I have awoken.
From the dream where I lived a top a hill overlooking Aix- it's majestic cathedral, winding maze-like cobblestone streets and it's 10 pm purple sunsets, frogs singing from underneath the poppies.
Where every morning I could say say hello to Cezanne's inspiration, Mount St. Victoire. The cascading mountain towering majestically over the city. The same mount that I decided to spontaneously climb to the top of one Saturday morning, two new friends at my side, one french speaking and one not. We didn't follow any path, in fact we took "the road less traveled" but still managed to reach the ethereal cross perched upon the highest peak- stumbling and laughing all the way.
I have awoken - from long hours that seem to pass all too quickly in the cool, historic IAU building. My vivacious, curly haired professor speaking only in the fluid, musical french that I longed so much to be able to imitate.
From the markets where the fruits and vegetables were a work of art all on their own. The hosted wine tastings and the evenings spent sipping euro Rosé in the lively Place de La Madeline.
From the day trips to Le Luberon and Marseille, where I journeyed through gorgeous country villages and marveled at a Medieval Chateau. Where I tasted delicious yet fishy bouillabaisse and even saw a real live Centaur galloping along Vieux Port.
I've awoken from the time spent on the Mediterranean Sea, a paradise, La Domaine de La Mer- where salty air kissed my face and sunshine browned my skin. Where I witnessed and was awed by the jagged calanques jutting out from azure waters. Where I sped through choppy waves on a boat captained by another new friend, the water weighing down my clothes but the experience making my heart feel light and jubilant.
In reality though, none of it was a dream- it all happened. Yes, I've returned to the states...Yet, I still feel as though I truly have awoken.
Awoken to the "Joie de Vivre" that the French lifestyle emulates. To people, to culture, tastes, sounds and rich experiences that I will never forget.
Provence, you stole me from my comfort zone, you pushed me to my limits, you made me take risks and spend nights dancing under starry skies. You reminded me the importance of cutting through boundaries and welcoming the unknown with open arms. You inspired me to let loose, yet challenged me to make mature decisions- you taught me the imperative balance of work and pleasure.
In Provence I wasn't just living, I was utterly, completely and joyously alive.
In my dreams I awake in a foreign city. It’s early but the city is alive. People are pulsing through the streets like blood in its veins. They flow towards the heart of the town, where the markets are.
Here, tents house flowers bursting with color- fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, spreads and breads. Turn oneway and you are enveloped by the succulent, sweet floral scent of lilies. Turn the other and your mouth is watering- the breeze carries a wiff of a freshly made baguette sliced open and drizzled with provincial olive oil, layered with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes plucked from the vine earlier that morning.
My senses are tingling, as if waking up for the first time and are somewhat overwhelmed. I am Dorothy, stepping out of her house for the first time and utterly dazzled by the luminous new colors and the magic of the land of Oz.
Each moment, the wonder seems to build. I wander through this new land with the eyes of a child, awed by each twist and turn of the road. Buildings tower over me, sand colored with bright wooden shutters, potted plants on the windowsills. An older woman leans out of one, shaking out her sunflower dotted tablecloth- crumbs from her petit dejeuner falling like fairy dust onto the crowds below.
Boutiques, soap shops, cafes, boulangeries et patisseries greet me on both sides of the cobble stoned road, beckoning me to enter. I choose to enter a particularly bright colored door with a sign that I do not understand and find myself in Willy Wonka’s candy wonderland. Surrounded by sweets, chocolates, pastries, cookies and breads. The shopkeeper hands me bird’s egg sized, canary yellow circle and I place it on my tongue. Sugar, creamy chocolate and a pleasant yet unrecognizable taste fill my mouth. None other than a chocolate covered olive.
I spend the day this way, drawn by my senses into different doors and down winding alleys. I see baskets with bushels of fresh lavender, waiters buzzing around like bees, serving miniscule black coffees to smoking, scowling French men. I see medieval churches guarded by ivory statues with expressions so precise and lifelike that I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them blinked. I see fountains, spewing crystalline water that dances and sparkles with the golden sunlight that shines from a cloudless blue sky above.
Later, I am fed with food fit for the royals. The freshest fish, covered in les herbes de provence, olive oil and lemon laid out next to a colorful salad, vegetables of the ripest variety, followed by bread, chevre and luscious, golden melon.
Night falls and I find myself sitting on a terrace, in the center of town, a glass filled with rose-colored liquid in my hand. It’s late but the streets continue to pulse. My head swims, as this is not the first glass that I’ve consumed tonight. The handsome waiter catches my eye and nods toward my glass, “Voulez-vous encore de Rosé, mademoiselle?” I nod, lean back and smile. I am surrounded by my future friends, the beauty of this enchanting city, and looking forward to weeks of wonder ahead of me. The night is warm and the stars are smiling at me… I am utterly content.
The next morning I open my eyes, expecting the dreamy magic of the night before to flit away like a twirl of smoke in the wind. Except it doesn’t. It remains. I am twenty-one years young, living and studying in the South of France (arguably the most beautiful place in the world) and it is not a dream. I’ve been here for one week already and each day is filled with sequences more wonderful than the last. Each day I witness a new beauty, taste something incroyable, meet and connect with someone different and feel more and more alive.
