A certain scent of spring in the air, a blustery wind, wisteria hanging heavy over a terrace — these are a few things that remind me of my home away from home in Avignon, France. I lived there, in an adorable Provencal home, with a host mom and another student when I studied abroad in 2011.
Avignon is an ancient town surrounded by medieval ramparts and watched over by a gilded statue of Mary at the top of the Palais des Papes. For history and religion buffs, that Papal Palace was the home to a string of popes during the Avignon Papacy. Today, it’s a solid-stone reminder of what how life used to be.
In fact, to me, all of Avignon was a reminder of earlier times. The ruelles (or alleyways), bumpy cobblestone streets and shutter after shutter create a charming atmosphere and evoke a sense of history that’s hard to find in the United States.
Though the architecture is the most recognizable aspect I miss, looking back on my time abroad, I recall fond memories with friends, daily sunshine, the smell of Southern France embracing spring, fresh bread, delicious cheese, and the overall feeling of nonchalance.
By nonchalance, I mean how I fell into the Provencal custom of slowing down, and I was able to truly enjoy the individual moments that made up each day, week and month. I spent my mornings jogging or connecting with friends back home and afternoons in class. But if there was time before dinner, I would wander through the streets of Avignon centre, enclosed and compacted by those ancient walls.
Almost every evening, my fellow Ohio University study abroad friends and some new friends we made from the Université d’Avignon would meet up at Place des Corps Saints or Place Pie. The best way I can describe these areas is as a plaza or courtyard, surrounded by the fronts of cafes and bistros and bars and shops, the open space filled with tables.
We drank miniature cups of coffee (no Starbucks here!). We drank a mixture of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and white wine called kir. We drank beer and Monaco cocktails and more wine — but not in excess. Having a social drink and a long conversation in the open air of Southern France, watching the day slip into night, is something I haven’t found here in the States. And that’s something I miss the most.
I get nostalgic sometimes, looking back at the gorgeous pictures I took and borrowed during my short three months in France. But mostly I just appreciate the memories I returned with and the city I got to know as my second home.