Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Provencal Weather

I just saw a rainbow. Despite claiming that it has 360 days of sunshine, Aix-en-Provence has had some pretty unpredictable and not altogether agreeable weather this year. Yesterday I left my house in a skirt and sweater thinking it would be a gorgeous day, and came home freezing after class. Today I rolled up my jeans in the morning and walked home in the rain. But as I was heading down the last stretch of my street, the sun came out and I saw my first rainbow in a long time. I wondered what the French word for rainbow is, (arc-en-ciel), and paused outside my building to get a last glimpse before heading into the humid, lightless cave that is my bedroom. As I stood there, the French student who lives with us walked by, probably wondering why I was standing there like an idiot staring at the sky. I don’t think he saw the rainbow, and I hadn’t discovered the proper word at that point so I couldn’t ask him if he’d seen it. I guess I’ll just have to keep on letting him think I’m a mute being. I’m pretty sure he thinks Amanda and I are weird enough as it is, so why not add a little more quirks to our mysterious American ways?

So back to the unpredictable weather. I experienced it in full force this weekend because we went on another excursion, this time to the Luberon. The hilly region of the Luberon mountain range, where the author Peter Mayle is reported to live, is a beautiful area with lots of well-preserved Provencal towns perched on hills. It’s also the region known for its lavender fields, which during March are actually a grayish-brown color instead of the postcard-friendly purple. Despite traveling out-of-season, I enjoyed this trip more than many of our other ones. First of all, we took a tour bus with the famous George, a French guy who gives tours of the area on the weekends, and the same guy who took us to Monaco. Instead of listening to my program director drone on about art and history and remind us to turn in various forms, we were entertained by George’s dry humor and regional trivia.

But where did we go? First, we stopped at a tiny town called Lourmarin, a cute village with a pretty impressive chateau, and the grave of the writer Albert Camus. (I haven’t read any Camus yet, but I’m being tested on him in my literature class, so I probably should.) After taking some quick photos and almost leaving a person behind, we left Lourmarin and headed to Apt, a town that is described in a friend’s tour book as “actively ugly” from the outside. For an American used to Walmart and McDonald’s every five miles and suburban monotomy, though, “ugly” was too strong a word for a French town that simply had more industrial, modern buildings on its outskirts. Downtown, we walked around a huge farmer’s market and bought some delicious strawberries and cheese for lunch. And then it started to rain.

So it rained on our drive to the next town, Roussillon, where the dirt is colored by ochre (according to George, because some old French nobleman fed his wife’s lover to someone). We walked around a park with beautiful bare hills of red, orange, and yellow, and rejoiced that the sun came out long enough for us to have a picnic in the middle of the park. Then we headed down into the town itself, which isn’t much (although it’s technically classified as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”) and had some drinks at a brasserie.

As we were finishing our drinks, the weather turned colder and we boarded the bus again and headed to our final destination: Gordes. According to my Irish friend, Gordes is a popular place for American celebrities like Johnny Depp and Brad and Angelina. Ruth (my friend) directed us to the very hotel where these celebrities stay for only 800 euros per night. From the outside the hotel didn’t look like much, but it probably had a great view of the valley and lavender fields. The rest of Gordes was similarly charming and very well-preserved. There wasn’t a single modern building that I could find, and “sprawl” probably doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of the locals.

The Luberon was a great trip overall, and if I wasn’t so jaded by the beauty of France already, I probably would have been extremely awed by the towns and countryside that we visited. Instead, I was just awed.

Sunday the weather was absolutely beautiful, and since I was confused by the time change (France daylight savings time is different than the US) I didn’t get up until one in the afternoon, after which I headed to the park for a picnic with my friends. We stayed there the entire day, basking in the sun and talking, getting a wee bit sunburnt. (Don’t worry mom, I wore sunscreen). I would have stayed there longer but I had to go to Mass for Palm Sunday, which was an experience in itself.

I walked into town thinking I would go to a regular Sunday Mass, but as I got closer to the church, I heard loud chanting and singing, and turned the corner to see a huge procession of people carrying olive branches and palm branches. I joined the throng and figured out some of the words to the song, and followed the procession up to the big cathedral in town. This procession was much different from at home, and we did more than walk around in a circle in front of church. We actually processed through the town, and people were leaning out of windows taking pictures. It was great to be a part of something like that, and although the French don’t show up to church in such massive numbers the rest of the year, they seem to take Palm Sunday rather seriously. Seriously enough to speak really, really slow during the reading of the Passion so that Mass takes two hours instead of one. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. I’d like to see what it’s like for Easter Mass, but I’ll be in Florence, Italy on Easter Sunday. But that will be another tale.

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