I’ve been living in Aix-en-Provence for three weeks now and haven’t been able to write a damn thing about it. That’s right – three whole weeks in the city that inspired so many hundreds of paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing on multiple occasions. The city that some refer to as “the city of art and light.” The city famous for lavender fields and homemade almonds, crushed into a paste in the Provençal Callisons. The city that’s dripping with honey, Nutella and cultural nuances. The city that has a different type of market every single day, selling everything from kitchen appliances to homemade spoon jewelry.
Culture and history surround every inch of this city, and yet here I sit next to my 5-foot high window, watching the wind blow the light beige curtains onto my desk, starting out at the city of Aix, uninspired.
It’s not so much that Aix doesn’t have enough beauty to write about. It’s not that I’m caught in the shuffle to and from classes and permanently seated in the library. It’s the opposite.
How can I accurately articulate the unique scent of lavender, espresso and cigarettes that hangs in my room right before I go to sleep? Or the noise from motorcycles zipping through the too-narrow streets and how it’s somehow louder than New York City traffic on a Friday night? Or the life that happens in front of me every single day – the homeless woman that holds a cardboard sign reading “S.V.P,” the intercultural festivals that bring people onto the street at 9 a.m. to dance the Bachata, the cobblestone streets filled with young French students kissing each other on both cheeks in greeting and shouting, “bisou, bisou” in parting.
And how could I truthfully describe the feeling of hanging 120 feet in the air with nothing but a thin rope keeping me alive? Or the heart-stopping moment when my foot slipped while rock climbing against the side of the mountain? Or the view of the gorgeous water and the young French kids zipping around in kayaks?
I cannot. I could write a novel describing each and every activity I do, every cultural nuance I encounter, every life that resonates as I walk by, and I probably still wouldn’t have enough time or pages. Describing the distinct sound of heels against cobblestone, the lilt of the mellifluous French language and the church bell that tolls every hour would take up 20 pages in itself.
And I’m not sure if I could describe it that I would want to. Aix is worth more than a secondhand account. It needs to be lived and breathed. It needs to be experienced and not summed up by a 20-year-old college student with a pen in hand. It needs to be tasted, slowly, like trying a certain flavor of wine for the first time. It can’t be explained or described – it can only be felt, seen and heard firsthand to truly understand its writer’s block inducing magic.