Wednesday, May 19, 2010

La Prochaine Sortie (The Next Exit)

Aix-en-Provence, France

We’ve been waiting for this day!? Oh Mon Dieu, the drive to Aix; two women and a rented Citroen with “Picasso” blazoned on its red paint. Under threatening skies, spitting rain, and two Michelin maps larger than me we got in the car and started the engine.

Driving in France is like speaking the language: only the rules, nuance, and idioms can make you understood. In our car there is no “P“ for park because stopping the engine automatically puts it in “P“, “N” starts the car, but only with the foot on the brake, and “A” indicates the automatic transmission that the car must be in to move forward. Mary and I often confuse verb tenses when we try to speak French and trying to go in reverse in “Monsieur Picasso Rouge (red)” is the same. Every time we put the car in reverse the wind shield is sprayed with fluid and simultaneously the wipers go on at a rapid, frantic pace. At first we were startled, then dumbfounded, and finally thrown into laughing fits every time it happened. We aren’t fluent, but we get by.

On American freeways you see signs that lead you to the exit: the first proclamation is at two miles, and the polite countdown begins until you are a quarter of a mile away. On French toll roads “La Procahine Sortie” means the next exit, but because "next" isn’t a way to mark miles you can grow old and forgetful getting to it.

I am happy to say that we made it to the small town of Boit to see the Leger museum, drove out of town, got back on the freeway to Antibe and negotiated city center traffic during the lunch rush hour. We went to Antibe to see the Picasso museum, but we failed to find it. After many circles around the city center we said, “the hell with it”, found the toll road and continued after a rest stop to refuel ourselves with a thin whisper of a tuna sandwich and bottles of water. With the specific driving directions and photos of the intersections to our hotel from Google maps, Voila!. We arrived at the hotel by 2:30.

Oh, we are proud of ourselves!

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