It’s been a month now in Avignon, and although the hours in my lifeless classes drag with the pace of a limp corpse, time seems to be flying by in all other aspects.
The past fortnight has taken us on an exploration through more of Provence. We’ve so far visited Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Arles – the city in which Vincent van Gogh lived and painted many of his famous pieces, and also gifted a local prostitute with a chunk of bloody ear. Sitting by the Rhône river in 26 degrees is my new favourite thing to do on a Monday afternoon in October, and certainly beats watching fag-butts drowning in murky old Regents Canal. The weekend of Marseille and Aix visiting our other QM Erasmus friends was a well-needed breath of fresh air, finally leaving our walled-in city and replacing it with a landscape of sparkling Mediterranean ocean, followed by a night out in the fountain-filled mini-Paris that is Aix.
One thing that has really struck me about France is the painfully blatant and unapologetic sexism. The golden rule here is that you do not walk alone at night, especially if you are a girl. I can see exactly why: the streets at night are dotted with lecherous men lurking in the shadows or outside shops in intimidating groups. They have this ridiculous way of filling up the pavement leaving only a tiny gap for you to pass through so that you can practically feel their breath on your neck, with their repulsive butchering of the English language as they talk to you in their Borat-esque accents. It’s additionally frustrating when you don’t know enough French to put them in their place with a sassy verbal backhander.
To add to our irritation, the women here don’t seem to be particularly forward-thinking in the feminism department either. When asked in class what differences between France and England were most striking, my friend responded with this issue of the gross and slimy men we have encountered. The female teacher, to our horror, replied with ‘well, what were you wearing? Were you wearing short skirts?’. Very infuriating. It was already evident that time had forgotten this university, but this really took the piss.
But, on the whole, life here is très bon indeed. I finally feel like I’m sinking into the relaxed way of life here in the South of France. My London walk has reduced to a gentle stroll, my lunches are slower, evenings run later and (although there’s no real change here) my wine intake is colossal. I’ve even managed to acquire feline company some evenings when a big fat ginger cat visits through my bedroom window – a definite highlight so far. It’s also gotten to the more exciting stage of Erasmus when the admin is sorted and time for travelling has properly begun, with plans for Nice, Montpellier, Nimes, Lyon and Paris on the cards so far. If our limited loan will allow, that is. But that’s what overdrafts are for.