Yesterday when visiting La Luberon- a valley, colored with the reddest poppies, yellow and purple wildflowers, rolling green hills with vineyards for miles, stretches ancient beige villages perched upon hilltops and stretches upon stretches of azure sky- I was hit with a feeling.
At first I was unsure as to what the feeling was. A familiar feeling- one of happiness, comfort, contentment and joy. A feeling that was later made clear to me by a the phrase, “Je suis revenu.” I have returned. And though I have never lived here, never called this place home, I feel that somehow I have returned. Returned to where I belong.
(Saint-rémy-de-provence, France by Vincent Van Gogh)
My Arrival to Provence
May 31, 2013
Applause broke out as the plane began to slow, following a violently turbulent landing onto the Marseille airport runway. The cheers mirrored the feelings of the sheer euphoria I felt within my heart.
After a full 24 hours of traveling all the way from Los Angeles, I couldn’t be happier to be back on the earth. It’s cliché, but I was literally overwhelmed with the urge to throw myself onto the ground and start kissing it.
I held back, of course. But once the doors opened and I stepped into the crisp windy air of Provence, I literally gasped. Gulping in the air as if I had been suffocating.
It felt amazing, feeding the life back into me. I was now able to open my eyes and finally take in the surroundings of this new place that I would be calling home.
Relief swelled through me. Unlike the dreary, cold, gray and space-age like airport that was Charles D’Gaulle in Paris- here there was sunshine! A familiar brightness that reminded me of my home back in Arizona.
Another tsunami-like wave of relief washed over me only minutes later when my host mother, Arlette, was waiting for me at the gate. A tiny woman with a huge smile and a disposition that was as sunny as the rays shining in through the large windows. She couldn’t have been sweeter or more understanding of my tongue-tied and baby gibberish version of the French language that I was nervously sputtering.
My terrace overlooking the garden
Lavender Fields, Provence
A short drive and we had arrived in the heart of Aix. To her home on the second floor a lovely apartment building. Relief again! The door to my room opened to reveal a sun-drenched room, wide glass doors that opened to a petite balcony overlooking tanned red roofed homes, green swaying trees and wild grasses flowing in the gusts of that crisp Provincial air. I liked the dryness of the air.
I breathed it in and again felt an overwhelming happiness. I had made the right choice. From what I’d seen I liked Aix. I liked the quaint feel of the town. I liked how everyone was walking through the streets, women with grocery bags, children playing and men calling out to their friends across the street. I liked its old, historic character. The feeling of stepping into a different time, an age of old. A feeling that I haven’t ever felt anywhere in the United States.
I liked the sound of wind on the window. A peaceful whispering. A French lullaby to sing me straight to sleep…
And sleep I did.
A favorite french saying----
"Joie de Vivre-
can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life. Robert's Dictionnaire says joie is sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience, that is, involves one's whole being."
It's finally happening.
Just a mere three weeks until I embark on my own journey towards la "joie de vivre." An adventure that I’ve been dreaming about partaking in since I was a young girl.
I will uproot from my comfortable American life, board a plane for a 24-hour flight, and land in a completely foreign country that will become my home for the following month... Come June I will be living in France for IAU’s Summer in Aix program.
Yes, Aix. As in Aix-en-Provence. A city nestled in the south of France, known for its art-inspiring beauty. For its array of the freshest, finest foods from world-class provincial markets. A wild night-life fueled by the abundant student population and, of course, its unrivaled good weather.
In other words, the ideal location to study abroad. Something that I’ve been talking about doing since long before I was even in college. My mother is a French professor, so growing up I was always being reminded of the importance of experiencing other cultures. Especially French culture.
I’ve visited France before, but always with her. This will be the first time I’ll be abroad on my own terms- choosing where I want to go, what I want to do and navigating the all the excitement (and difficulties) that come with being in another country by myself.
A little nerve-racking? Absolutely. Luckily, I do have experience on my side. Growing up in a tiny town in northern Arizona called Flagstaff made me antsy. It gave that itch to get out, to travel, to see the world.
So any chance I could get, I did.
I moved hours away from home to attend the University of Arizona. I’ve gone to cities from coast to coast, visited other countries and even recently moved to Boston, where I knew no-one, for a semester long internship.
But… they speak English in Boston. I lived on my own. And it’s America. This time it’s another country, living in a native family’s house, eating their food, adopting their customs, and following their rules- a total immersion.
A challenge that I couldn’t be more excited to accept.
Of course, my mind has been flooded with new concerns with every day that passes leading up to that departure date. Did I fill everything out? What should I pack? Is my French good enough? What will the host family will be like? Will they be okay with my vegetarianism? Will I like their food? What sites should I see? Do I have time to travel? What will the other students be like? Will this really be a life changing experience for me? And of course… how am I going to pack all of these shoes??
I guess only time will tell what the answers to these questions will be… And I’ll be documenting them all right here…
Cheers to the anticipation and ciao for now.