As the saying goes, let us not say goodbye, but as the French have it, “Au Revoir!”, two words laced with the promise of a return, rather than the abject finality that accompanies the English alternative. Perhaps it is the romance of the French language which encourages such optimism in an otherwise sad parting, or the mere fact that the charm of France makes saying goodbye a near impossibility. Whatever the reason, as we prepared to bid Aix, and Provence farewell at the end of this incredible Provençal Odyssey, we knew, instinctively, that some day we would return. For despite the decent length of our journey, and the multiple sights seen and senses tickled, these days felt like a mere taster of a gigantic feast of pleasure still left undiscovered in Southern France, and for that reason alone, the assurance of a return tends towards reality.
With that ounce of optimism giving us back some bounce in our otherwise sad last steps in the incredible city of Aix, we were minded, as ever, to make the most of our last hours in the city, strolling, at times aimlessly, at others with purpose, in an attempt to take in the very last essence of this place before our departure.
We started our day, perhaps rather morbidly, but yet appropriately I think, by following the last section of the city’s “Cézanne trail” towards the Cemetery of Saint Pierre where the great artist is buried. The visit felt appropriate, not just because, as the final resting place of so many people, it became somewhat symbolic of the end of our Provençal journey, but also because, having been inspired to visit Provence by the significant artistic connections it carries, it felt only right that we would pay homage to the father of them all in his final place of peace; a note of thanks to the father of modern art.
I’ve always rather liked cemeteries, particularly those in the Mediterranean, baked as they are by the glorious sunshine, yet emitting peace and tranquility amongst the shadows of dark cypress trees and pines. This cemetery was no different, providing an almost mesmeric experience as one walked from one elegant grave to another, aware of a family’s sadness in the multiple lives lost here, yet also feeling strangely at peace, somehow contented by the final rest of so many. The cemetery was much bigger than I had supposed, and looking up hill towards the far reaches of the site made for an incredible vista of crosses and little family mausoleums, collectively appearing like a great wave of stone and symbols.
It took us some time to find the grave of Cézanne, a difficulty not helped by the lack of proper signage and the fact that he lies under a surprisingly innocuous gravestone when compared with many of his neighbours’ lavishly decorated headstones, and also strangely devoid of flowers or tributes from other visitors. This is perhaps testament to the sad lack of respect his city had for him in life, and yet he can lie in peace knowing how incredibly significant his life’s work has been for the art world since. Putting at least the lack of flowers to rights, I lay a simple sheaf of lavender upon his grave, feeling at that moment a great connection with the artistic heritage laid down by this man, an artist so often misunderstood but whose genius will live on forever, both in his own work and the work of countless others who followed in his wake.
Heading back to civilisation for a final encounter with Aix’s bustling centre, we also felt as though we were resurrecting Cézanne along side us as we headed back to the world of the living. For strolling one last time down Aix’s most prominent avenue, the Cours Mirabeau, with its almost unbroken shelter of plane trees, we dropped in to the Café Les Deux Garçons, the very café where Cézanne would sit each evening to enjoy an aperatif, and where we now went about sipping our last coffee in Aix, gazing upon the chic residents of this city strolling past, breathing the warm fragrant air of Provence, and already planning how, and when we would return to this incredible part of France.
And with that our Odyssey ended; a finale effected with such efficiency that it was almost as though our story ended just as it had begun. For with holidays like this, each and everyone of us has the opportunity to truly live a dream, and when, like any dream, you walk amongst the pages of its imagination, it feels so real – like there is no other world beyond. But as with every dream, at some point you must awaken, as reality floods back in with the harsh light of day. And so it was that our Odyssey ran dry at last, and London life took hold once again. But not completely. For with this blog, through my paintings, my photographs, and of course the sachets of lavender now to be found placed strategically around my flat, the essence of our Provençal Odyssey still lives on, and will continue to do so, sewing itself into the rich patchwork quilt of our memories which will continue giving us comfort for years to come.
Thank you all so much for reading and sharing in our journey. But it’s not quite over yet – come back tomorrow for my last Provence photo collection. Until then.
The Cours Mirabeau
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