This morning I decided to have what I like to call “A Provencal Morning” (Provencal being the French word for provincial). Because I don’t have class until 2pm on Tuesdays I slept in until 10:30am, showered, got dressed and left the house by 11:30. Intent on finding myself a delicious lunch filled with local specialties, I wandered out to the large market located in the center of Aix. While there is a food market every morning here in Aix, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays the market grows to include housewares, clothing, and rare collectible items.
When I got into downtown I was suddenly surrounded on all sides by tiny little food stalls each shaded by a different colored striped awning. Under each stall, burly venders sold a different type of regional specialty. Apples, oranges, olives, avocadoes, potatoes, tomatoes, fish, fromage, nuts, litchi, grapefruit, herbs, sausages and flowers of all variety crowded the already tiny streets of Aix.
Despite the fact that I was here to “wander” the market, I was also a woman on a mission—I was intent on finding the infamous “olive man” (as my American friends call him), a man made legendary for selling up to 15 different varieties of olives all local to southern Europe. Trying my hardest to imitate the provincial French and lazily peruse the market, I planned to stop at each stall to hold an apple in my hand, testing for firmness, smell and color and even dared myself to ask the vendor if I could possibly try just a little bit.
But the rushed American in me won out. I didn’t walk nearly as slowly as I’d wanted to, the only things I held were the ones I’d bought and I didn’t dare ask to try anything (if I had, I would have known the olives I chose weren’t as strong as I’d wanted them to be).
I think I just don’t understand what it means to be provincial yet. Sure I know that you take an hour to drink a tiny cup of coffee or two hours to savor the perfect glass of wine. I know that it means not rushing anywhere (even if you’re already late) and taking three hours to eat an average Monday night dinner. I know all of these things, but knowing and doing are completely different things. To do, observation of customs simply isn’t enough. To do, you have to understand the history of the custom, you have to completely change your mind set to one that is patient and has nowhere else to be. You have to have no future in that moment so you can savor the present. It’s not so much living like there’s no tomorrow, it’s more like living like you know there will be a hundred moments just as wonderful as this one, so why rush on to the next when this one is just as good. That is what I think living a “provincial life” means.
So while I’m a little disappointed with myself for not taking more time at the market today, I also know that there will be many more mornings just as beautiful as this one where I can try again. Despite having been here for one month already, I think it’s still too early for me to achieve this goal.
The first month is always kind of stressful anyway because everything is so new. I was so busy making friends, choosing classes, orienting myself in Aix, dealing with host family problems and calling my parents that I haven’t really had time to live a “provincial life.” That part of my stay is only beginning.For now I’m taking little steps to achieve this goal. For example, I had the most delicious lunch today filled with fresh, local produce. I had avocado, salami and mamolette cheese on a baguette with “olives de Provence” on the side. After the meal I warmed up some Milka on the leftover baguette (just to keep it healthy!) Now that is what I call a perfect lunch!