La Ciotat, the birthplace of moving picture cinema… and Bocci Ball. On my second week here we took a group excursion with the entire school to the wonderful coastal not-so-sleepy retirement village of La Ciotat. Upon first sight, we thought La Ciotat appeared like a small beautiful city by the sea, but seemingly un-busy. With more young people opting to live in the big cities, France’s rural populations like La Ciotat are aging. However, when we arrived that morning at ten we found the city to be a veritable hub of activity. There were people swimming across the bay right past several large group water aerobic classes. On the boardwalk, there were all ages of electric scooters, bikes, and joggers making their way home from the market with groceries hung on each handlebar. And yes, there was an entire park filled with organized Bocci ballplayers.
As we traversed the town, our guides pointed out several important places like the Eden Theater, where the Lumiere brothers showed the first-ever moving picture of a train entering the La Ciotat station. Having shown the first film ever to an audience means we saw the first and oldest movie theater in the world. Next, we saw the routine morning market and stopped by to get some lunch materials such as baguettes, cheeses, and fresh produce.
After the market, we went up the coast a short way by bus and hiked out to this rocky beachfront. Although lacking in sandy beaches to lay on, it made up for it with several tall rock out-croppings to dive off. As someone from the rainy, freezing north-west coast jumping into relatively warm-salty crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean was almost as shocking as jumping into the 50 F (10 C) waters back in Oregon. The sea was so calm that we could see down to all the reflective gray fish swimming just meters below us. We spent our time cheering each other on as we dove from cliffs and exploring the inlet.
I am embarrassed to say that our very apparent American enthusiasm must have unfortunately overpowered the other more reserved French beach-goers where we swam that day. This is the case with almost anywhere we go as a large group, especially because many of the students don’t speak much French. The stark contrast of American English being spoken enthusiastically between one another is quite harsh on the ears when compared to the subtle tones of most French conversationalists.
It is not just the language though, during orientation we were told that the French are often less reserved in certain public settings where other countries’ social conventions would have them be more outgoing. Although, it is important to remember this distinction is only a generalized observation and not the rule. It is all part of the cultural exchange experience, where we gain perspective of our place in the world while understanding someone else’s.