Monday, December 2, 2013

The Sights and Sounds of Christmas

   I was told of a lovely Christmas chorale gathering in Aix en Provence by an expat living there so we made another trip to this city that I am becoming more and more fond of.
   It is a very pretty, small city. I have to assume it is home to a higher income population than other parts of Provence as there are fine shops, restaurants and stores catering to those that have money to spend. The Cours Mirabeau is always clean and decorated tastefully and the small, meandering streets that branch off from the main drag are lined with shops that lead to open courtyards with daily markets, cafes and towering shade trees.
  It was Sunday so most of the shops were closed, but on December 1st, the Christmas Market began. In the cities, these go on all month. Smaller towns have their own, one-day markets where vendors set up stalls selling all sorts of Christmas gifty things. The markets that are set up for the month are in wooden chalets and decorated with lights, tinsel and cheer. The most popular booth in Aix was the one selling Hot Wine and in fact, it was a German booth with pretzels and other German fare that I don't know.
   The French have these wonderful, small figures called Santons. They are made of clay and are to make a creche scene. There are people, animals, furniture, windmills that spin, water wells that pump water, barns with lights and so on. You could collect for years and spend a fortune filling a room with a whole village scene.
   We made our way to the church that hosted the concert. It was an international Christian group that put on the show. The church is a spectacular sight with origins from the 1st century. By the beginning of the 13th century, Aix became the capital of Provence and the population and importance of the city grew. The church, being a center of every town, developed into this incredible Gothic monument. The artwork is unbelievable, ancient and truly moving, even for a complete novice like me. The carvings and sculptures on the exterior as well as the immense, wooden doors carved in 1500 are fabulous.
   Then, the music began...all in English! My kids were thrilled-except youngest child who slept through the whole thing. The pastor asked where the congregation was from,- about 30% stood from Great Britain, maybe 30% from France then the remaining 40% were American. It was nice to be surrounded by so many of "our people", even for just a couple of hours.
   We wandering back through the lit streets with carnival rides and the city buzz producing a wonderful, energetic feeling to kick off the holiday season right. Yes, living in a city like Aix would be easier for us in many respects, but would provide a much different experience that we are having now. Yes, there are fierce challenges to our daily life in rural France, but the hurdles we overcome and bonding we work on will reward us for our lifetimes.
Flutes, Drums and Traditional Musis 
The most popular booth 
Bechard- a fabulous patisserie
Trying to decide 
Just one of the specialized shops in Aix
Buzzing along 
A city aglow

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