MFK Fisher’s Cours Mirabeau: Unchanged Over Time
Reading MFK Fisher’s Two Towns in Provence, you might be surprised that it was written so long ago. Cours Mirabeau, the cultural center of Aix, looks much like it did when Fisher and her two daughters sought solace at Les Deux Garçons or ambled down the boulevard so many decades ago. Certainly, the number of people on their cell phones tells you it’s not post-war Provence, but other than the addition of technology, little has changed.
Archbishop Mazarin, the cardinal’s brother, laid out the famed Cours Mirabeau, which divides the old town into two sections, in 1651. This central road is now lined with a row of plane trees (also known as sycamores), which create a beautiful canopy; the original trees were elm trees. Houses and stores border both sides of this thoroughfare, and the street is decorated with several fountains designed by Jean-Claude Rambot. Two of these fountains are covered in moss as a result of the warm water springs that flow underground.
The street is named after the Count of Mirabeau who was born in 1749. He was a well-known figure during the French Revolution who advocated a parliamentary system similar to the one in the UK and served as an advisor to Louis XVI.
Originally, access to the Cours Mirabeau was limited to horse-drawn carriages, in an attempt to reduce commercial traffic. That is not the case today with many commercial establishments, stores, and restaurants.
A statue of Roi René, the Prince of Provence during the 15th century, was sculpted in white marble by by David d’Angers in 1822, and now marks one end of La Rotunde, at the top of the Cours Mirabeau in a square known as Place Forbin. Roi René is seen holding muscat grapes, which he introduced to the region in the 15th century. On the two sides of the pedestal are medallions of the king, and on the other two are inscriptions, which are reminiscent of his reign. In celebration of the 600 years since his birth, the statue was renovated and inaugurated in 2009.
Les Deux Garçons is the most famous brasserie in Aix, and remains a social landmark. It has attracted local artists and writers for years, including Paul Cézanne and Emile Zola. Fisher made Les Deux Garçons (which means “the two waiters”) her second home, and it was where her daughter went after getting lost in the Carnaval crowd.
There are ample other restaurants along Cours Mirabeau, and all overlook the street’s hustle and bustle. Between restaurants, you’ll find gift shops, as well as banks.