jeudi 25 septembre 2008

Setting Up

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but we’ve been too busy to stop and take pictures so far. Hopefully by next blog post we’ll be able to show you what our new town looks like, but in the mean time, here are about a thousand words. :)

We left Harrisburg on Tuesday afternoon and flew Air India out of Newark. We weren’t sure what to expect from our flight, since we’d heard mixed reviews from friends who had flown with Air India back in the day. But the experience was a good one. The plane had the feeling of a sari, with red and yellow patterned seats, stewardesses swathed in gorgeous fabrics, and yummy food. We took a break from watching The Darjeeling Limited (a movie about a trip to India) to eat our curried lamb and felt like something had gone right.

Our plane landed at Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris (we could see le Tour Eiffel from the air), and then we took a train to the south. Josh managed to get us first class tickets on the upper deck of a double-decker car, and we made the most of this wonderful sightseeing opportunity by sleeping through the majority of the three hour trip to Aix. We did wake up in time to get our ridiculously heavy and bulky suitcases down to the exit of the car before we reached the gare (station), and in time to see the craggy mountains of Provence sweep into view. The countryside here is great. It has the feeling of a dryer, rockier Pennsylvania, with welcoming, homey mountains that don’t look too big to climb in an afternoon, and lots of rolling hills of scrubby green trees. My idea of France was of snug little black-and-white timbered houses, but I think that must be the north. The hills of Provence are filled with square buildings made of stone or blocks, mostly a peachy-yellow color, with tiled roofs. It feels a little bit like Italy and a little bit like Mexico. We got to form most of our ideas of the countryside today driving around with our landlady, but that part of the story comes later.

After we got to Aix and dragged our suitcases to our hotel, we set out to set up. We combed the apartment classifieds, visited the bank (multiple times), started setting up cell phones, and tried to find a long-term hotel in case it took more than a few days to find an apartment. I’ve never traveled like this before: this is going to be home, which means we don’t feel like we have a limited amount of time to enjoy it here, and we can take it in and experience it a little more slowly and deliberately. On the other hand, it’s not home, so we kindof resent the things we do enjoy, because they don’t make up for the comforts we’ve just left. Anyway, hopefully we’ll feel settled in and less conflicted soon.

Aix, the town we’re staying in, is beautiful—I think. Mostly I’ve been looking at it with appraising eyes, trying to find the best grocery stores, the best places to live, and the best places to buy shoes and tablecloths. It’s a lot dirtier than I expected—a little bit like a slightly rough-around-the-edges version of the Williams and Sonoma catalogue. We repeatedly stopped in our tracks to just smell the air—rich, buttery smells (I’ve figured out which one is croissants), seasoned meats, the foods from cafes, and in between, the smell of France. In three days, I’ve forgotten what it smells like, but when we first got here, I kept smelling “France.” Weird how noses work. Anyway, our first morning walking around was Thursday, which is market day in the Cours Mirabeau, the sort of central plaza area of town. We mostly rushed by stalls swathed in bright fabrics with olive, floral and cigale (cicada) patterns, but I’m looking forward to indulging my passion for quality textiles.

After a lot more running around trying to set up various things you take for granted once you’ve lived in a place for more than a week, we headed up to the north of city center to look at the only apartment that wasn’t rented yet when we called the lessor. It wasn’t quite what we were used to in our “luxurious” suburb of Philly, but we took a walk after seeing it, sat in the little square across the street and saw the green-shuttered houses, the medieval cathedral, and the gourmet Swiss ice cream stand, and turned around and put down a deposit. We can live in one room for a year. :) I’ll blog more about our aparment once it’s something other than a depressing mish mosh of suitcases and grocery bags, but in the meantime, our landlady. She was completely aghast at the idea of me showing up in a foreign country, knowing no one, and not knowing where to buy a set of bedding. She kept referring to me as la pauvre (the poor thing). As we were signing all the paperwork, she volunteered to drive me to an Ikea knock-off and the super amazing mega grocery store near her town, 40 minutes away. She said she couldn’t bear to see me carrying heavy grocery bags and looking bewildered. (At least I think she did. The majority of our conversation with her was in French.) So, we spent today power shopping for our new little (LITTLE) place. Afterward, we packed into Madame Walker’s tiny Peugeot convertible and zipped around hills and villages as she brought us back to Aix on the back roads.

One more thing, and then I will be just past my thousand word mark. Puddings. I said multiple times that I was excited about the pudding aisle in French grocery stores. I’m adding yogurt to that. We got a big multipack of store brand yogurts for two euro, and the flavors are lemon, mango, coconut, and litchi. They taste like they’ve come right out of the cow. How can I be so homesick when I have such dairy products?

PS: a funny story: We were buying that gourmet Swiss ice cream (creme brulee flavor), and a guy about our age heard Josh say that I was an American and didn’t speak French. He came over to us and started up a conversation. It turns out that he works at the “American Institute,” a place for Americans studying abroad. After he and Josh chatted a little bit, he gave Josh a knowing look, and told him that if the two of us stay together, Josh could end up getting a US visa. I knew there was a reason he’s put up with me for so long. . .

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