville. While the meal may have been far from French, the attitude was not; long after night had fallen and we'd scraped the bottoms of our little plastic tubs, we remained at the fountain, watching shrieking children play hide-and-seek and discovering a mutual love for British comedy (and Firefly, and Miyazaki, and...). Seeing an older couple stroll by with ice cream cones, we gave in to temptation and went to browse the nearby glaciers. I shivered as I savored a scoop of raspberry, and we wandered to keep warm until we wound up back where we'd started.

Then, for the first time since my arrival in Aix, I remembered my camera.

In that instant, I became a tourist. As a couple of French men walked in front of us, they muttered something about toujours les photos. No, I'm not really Aixoise. Thanks for the reminder.

 That night was nothing compared to the entire next day, our first AUCP-sponsored group sortie--in other words, Tourism. At 9:15 Saturday morning, some thirty of us, sneaker-clad and brandishing cameras, piled into a coach bus (called, confusingly, a car) with something-or-other TOURISME emblazoned on the side and trucked off to visit three villages of the Luberon. About a third of our party was made up of students from the Marseille program, and when the girl seated in front of me turned around, I was astonished and thrilled to realize that I knew her from Oberlin! I'd had no idea she was even in France, but it was wonderful to have a conversation in which nothing needed to be explained about Decafe or Winter Term or, of course, OSteel.

 Our first stop was Lourmarin, where we descended from the bus-car and immediately started seeing the world through our little camera screens. As we walked along behind our guide, I'm fairly certain that no rustic stone house or mountain scenery went undocumented. We paid a brief visit to the grave of Albert Camus before being set free for an hour to explore the town, where we all flooded into the same two bakeries and exasperated their proprietors by paying in large bills for small purchases. Bonjour, madame, we're the American students with bad French who have nothing smaller than the 20-euro bills the ATMs spit out. Thanks for the baguettes and camembert, and sorry you won't be able to make change for anyone for the rest of the day!

 With bags full of fresh bread and fruit, we piled back into the bus and zipped off to our next stop, Bonnieux. This is a village perché, literally a "perched village," which I think evokes the perfect mix of height and precariousness. When the town first came into view from the bus windows, I was immediately reminded of Rocamadour, which I visited with my family several years ago. Bonnieux is bigger and its perch doesn't look quite as precarious as that of Rocamadour, goodness, it certainly is high up.

We started here, and climbed and climbed and wheezed our way up to a park at the very top, where we gratefully sat down and ate. For some perspective, the photo that follows was taken on the way down, well below the highest point.

Then it was back to the bus again, this time for Roussillon and its ochres. The colors in the land around this town are some of the best I have ever seen, and I was strongly reminded of the American west; not at all coincidentally, Roussillon has been called the "Little Colorado." As we walked through these crazy landforms, I kind of just wanted to pick up the earth and paint with it. It was that vibrant.

[obligatory Oberlin photo]
By the time we boarded the bus for the long ride back to Aix, everyone was ready for a nap. Tourism, my friends, is hard work.

On Tuesday morning, having settled back into my role as a false Frenchwoman, I returned to Monoprix yet again. I did some grocery shopping for the week's lunches, and visited the notebook section for about the fourth (and hopefully final) time.

And then, silly tourist that I am, I tried to go down the up escalator.


  1. If it makes you feel better, I can empathize. I'm that kid who always starts to exit the Métro through the "Sortie de secours" or the "Passage interdit" before realizing that he's made a horrible horrible mistake and is about to be trampled by a troupeau of wild Parisians. Amérique toujours.

  2. It's alright to be touristy. And they can't blame you, their country is just so beautiful.
    AND ORANGE! :O Love that the houses match too!

  3. Ahhh I love seeing these photos! :D Why is southern France so pretty?? Arghhh... You should take us with you next time you go (you're going to go again).