So, since my last post, Christmas has well and truly come to Aix, along with the cold bite of the Mistral winds and even a little bit of snow! (Which lasted all of about five minutes, one day, about a week and a half ago). The festive feeling came to France quite a while ago; there's been Christmas decorations in the shops since before the end of October because they don't celebrate either Halloween or Bonfire Night here (try explaining to a European that we celebrate the 5th of November by making a model of Guy Fawkes, the man who tried to blow up our parliament, and then proceed to throw him on a giant bonfire whilst setting off all sorts of sparkly fireworks...), I just didn't mention it in my last post because I absolutely refuse to buy into it or even acknowledge it until December has begun at least. Why wish the rest of your year away?!
Enough of my Grinching though... the Aix-en-Provence Christmas market is absolutely beautiful with small wooden huts stationed all the way up the Cours Mirabeau like uniform gingerbread houses selling all sorts of things from your standard Christmassy candy canes, bonbons, mulled wine, Christmas decorations and garlands, to Corsican cured meats, tiny blown-glass necklaces in the shape of your favourite cartoon characters (I even found one in the shape of Cartman from South Park), giant multi-coloured candles bigger than anybody would ever need and old-fashioned wooden toys and puzzles, which I would buy for my brothers if I didn't already know they'd be played with once and then thrown behind the Wii/PlayStation/Xbox or used as some sort of weapon or firewood.
Image taken from Google Images.
Image taken from Google Images.
There are also stalls selling the Christmas dietary staple of barbe à papa (candy floss - literally translated it means "Daddy's beard") in all sorts of flavours, including your standard strawberry and bubblegum but, get this, Nutella as well! They are Nutella mad in this country at the most normal of times and it seems to have manifested itself in an even greater way over the Christmas period (see figure below) with even more stalls selling crêpes à Nutella, gaufres à Nutella, churros à Nutella, Nutella à Nutella... the list goes on.
France is probably the only country in which a 5kg box of Nutella would be considered a normal cadeau pour Noël.
Moving on from Nutella, but sticking with the theme of weird and wonderful French cuisine, there's yet another stall which sells macarons salés. Savoury macaroons. (Cue Peter Kay voice) Savoury. Macaroons. So far I've found flavours of smoked salmon, caviar, prawn and lemon, foie gras and, possibly the weirdest of all, bacon and goat's cheese. I haven't tried any yet (currently sticking to the norm of eating meringue and cream with sweet flavours, not that of puréed fish) but I might just have to before the festive period is over, just to say I've at least tried one thing that is deemed quintessentially French. (I say this because I was on my own in town one day and thought I'd treat myself to some real French lunch, because I'd not eaten anything like escargots or frog's legs yet, and ordered myself something that sounded particularly French... a croque monsieur. What could sound more French?! I waited fifteen minutes for it to be cooked and thought to myself "this is definitely going to be some amazing cut of beef with a sauce to die for"... it wasn't. It was ham and cheese on bloody toast. Hence why I need to try the rather bizarre-sounding macarons salés.)
As a child, Christmas in Aix must be pretty amazing because there are all of the teeth-rotting, cavity-causing goodies I mentioned above as well as rides and grabber machines! It reminds me of when my Nana Pat used to take me to the rides on Northumberland Street after a day of Christmas shopping. My absolute favourite was the big yellow and red helter skelter that seemed 100ft tall to five year-old me. There's not one on the Cours Mirabeau though, I guess the French don't like going round in circles ... (oops, better change your bureaucratic approach to things, then).
And now, as it's the second week of December, I can feel even my Grinch-y heart grow fond of hearing all the little children crying "Regarde, Maman, c'est Père Noël!" and "Quand est-ce qu'on mettre le sapin?" and I think it might be because, for the first time in four years, I do not have to set foot in a stinking retail shop to sell discounted clothes to fat families, McDonalds in hand, and middle class women out for a cheap bargain (there's a special place in hell for you if you go shopping on Boxing Day, and I mean it.) Instead, the feeling of dread has lifted and I am slowly coming to realise that I can actually enjoy Christmas this year; I'm in this wonderful town in the South of France, seeing the festive period in with all of my Erasmus friends, and then within a matter of days (we're into single figures now - my Mam's been doing me an "advent calendar" on my Facebook page!) I'll be jetting home to my Bonny Owld Newcastle to eat, drink and be merry with all the Renwicks, Mathiesons and Wilsons. Truth be told, I just want some good old English grub with my family around me. I can't wait to have some gravy, they don't even have a word for it in French! (Just, literally translated, meat juice...)
Here, to finish: have a good old Geordie chantey, which will be my theme tune for the next week and a half!