June 5, 2013

Today was like a normal school day. Most week days I’m the only person up early so I just get ready and leave for class. The exception was the day that I got to visit the Musee Granet here in Aix. Unfortunately pictures were prohibited but I got to see works by Cezanne, Ingres, Rembrandt and many others.

June 6, 2013

From my experience so far, the French like to have parties and will look for reasons to welcome you as a visitor. For instance, tonight was the third (or fourth for some) reception for staff and students. We had an initial open house, then an orientation and tonight there was a reception scheduled for students staff and faculty (the faculty had their own reception last night).

I went up to my professor Amy’s house to give her dog a nice run, and afterwards we enjoyed a soft Rose from Provence which is the popular wine here. I’ve had a few Roses here so far and they are all spectacular and refreshing. After heading back into town, we had some time to spare before the reception began, so the five of us sat down for drinks at an outdoor café near the school.

We say there for a while, enjoying a drink or two for each of us. Out of nowhere our server brings out a large plate of cheeses, meats, bread, and other appetizers and simply says “It’s on the Boss.” Now we assumed it was just a way to get us to stay longer (and because the ladies at the table were looking quite lovely). So of course we sit and enjoy this food until it’s mostly gone. I must say that we did stay longer and the boys ordered more drinks, so their methods are justified. Amy had gone to the reception by now as she was expected to make an appearance and was tired after a long day. The rest of us felt obligated to stay and finish what we had left. Naturally, as we are about to ask for the check our server brings out a large bottle of Limoncello, an Italian liqueur that’s typically around 30% alcohol. This caused us to stay even longer until us ladies decided to take our leave for the night. Apparently as soon as we left the server picked up what was left of the Limoncello.

Needless to say the service is quite good there and we will be eating there again.

June 7, 2013

While on a normal Friday we would have the day to ourselves with no classes, today was different. The school organized a trip for all the students that lasted all day. Unfortunately since it was a school trip we weren’t allowed to drink any alcohol at all so I didn’t get go try any wines from the towns we visited.

First, we hopped on the bus drove through Puyricard and Rognes; up through a pine forest that covers a low range of hills called the Trevaresse. After crossing the Durance, the second great river of Provence, we made our first stop in the town of Lourmarin. It is here that the Noble prize winning author Albert Camus is buried, so we stopped to see his grave site.

Afterwards, we wandered through the market and purchased big sandwiches as well as food for our picnic that we would have later that afternoon. We drove through more villages scattered among the mountains and stopped in Lacoste. Here we hiked up steep cobblestone paths until we reached the top where we had our picnic and gazed out at the villages that surrounded us. A small group of us walked back down to a small café to have some ice cream and sit in the shade.

Lastly, we visited Roussillon. A local legend says that the hills were died red in a tragic love story involving the Troubadour Guilhem de Cabestanh. The town mined the ochre in the dirt for centuries and we visited the quarry where children were covered in red from playing on the rocks. When I arrived at my host family’s home, I cleaned up and attended the play that Aline directed, with Fred as a main cast member. They spoke much too fast for me to understand, but it was quite dramatic and very engaging.

June 9, 2013

Yesterday was one of those days where I slept until 3 PM, which is good because after the last week of running around I needed a break. Unfortunately, I caught myself a rather nasty cold so wine tasting in Marseille today was out of the question. The good thing is I’m in France and the medicine is spectacular, so I will be better in no time. I will definitely have more on wine next week.

So as I just mentioned, today I took a trip with Amy and a group of students to Marseille. This year, Marseille and the region of Provence were selected as the cultural capital of Europe, so I am very excited to be living in the center of it. Today, there was an event called the Transhumance. To quote my handout from IAU College: “It is not just a performance but an experience, it’s about taking the time to travel at the pace of animals, passing through exceptional natural areas, urban centers and industrial zones. Imagining that this procession will change our perspective on the region and how we live together.”

In French, the word Transhumance reflects the seasonal movement of people and cattle.” This is a rare event to see that even my host family has never witnessed. I mostly only saw horses, donkeys and bulls, but it was still very interesting to see and I got to witness a little bit of Provencal history. People were dressed in traditional clothing and drove carriages. I even saw a cowboy and a Native American. It reminded me of many street festivals I had attended with a parade except with mostly animals. The streets were packed with visitors from all over as well as performers and carts with balloons. I visited Fort Saint-Jean which was built by Louis XIV in 1660. I also ate a lovely salad with leafy greens, sautéed mushrooms and red bell peppers, a couple mozzarella sticks; a couple big fat fries with herbs baked inside, sun dried tomatoes, pesto sauce, vinegar and pine nuts.

I had a nice Sunday dinner with Fred, Aline and Lou Lou to finish the evening. After Lou Lou excused herself to go to bed, Fred, Aline and I talked for another two and a half hours about politics, music, history, and the Transhumance.