Thursday, May 05, 2011

Taking the Waters of Aix en Provence

Would it be long gander at the magnificent fountain, spontaneously arising from the center of the approaching roundabout, or a quick peek at the map stuffed between my thigh and the seat of the car?  Torn between options - I chose the fountain.  That decision ultimately had me circling in a traffic whirlpool, attracting puzzled looks from fellow travelers and locals alike.  Too bad.  Concern evaporated along with the spray of a few errant drops on my face as I made my first tour of La Rotonde, the entrance fountain to Aix (pronounced “ex”) en Provence.

Once off the wheel, I was eager to know more of this Town of a Thousand Fountains. In reality, Aix is punctuated with 40 bubbling baths, each murmuring its own recitation of history.  They whisper of Roman settlements, brutal battles, religious crusades, the devastating Black Plague, the reverberation of German boots as soldiers marched through town during World War II and the crack of gunshots as they settled in for the duration.  These ancient fountains have swallowed countless secrets of a sometimes dark and violent past. 

And here, upon these eternal springs, I would build a future. 

It quickly became clear that just enough French to get by – which was not enough for managing day to day.  My expectation of fluency within six months?  Didn’t happen.  Alas, my shoulders began to take up residence around my ears, moving slightly forward to create a shelter around my tightening heart. 

Un-spilled tears found their soul mates in the bubbling basins around town as I explored the cobbled streets.  While the fountains chattered away in staccato passages, I realized that theirs was the only language I could understand.  They murmured encouragement as I passed.  They gargled daily reminders of my Buddhist underpinnings, wordlessly illustrating each moment falling into the next. No grasping. No judgment.

The fountains of Aix, from the ornate to the ordinary, were my first friends as I navigated this new world.

A native southern Californian, the scarcity of water is nothing new.   The same is true in Provence, a region that enjoys an average of 300 days a year of golden sunshine.  The romans were onto something when they discovered the hot springs of Aix en Provence, (originally Aquae Sextiae – named for the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus) in 123 B.C.  They created a settlement here (their first in France) that would last for almost 300 years.   A popular spa town since its discovery, the underground springs of thermal waters were given an abundant additional slosh when the Verdon canal and the Zola dam were built in the 19th century... be continued...


Boho Farm and Home said...

I LOVE all the history you give is an important thing to remember...less we repeat it.

donna said...

as in any true love affair, my interest in Aix was piqued when i was a young art student, and i slowly fell in love with Cezanne's Mount Ste. Victoires......then as a young mom i sat by the pool as my youngest took swim lessons and read M.F.K. Fischer....Two Towns In Provence...that was when i feel deeply in love with a city i had never even seen....her chapter "the sound of the place", along with a few others convinced me that you CAN love that which you have never laid eyes on....for i truly saw it in my mind's eyes....

Anonymous said...

Good Morning, Leslie,

Well, your story looks to be a very interesting one! So far, I'm starting to see the beginning of a love story between you and Aix. What's not to love...all of those fountains and 300 days of glorious sunshine. You are very brave to move so far away from home and live in a country that you don't even speak the language well enough to interact daily. I wish I were as brave. I would love to live there.

I can't wait to hear the rest!


Mary said...

Yes you were very brave to move from the USA to live in France a country where you don't even speak the language ! But it's possible you prove it ! Bravo ! Aix is beautiful with its fountains ! Thanks for the History of this town you love !

la fourchette said...

Caroline, Why thank you! The violence in the history of Aix is worth paying attention to avoid repeating - but repeating the notion of building an entire town around a spa is an idea worth manifesting over and over again, doncha think?!

donna, 'a young art student'...a Marchutz alum, you?! Fisher has a way with making people fall in love with Aix, doesn't she. She may as well be walking around these streets with me for as much as I absorbed her 'Two Towns' before my arrival.

Kris, When people say 'it was brave of you' (and thank you, by the really is a lovely thing to say aloud to someone who has made a leap) I'm always puzzled about accepting the compliment as I explain that I couldn't *not* do it. I absolutely *had* to do this thing...I was pushed and had to fly. (The universe can be like that sometimes!)

Mary, Yes, I'm here to tell you: it can be done. Not without some rocky moments - many that have now given rise to great stories worthy of belly laughs - but I'd do it all over again without hesitation.

Ciao (and thanks to all for sticking with this little series!)


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