08 January 2013

Faire le ménage

One of my favorite parts of the new year are the cleaning up and packing away of the holiday decorations, the sweeping of the Christmas tree needles and dust bunnies, and the rearranging of furniture. It feels good, to faire le ménage et ranger (to tidy up well, or do housework, and to organize one's spaces). I always marvel at how spare the living room can look after just a few weeks of being festooned in ornaments, holiday runners, and lights and a tree.

Aix and the surrounding communities are all doing their part to spruce up for 2013.  The Aixois have been cleaning house by discarding their trees on street corners (for the daily garbage pick-up) or at disposal stations around town, trailing white flocking and needles. (The French tend to use simple tree stands without water wells so the trees are dry, dry, dry by the time the holiday has passed.  In contrast, this year we bought a living Christmas tree which survived the holiday intact and has found a home in my friend's jardin.)

As some trees lose their ornaments, others are being gussied up.  This week, the majestic plane trees along Aix's Cours Mirabeau are getting a new look.  (These trees have many functions: they provide shade during the hot summer, roosts for the loud city birds, and bases for the strands and strands of holiday lights in December.)  To mark l'ouverture (the opening or beginning) of Marseille's turn as La capitale Européenne de la culture (the European capital of culture), nearby towns and communities are cleaning up and will open art trails this weekend (apparently it's a regional affair despite Marseille getting the designation), so les arbres (the trees) on the boulevard are getting bright wraps as part of an art installation by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.  The red and white polka dots combined with Aix's customary yellow and red striped banners create quite a fun, fantastical, Dr. Seussian look.

Perhaps that look is emblematic of the festivities ahead of us, whimsical but a bit nonsensical too.  We are not clear on what to expect with this 'year of culture', as it seems that Marseille is not yet finished with its housework and thus is not quite ready for its festivities.  Several museums remain unfinished or closed, le vieux port (the old harbor) has only just had its fences taken down, and the Marseille-Provence 2013 agenda I have only goes through March.  Furthermore, as a friend and I agreed over lunch today, the language used to describe the events is vague at best, suggesting that everything isn't planned out fully yet.  It's a bit astonishing given that Marseille has been preparing for this year for some time.  On the other hand, Marseille is not a tidy city that is bien rangé (orderly) under normal circumstances, and life in France in general is not a life of tight and detailed schedules.  In our daily lives here, we are often winging each day and week, as school or sports or civic events crop up or get canceled just like that, and rarely well in advance, and shops and restaurants or services are closed (or opened) without notice.  It's easy to get frustrated with this seeming lack of order.  I have discovered though that I am generally calmer if I just accept the laid-back mode of living and scheduling (and I recognize that I have the privilege of being flexible).  In a way, it's like Dr. Seuss again, if you go with the flow, "Oh! The places you'll go!"  I wonder where Marseille-Provence 2013 will take us?


Stephen said...

I LOVE Yayoi Kusama! One of my favorite artists! Those trees look absolutely fab.

Anne Tuominen said...

I agree! Here are two more looks at those fabulous trees, one from the local paper, and the other one from a blogger in Aix: