Thursday, March 11, 2010

MISSING: HAVE YOU SEEN ... dog poop?

As the TGV sped Frenchily down the track heading on a southeasterly course, I sat in the backwards-facing seat and felt a strange sense of going backandforward in time. Squash and I were headed to Aix-en-Provence and I was a bit nervous to return to the scene of the crime--the crime, of course, being my semester abroad during my junior year of college. NINE YEARS AGO.

The TGV pulled into the station, and it was 3-2-1 Go Time. There was no fanfare, no bolt of lightening that struck the memory banks. Nothing looked familiar, and I was uneasily starting to wonder if we'd even gotten off at the right stop.

Bus into town, follow the crowd to what I was vaguely recalling to be the short walk to the city center.

Is that the old fruit stand I used to pass on my way to the bus?

Slowly, like one of those old lights that needs to warm up before it becomes fully bright, a memory of me walking with a suitcase in tow down this very street starts to solidify in my mind, and I feel the first twinges of memories long-buried begin to stir and rise from the depths of my murky, experience-laden conscious.

Time seemed to slow down, and then very nearly stopped completely when we got to la Rotonde fountain at Cours Mirabeau. I took in the winter-bare sycamore trees lining la rue, the pale yellow and faded white of the ancient buildings lit up by the bright sun against the pure blue of the sky. I gasped out loud, not quite believing what I was seeing--was it really the same city? Had I never really seen this?

After half-heartedly trying to find the hotel (*FAIL*) we were just too hungry to continue wandering and jumped into the first café we stumbled on. After an over-priced and forgettable salad, we found a city map outside of the tourist office and I led us down the Cours and over the ankle-wobbling cobblestones towards our home-for-the-next-two-days. A few paces down the street and I heard the sound of a jackhammer.

WHAM! I flashback so suddenly my eyes and mouth snap open at the same moment and I start laughing. There was construction all along the Cours when I was here as a student. I remember weaving in and out of the metal fences for 5 months, dodging cars and flying concrete dust as the construction guys did whatever it was they were hired to do to fix the road. I look ahead to see if there is still, nine years later, metal fencing and men-at-work. And you know what? YES, THERE IS. HAHA! Not nearly as much, only a spot here and there, but holy crap, really? Talk about dragging out a job. Nine years and they're still not done! (OK, so maybe they're on to a different job by now, but I think it's way funnier to consider the fact that they might actually have been doing the same job for nine years. COME ON. That's hilarious.)

We turn right and head up rue d'Italie, and I'm merrily standing around as Squash snaps away to capture the quaint street and fabulous light. It looks familiar in that "I know I've been here before but enh, it's probably just another one of those cute streets" way, until I pass a little grocery store that triggers another dredging.

I start to get a little uneasy as we pass a bar called O', didn't I use to drink there after class some nights? My feet slow and stop of their own accord as we see a church spire off to the right.
Rue Cardinale. No. Friggin. Way.

 15 Rue Cardinale, the address of the one-room (not counting the office or the bathroom) Vanderbilt In France school-away-from-school.

After I started breathing again (I mean crap, I haven't been here in almost a decade...I'm feeling super old, and the memories are just weird since it's a part of my life I haven't really thought too much about, at least not in depth, for so long it's more like a dream than something that actually happened) we continue on Operation CSI: Aix-en-Provence.

My god, I had completely forgotten the sunlit beauty of the old Roman town.

And the fountains! Every other turn in the anything-but-straight roads reveals another fountain. 

I didn't think the markets could be any prettier than what I see every day in Paris, but I was WRONG.

The colors were resplendent-er and the smells smellier than I can even imagine describing in words.

**kK Tangent 624,842**
I would like to kill my camera: I had the perfect shot of me standing and looking "dumbly" up at the spot where the pigeon squirted out an egg onto my arm nine years ago near the market at the Hotel de Ville. Yes, picture my jaunty younger self leading Willis on a tour of my beautiful city, when tout d'un coup, a pigeon leaned its back end over the edge of a building and instead of laying its egg in its nest decided it would be more productive to send it crashing wetly onto the unsuspecting arm of the nearest passerby below.

And no, you don't see that everyday.

Since we didn't have a Grissom along during that tour, there was no photographic evidence documenting proof of this crazy fatass pigeon's terrorist attempt. So I took pains to find the old crime scene, posed myself in a wonderfully doesn't-look-staged-at-all open-mouthed gaze of "confusion" up at the offending group of pigeons clustered on the ledge above me. And my wonderful, cooperative camera decided to reject that photo like last year's celebrity charity and is now telling me that "no image data" exists for this frame. This is what I got, so just imagine me in the grey area on the left in a horizontal striped shirt, head titled back and gazing up, mouth open:


**possible end to kK Tangent 624,842**

As part of Operation CSI: AeP (something I actually never did when I lived here, lol!), we followed the signs UP an interminable hill to Cezanne's studio. It was as if time stood still here, and yet at the same time strangely showed its old age. I absorbed the little details: an old jacket that looked as if Cezanne had plunked it over the chair just yesterday-yet-also-100-years-ago. A set of fake fruit, set up for a still life that could be painted tomorrow, except I've seen that very pose in Cezanne exhibits at the Met. A fissured skull grinned secretively beside a short bookshelf full of really old books about painting. Cezanne was there...I don't know how, or why, or what the hell was going was supposed to be just a sterile, museum-y room, but as soon as I stepped my big clod-hoppers into the breezy loft I had to collect my wits after being scattered by the bemused spirit of Art as she gently smacked me upside the head for being arrogantly unprepared for facing the lingering humanity of the departed artist.

