I have reacted to bananas going from ripe to rotten in just a couple of days within a bowl of fruit, so I felt I had a pretty good emotional feel for the painter Paul Cezanne’s better-known subjects even before Carol and I arrived in Aix-en-Provence.
In a kind of you-can't-get-there-from-here way, the twenty-minute train trip from Avignon to Aix takes about an hour and a half. That's if you want to arrive in the center of town instead of being dumped at the high-speed station some 17 kilometers outside of it. So you first head south to Marseille then back North to Aix, in coach and across from two chatty French ladies, one of whom cheerfully decided to expand their mind-numbing conversation to include Carol and I. Unlike me, Carol does not exude rudeness when being drawn into banal chit-chat, but by the time we hit Aix, she was pushing me out of the way to bolt that train as fast as possible.
We were here for the Cezanne historical museum, but found ourselves in the middle of a market day and a town center completely under construction. It appeared to be a makeover from quaint belle epoque to something akin to a Provence version of Gatlinburg. After tasting truffles, which were Italian white instead of the authentic Provencal black, we abandoned this Vanity Fair for the more authentic Cezanne walking tour.
We became promptly and profoundly lost until I noticed Cezanne markers embedded in the sidewalks (you see, Carol, it does pay to always walk looking down rather than up), and we followed those until they inexplicably stopped nowhere near the museum. A policeman helpfully pointed us in the right direction, explaining in the international language of head shakes, shrugs and ominous finger pointing that we were still a half hour and a straight up a hill schlog away. Luckily, an American happened along, and explained in pitch perfect English that she had no clue where the museum was.
By this time, I was in favor of an early happy hour, but Carol is more objective-driven, so we plowed onward and upward until GPS figured out where we were, and we arrived at Cezanne's actual studio, where after a 30 minute wait for a tour conducted entirely in French, we could see this was not the museum we were trying to find. Instead, we stood utterly bewildered in a small studio that housed only a digital montage of Cezanne still lifes. While the docent prattled on unintelligibly, I stared at one of the master's bowls of fruit until I swear I saw the bananas turn brown before my eyes.
A travel Samaritan assisted us getting back to the train station by bus, even to walking us out of her way and practically all the way to station door. It was one of those random acts of generosity that always endear the foreign traveler to the local population. But then who do we see walking just ahead of us into the station, but the same two Chatty Marie's that had managed to annoy even Carol on the trip in. We quickly executed a couple of feints that got us ahead of them and onto a forward enough car that their four creaking legs would most certainly not take them.
The last image I had of one of them was of her entering our car as the trained huffed off, with her catching my gaze icy with rude dismissal, and her turning quickly back to another car. It was the first time Carol truly appreciated my non-social side. Plus it proved that it does pay at times to look up.