Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Now broadcasting from the south of France...

Just to explain a little better where I am: Arles is a small city in the southwest of France, where cultures of France, Italy, Spain and others combine. Arles is in Provence (called Provence because, literally, it was a province of Rome), which is gorgeous countryside where the land is dry at the foothills of the Alps and where flamingos, bulls and small horses wander freely or under the watch of the Camargue (the name of the Provence countryside) cowboys. The skies are extremely blue and it is hot hot hot here. Wild lavender flanks the sides of the tiny roads that connect one small provencal town to another.

There are no suburbs here. Each town is contained by the original batiments, fortresses and walls that protected it. To get to another town usually takes about a half hour or more. Arles is separated in two by the Rhone River. On the side where I am staying, it is older with the original city walls and Roman ruins (an arena, a theatre and a forum). On the other side there is newer housing and one particularly good patisserie that sells pastries (read: culinary works of art). Outside my hotel room I can see both the Rhone and the old Roman bridge that was at some point destroyed. All that remains of it are the large lions on either side of the Rhone, greeting travelers of the Roman roads to Arles since the lion is Arles's symbol.

For those of you who traveled to France with me before, the closest city to Arles is Nimes, where I will be going soon enough for a music festival. The quickest city to get to by train is Avignon, which only takes 20 mins to get to. We visited Avignon yesterday and toured the Papal Palace and then suffered in the heat, drinking lots of water and wilting under the tarped street cafes. Those of you who were in Avignon with me before would be glad to know that the Hotel Bristol is still there and in fine condition, as is Le Forum where we had dinner and the carousel.

Arles is beautiful. I'm sure the people who live here are used to hearing that and don't think much of it when people say that, but it's truly gorgeous. The streets all lead to the old section of town, where there is le Place du Forum and le Place du Republique. Even today, the Place du Republique is the center of governmental things in Arles. There is a large fountain and obelisk there as well. Le Place du Forum is the tourist and social center, and has quickly become where we all eat. In the middle of the forum, something like a dozen cafes have their tables, all covered by huge yellow, orange and green tarps. I discovered an ice cream place there, which is bound to be the end of me
In other news, I only have class Tuesday and Thursday from 9-12. Everything is ridiculously hot here, so after class and eating at a restaurant, I either escape to my air conditioned room or bear the heat to wander the streets some. I was thinking today how funny it is that there's just these incredible Roman ruins hanging out here; no Arlesians think much of them, but they're amazing. The school I take classes in is a coll├Ęge, or middle school, that is a converted 16th century church. The kids are still in school. When we walk by, they all whisper in French about us. There is a constant hushed whisper that follows us around the school.

Neither of my professors know English, so that can make for interesting times. More at lunch than in the classroom. We eat in restaurants around the city with the entire group, including the professors... So if you think conversations at High Table at Willard or with professors in general can be awkward at times, try adding a massive language barrier. It is pretty fun though, and really informative, eating with the professors. Today I learned about French newspapers and which ones are socialist, communist, etc. from a professor.

There are three large differences here in Arles as compared with either Evanston or Lebanon.
1. Everyone gets up really early. Maybe I am only missing this back home because I have a slight tendency to sleep in, but... EVERYONE here is up by 8, seemingly, out at the patisseries or running errands. It is literally too hot to do those things later in the day. Lots of stores close from 2-4 pm, in fact.
2. Men are forward. I already knew that, but I forgot how forward they are...Not just Will You Have a Drink?, but Will You Have a Drink and if Not I Will Follow You Around in Case You Change Your Mind. I have not been out once, literally not once, where someone hasn't approached me. Fortunately, I haven't had the problems some girls have (like men waiting outside doors for them for many hours).
3; There are dogs everywhere.

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