My hands look like my father's in winter. Fingers a deathly sort of white, nails an unnatural purple, backs of hands blotchy. Granted, this is relatively standard for my hands in winter, too, but I'm certain it's my father's fault.
Here's the thing: it's not winter. It's mid-October, the beginning of midterms, and it is a sunny thirteen degrees outside (fifty-five, for those users of Fahrenheit). I am sitting at my desk in socks, corduroys, a t-shirt, a sweater, and a sweatshirt with the hood up. I am considering changing into my new hiking socks because they're thicker. I am only writing this post because I could no longer concentrate on my notes for the impending exams. I am freezing, too freezing to study in this tundra of a house.
It rained last Sunday--not just a grey sky with the occasional sprinkle, but a real, dark, steady rain. I took a break from homework to run to Proxi, the little supermarket across the street, for a 200g slab of dark chocolate. Ève and I melted down most of this, along with 70g of milk chocolate, into some of the best chocolat chaud I have ever had. While my host parents lamented the precipitation having canceled the weekly walk at Bibémus, I was quietly contented. Rain is a comforting reminder that Aix-en-Provence is, in fact, a real place. It's not supposed to all be perfect.
It's a real place where real time happens. In the first few weeks here, I found it strange to realize that Oberlin autumn was still happening without me; now, I'm becoming conscious of the fact that time advances in Aix as well. The plane trees are shedding their leaves, we've picked the last of the figs from the tree in the garden, and I can see my breath on my morning walk to school. Christian built a fire last night, and the heat really, really needs to be turned on. There are midterms, followed by a week of vacation, which marks the halfway point of my stay in France.
Despite my emotional overflow at the prospect of leaving, since my arrival in Aix, I mostly haven't gotten homesick. It was a little bit like restarting college--I shed a few tears before my departure for Oberlin, but once there, I didn't look back. I was too happy. Lately, though, I've been finding that I miss the United States at the oddest moments. The rain was one of them: it occurred to me when I stepped outside that the usual lack of precipitation and humidity here is profoundly unlike Oberlin, and my mind flashed to several beautiful rainstorms at the end of last spring. I'd have given a lot to rewind back to those.
Last night, as I waited, shivering, at la Rotonde for the final bus of the evening, I watched as a car pulled up and two girls about my age hopped in. I immediately recalled the sensation, the sight, smell, and sound, of getting into the icy backseat of my dad's old car after a winter night out. Maybe we'd been at a restaurant, maybe to see the Christmas Revels, maybe anywhere; the image came with striking clarity but no identification. That moment of nostalgia may have been the one and only time in my life that I have ever wanted to sit down on something cold.
France has taught me to sleep with socks on. I've never had any tolerance for the way they rub against the sheets and twist around when fabric catches against fabric, but here, I've learned, out of necessity, to accept it. It takes a while to construct my cocoon of warmth in bed, and socks make the process somewhat more bearable. Not even socks, however, make it easier to exit said cocoon in the morning. I dragged myself out today and headed for the bathroom. As I reluctantly disrobed for a quick shower, I thought: it smells like winter. It's impossible to describe the reason; there's no concrete smell of winter, like fireplaces or Christmas trees. It's just a certain quality, an edge on the air, that's immediately recognizable even on the other side of the Atlantic. Despite all my griping about the cold, this was a pleasant realization.
When I began this draft, it was early afternoon. I've since studied some, gone to the pool (indoor and heated) with my host mother and sister, drunk a large mug of tea, and now I'm back where I started, freezing hands and all. The sun has given way to clouds, and I think it's just begun to rain.