Memories of Marseilles, Part I

The view from Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseilles, July 2004

My Marseilles is old and dirty with bad calamari and good sarcaphogi. My husband and I experienced the former during my birthday dinner at a dirt cheap sidewalk eatery, across from the port, that we should have known was too good to be true. The latter were encountered earlier that day in the crypts of the Abbaye Saint Victor, where ornate tombs flanked the underworld perimeter. Upstairs, select vestiges of Saint Victor’s skeleton and those of several of his comrades were displayed in golden boxes encased in glass on either side of the altar.

The fact that skull fragments and 15-century-old tombs were the highlight of my two day excursion to the south of France’s most historic city speaks volumes about a place where sunlight and oxygen only serve to make the rotten stench of decay easier to inhale. This was a birthday gift from my husband on our European honeymoon.

Before Marseille we had been staying with his mother’s family (his mother included, and his father, too) in the small southern town of Biot. My husband’s parents, whose permanent residence is the outskirts of New York City, had high-tailed it to France the day after our wedding and were waiting, all smiles, when we arrived in the ancestral homeland about a week later. The sun beat down on all my new relatives and they opened a couple bottles of wine before retiring inside for the après-lunch siesta. After naptime, we ate again as more corks were popped and baguettes were brandished at all ends of the dinner table.

There is something to be said about being awakened at 9 a.m. on your honeymoon to the sound of a woman who, aside from having given birth to your husband, has the other incongruous quality of having lived in the United States for 30 years without being able to shake the rolling, high pitched cadences of her native tongue. “Chreees-toe-fer! Eet is time to get up! Allo? Allo!” Perhaps it should’ve seemed more natural than it did, that bright morning in the south of France as the sun streamed in through the wooden slats of the shutters and fell hotly across our entwined appendages. “Chreees-toe-fer! Are you awake yet? Allo? We are going to zee beach now!”

It was on the heels of such distinctly un-honeymoonish encounters that I demanded a private soujourn into Provence to celebrate my birthday. When I said “Provence,” what I meant was the lush, green hills and valleys of the region extolled in Peter Mayle’s travel tomes. What I got was a two hour trip in a crowded cabin of non-conditioned air on a commuter train bound for the crime capital of France. We stepped off the train platform and onto the streets of Marseille, which descended steeply several miles to the main port and then rose again, steeply, in the direction of anything worth seeing.

To be continued... Posted by Picasa


Anonymous Chris said...

Oh man, here we go. The "high point" of our honeymoon. This is exactly why I don't try any more. Everything turns to shit.
Life might be boring now that we can't do anything anymore but at least we don't have to endure disasters like Marseilles.

11:39 AM  

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