One funny side-effect of spending twelve hours a day or so painting walls white is the fact that now I can’t stop before a greying part of an otherwise clean wall without wondering where I left my brush and whether it would take time to make the colour even. Needless to say, coming back home to realise that the hall of the building had been smudged with white in the dirtiest places and left its usual dubious colour in others made me cringe. Worse could happen to me, I suppose.

Some quality (and typically French) time was spent this week in Avignon, between sitting in cafés under plane trees, wandering the mediaeval streets and checking out a couple of impressionist paintings in the local museum (nothing special, really. All the local museums in this world seem to have a couple of drawings by Daumier or Picasso that people will come to see running. I did like Daumier’s Sancho Panza, though). Avignon is so much quieter and whiter than Aix it is hard not to call it the North, for want of something that would express the sense of unfamiliarity in the place that shared the Middle-Ages with us. We had the counts, they had the Pope. They’re still the ones who kept the walls around the city centre. How can a city be the same when you still enter it through a gate in its wall?

I also added another piece to my collection of All the Universities of the World That Look Less Decrepit Than Mine (aka, Pretty Much All the Universities In The World). The university of Avignon leans against the city walls, in a sixteenth-century building surrounded by gardens shaded by cedars and palm trees. Tall windows, not a single graffitto or political poster stuck lopsidedly on a wall where it shouldn’t be. Clean rooms and large stone stairs surrounding a central hall where it seems that nobody has been sticking unwanted ads for ages. Of course there is nothing there to compete with Oxford, just the familiar beige of the stone walls and bannisters of our Southern cities. It could just as well be a building where students crowd in small rooms, a lawyers’ office or the house of an very rich person that people in the circles I know never seem to meet in their lives. It is beautifully familiar, one of those places that make you feel for the briefest moment that if you could study and work there, there would be nothing irking at all with those exams I have to prepare for tomorrow and the details of how to find louder speakers for my computer so my students don’t complain I’m making them strain their ears on the audio documents.


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