Dear Everyone,

My four days in Aix-en-Provence were perfect. The spa, which I did on the 14th, was ‘formidable’ as they say here–fantastic. I got painted with hot algae, had a scrub with sea salt, a bubbling bath and then a massage to finish it off. Both the massage and the scrub were ‘sous affusion’ which means they work on you while warm water is being showered on you with five showerheads. Ooh, la la.

It was such fun to wander around Aix and to feel at home. The town has over 50 fountains and you’re always bumping into one somewhere. I walked past my old apartment and looked up. It looked like someone was living there–3rd floor with a tiny balcony out one of the windows and there were some plants on it. I had pink geraniums on the balcony when I lived there and used to hang out my wash, like my neighbors. I have only good memories of Aix.

There is a 12th century Catholic church where they sing the mass in Gregorian chants and I stopped in there twice for mass. So moving. They walk up and down the aisle with the strong incense and the walls are light yellow with the huge ceilings and arches. It is like stepping back in time.

The tourist office paid for my hotel, the Augustin, which was right in the center of town, just steps from the main street, Cours Mirabeau, where something is always happening.

I couldn’t get my email to send–a problem I’m still having, so I found a FNAc store–that is where I was able to send email from Toulouse. They were really sweet and helpful in Toulouse, even though I came in and hadn’t bought my computer there, they stuck with me for about 20 minutes till it miraculously sent. With my Mac laptop, it sounds like you’re sending a paper airplane when your email goes out and I was so happy to hear that sound and to watch the emails go out!

So I went to the store in Aix and told them how I’d been able to send in Toulouse and they did the same thing–about 20 minutes of fiddling, but it still wouldn’t send. Then the guy told me to try going to another part of the store where the wifi was stronger. (Pronounced wee-fee in French.)  So I took my laptop and walked around, watching the rings of the wifi to see if it changed. Sure enough, it did. It would come in and then go out and I was just about to give up when suddenly, out went the email.

But I must have really looked funny, because a man asked me if I was looking for wifi. I told him yes. I must have looked like one of those people with metal detectors, or a water witch or something, but it worked. I’m going to find a FNAC store tomorrow and try it again.

One of the articles I’m writing from Aix is about Cezanne. He was born in Aix and lived there his whole life. He was penniless as an artist and only became famous after he died. But he did some lovely paintings and over 80 of Mount St. Victoire, a mountain just outside of Aix.

I hiked that mountain on 1/1/2000 with a group of new friends and we drank champagne at the top. Yesterday, I went to his ‘atelier’ or studio, which was a short walk out of Aix. What an inspiration. He had a whole wall of windows to let in the natural light. All his things were there, just as though he could show up at any moment. His worn leather duffle bag, his paint boxes with paint splattered all over them, his canvas folding chair that he carried around with him, his backpack that carried his easel. The garden was also peaceful and beautiful.

I also went to the Musee Granet, the local museum, and had a tour with the director. They have about 9 of Cezanne’s paintings and are going to do an exposition in 2009 with Picasso and his relationship to Cezanne. It was an amazing museum.  It had been closed for renovation when I lived there.

Today I took the TGV or fast train to Paris. It covered the distance of San Francisco to San Diego in 3 hours. What a lovely trip. I just sat and looked out the window, read, drank some tea and relaxed. When I got to Paris, I found a bus that got me back to the Latin Quarter and then hopped on another one that stopped right outside my hotel.

This one star hotel is definitely Cinderella style.  They gave me the same room I had when I arrived weeks ago, and it felt like home when I walked in. The shower is down the hall and it has barely warm water, the towels are thin and worn, the floors creaky linoleum. But it is clean and safe. I’m grateful to be here.

So much has happened since I was here last.  It has been an amazing journey. Starting with the two memorial services and then going on to such luxury and fun. It has really been a healing trip and has reinspired me to value my connection to France. When I ‘m here, amazing and magical things happen to me that don’t happen anywhere else.

Yesterday, when I was buying some apples at the open market in Aix, I felt a moment of pure happiness and contentment. Talking to the farmer, exchanging pleasantries as I gave him the right coins. I was struck by how mysterious happiness is. It comes in little spurts like that and they always feel like a gift, even a surprise. They’re unpredictible and erratic, but so welcome when they come.

And I saw how I am happy in France, even though I don’t understand why, another mystery. But I’m not going to question that anymore. I’m just going to enjoy it and count the blessings of happiness wherever they come from.

And speaking the language continues to be something that I enjoy being challenged by. And it is still a challenge. But I’m going to recommit to speaking it well. Why do it half way, I realized. I must lose at least 20 IQ points when I open my mouth here, unless they add some back in for the fact that I’m speaking a foreign language. But it is satisfying somehow. So I’m not going to question that anymore either.

I had two offers of very inexpensive places to stay in Aix if I want to come back for a while–longer than 4 days. I am going to see if I can line up a bunch of articles and spend a month there again. Four days just made me realize how much there is to enjoy there. It is a place to slow down and savor life.  ‘Prendre votre temps’, they say. Take your time.

Being back in Paris, the pace is much faster. Tomorrow, I go to the Hotel de Crillon at 10am to look at their art and antiques for an article and then to the Ritz at 2:30 pm for an article for Golf for Women–they have a 6-hole golf course there that is new.

It will be such a contrast to my place here, but then it is all Paris. I’ll take the bus over to the right bank. Heather and I stayed at the Crillon in 1994 when I was writing an article about traveling with her. We had two nights there in a suite. It was unforgettable. I’ve never been to the Ritz, so I’m excited about that. I believe both interviews will be in French, so I’m going to have to pay close attention.

I found the FNAC store today when I got off the bus after my stop and had to walk back a few streets, so will stop in there and hope they can help me to send this.  It is hard to believe I have only one more day here.

Hugs from Paris, Love,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008

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