Well, here I am! I’ve just finished my first full week in Aix-en-Provence, France (Aix pronounced X). I arrived here last Thursday afternoon and met my roommate for the semester as I was shown to my apartment – a small but chic place on the main street with a loft bedroom overlooking the main floor. After a few hours to settle in, my study abroad program – CEA (Cultural Experiences Abroad) – hosted the first of the semester’s bi-weekly “Happy Hours” in which each student receives a free drink. I chose an Orangina, which is non-alcoholic and basically just sugar though it has a kind of freaky appearance.
After a day of orientation and a five course dinner, Saturday was our day to get to know Aix with soap-making in the morning at a local Savonnerie and a history tour of the city in the afternoon. We learned about the history of soap, which is more interesting than you would think, and then were able to cut and stamp our own blocks of the trademarked “Savon de Marseille” which by law must be mixed in Marseille (only cut and designed in Aix) and have the proportions of 72% olive oil, 10% water, and 8% lye.
The history tour was also fascinating, especially as it was led by my art history professor for the semester. We saw the major buildings, such as the cathedral and the Palace of Justice but also stopped to look at some street corners with the names in the old Provençal that used to be spoken in the region, and we saw the grand homes where rich families lived essentially until the French Revolution when people decided they no longer liked that.
With no organized plans on Sunday, I took a walk around the city to visit the cathedral again as well as a house just outside the city called the Pavillon de Vendôme. Though originally constructed for the sole purpose of conducting an affair, the building and grounds are now open the the public as a park and small art museum, currently showing some Picassos. Most museums have free entry on Sundays, so I got in for free and spent a nice few hours wandering around.
Monday was orientation to the school, but Tuesday was a trip to La Ciotat, a nearby beach town and also home to the world’s oldest movie theater. The Lumière Brothers, known for their innovations in film are memorialized with a monument here as it was also the site of their first “movie” – a train arriving in La Ciotat. The beaches are phenomenal though, even if one can only swim in certain areas due to a jellyfish problem.
Wednesday and Thursday were both introductions to the classes, which I think will all be phenomenal. I’m enrolled in French Phonetics, Contemporary French Identity, EU Politics, Refugee Politics, and a course on modern art in the Mediterranean region. Tomorrow is another trip, and next week I’ll be posting an update on my classes as I settle into that routine. So far, Aix is wonderful, and I’m loving every minute!