From this very room he gave us a glimpse of what he saw from of his wall-of-windows:

Cezanne's Mont Sainte Victoire

I remember our class took a trip together to hike this it was yesterday, I felt the cool air in my bones and saw the intermittent blue dots of flowers beginning to push through the stubbornly lingering vestiges of winter in the rocky earth. 

Quite possibly the funniest thing about past-life-Aix (apart from my grandmother calling me at 4am the night of my 21st birthday as I semi-smugly convinced myself that I was convincing her I was sober) was all the dog poop. Piles, and yet more piles, every few steps. Actually, the piles themselves weren't as funny as the shoe heel marks making little glidey streaks sometimes as much as 3 or 4 inches through the brown mess. In each slide mark you could practically hear the poor fellow's leftover scream GODDAMMIT ZUT ALORS I AM SLIDING IN LA MERDE DE CHIEN.

But no more! The city is as clean as whistle, or very nearly. I was suitably impressed. Almost as impressed as I was with the FOOOOOOOOOD. PIZZA! TAPAS! And I drank cervoise every night! I think that might be my most favoritest drink, ever. I love my 86-year-old-man club, but in between tumblers of whiskey bring on the beer/white wine/citron mixture! Happiness-in-a-can-baby!!

I never did find old haunts like Le Mistral (the one real dancing club in town, although that never stopped us crazy college kids from dancing in all the other bars we frequented, despite there being no official dance floor to speak of), Queenshead (the one and ONLY bar I have ever been kicked out of), or the Hole In The Wall bakery, that, besides Pizza Capri, was the only thing open at 3am when we decided that the beer calories didn't count and we needed a little snack (which unfortunately I only ever randomly stumbled upon in a state of inebriation and had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA where to even begin looking for it).

However, I DID remember the exact café where I was a "regular" and became friends with the owners, three Moroccan cousins called Omar, Mimi and Mohammad, who insisted on calling me Kate (which sounded terrifically funny with a French accent), gave me a CD of their favorite Charles Aznavour songs, and even let me pretend to be a bartender so we could take funny pictures and mess with the other customers.

Café l'Archêveché

One excellent salad niçoise and café crème later, it was apparent that the Three Musketeers had moved on to (hopefully) bigger and better things, but the new waiter somehow managed to seat me at the exact table I claimed as my own the first time around (how long ago? all together now: nine ... ).

le sigh. Life sure is interesting sometimes.

While I drew the line at stalking my old living quarters attached to the house of my host family, it came as quite the thunderclap when I realized that our hotel was on the exact road I had taken to get home every day from school, and that if I had felt so inclined I could easily find my way back to that long gravel lane where a mean dog incongruously named Joy would bark menacingly at me from behind her "beware of chien" sign.

In the three-ish days I spent in Aix, I ate anchovies every day. Yes, you heard correctly: I ATE ANCHOVIES EVERY SINGLE DAY. Born-again Mikey strikes again: After countless years of hating those nasty, salty, fishy-tasting, wrong-looking THINGS, I decided to try them once again, just to be sure I still didn't like them. Holy crap, those things are DELICIOUS. And while I don't see myself turning into a Squash clone and ordering an entire pizza full of them, I can ingest two whole fishies with complete abandon before I have to put the brakes on and let the internal systems (including the psyche) digest what I've just put down the hatch.

My old favorite underground Crêpes-A-GoGo was closed on Sunday, but we ducked into a cute café looking out over the Rotonde fountaine, where we had the first glass of my new-found obsession: thé à la menthe, a delicious concoction of mint tea delicately flavored with mild green tea leaves and sugar. I know, nothing new or earthshattering to many people, but yar! It was served out of such a gorgeous silver tea pot, with a cute little man-shaped cloth around the handle so you wouldn't burn your hand picking it up to pour seconds (and thirds...heh heh) into these beautiful double shot glass-sized glasses decorated with exotic swirly designs of green and gold. Drinking tea is always very calming in general, but THIS went to a whole new it was meant to be a simple, no-less-meaningful-if-you-did-it-everyday ceremony to gently draw your attention to enjoying every sip and heightening your awareness of the beauty of the music playing in the background and the fabulousness of the people you're drinking with.

All in all, it was hilarious to be back, wandering the streets with complete disregard to any attempts to build an internal map, or even, for that matter, to look at a printed one, since there is NO WAY to "properly" navigate the twists and turns with which the ancient Romans seemed to delight in wreaking havoc on even the least directionally challenged. (North, wha...?)

A la prochaine, Aix, à la prochaine...

1 comment:

AprylZA said...

That was a superfun read! Thanks, and hope to see you back here before the next decade runs out!

A plus et bon courage,