From any corner of Aix-en-Provence, they say, you can see the Mont St. Victoire. I don't know if that's entirely true, but the white limestone mountain does seem to be everywhere when I live in Aix for a few months, peeking over olive groves and winking at me as I walk to classes every morning. After two months of gazing back up at the mountain, I finally decide to hike to the top.
A few friends and I head out on the group bus early in the morning and when we arrive the base of the mountain is still enveloped in fog. Our guide assures us it will be gone by the time we reach the top. So up we go.
We climb on a mix of paths for unathletic tourists and the older, more treacherous routes, those used by goat herders when goat herding was still a thing that people did. The climb grows steeper and steeper until we are scrambling up the slope on all fours and the gravel under my shoes — made for running, not climbing — slips out from under me with every step.
I can’t see the top until we are suddenly there, and then the fog clears as the sun finally breaks through the clouds. The whole of Provence lies before me, all the vineyards and hamlets, the restaurants and the roads and the people I have and haven’t met.
The fierce wind from the north, le mistral, sweeps around me as I cling to the edge of the mountain, and for a second I imagine myself leaping off the cliff and being carried over the entire country, laughing and crying from the sheer force of it all.