July 5, 2005

Five years ago today, I was in Aix-en-Provence, and I took this photo (among others):


It was the middle of the July soldes (sales), which is a hellish time for native or traveler. What seemed like the entirety of Great Britain descended upon every French town of a certain size to take advantage of prices which, honestly, were not that big of a deal.


I seem to remember noticing, upon my immediate arrival in Aix, how friendly and courteous the people I met seemed to be. How quickly that changed. Once the shoppers swarmed the place, I was snapped at, shoved along, and actually yelled at more than at any other time or place during my French travels. Even then I couldn’t blame them. The shoppers were rude and they were everywhere. I stayed in some days just to avoid them. American travelers get a bad rap, but we can’t possibly be as bad as that. Even if we drink and laugh too loud, at least we’re friendly. And I never thought that this would be an actual complaint, but the sun was always so, so bright that it was often hard to see.


Of course it didn’t help that it was one of the hottest summers on record, and the locals seemed neither to realize the merit of air conditioners nor of window screens. After muggy, headache-inducing days, I slept in a small, hot room with wooden shutters clamped tight for fear of the evil Provencal moustiques. As a result, I felt sick at least 75% of the time I spent in Provence.


Someday I want to go back and give it a fair shot. I think it would have to be as cold as November first, though. I think the reason there are so many fountains in the city is that it’s so tempting to just dunk yourself on any given sweltering day. I saw it happen more than once.


Today I’m in a basement in DC almost equally lacking in air conditioning and with mosquitoes almost as fierce. The Weather Channel’s web site tells me it’s nearly fifteen degrees cooler today in Aix than it is DC, but at 98 degrees, it still doesn’t feel as hot here as I remember it feeling then. Hindsight isn’t always 20/20.


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