October 22, 2010
We are in Aix-en-Provence, leaving in about an hour for Nice to take the Ferry to Corsica. Since arriving in Aix, we have been constantly lost. To begin with, we found the hotel with some difficulty, but we got here, checked in and were handed a map of the area. I grabbed the map and headed for the car, passing it off to my star navigator, Melinda Bates. After all, she had her reading glasses accessible and could read the mouse type the street names were written in. I hadn’t noticed the location of the Campanile Hotel we were staying at wasn’t indicated on the map.
Just going to town to try and find the center we were lost. It took us almost an hour to make the ten minute trip as the Centre Ville signs pointed in different directions. In a way, it was all right as the marche was closing and there wasn’t much left to buy but we were diligent in our search.
We had a student lunch at a sidewalk café and watched the dogs of Aix parade by. There was a small and anxious rough-coated Jack Russell who was forever hopeful someone at the restaurant would drop a morsel of their lunch. He didn’t have much success. A well groomed Pyrenees Mountain dog strutted by accompanied by a smaller mutt. They managed to take umbrage at any other dogs in the vicinity.
Aix is a university town. Students fill every nook and cranny, smoking, talking, texting and gesturing with the intensity only youth can have. The rest of us have somehow realized that taking ourselves so seriously is a futile pursuit since no one else does.
Scarves are in. Everyone, and I mean everyone, sports a scarf. The mode seems to concentrate on Bedouin chic with the checkered, fringed and tasseled large cotton squares winning the numbers contest. Next are the Bedouin wannabees in all colors. It seems that some grunge and crumple help to make the fashion. Melinda grumbled at me when I pulled a blue cotton scarf, with little elephants strategically placed, out of my suitcase and flung it around my neck in the current style. The middle goes in the front of my neck with the ends wrapped around the back and hang down the front. Think of a Jihadi terrorist with Irish blue eyes and white hair…I know, I know. It’s not the profile, but what the heck, in France it’s only for style.
The next thing we notice is that there is a drastic shortage of air in France. When you go to the loo, the machines that dry your hands go on for une second and flash off. You bang, wave your hands at anything that looks like a magic eye and if lucky, the machine coughs at you once, if very lucky – twice, and then turns off. I came out muttering “How the heck are we supposed to dry our hands?”
Melinda looked at me sweetly, “That’s what clothes are for.”
Then we went to the concert. For months we had planned to go to the “i muvrini” concert last night in Aix. I odered tickets from Fnac on-line. “i muvrini” is a Corsican group that developed their own style as an off-shoot of ancient polyphonic music, traditional on the island of Corsica. Some experts think some of the traditional songs might even go back as far as the Neolithic age. It has a haunting and primal quality that weaves its way into your spirit. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not simple, but a complex blend of many cultures, rhythms and styles spanning centuries. Every conqueror of the Island added a bit to the traditions. The original polyphonic music was sung by men, unaccompanied by any instruments, and it can still be found today in small villages in celebration of the mass.
“i muvrini” has built on the ancient polyphonic sounds to include instruments, rhythms and sounds from indigenous peoples around the world. They include a flute, bagpipe and a gentleman from the Côte d’Ivoire playing the bass guitar. The result is a magic of harmonies vibrating into your soul.
But the Pasino, a casino and hall for spectaculars, was their venue. The room was huge, probably more than 2000 people crammed in. It wasn’t uncomfortable seating, but about half way through the performance the lack of air became noticeable. It got hotter and hotter, more and more difficult to breathe, no ventilation at all. Several times I felt myself start to get light headed as if I was going to faint and pulled out our worthless map to fan myself with. It helped a bit. By the time the concert was over, the entire audience literally ran out of the concert hall gulping for breath. That part was not fun. It was a shame it detracted from the art and beauty of the performance.
Oh, and I forgot to tell you about being lost again. We got lost on the way back from the concert to our hotel. It took us an hour and a half to make a five minute trip. We were lost on the way there too but at least we could see where we were going – not that it helped much. Unless they get better signage, it’s the last time I’m going to Aix without a guide dog.
October 23, 2010
We’re up early in the AM, breakfast downed and on our way to Nice for the ferry to Corsica. There is a general strike going on in France. The social security system wants to raise retirement age from 60 to 62 and there are riots in the streets. Never mind that will still be the lowest age of any first world country. Sorry, Greece is lower, but they are so corrupt and bankrupt no one will ever collect. Many of the rioters are students who haven’t the slightest clue that unless France raises the age, the system will be so broke they won’t get a thing at retirement. Anyway, the result is no gas in many areas. We fill up just before Nice and cross our fingers that Corsica will have gas by the time we need it. Our car takes unleaded and it seems it is the scarcest. We might have to go to Hertz and weasel another car, maybe diesel.
On the way we stop at Frejus and visit the ruins of the Roman theatre. Interesting to see the people have erected a modern “tinker-toy” structure of seats over the ruins and still use the original stage.
Our next stop is Cannes for a walk on the Croisette and a short visit to the lobby of the Carlton – my old stomping grounds for so many years. Oddly, I didn’t feel any nostalgia for the place. I haven’t missed it even though I spent 27 years going twice a year for the television markets and often for the Cannes Film Festival.
