A divine day spent in Aix. The rising sun woke us this morning in all its splendid glory. There is something about the light here that makes me feel as if I have never seen color before this day. The hues are amazing and inspiring. I know why so many artists came to this region to paint. I tried to capture the light in the photos, but since I sort of suck as a photog anyway, they didn't turn out so well.
Last night we thought the chandelier in our room was a bit tacky, though we still feel that way, I understand its purpose now. When the morning light hits it, it disperses dancing bits of light all over the room, creating a happiness effect. I don't know how anyone could feel gloomy in this room! They even put fresh flowers in the room!!! Fantastic!
We got ready in our voyeuristic bathroom and headed out into Aix...it was a market day! Yippee! While I stayed in Aix before, I had had French class in the morning and even though I was late to class every day, class still precluded me from going to the market...so, I was super excited to see the market!
French markets are something so special. But let me tell you, a French market in Provence during the harvest season is amazing!!!! The colors of the food are brilliant, deep and rich. Many of the purveyors let you sample and I cannot believe the flavor of their veggies...we are getting robbed here in the U.S. or I just don't shop at the right places. One farmer had not less than 10 different types of mushrooms, even in Fairway (the most awesome place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan veggify yourself only has like 4 or 5). Plus, the homemade baked goods...yummm! I couldn't resist the Madeleines, especially since they had so many unique flavors like thyme (delish), citron, lavender, raspberry...sooo good!
There also was fish market, but after going to Tsukji fish market in Tokyo, it is hard to be impressed. The cheeses, the sausages, even the steak looked superb being deep read with little fat. We decided right then and there that we needed to get a house for at least a month and do nothing but cook with all this great food. Obviously, I had to purchase loads of herb de province...it was a quest of mine.
As you may recall from my previous entry, I was also on a miel (honey) quest. I had to look no further than the Aix market. I met this gentleman Roland Douay, an apiculteur (bee keeper) from the Luberon region (the mountainous region north of Aix). Monsieur Douay is an elderly gentlemen who looked like a cross between a hippie and a cowboy, if that makes any sense. He had a v. white beard and head of hair, wore a cowby-ish hat and bandana. But there was a feeling of hippy to him, sort of new age-ish. I don't know. But, he was great. As you may know, the different tastes of honey come from bees pollinating different types of flowers. There is a subtle flavoring. Monsieur Douay had several different types of honey and I think I purchased most of them LOL! He had thyme, lavender, chestnut and orange. Since honey is sooo good for you, I think Robert and I should be pretty healthy over the next 3 to 4 years :) When I got stuck translating a phrase that Monsieur Douay spoke (he didn't know any English), a French gentleman offered to translate the phrase for me...then this good Samaritan (in my book at least) asked me if there was anything else that I wanted to ask or know. I was like, sure and I asked a few more questions. This guy stayed for a few minutes translating for me....Really, who says the French are rude????
After the market, we went to lunch at the place we missed out on the day before, Juste en Face. I wanted to call it 'just in case'. I was translating the menu board for Robert when a guy from the table next to us asked if he could help, since I was struggling with understanding a preparation method of a steak. Again, so helpful. I asked this guy where he was from and he said he had two homes; Aix and Paris. I was said "wow, 2 homes" and he said, "yes, 2 homes, 2 families, I am French you know..." He was joking of course, but it was pretty funny. He and his friend were super nice and even told me my quest for sea salt would be better in Breitagne (in the north near Normandy) than Aix. (I had many food quests on this trip).
Our next stop was Thermes Sextius, which brings me to a bit of history about Aix. Aix was founded as Aquae Sextiae (which means Sextiae waters) in the year 122 BC by the Roman Sextius Calvinius. In 45 BC, Caesar declared Aix a colony. The thermal baths were developed around 15 BC from local mineral hot springs.
Today, you can see the what remains of the wall that the Roman built and their hot baths on entrance to Thermes Sextius spa (http://www.thermes-sextius.com/fr/intro.htm it is only in French but I think you will get the idea). Thermes Sextius also uses the the naturally mineralized, hot water for their treatments. And I had some good treatments. Robert opted to just sit in the water over treatment (but then complained it wasn't as good as the Hungary bath experience...he is totally stuck on Hungary).
My treatments were interesting. First, I sat in a bathtub full of water and then jets pelted me on successive different areas of my body. It was the water equivalent of the Sharper Image chair and it was awesome! I felt so relaxed afterwards. Next came the sea salt scrub. The salt was scented with lavender and, oddly, herb de provence. Though it was invigorating, I felt a bit like a turkey. Next was the mud wrap and it was hot mud!!! She kept asking me "avez-vous problem de circulation"...I was like no there is nothing wrong with my circulation. But, now I think she was asking if I had heart problems...because the mud did make me feel like I was suffocating a bit and my heart beat was slowing. I realize now how much breathing we actually do through our skin. But, even with all that, it was a great experience and my skin was uber-soft afterwards. Last but not least was the massage. And since this is the city of water, of course my massage included tons of water, as in, it was pouring over me throughout the massage....v. relaxing!
In between treatments I was reading my book "The Memoirs of Fèdèric Mistral" by Fèdèric Mistral. Le Mistral is the strong (understatement) winds that blow through Provence creating havoc and insanity. Frederic Mistral is the Nobel laureate poet who was from Provence (just outside of St. Remy) and wrote poems to elevate the Provencal and Lange d'Oc (language of the Oc) peoples. I love reading fiction books from or about the region I am traveling in, I feel like it gives a depth to my understanding of the region and this was no exception. I did not know that the Provencal people spoke the Lange d'Oc, I had thought it was only the people in the Languedoc region of France....lesson learned. I would definitely recommend this book. It is easy to read and almost immediately you feel as though you are living in Provence.
On my walk back to the hotel to meet Robert, I remembered what he has said earlier that morning about all of my honey... "It would be great if you had a shoebox or something to pack that stuff in your luggage better". As fate would have it, all the shops were closing (6:30pm to 7pm) and their trash was on the sidewalk. So, I went for it and participated in that French tradition of gleaning (or taking useful things from what is left behind. I believe Van Gogh has a painting dedicated to gleaning and there was a documentary a few years ago called "The Gleaners" that was quite good.) I found a great shoe box and a paper box that worked perfectly!
For dinner, our friend Sharon had suggested a place and even emailed us on the quick so we could go. But when I met Robert at the hotel, our host Guy had convinced him to go to this place called Icône...a French/ Italian place. It is hard to resist such charming hosts. And get this, it is located on "Rue de Fèdèric Mistral", how serendipitous is that?
It was pretty decent food and we got a bottle of wine from Languedoc, which was excellent. But, there were two unnerving elements. First, the smoke seemed particularly bad and secondly, the thumping bass from the club next door was definitely conflicting with the smooth melodies of Harry Connick Jr. But, overall, it was a good meal.