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A Close Encounter with Marseille

July 27, 2022

Cheri and I decided to have lunch in Aix-en-Provence on our way to Marseille. It had been years since I was in Aix, and I really don’t remember it being as large as it is now — my recollection was of an elegant town with a huge fountain as its centerpiece on the broad Cours Mirabeau, and smaller fountains scattered about the city. Well-dressed people strolled leisurely, and folks lingered at the famous Deux Magots café. The route into town dumped us into an enormous parking garage, where we ended up four levels underground; the elevator delivered us to a shopping mall. As I emerged from the mall, I realized the city was completely unrecognizable to me, and was chock full of tourists. No idea where to find Deux Magots.

We didn’t linger after lunch, but pressed on to Marseille. After turning in the Renault and a desultory stroll around the Vieux Port, we staggered through the heat to find a cool place for dinner, and came upon Café Simon, enjoying the misters under the tents. The ice in my Pastis was no match for the air, and Cheri had to add ice to her beer. The waiters looked like they’d just emerged from a shower, though they were in surprisingly good humor.

The following day, Tuesday, Cheri flew back to Tucson and I spent the afternoon doing a too-short visit to the historical museum (absolutely worth a return trip) and a boat ride out to the calanques, soaring rock formations off the coast that shelter quiet coves with sailboats at anchor. I had hoped being on the water would be cooler, but non. The narration was all in French, nearly drowned out by the roar of the engines, so I got little information. The elegant cathedral overlooking the city is a masterpiece of Byzantine and Romanesque architecture standing in stately splendor overlooking the Vieux Port.

In all my visits to France I’ve never been to Marseille, and I have to say I’d like to come back in cooler weather and explore some of the neighborhoods and museums. The city, the oldest in France, was actually founded as a trading port by the Greeks around 600 B.C. and has remained an important gateway ever since. Its reputation for crime largely kept tourists away in the mid-twentieth century, and was fairly or unfairly attributed to the masses of immigrants from the northern and sub-Saharan African countries formerly colonized by France (Algeria, Morocco, etc.). Organized crime was a severe problem, exacerbated by unemployment and poverty. Over the past twenty years or so, Marseille has burnished its reputation with major urban renewal, a focus on crime prevention, and development of a robust tourism industry anchored by cruise ships.

As this adventure draws to a close, I admit it wasn’t the trip I had imagined. Covid and the heat thwarted some of our plans, and our photographer leader couldn’t join us till the last two days, so I didn’t gain any new shooting skills. Nevertheless, I met some wonderful people, got to know Cheri a lot better, and spent time in one of my favorite places on the planet. Next up: some images I wasn’t able to upload in real time. Stay tuned.ix

One Comment
  1. It may not have been the trip you planned but you made it memorable and enjoyable nonetheless less. The picture of the cathedral presiding over the city is stunning. Imagining the work and craft required to build it without modern day equipment and technology makes it even more spectacular.

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