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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Back to Avignon

It's almost midnight and almost time for the Eiffel tower to do its thing. Its been one more day in Parisian paradise. I've gotten to the point where I enjoy the little things,  like having my breakfast of yogurt and fruit, and the the typical French packaged biscuits, which I eat with butter and orange marmalade. Or trying to understand the news in French.  I am content to look out the window and not get going until later. I don't feel the need to cram in as many museums as possible, even though I am here for a week this time, not a month like my last visit. I just like being here.

I never eat crackers with butter and jam at home. But I always have it when I am in France. It dates back to my first trip to Europe 50 years ago. I travelled with a small group of girls. We went by train from Paris to Rome, Florence, and Venice, and then spent a month living in Avignon with host families. By host family, I mean in my case an elderly widowed woman. I realize that in saying elderly, i mean a woman who was likely younger than i am now. FIFTY years! It feels more like a dream to me now than something that really happened.

I have a few memories of that trip, one of which is eating crackers  with butter and orange marmalade for breakfast, along with coffee in  bowls, rather than cups or mugs. I know some people here still do that. As for the biscuits with butter and jam, I don't know if that is very typical or just happened to be what my host grandmother served. The biscuits themselves, though, are readily available in the supermarket.

I called this entry Back to Avignon to refer both to trying to get back to writing about my great week, last week, with the mosaic project, and then for an additional three days in the city during its famous theater festival. But I am also referring to returning  after so many years.  Although my memories of my original time there are rather foggy, that trip certainly had a powerful effect on where my life took me in the next few years.

So I am going to write a bit more, about my original trip, and my recent one in and around Avignon, before I return to chronicling my present adventures.

When I was seventeen, my father traded his public relations services with the owner of a small student travel agency called Students Abroad. I spent two months in Eurpoe. The owner ran two trips, one coed and the other just girls. Even though I went to an all girls school (or maybe because of it) I chose to go on the all girls trip. There were eight of us and our leader, who was very knowledgeable about art and history. Both groups went to the same places, but in different order, and we all spent the second month in Avignon. This was before it was fairly common for teens to travel abroad. It was the first time I'd been away from home for that length of time, the only other having been for three weeks at summeEurope.

 Many years later,my mother told me that they'd decided to send me on the trip to help me break out of my shell, because i was painfully shy. I hope she was happy with the results! I remember being somewhat shy, but not painfully so. I know I preferred staying home and reading to playing out on  the street with the rest with the neighborhood kids. But by the time I was a teenager I was going to school outside the neighborhood and most of my friends didn't live nearby. I wonder if the pain in being painfully shy was my mother's more than mine. I also wonder what, if any, pr work my father did for the company.

So, after a month of travelling to beautiful places, visiting many museums, etc. We arrived in Avignon. we had daily French classes. I also remember tutoring a local high school  student in English, and that an article about that appeared in the local paper. The combined groups went on some trips together, to the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct, to Arles, The Roman amphitheater in Nimes, and probably some other places.

Bu t  the events that had the greatest effect on me had to do with groups performing at the theater festival. The Living Theatre was a radical, political company from the U.S. They had  exciled themselves a few years before from the country because they did not want to pay taxes to support the Vietnam war. They`d been travelling around Europe and had become quite the international group, adding members wherever they went.

This was just a few months after the student and worker demonstrations in Paris and beyond, and protest was in the air. I am sure a number of students and young radicals followed the group to Avignon. I remember scores of hippie types hanging around the main plaza, which these days is filled with musicians, breakdancers, mimes, all kinds of performers, during the festival. The Living Theater wanted to provide additional free performances. The festival organizers didn't let them.

All this happened before we arrived. The group's performances were already over. But they were still around, and I met some of them at the municipal pool. I also met some of the dancers from the renowned Bejart Ballet company from Belgium, and saw their amazing performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which had been scandalous when it was first performed in the early 20th century. I was very impressed and moved by their performance in Avignon. I've seen the dance performed several times since, but never did it affect me as strongly  as the first time, in the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon.

I did not see the Living Theater perform in Avignon. But not too long after that summer, the mayor of New York, who apparently appreciated their talents, declared some kind of special dispensation that allowed the group to return to the US. They performed in New York, and no doubt other places, although some of them were arrested in several cities, for performing nude. Their performances were provocative and interactive. I was smitten. I spent parts of my senior year of high school following them around. I had gone from a Broadway groupie to a radical theater one in short order. I have no idea what my parents thought of about my activities that year.
In the spring, after I'd applied and been accepted to a number of colleges, I saw an ad in the back of the NY Times for the American College in Paris, I decided that was where I  wanted to go. My infatuation with the group had not abated, and my decision go to school there was largely influenced by the fact that the group was heading back to Europe. I thought at the time that my mother was taken with the idea of having a daughter go to school in France. To this day,  I remain astonished that they let me go. They may have come to regret it; I don't know. But there is no doubt that decision affected my life in ways that still influence me today.

This year is the 50th anniversary of my original trip to Europe, when I spent a month in Avignon. When I heard about Laurel and Valerie`s mosaic workshops there, t seemed meant to be, as they say.  I needed no further motivation to sign on. 

Well, that's gotten  me almost up to present time and last week in Avignon. It's almost 2 am and the tower has stopped its flashing. So I will stop here, and continue on tomorrow am. Oh, it already is tomorrow am. So I'll go to bed, and hopefully get enough sleep before they start hammering and drilling in the morning.

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