In France's Aix-en-Provence, nicknamed "The City of 1,000 Fountains," we tirelessly sought out their celebrated symbols of overflowing abundance & watery romance. And, after wandering 5 kilometers or so along the Cours Mirabeau, with labeled brochure in hand, we saw approximately 12 of them. Four of which worked. Or, anyhow, held water.
Yet & still, Aix did add to our fonts of knowledge - in the abstract form of spontaneous math exercises: Kids, what's the probability we'll see actual cascading droplets at the next one? "Mom, that's not a fair question," they figured. "Do trickles count?" "What about algae buildup?"
But what we were really there for was Paul Cézanne. This was his hometown. His artsy, if brick paved & congested, turf. We saw the houses where he lived. Or visited. Or probably stopped in front of. Or even might have painted, had he ever felt like it. It was moving, all right... and just like Cézanna ho!, we were anxious to move out & into the surrounding Pays d'Aix to see the natural places that inspired him instead.
So we stopped at the city's L'Office de Tourisme, the sure way to save time & get the definitive answer to our pressing query which no internet site or guidebook seemed to know: Where is Cézanne's studio?
"A little ways down Cours Mirabeau," they informed us.
1 kilometer? 2? 3?
They nodded agreeably, "Oui."
Yet, after a couple of hours & the disturbing disappearance of those shiny Cézanne route symbols along the promenade, we astutely surmised "A little ways" required more than a stroll.
We slogged back to the car, drove out of the old city & stopped at the outlying regional welcome center. Again we asked, Where is Cézanne's studio?
"A little ways down Cours Mirabeau," they explained.
1 kilometer? 2? 3?
They nodded agreeably, "Oui."
So on we went, several more kilometers until the dense ville gave way to a last building on the outskirts of the suburbs. Ah, this must be it! After reversing & finding a parking spot about a half mile back, plus dodging oncoming traffic because apparently we'd also discovered Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, we triumphantly walked in. To a hospital clinic.
But, for the Lauves of Paul, we wouldn't give up! (We're so studio-us.)
And, indeed, we eventually determined that they'd been right. It was a little ways back down Cours Mirabeau. Then turn right onto Boulevard Carnot, turn a slight left onto Cours Saint-Louis, hang another left onto Boulevard Aristide Briand, turn right onto Avenue Pasteur, U-turn onto Avenue Paul Cézanne and "Oui," there you are, a little ways down Cours Mirabeau. "C'est simple, non?"
Grateful to have finally arrived, we were only mildly disconcerted by the fact that there was no parking lot. Or that when Chris ran inside to ask, the staff directed us to the back of an apartment complex where we were, no exaggeration, greeted by an old woman tossing dirty water out of a second floor window (aha! more of those famous fountains?), a man in a soiled undershirt emerging from a rusty car resting upon two very flat tires and a premium, if unmarked, spot reserved especially for L'Atelier Cézanne customers, wedged between a dumpster & piles of broken glass.
We'll take it!
We then excitedly picked our way through littered shrubbery to dash across the highway & through the studio's gate just in the nick of time, deftly avoiding the rumbling trucks that sped around the curve and were about the only vehicles heading out of town down this otherwise empty road. Well now, this was excitement!
Once inside the yard's thick walls, we casually paused. Yes, to try to sense Cézanne, the Master's, presence. And/or to catch our breath while thoughtfully reconsidering the standing (loitering) offer of those friendly 10 year old security guards who'd circled round to attentively watch our car. No doubt well versed in foreign tourists' language barriers, they didn't bother to ask, but willingly accepted the self-appointed job as they'd been outside finishing off their cigarette stubs anyway.
Ambling down the extremely well trod dirt paths of the garden, Katrianna was enchanted by its shady turns & twists & hide 'n seek possibilities. She delightfully darted behind brambles, trees, low stone walls, a tool shed, mounds of squishy mud, piles of exposed pvc piping, several extra large clay vases and a few forgotten & discarded crackedpots of various shapes and sizes (and nationalities) strewn about the garden. All waiting impatiently, like us, for timed admittance into the house.
