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Great, now that I filled you in on the important stuff I did in the last month, I can let you know what it is I have been up to all this time I haven't been busy updating my blog (or taking pictures, hence why this post is accompanied by some more Luberon pics because that place is awesome).

A few things occurred to me as I was walking to school a few days ago, kicking through piles of leaves on the ground bigger than my face (the leaves, not the piles). 

The first being that, rather than feeling like I am visiting this place, I have just started to feel like I live here. I can find my way through town without getting lost, I can even explore areas I have never been to and have a pretty good idea of where I am, where I will end up, and how to get back. I can give people directions (a lot of people ask. There are a lot of tourists here. They think I look French. Nice.)! 

I have spent a lot of time hanging out by myself, a lot of times not because I didn't feel like I had any other choice, but because I discovered that I am actually pretty good company and it's fun to do things by yourself. Because of this, I have found myself recently recommending stores and restaurants and tea salons (my new favorite thing) to other kids in my group, and they keep asking rhetorically, "Why haven't I been over here? Why haven't I heard of this?" and my answer is always, "Well...I don't know. Maybe you should try hanging out by yourself." You don't get to wander in groups the same way you get to wander by yourself. There is always someone who has to go home soon, someone who is just trying to find their way to the nearest liquor store, ATM, place to sit down, or basically whatever you are not trying to do. And the plus side is, if you embarrass yourself, nobody else will ever know...except the locals but who knows if they like you to begin with, so it doesn't matter. They probably just think you are an odd, foreign cookie, and that's ok. When you are abroad, you are already odd and foreign.

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The second thing I realized being that, I am a week shy of hitting my two month mark here, and I believe, straddling the halfway mark. I maybe haven't found myself in half a dozen different countries like some other kids here, and really have not been to more than a handful of other towns in the south of France, but I have gotten to know Aix pretty well. Really well. I see the same beggars at the same street corners several times daily, I know which bakeries hock the best baguettes, and the cheapest -- because of course there is a difference between 70, 80, and 85 centimes. And even though the French hate making change, there is one place that sells baguettes that cost 87 centimes. I can't imagine whose idea it was to integrate the dreaded 1 and 2 cent coins into that transaction, because everyone else here hates those.

The third thing being that, although I came here to learn French and it is working out pretty well for me so far, one thing I am glad I did not come here to learn is business. It's simply crazy to me that people can get anything done when they close for lunch for two hours, the majority of the month of August, and other things that are better left unsaid because I am not trying to call out anyone in specific.

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I sat at a cafe last weekend, cursing the wind blowing my hair into my mouth, clutching a mug of hot chai tea latte in my hands and looking around, wondering what I would miss in the months and years to come after my return. My first thought was, not the wind. My second thought was, as I watched a friend bust out the supplies for a sandwich from his satchel (is that what you call a shoulder bag style backpack?), THE BREAD. Then immediately to follow, my three new best friends Chèvre, Camembert, and Brie, and following up a close third, le vin. I stared at crumbling brick on a building older than the Gregorian calendar system, and added "old stuff" to the list. Europe is a place where they embrace history, rather than sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn't happen. 

I smiled, thinking that public toilets including any of the following would not make my list: turkish style toilets, seatless toilets, anywhere you have to pay to use the bathroom, and bathrooms where you are not allowed to flush anything that didn't come out of you--including toilet paper, making for some sketchy poubelles.

Then I realized all of the little things that I live with every day without noticing are going to be impossible to innumerate until I go home, and I decided to stop thinking about what I would think of Aix when I got home, and went back to sipping my chai. Taking a bite into a cute little noisette flavored macaroon, I added those to the list, and made a mental note to smuggle a box back into the States with me.

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As you can see, my days have settled into a comfortable little routine. I quit Facebook, in an effort to spend my free time reading and doing yoga, but I have to admit, there hasn't been too much free time anyway. I found my favorite restaurants, and though I am dying to keep trying new things, it's always tough to take my hungry belly somewhere besides this awesome little Indian/Pakistani (I know those are vastly different places but that is what their sign says and I'm stickin to it) place where they know me by name now. In fact, last Saturday I came in with a group of friends and they were legitimately surprised to see me with company. 

I have struck up an interesting friendship with my boss, the lovely Madame Rita. I am not entirely sure what my professor expects me to accomplish at my bookstore internship, but Rita and I spend the majority of our time together looking up music videos. I insist she show me French music, but it seems to be the general consensus that good French music is rare and does NOT include Patrick Juvet. I don't know if I have said this in my blog yet, but Anglophone music rules the world...be it American, British, Australian, whatever. It's everywhere. When we are not busy doing this, we are coming up with schemes to make lingering customers who are not intent on buying anything leave. For example, one time Rita saved me from a crazy old lady telling me some bizarre story by secretly calling the shop with her own cell phone, telling me I had a phone call, and then suggesting that maybe I go downstairs to the basement to retrieve whatever it was the anonymous caller was searching for.

