The good news is that I have had more than one, okay, I have actually had three french people come up and ask me for directions on this trip. And yesterday, someone asked me how much the bus was to get to the train station and not only did I understand her, I actually knew the answer.
So until I open my mouth, I’m a local. Yaye pour moi!
Then I talk.
I have used various techniques to persuade french people to stay with me as I bumble my way around their beautiful language.
Along with a winning smile, I have found owning up by far the best approach:
“J’étudie le français mais Je ne comprends pas tout” I am studying French but I don’t understand everything (as opposed to anything which is truer but I don’t want to lose them)
I have also tried this to some success:
“Je ne parle pas très bien, mais je comprends si vous parlez simplement” I don’t speak very well, but I understand if you speak simply
And if they’re cute I throw in a:
“C’est gentil de m’aider avec mon français” How kind of you to help me with my French
I know all Im really being is a different kind of phrase book, but a girl’s got to do. You know the rest, I’m exhausted.
This is a picture of the location of the yoga class I was going to do this morning.
Googled it, mapped it, dressed for it, researched the language required to ask for a single class, walked to it.
In my mind, I had already embraced that stretched, exultant, I’m too sexy for my activewear feeling that was going to sustain me all day.
But I was the only person in Aix who thought this was even remotely a good idea. Or maybe they saw me coming and locked the gates.
Anyway you look at it it was a big fat deception.
Who knew you could mine colour? Okay well probably a lot of people other than me.
It was a spectacular place to spend some time. The red, yellow and burnt brown shades of the earth seem to rise up into the buildings that sit upon it and, at this time of the year, even into the leaves on the trees. I was almost camouflaged by the place.
Second time up to bat and we nailed it. Holy shit this is a beautiful part of the world. Pinch yourself picture perfect kind of pretty.
Here is the journey should you find yourself in this part of the world:
Aix en Provence – Rognes – Lourmarin – Bonnieux – La Coste – Roussillon – Gordes – Aix en Provence
Each village was 15 to 20 kilometres apart, and each had its own thing going on so really quite ideal for a woman who tires from being a tourist in the bat of an Hourglass mascaraed eyelash.
I’m not going to throw superlatives at you because I’m too lazy, but in the tourist day out Buzzfeed article this day would be nudging for some gold coloured metal.
Because it’s Autumn and it was Sunday the roads had been cleared for the Secret Royal tour and were relentlessly decorated on either side by rust and orange coloured foliage.
There were a lot of oohs ahhs and jesus we’re in a French movie exclamations coming from the Renault, I can say that much.
The days are short so we made the team decision to meander till twilight then take the autobahn home… in the dark.
Which is all very well till you’re a bunch of tourists trying to enter a galaxy of stars hurtling past you at 130 kph, and they’re the crazy light and you feel decidedly like the darkness.
The first toll gate:
What the fuck where do we go?
Go to the green the green
Go to the green
It’s all fucking green
Not the truck, don‘t go in the truck lane
Which one is the truck lane?
Why is there no ticket coming out?
Shit there’s a truck behind us
(truck starts leaning on horn)
Nous n’avons pas de billet! Nous n’avons pas de billet!
Ok ok there’s the ticket great
Where are the lanes ? Where are the lanes? Why are there no lanes?
Jesus this is Crash Bandicoot!
Funny. So funny. Sore on the sides funny. Suspected broken rib.
Then we were back in Aix and it was time to park the car in the building that had worked well the night before. But didn’t work now.
So we found ourselves in the old town in the narrowest streets you could imagine and all I could remember was our airbnb host Sylvain warning us: Don’t drive into the old town!
That GPS bitch who had been immaculate all day pulled a swift one and directed us to a private car park we couldn’t get into, as evidenced by a not negotiable metal bollard, with flashing lights in case we didn’t understand the permanence of the device itself.
So our courageous and cool-headed driver had to reverse out of what was the road equivalent of a water shoot, till he found a small drive way where he pulled the best five point turn I’ve ever seen in my life. Respect.
Then we found a parking building. To be honest we fell upon it.
Then we parked, went home, drank gin and spent the next few hours marvelling at the memories we had just made before falling into simultaneous comas.
A day with two seemingly opposite halves working together to create a singular wholeness. Yin and Yang in France.
So Steve came over from London for the weekend and joined our crew in Aix en Provence.
Instead of mooching around the village all day pretending to be badly spoken locals, to celebrate our swelling numbers we decided to rent a car and head to the coast.
Immediately I chickened out completely and stepped aside for the menfolk to be our designated drivers. Oh yes I can play a cool hand of timid scaredipants don’t you worry about that.
We headed off in the direction of Cassis, a town on the south coast celebrated for its beauty and a gate way to the famous Calanques.
The Calangues are apparently a geographic miracle- an old glaciated valley immersed by the sea. The locals described their beauty with wonder and pride.