We took the coast road to Nice visiting Cagnes Sur Mer, Juan les Pins and Antibes – all as beautiful as always. We arrived in Nice in good time for the Corsican Ferry and were soon off for the ride across. The food was barely acceptable, but something to fill the tummy. There was an interesting phenomenon we saw. The ferry provided a special room for families with toys, games, rides, cartoons. Then, there was nice dining area for the rest of the passengers. That room was filled with badly behaved kids having tantrums, screaming, running around, standing on the banisters on the stairs between decks, and generally being obnoxious. The parents could have cared less. The kids were ignored and left to screech, knock down older people, push trays out of hands. Quelle domage…
Arriving in Calvi we were witness to French planning, similar we decided to Mexican planning. The Ferry personnel carefully directed six rows of cars to exit at the same time, guiding them quickly out of the ship in neat lines to expedite departure. Then, there was a delay. Six lanes became five, five became four, four became three, three to two and then, single file we all went up a dramatic steep hill into the city. Hmmmm.
We had directions to the hotel and a small map. It wasn’t far and thanks to Google Earth we knew the distance to the meter. How could we miss? Easy. It was pitch black on a country road and there was no visible sign. Well, let me correct myself. There was a visible sign, for a spa they were advertising down the road, but the sign for the residences we were staying was beneath the sign for the spa in lettering illegible at night – not to mention hidden by foliage. No way to see it! We’re in France, no mobile phone. I had sent an e-mail telling them when we were arriving. Think a light would be on? Nah! We drove up and down for an hour, drove into anything that looked promising and finally saw a car on the road – the only one. We followed it into a small development and when a nice young woman got out of her car we threw ourselves on her mercy. She was a real heroine. She whipped out her portable, called the number for the Residences and told them she would bring us there. We followed her to a place we had driven around several times before with no idea where we were.
No one was expecting us. They figured we couldn’t get there because of the strikes in Paris. Christophe was most polite and sorry, offering us a drink and helped us up the steep stairs with our big suitcases. Whew! We were home at last, for at least two weeks. The apartment is charming and very clean. The furnishings are basic but just fine. There is plenty of heat once Christophe turned it on for us and we are quite okay. The only thing lacking is light in the living area. Once the sun goes down it is rather like being in a cave. But we won’t let that get us down. Hopefully, we can get around without getting lost. It seems the Corsicans roads are blessed with excellent signs.
October 24, 2010
It’s Sunday and we need to stock our kitchen with some necessities. Melinda and I make a list: butter, coffee, cream, eggs, bread, paper towels, toilet paper, salt and pepper, like that. We stop in the office of the residence where we are staying and get general directions to the only store that might be open in the area. It was in Calanzana, just a short drive up the mountain to the next village.
As driver, I took a wrong turn onto a tiny road; it was so narrow the car mirrors were almost touching the walls on both sides. There was no possibility to turn around, forward was the only option. As we followed it up and down the town, Melinda spotted the car behind us. It was much wider than we were, if they could make it through, I certainly could. I announced “Well, if someone’s following me, there must be a way out that I’m heading towards.” As soon as I shut my mouth there was a gate at the end of the road. I tried to pull off to the side as best I could when I realized we were heading onto someone’s private property.
The car that had been following pulled alongside and rolled down the driver’s side window. A man of about sixty, grizzled and smiling stuck his head out. “Perdu?” He inquired if we were lost.
“Oui, certainment.” Yes, we sure are.”
The man smiled and motioned for us to follow him into the property where we could make a u-turn and go back into the village. The entire property was fenced with chain link. Another man opened the gate and stood aside as both cars entered the encampment and watched silently as we turned our car around. The property had a large house on the far end and machinery, car and tractor parts, pumps and odd bits of farm implements casually strewn around the area. As we headed back into the village Melinda read about Calenzana in the guide book, especially the part about the town becoming a mecca for retired French Mafiosos because of its proximity to Marseilles. Hmmmm…
Once we arrived back in the town, after driving around past the same woman several times and asking her where the market was, she told us “Look for the Mairie and La Poste.” Then you’ll find an Entre Libre with whatever you need.”
The ladies at the small market seemed delighted to have new customers and helped us find whatever we needed. People from California shopping was obviously an event to be discussed.
On the way back to our car, we noticed a shop selling roast chickens. They smelled delicious. We inquired of a short woman turning chickens on a rotisserie. “Do you have any available?” The woman looked at her watch. “Can you come back in one hour? Not done yet.” We asked where we could find a coffee? The woman pointed down the street. “Il y’a deux, a chaque côté.”
We went into the one with two elderly gentlemen at the bar, in an avid discussion that could only be politics. They drank coffee laced with something stronger than coffee. We ordered two café au lait, taking it outside to sit in the sun as it warmed the cool mountain air. A car stopped and an even older man got out, assisted by a young man at his side. He wasn’t that old, I remarked as he checked our bosoms thoroughly before going to the next table and sitting down. Even with a walker they still have that need to look. Maybe someday they’ll be lucky enough to find that one woman with three breasts. We couldn’t help laughing.
When we picked up the chicken we were amazed at the price – 9.8 Euros! That was almost fifteen dollars, three times what we were used to paying at Costco in the States.