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E-Mailing Through Europe >> Provence, France 2001

Smells of France

Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 09:48:36 -0700 (PDT)

From: k p
Subject: Au revoir, Provence

An update of the last couple days:

Eva and I were scoffed at in Aix-en-Provence by the front desk clerk when we suggested we wanted to eat at Le Bistro Latin. This was a suggestion of my favorite food critic and chef, Susan Harris. It was closed on Sunday, like everything else in Aix.

Instead he sent us to Le Bacchanal, which was as good as anything we've eaten in France, though the most expensive meal with a final price of just over $60 US. Amazing how much one can eat so well for so little in France. (Note to self:its amazing how much one's waist can grow in France, too. When you get home, reaquaint yourself with Mr. Treadmill.)

The next morning we visited Cezanne's studio at the top of a long hill just north of Aix. It is beautiful, one of those special gems of a place everyone should see sometime in their lives. Some very smart students of his bought the place a few years after he died (1906) and kept it in its original condition. His 2nd floor studio is beautiful, with amazing light, large windows and a huge hole cut into the side for him to remove huge canvases. One can see replicas of the fruit he painted in still lifes, the tranquil gardens and paths he would wander for inspiration, and the Cezanne Gift Shop where he bought T-shirts and posters for his friends. It was lovely.

After one half hour of tranquility and peace, we chucked it all by coming to Marseilles. Oh la la! Marseilles is the original melting pot, having served as a port city for 26 centuries, which is a little too long for stew to be cooking.

Everything here is the exact opposite of the rest of France: It smells. The sidewalks are narrow on the big boulevards. The people are ugly. The people are fat. The food is oily and greasy. The people are oily and greasy. It smells.

Lets talk about the smells. In the rest of France, we enjoyed the smells. In the morning croissants and bread, a nice espresso or cafe au lait. The cheeses, the desserts, the wine: even when you smelled one you didn't like, you could appreciate how much care was taken to produce that smell.

The fresh air of the Auvergne region, the Alps and the Areches Gorges. The deliciously musty smell of les caves for wine and cheese, the smell of cool moutain springs that bring french bottled water to the rest of the world. Marvelous!

In Marseilles, on the other hand, all you smell is urine.

Last night at dinner, I ate squid soaking it its black ink. Welcome to Marseilles. We were "entertained" by a French blues singer. Only in Marseilles can the French sing the blues. And badly, too.

Its a shame that the last place Eva and I will be together in France is this big city. But we'll have all the memories of all the other great places. My favorite: in Nimes, sitting in a small square eating a late dinner at Le Vintage Cafe. A 3 piece band including a bass player, guitar and electric violin stopped by and played us a song. It was heaven, and so, of course, were the desserts.

Talk to you solo in Grenoble with occaisonal updates from our Far East correspondant...


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