Last Saturday was a grey drab day with rain looming and the Oppidum work party was cancelled. We needed to get out of the house so, on something of an impulse, we decided to head over to Aix-en-Provence. We’d visited a number of years ago while on holiday, but hadn’t done so since we moved down here, thinking rather vaguely that it was too far away. Actually it’s precisely an hour on the motorway: no further than Nice but in the other direction.
Aix prides itself on being one of Provence’s traditional centres of civilisation: it certainly has a long history stretching back to the Romans. One senses it feels distinctly superior to the troubled urban sprawl of Marseilles or the functional naval port of Toulon. There’s a highly thought of Aix-en-Provence festival, which seems to specialise in such things as a Mozart Cosi Fan Tutti set “in Eritrea during the Italian occupation in the 1930s, extending the light-hearted story with a commentary on racism and fascism”. So it’s perfectly in keeping to find modern dance and solemn poetry being performed with great seriousness in an archaeological excavation. This desire to have an avant-garde more avant than anywhere else may be a compensation for the fact in the nineteenth century, Aix made the embarrassing faux-pas of ridiculing local boy Cezanne for his crude and amateurish artwork. They have made amends since with an art gallery that houses a few of his smaller paintings and some fine works by other painters. You can also visit his studio which we must do sometime.
We were also interested and encouraged to encounter outside the tourist office a group of young men from one of the local churches handing out John’s Gospels. To the surprise of many (and the alarm of some) the evangelical church in France is growing, with recent statistics showing a new church or fellowship being planted every ten days. These are indeed interesting times.
Anyway the rain held off and we had a pleasant day wandering round. It’s a small enough town that walking is possible and there are no end of classy shops, specialist food outlets and boutiques and, it seems, some fine restaurants. In France food and culture go together. Indeed for some people food is culture.
A good visit, but next time we’ll try to go when it’s sunny.