“I need to go to the loo!” muttered my sister-in-law as we emerged from the underground car park in the centre of Aix-En-Provence. I nodded my agreement and suggested we stop for a drink before starting our search for the santons. The trip down had gone quickly enough, but we had just spent an hour trying to park. An hour! We pushed through the crowds and made our way towards a bar, before sitting down at a table outside a chic, but unpretentious bar. We gazed at the throngs weaving amongst the ochre facades that dominated Aix with their quiet elegance and searched for a waiter.
15 minutes later, there was still no sign of a waiter for us or anybody else. “Let’s try our luck inside” I said, but as I walked in I gulped. A chandelier that would have filled my entire kitchen, hung from the ceiling and beautifully dressed people, with large sunglasses perched in perfectly highlighted hair, lounged in velvet armchairs. I eased myself behind a table, feeling conspicuous in my jeans and cowboy boots, but nobody gave us a second glance.
I looked at my watch. Still no sign of anyone to take our order. Did the amount of waiters diminish with the exclusiveness of the bar? At this rate we wouldn’t have time to look at the santons. Our trip down to Provence to visit a Foire aux santons, was an annual event. It was a chance to find a couple of new clay figurines to decorate the Provencal crib scene that I put up every Christmas, and also to spend some time in a place with more than three hundred inhabitants.
So much for the city I thought, as I cursed myself for not leaving home earlier. The realization that I had finally sunk to the country bumpkin status that my British friends had accused me of years ago hit me with full force. I am a town girl, born and bred, but somehow I hadn’t given a thought to traffic jams, parking, crowds and the fact that you can’t hurry the French. Especially on a Saturday afternoon.
“Shall we go?” whispered my sister-in-law after another five minutes “we’re not going to have enough time otherwise.” I nodded and followed her out, annoyed that we hadn’t been served, but secretly relieved that I hadn’t had to blow my entire santon budget on hot chocolate.
Beautifully written, as always. But I do think that the number of waiters decrease with the fanciness of the bar. I’ve no idea why, but I suspect it is partly to intimidate…and it works! I avoid those places…I always feel out of place, no matter how put together I thought I looked before I left home.
So if you’re a country bumpkin, am I, too. And I live in the city!!
Grr. I hope you attained your santons. Will await your next post.
I hope you at least got to use the loo!
I would have definitely used their loo!
I have to agree with Heidi above…would love to see those santons, they sound fabulous!
I am a country girl living in the big city and I still forget things like rush hour, parking, and bad service. I’m glad you saved your money for something far better.
I have often felt conspicuous in situations like that, even when well dressed, as though they could see right through me and know that I am uncomfortable in high heels and really belong in cowboy boots.
I’ve never heard of Santon so your story sent me on a search to find out more. Do you buy one or two figures each year and build up a collection? Is this a long standing tradition? In the U.S. we have some figurines called Byers Choice Carolers that are collectibles. Religious families have nativity figurines displayed in their homes.
Cheers to you for the cowboy boots!
Ah yes – the santons! I lived in Aix for 14 years before being dragged here and in all that time, I never bought a santon, thinking I had the rest of my life to get around to building my crèche.
Never did get around to it though. Perhaps I’ll make the (3 hour!) trip one day and buy those santons a last…