I nearly posted my first in-France entry last night, hours after arriving, but I'm glad that I didn't. Traveling here was interesting enough, but in my haze of fatigue, nothing looked even tolerable, and I couldn't be excited about living here.
But this afternoon's sun-, sea-, sugar-high made me feel at home. Nikki, my roommate, offered to show me around town a bit. The sea (that would be the Mediterranean) is just down the hill from us, and we followed the water until we got to the center of town. I'd forgotten how striking the landscape is here. When you're standing facing the water, you see not open water, but the rugged filigree of the coastline. The outline of the cliffs that rise up sharply from the sea were a bit hazy in the afternoon heat. The elusive distant peaks... some that have really craggy contours begging to be explored.
We wandered about town, Nikki showing me places I would need (bus station, post office, ice-cream shops -- ever tried melon ice-cream?), and stopped at a small cafe for a Coke.
And really stopped; stopped to talk with the proprietor and whoever that woman was hanging out. Somehow they started a conversation with us that ambled on for nearly an hour. ("You call the USA; call Barack Obama -- Barack Obama. Tell him to stop the war.") Along the way, little glass cups of tea (mint, sugar, and sugar) appeared for us to drink (later he showed us how he makes it -- 3 liters of water, 20 spoonfuls of leaf tea, 45 cubes of sugar, big handsful of fresh mint). Of course you can't have tea without something sweet to nibble, and voila, there were our pastries -- "to taste" -- light, fluffy almond and vanilla cookies, and something with I think semolina and dates. It was all lovely.
While he was on a roll, maybe because we complimented the tea glasses, he showed us each piece of artisanal crockery and decoration in the entire restaurant, most from North Africa, some that he had made -- a tile-mosaic tabletop with the name of the restaurant worked in. We eventually left, but not before he gave us each small ceramic mugs with the name of the restaurant written on them.
So I walked home in the sun by the sea with a very pleasant sugar buzz, and who could be anything but content?
Everyone has been very friendly and helpful from the moment I landed in Marseille. Stunningly friendly and helpful, really. The woman at the airport info desk was perfectly charming through several rounds of explanations about trains and buses and ticket-machines; a stranger at the train station helped me buy a ticket when my credit and debit cards weren't working (don't worry; I got that sorted); the cashier at the train station tobacco shop explained very slowly, meticulously, and repetitively the difference between the two types of phone cards; someone met me at the train station when I finally got to my town... that's not a complete listing! I could go on! So French people aren't snooty, aloof or unhelpful, agreed?
Tomorrow I buy sunscreen (after one day, I have more freckles on my arms than I ever have in my life; I'd just soon maintain my prestige as palest person in town), sign my lease (which I think is called bail in French... au contraire, don't you think?), and open a bank account. Maybe that will all be fun too...?
PS I miss you, my dear friends from home! All your Facebook & blog comments have been warmly appreciated, believe me!