The sun was up and busy when I left Medville, shining his warmth on nearly-spent mimosas, just-starting almond trees, and drying the feet of vines in water-logged vineyards.
Traffic was light since tourists have not arrived yet and the preparations for their visit by an array of artisans and worker bees had started at dawn, leaving me the road to enjoy.
To get on A8 to Aix, the highway that parallels the old Roman Aurelian Way, one must cross the Massif des Maures, the oldest mountains in the south east, folded on itself, slowly pushed into, and swallowed by the Med. In a couple of million years—barring cataclysms—it should be gone.
But for now, it stands, and driving between Grimaud and Le Luc is a thrill and a half: Two-lane narrow road, tight S curves, hairpin turns, rock outcrops, missing shoulders and deep ditches are the static challenges; cyclists and on coming traffic the moving ones.
Starting at the last dip coming out of Grimaud, direction La Garde Freinet, comes a sharp left followed by a steep climb, and I am in the zone.
The road challenges me to keep an even speed, to hug my lane or to straighten the curve when safe… to drive consciously and fully as fast as I can. The car becomes an extension of my body. In the summer I take off my shoes and drive barefoot. Hands, arms, shoulders, back, thighs, and knees in turns flex, tense, relax, and lean into the joy of motion and speed.
I know the road well now. I know which blind turn flows into another, when to slow down before the curve, where cyclists could scare me, when a bus could be in my lane as soon as I round the corner, and I know when to accelerate in a tight climbing curve to hug my lane. I am aware; on the edge, a bit on the wild side but on this side of control.
The sun, to my left, beaming on the dark forest and the tangle of oaks and brambles then on heather and blooming gorse with a change in altitude, was a distraction. At times he would light up a lake, or the silver ribbon of a river, perhaps an outcrop of rocks that reminded me of Arizona.
He slowed me down, took me off my game, forced me to look for a place to stop and take in the feast he was spreading. See it, smell it, taste it. I did several times, absorbing it all and humming with contentment.
But I had a date with Aix.
Hugs and affection were waiting for me along with gurgling fountains, cafes invading narrow streets and crowding hidden squares, students from who knows where milling about and the occasional musician.
When I arrived, Aix had a surprise for me: Market day.
Flowers and produce were strutting their colours and aromas; used books stalls enticed a visual and tactile perusal. There was gaudy jewelry to enchant the little girl’s soul, fabrics and leather to dazzle the woman’s. Ali Baba’s cave was emptied in a hundred white tents along Le Cours Mirabeau just to tempt and seduce. Smiles and noises, conversations and laughter threads hung in the air in a rhapsody to life…
And I found two pairs of shoes. Aix has my heart.