10 June 2011

hello, aix

"So here is the town, founded more than two thousand years ago by the brash Roman invaders, on much older ruins which still stick up their stones and artifacts. I was as brash a newcomer to it, and yet when I first felt the rhythm of its streets and smelled its ancient smells, and listened at night to the music of its many fountains, I said, "Of course," for I was once more in my own place, an invader of what was already mine."

So says MFK Fisher in Map of Another Town, this quietly poetic love letter to Aix-en-Provence in southern France.

I used to live there, in that town founded by brash invaders, and reading MFK's words, all I can say is: yes.

Yes, that's just how I feel about Aix.

Yes, I wish I'd written that.

Yes, I believe that MFK and I would be best friends, should we ever meet, which could be difficult since she passed away in 1992.

And maybe we wouldn't have been best friends: actually, I'd prefer it if she were my mentor, teaching me the art of enjoying the moment.

How to relish food and conversation and long walks and finding surprises around the everyday corner of life.

How to write about a place that became so much a part of who you are—that simply seeing its name on a map can feel like you're home.

Because that's how I feel about Aix.

I picked up Map of Another Town at the library on Wednesday night, along with an armful of travel books about southern France.

I'm going back. I'm going home. At least to one of my homes, and the travel books are to help me prepare on a practical level.

And MFK is to help me prepare my heart.

Question: Do you have a writer—or writers—who seem to say everything you were thinking? But they say it better? {I feel like that with Laurie Colwin and MFK Fisher and a little bit with Anne Lamott: I read their writing and say, "Why are you stealing my ideas? And how did you manage to write them first? I hate you. And love you."}

Another Question: Do you have a place—or places—like Aix? How do you think that place managed to dig so deeply into you?

A Note about the Questions: You don't have to answer these; I'm just curious. I won't make being my friend or following my blog conditional upon you responding. But it'd be nice to know I'm not alone in my literary crushes. {Subtext: Please help me feel not alone.}


  1. When I was in Peru in 2007, I did a two-day horseback trek into the mountains around Cuzco. We camped overnight in a tiny Incan ruin, our tent pitched on a terrace ringed with the foundations of ancient stone walls. The ruin was just above a little cluster of herders' mud-walled huts.

    We rode into the area at sunset. The shadows grow fast in the mountains and the temperature was dropping quickly. We were huddled a bit miserably on our horses, hats pulled low over our ears, collars popped -- and then we rounded a bend and there was the little ruin and the scattering of huts tucked into a fold between hills, with the last of the sunlight rushing away. I felt instantly like I'd just returned home from a long journey: at last, at last. It was such a strange, bittersweet feeling. A shock of recognition in a place I'd never been.

  2. Rachel!

    Wow. What a moment. And what a description of that moment.

    Thank you for sharing. I especially love the quick transition you experienced from a bit miserable to home, to feeling like you were home.



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