dimanche 31 mai 2009

Our academic year is coming to a close, and I still haven't written about it! Time to remedy that.

So, both Josh and I taught English in the public school system, and both of us studied on the side. I enrolled in French classes at an institute run by L'Univérsité Paul Cezanne. It was a quick stroll across the street each morning to this old mansion from the 1600's.

Like most other buildings in Aix, the school is a weird mixture of "old and beautiful," "old and decrepit," "new and institutional-looking," and "new and still somewhat charming."

For example, I had phonetics class every Monday morning in what might have been an old bedroom or sitting room.

On one side of the room we have a gilt-framed mirror above a marble fireplace. On the other, a white board:

Check out the french doors to the left of the white board. They're everywhere here, and they usually have these cool latches:

Our first week here, I bought a copy of "Raison et Sentiment," the French translation of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. It was a bit surreal reading a story set in the 18th century and then walking over to sit in a building to match.

All this Jane Austen-ness makes me think of my friend Amanda, although I can't quite remember why. The room next to the phonetics classroom is what I would design for her if she were moving back in time to the late 1700's:

The old mansions here are called hôtels particuliers, "individual hotels." The hôtels particuliers are usually arranged around a central courtyard, perfect for standing around enjoying the sunshine during one of the many pauses cafés, coffee breaks, in the school day. The courtyard of the institute has my favorite fountain in all of Aix:

I'll be a little sad next year to move down to the "Fac de Lettres," the liberal arts branch of the University housed in rather utilitarian looking buildings. Although I'm still not sure if I got in or not! Maybe I'll be back, day-dreamily staring at the old plaster mouldings of the institute's ceilings again next year. On va voir!

dimanche 24 mai 2009

More Treasures from the Market

I'm supposed to be planning classes for tomorrow morning, and my eyelids are drooping. So, I will take this opportunity to make a bad decision and not do my work right now. Instead, I will show you this picture I took in the market today.
Quail eggs. Aren't they beautiful? Click on the picture so it opens in a new window and you can see them up close.

We've Got the Beet

This morning I traipsed down to the market to indulge my latest obsession: beets. I had read this New York Times article extolling their nutritional virtues when I found myself standing in front of a giant pile of cooked beets in the market one day. Their skins were drooping off, exposing deep ruby flesh that gleamed in the sun and looked strange heaped among the firm, self-sufficient peppers, onions, and potatoes. It seemed like some kind of health code violation to have a pile of cooked vegetables sitting out on the lid of a wooden crate.

As I pondered the beets, a little old lady came up at my elbow and softly asked the shopkeeper for "the usual." As she waited for her selected beet to be tied up in plastic, I asked her how she planned to prepare it. After a quick beet tutorial, she added, "They're very good. She makes them herself." I looked at the woman behind the stall. She looked like my mom. I figured it was inevitable, and bought one.

My love for my beet started as I began to cut it up. Have you ever tried cutting a fresh cooked beet? The knife slips through it. I tossed my little gem-like cubes of beet with canned corn and added a few chopped up slices of ham. A splash of mustard vinaigrette and I had a decent-looking salad. The next day the juice from the beets had turned the entire salad hot pink. It looked like something from the 1960's and tasted delicious. The cool sweetness of the beet and corn was scrumptious against the ham and the tang of the mustard dressing.

These babies are a little on the pricey side, so I don’t get them that often (actually, it’s more because I’m too lazy to wake up early to go to the market). It keeps them special, though. Today’s beet is going in with corn, mustard dressing, and fresh grated carrots. Mmmmmm. In fact, I was so excited about the beet before this one, I was moved to poetry:

A beet! A beet! A tasty treat!
Its flesh is cool, its flesh is sweet.
Its ruby juice: an artistic feat,
And nutrients keep you on your feet.
A beet! A beet! A tasty treat!

When my brother Dave was here, admiration for this jewel of a vegetable moved him to song:

We’ve got the beet,
We’ve got the beet,
We’ve got the beet, yeah,
We’ve got the beet!

You probably think we're crazy. I'm not going to argue with you. But I still recommend you try fresh beets as soon as you get a chance.

mercredi 20 mai 2009

Old Buildings, New Buildings

Whew, finally some time to relax! (sortof.) The past month has been a whirlwind of craziness, grace à 30+hours spent driving around Europe with my family, followed by exams for my French program. It's that classic end-of-the-year paradox: piles of work, and suddenly the weather is so nice that nothing else seems to matter.

My 6:00 walk home from the bus stop after work is no longer in the dark, so I get a lot more time to look at things around Aix. A few days ago as I passed by the "Official Mac Reseller" I noticed that along with the high-tech apple decor, the building also sported arrow slits:

I think it might have been part of the old town wall, if not some other kind of medieval fortification.

Part of me loves being surrounded by medieval buildings, and another part of me is sick of places having a thousand years worth of dirt. No matter what we do to keep our apartment clean (which isn't much, I'll admit), I know that there's no real cure for the crumbly walls and pervasive feeling of "charm" (i.e., decrepitness). It's not as if it wouldn't pass safety inspections; I'm just getting sick of details like mismatched fixtures and slightly broken cabinet doors.

As my bus home from work wound through the medieval, castle-guarded town of Meyrargues yesterday, we passed a standard-issue modern building made all of glass and concrete nestled in among the violet-shuttered stone and stucco provençal houses. I actually held my breath for a second thinking about how beautiful it seemed to me. Something tells me I'm ready to spend some time in the States again.