I’ll give you the highlights:
Cassis was gorgeous, like a set in a Louis Malle film / The sun was out / A lot of laughter, so fucking funny / We didn’t swerve onto the wrong side of the road / We didn’t lose a wing mirror / We didn’t get a parking ticket although we might have got a speed camera ticket. Avis will let us know a bit later I have no doubt / People were kind to us, even when we needed the menu explained in granular detail, twice
We walked the first chain of the Calangues. When Steve declared the walk itself very Eastern Bays Auckland I had to agree… but with less activewear and Porche Cayennes.
The rock cliffs were incredible. I suddenly felt sad we lost the Pink and white terraces in 1886. Imagine that.
We ate at an average restaurant in Cassis with enthusiastic staff and a high glam spectacular view. The sun was out so we stayed and stayed, bathing in unseasonal sunshine, and good humour.
On the way home we GPSed ourselves off the motorways and toll gates. Our vision was a stunning meander through Peter Mayle’s Provence, lush countryside studded with charming villages bathed in dappled late afternoon sun. Turns out light industry looks like light industry whereever in the world you are, although in France it comes with more interesting typography and a softer colour palate.
We’re off on a second roadtrip today. I’m not a very good tourist and neither, it turns out, are the rest of my party. We travel light on detail, heavy on humour.
So we’ve done a little more research this time. I’m expecting great things.
I know. Another train. That’s what you do when you’re travelling, and me.
Here is the cast:
Me. Rocking a kind of a lesbian chic look, an overall with a white tee and a pale blue linen stripe shirt, expensive but trying to be understated. Studded boots. Throwing off the scent with an actual hiking backpack. Hot gran of the group. Disavowing this fiercely.
Levi and Ella. Loved up, beautiful connection, everything is politic , youth won’t end anytime soon vibe. That vegetarian, dishevelled, organic shampoo – no I have not just slept in it what are you trying to say – look. Peace out for fucks sake people.
The blond Maelstrom. My french failed me, she spoke too fast. Hot body poured into Michael Kors. Four kids. The weekend off her four kids. Two dads. Jittery. Inhaling rose in an airline sized wine bottle. Chanel perfume and meat sticks that she offered the vegetarians. A lot of giggling. Checked and reapplied lipstick three times an hour. Shambles. Adorable.
Hand tattoo semi goth chick. Said nothing. Wanted to be friends. Didn’t know where to begin. Thudded down where my feet were so comfy just seconds before. Interesting tattoos, hand drawn, naive art. Probably not that naive. Ripped jeans, black jersey undoubtedly scratchy on her skin.
Compulsary black dude. Blocking the world out with music from the mobile and the hood over his head. What? I didn’t say fucking nothing. Je ne dis pas putain de rien.
Today I write onboard the JTV, the fast train from Paris to Nice. I claimed seat 45 carriage 1 at 10am, for a six hour journey through the languid French countryside. Nothing chill about the speed of this thing though; we are slicing through the countryside like our pantaloons are on fire.
I love love love train travel. Something about the rhythm of the beast, the silkiness of the changing view, the lack of turbulence. Something about permission to be still.
There’s something old school and charming about riding trains. Between the food car, the conductors, and the world flying by outside your window, there’s a nostalgic appeal that comforts.
With no take off, landing or seat-belt signs, you’re not stuck in your seat for endless amounts of time. You can move about the train at will. Since someone else is doing the driving, you’re free to eat, drink, nap and wander whenever you like. You also never have to endure another cheesy Air New Zealand safety video.
The era we live in is loud, and filled with static. There are so many things calling us – unseasonal storms, unreasonable deadlines, dependents and independents, apocalyptic nightmares filled with yam coloured fascists, the white noise of social media – in a frenzy today of course after America reveals its moral compass is broken.
Dedicating solid time to a book or, hang on a minute, even my own thoughts is becoming more of an ambition that a daily reality.
Today though I have a date with my brain and a notebook, and the view outside my window. Apart from the Nice train station, I wonder where I might end up?
I’m in the lobby restaurant of the Hotel Jeu de Paume, on a cold and wet Monday in Paris. Nestled between the two arms of the Seine River, Jeu de Paume has been sheltering travellers since the 17th century so it’s coping well with this one.
It’s raining and Im fine with that. So very fine. My holiday will be populated soon enough, but today I have a date with me.
Choosing to do fuck all in Paris doesn’t feel unproductive to me.
Like many introverts, I crave time alone. Whereas an extrovert might get bored or antsy spending a day in solitude, I’m more inclined to get bored or antsy in company. I’d rather talk in front of 500 people than mingle with them afterwards. Networking makes me feel phony and small talk isn’t a strength.
That said, most of my ‘achievements’ today will involve highly considered small talk – in French. I’ve been learning French, and forgetting what I’ve just learned promptly afterwards, once a week for over a year now. I regularly declare to my three fellow students that I must be suffering from an undiagnosed brain condition, such is my ability to swiftly forget what I have just learnt.
Today though I have asked for hot water for tea, and I have asked about borrowing an umbrella, and I have made friends with two staff and another guest – in French, actual French. I have learned how to request slow talk for the student; I have connected with the power of vulnerability. People want to help.
It thrills me that when I attempt to communicate, I am actually understood. Maybe learning French will strengthen my small talk game. This introvert is up for that.