Aix-en-Provence was once the capital of Provence, back in the medieval ages. It’s famous for its stylish patrons, as well as its history as a cultural, artistic and learning centre.
As I got ready to take a day trip there, locals in the small village I was staying in told me it was nicknamed ‘the Paris of the South’ for a reason. Lovely to visit, but very bourgeoise and expensive.
As I walked the Cours Mirabeau, I couldn’t help be be taken back to la belle époque (the beautiful era), when the city boomed as a courtesan town, and the walls were knocked down to make room for the thoroughfare, built wide for the wealthy to promenade in the latest fashions. Though the grandiosity of la belle époque may be long over, the Cours Mirabeau feels much the same. The fashion forward still promenade the street which is lined with plane trees, gated mansions, high end stores, banks and cafés. Even the famous Deux Garcons, the most famous brasserie in Aix-en-Provence, frequented by the likes of Paul Cezanne, Emile Zola, and Ernest Hemingway, still thrives.
I was waiting on a friend, and after a little shopping, found a café to sit and people watch for awhile. I’m not sure if it was the fashion, or the vibrancy of the city, but as I sat under the light misting spray of the patio, sipping a perrier and a cappuccino, I felt a sense of gratitude towards life that I hadn’t felt in a really long time. I had a notebook and wrote about all the people I was meeting. People like my friend’s neighbour, Momo from Africa, who was having a small antique sale outside the building, and told me the greatest wealth in life was in meeting good people. I wrote about how good the pasta bolognese I had for lunch was. I wrote about the style in Aix, and how excited I was about the baby girl growing inside me, the life we were going to have. I wrote about the book I’d been reading, The Artist’s Way, how the author talks about recognizing touchstones. Omens, or signs. I was near the Mediterranean Sea. Olive oil. High heels on cobblestone. French style. Women in the village who were fiercely protective of me. Brave, funny people who had me laughing again.
It may have just been the mood I was in that day, but I like to believe there was something magical for me in the energy of Aix-en-Provence. Like meeting a person who leaves you with a feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on. Bourgeoise and expensive, yes. But so much more than that. It was also unapologetically beautiful, and had a quiet confidence that was contagious, and happened to be just what I needed.