Rita has introduced me to most of her friends, and since I will no longer be going on vacation to Beirut for les vacances Toussaint (in light of the recent car bomb leaving 8 dead and 80 others wounded), she invited me to dinner chez-elle next week, one of her friends also invited me to dinner, and informed me that her 21 and 19 year old children would be more than happy to show me around some more (she showed me a text she sent them reading: "you will occupy yourselves with an American next week!" in a friendly but definite tone).

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I have managed to spend the past two hours blogging, when I was convinced that if I wasn't going to study, the least I could do was go to bed early so I could wake up early and do what it is I am supposed to be doing. One last story and then I have to go.

Last weekend, a friend, Olivia, and I, headed out to climb the elusive Mt St Victoire. Elusive, not in that it's a mountain that moves, but rather it's a sneaky little shit who always throws a thunderstorm or sickness my way whenever I decide on a day to summit it. So, after several failed attempts for various reasons, Olivia and I set out to the bus stop. This time, I knew for sure what time it showed up (12:15), what bus would take me there (the L140), and even what dock it departed from at the bus station (10). I knew which bus stop to get off at and which ambiguous dirt road was actually the trail head. But when we got to the bus station, it was under construction, the docks had all been temporarily relocated, we had five minutes until we had to get on the bus, and the line for information was much too long to ask anyone in time. I looked up the schedule at all the docks, and was under the impression that the horaires had changed due to the construction. Great.

Recalling a story my roommate told me about a day spent taking a "random bus" to a nearby town and getting a free tour of a vineyard there, I convinced Olivia to hop on a bus that was departing soon for Vitrolles. I could distinctly remember reading the name of that city, knowing that it was nearby, and after consulting the schedule and determining that the bus ran back and forth at 1 hour intervals, we decided we had nothing to lose. As the bus wound its way in the very opposite direction of the mountains and countryside, we saw ourselves approaching an industrial area, and finally coming to a stop in the ugliest town I have ever seen. It looked like pictures of rural Mexico, with tall, crappy, otherwise nondescript buildings, and nothing else.

We got off the bus, and started to walk around, and it was literally like we were in a ghost town. One street lined with shops was all boarded up, even though it was a Saturday and businesses should have, in theory, been open. We walked through a few more silent streets (if we talked in more than a whisper, people stopped talking on their balconies above and stared at us), and got a really horrible feeling that this was possibly one of the worst places we could have ended up. Deciding the day had maybe gotten the better of us, we headed back to the bus stop and waited for the remaining 45 minutes for the next bus. 

After spending so much time in Aix without traveling, I had begun to feel a little jaded. But as soon as we got back from Vitrolles, I saw everything with fresh eyes. I live in an awesome city, and I am lucky I ended up here. I do wish I had more opportunities to travel (read: more cash), but really, ha

 


Comments

vanessa lamb
10/24/2012 4:22pm

I love reading about your time there. You are such a great writer:) We love you and miss you. xoxoxoxox

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Jacque Watson
10/24/2012 4:44pm

I can't help but notice some frustration in your tone. This time is going to fly by, soak it all in. Much like Vitrolles, I wonder if Aix is more greatly appreciated from Lyons than from its own cobblestone lanes.
Please be careful walking alone. I love you and miss you,
Mom

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Madison
10/25/2012 1:01am

Mom, it's not the city I don't appreciate, it's the people. A man told me yesterday that America doesn't have culture. It has culture, maybe he just doesn't like it. Like what does he think culture is? Anything that happens when a group of people interact. Just because we don't turn our noses up at people and let our dogs poop on the street doesn't mean we don't have "culture." Besides, he's the one living in a country that doesn't even listen to its own music.

I'm fine walking alone. Everyone walks around alone during the day. I don't do it at night.

What sounded frustrated? I'm finally getting comfortable here.

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valerie combs
10/26/2012 8:05am

Bonjour!
Je suis la francaise de Lyons! J'aime beaucoup ton blog! Ca m'a fait sourire. J'ai etudie a Aix avant que je vienne aux states. J'ai passe beaucoup de temps a marcher seule dans les petites rues. J'avais ma routine de cafes et de restos! You embracing the culture!! C'est super. I 'm glad you visited Vitrolles, un peu de contrastes ne fait pas de mal. Par contre, il faut que tu fasses la Ste Victoire. It's magical! Have fun, mange un pain au raisin pour moi et on se rencontre a ton retour! N'hesites pas de demander quoi que ce soit. ma mere vit a 45 min d"aix.

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