Buuutttt it wasn't fair, 'cuz we were there first! Followed by two pairs of straggling couples & some nerdy art lovers. We all bought tickets for the next entry. And then a busload of a tour group descended. Assuming that we weren't fluent speakers -- not exactly erroneously, btw, although a few tense (past perfect) moments don't necessarily preclude one's ability to comprehend others who can speak French well enough -- the tour leader conferred with the admissions' director who agreed to let the whole bunch, sans reservations, go ahead of the rest of us. She then explained to us that this was unavoidable since they'd scheduled their tour far in advance, "comprenez-vous?" Before retreating to the outdoor patio to continue a much more satisfying conversation française with Cézanne's cat, I thought 'En principe, oui, je comprends, bien sûr!' but elected not to say anything lest I garble a vowel & thereby risk losing her respect.
We'd experienced this sort of group mentality in Europe before and would again (and again). The interests of the many consistently outweigh recognizing the value or desires of individuals. Admittedly, theirs is nearly the antithesis of that stereotypically selfish American mindset. You know, like the American practice of allowing a person with 3 or 4 items to skip ahead of those with full carts in line at the grocery store... or stopping at an intersection to let someone make a left turn against heavy traffic. Quite often, we actually choose to inconvenience the majority, if necessary, to pay common courtesy to the few. (Yeah, yeah, I realize those are pretty trivial examples... but, evidently, what we Yanks might construe to be "grand gestures," like, say, lending a hand during WWI and II, don't really count all that much.) Thank goodness there are still places left in the world that don't cater to such blatant preferential treatment.
Moreover, I'm obligated to add, it wasn't fare either. Especially for us. At many tourist sites throughout Europe, we discovered that Americans have to pay a different, higher price of admission. We arrive on their welcoming shores with no European Union citizen benefit &, as they say, pay the price. Of course, we learned -- thanks to that additional thirty minute wait which provided plenty of time to peruse the tourist offices' informational pamphlets -- that Cézanne's studio wouldn't even be there if Americans - two guys & the 114 donors they recruited - hadn't saved it in 1952, restored it and then donated it to the Université d'Aix-Marseille. Shouldn't that entitle us to some sort of discount? Or at least make
So, in the spirit of international cooperation, I'd like to propose that when people from the EU visit our Smithsonian Institution, for instance, which has always been free to all Americans & the rest of the world, too, we begin checking passports and assessing Europeans a reasonable 10 euros per room (600 sq ft) surcharge, generously applying the going rate at l'Atelier Cézanne. By my calculations, that would make a regular priced EU-exclusive-privileges-only ticket to see the National Air and Space Museum a very fair €5570 (or $7947 after converting for today's exchange rate of 1.4268, variable customary service fee not included). This equitable policy aligns nicely with their disdain for greedy capitalism & fits snugly into a socialist redistribution of wealth system, plus could very well be the US' answer to eliminating our national debt. (Remember, the Smithsonian alone has 19 museums!) Oh, and they'd be let in promptly, as soon as everyone else, as a group, was done.
Meanwhile, back at Lauves studio, both the brochures & our esteemed directeur predicted the time to 'take it all in' when we ultimately ascended that stairway to art heaven: 30 minutes. They were absolutely correct, once you divide that number by 10. Three minutes & we were done. We lingered another 6 or 7, so as not to appear unappreciative, but fyi, for itinerary planning purposes, it's safe to allocate 5 minutes, give or take 30 seconds.
For what it's worth, the rest of our Route de Cézanne tour was très magnifique! Not only was it essentially free, minus several liters of gazole, it was blissfully empty of crowds & tourists. And was scenic, relaxing & fun. It seemed we'd gotten all of the hard times out of the way: A time to get lost, our time it did cost, a time to get had, a time to feel sad... plus all of those "Turn, Turn, Turn" refrains that just about drove me -- not to mention the car's gearshift -- crazy (ok, so perhaps I had a bit of an Aix to grind back there).
But now we were left with only the good times to be had in the rolling Pays d'Aix & could finally appreciate the unencumbered beauty of the fall-ing for Cézanne. Now there was a time for cordial chatting with Le Tholonet's mill-turned-art gallery curators and a time to pause at the crossroads of Beaurecueil, a time for exploring up & around Mt. Sainte-Victoire and ample time to easily locate his other favorite painting haunts. Mostly, there was time to absorb the sights of the pines' deep green needles stretching into the sky's cloudy blues, contrasting in sunlight-refracted rectangles with the meadows' oranges & the rocky reds. All within view of his beloved mountain, which he described, with each painting of its changeable nature, as the expression & illustration of his own soul. Enfin, we'd caught up with Cézanne's spirit & Victoire was ours!