Here Comes the Sun
I arrived in Aix-en-Provence a couple of weeks ago, it was a gorgeous
summer afternoon in the south of France. The sun was shining, the
sky was lapis blue. But it was not hot. Strangely enough, it wasn't
all that warm. By the time I left the outdoor cocktail party for
Vanderbilt-in-France alumni, it was downright chilly. That evening,
sweaters and jackets were de rigueur (a must) in a place
where intense sun and heat has made creating l'ombre (shade)
an art form.
By Sunday, the Aix sky was overcast and rain showers punctuated
sightseeing and strolling around la vieille ville (the older
part of the town). I took lots of photos but the fabulously blue
southern France sky was in nary a one. A good friend and fellow
Francophile who came down from Paris to play for the week even exclaimed,
"Where is the Provence sun that I have heard so much about?!"
Monday, we made the best of it and enjoyed a tour of several 17th
and 18th century bastides et jardins (southern France country
houses and gardens) in the countryside around Aix. Our French guide,
Anne-Marie, rolled back layers of history with stories of aristocratic
and wealthy families who would escape the stifling summer heat and
pungent smells of town and find refuge in the sweet air of the campagne.
One bastide even had a grotte de fraîcheur,
a cool room decorated with seashells that had a cold spring pool
and misters-an early version of the spa.
Over dinner on Tuesday night in St. Rémy, we contemplated
what a sunless week in Provence in June would feel like. Bizarre.
Odd. Not a vacation, we concluded.
Wednesday morning, our worries were over. We opened of the shutters
of the terrace-summer had arrived. The sun was out in full force.
The heat was rising. It was as if the long, rainy, cold spring had
never happened. Sweaters went to the bottom of les valises
(suitcases) and tee-shirts and sandals were donned. To celebrate
the occasion, we bought beautiful cheeses, olives, bread, fruit
and rosé wine at the market and made a picnic on the
terrace with its view of the Alpilles mountains.
Saturday put the exclamation mark on the season. It was June 21,
the summer solstice and first official day of summer. Since 1982,
France has opened its arms to the longest day of the year with the
Fête de la Musique, a music festival where musicians
of all types perform in the streets of towns across France. This
year, more than 20,000 celebrations were held. In St. Rémy,
we roamed the blocked streets of the town and took in Senegalese
drummers, a modern version of Edith Piaf, a rock group and country
one of the outdoor markets that week, I passed a flower vendor with
tournesols (sunflowers-literally, "turn toward the sun")
for sale. The sign read simply "Soleil 5 euros le bouquet."
A 'bouquet of sun' and a real confirmation of summer. I was charmed.
June 25, 2008
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