Last Thursday morning, I left Paris for Avignon, a small, walled city in the south of France, where I spent six weeks last summer.
It is also where, when France divided from the Vatican, seven popes lived throughout the 1300s, having a big Palace built for them. In July, Avignon attracts thousands of tourists and performers for the three-week Festival d’Avignon: one of the world’s biggest theater festivals.
I can’t get enough of the festival atmosphere. There are people everywhere, overtaking the streets (ignoring cars) and the public squares. There are actors promoting their plays and street artists entertaining with caricatures, watercolors, dancing and singing.
On Friday, I saw two spectacles: The Doctor Despite Himself — Molière’s satirical style is always good for several laughs — and a group of us saw a circus on the island in the middle of the Rhone River. The circus was awesome — it is a mix between a regular circus and Cirque du Soleil, in that it had humor and clowns, but also a story, interesting lighting, and a very creative, original production.
Later that night, we loaded up at an “épicerie,” a small convenience store, and headed for Place du Palais, the courtyard in front of the big palace. I sat in same place last summer, and like then, I sat in a surreal haze, thinking to myself, “I’m sitting here, in France, speaking French with my friends and anyone else, watching artisans and dancers perform for tips, the whole time dwarfed by the breathtaking 700-year-old palace of the popes.”
The next night, my host family took me to their sister-in-law’s house in Aix-en-Provence and as it turned out, I wasn’t the only American. Aix is a hot spot for studying Law and a more up-scale and bourgeoisie than Avignon, with bigger houses and immaculate gardens. Avignon does it for me though. It amazes me how the festival can transform a small, quiet town into a melee of constant commotion.