Comme les Marseillais

On a boat, heading to les calanques

The morning sun glistens on the still wet pavements….but this is no rainwater.

Council workers arm themselves with hoses and wash the city’s effluent away, into the road, ready for the eager whirring road sweepers to take their fill. But they will not be sated.

Sweet smells trickle through the peeling narrow streets; baking dough and meringues, marzipan and caramel mingle with the sour smells of the human populous.

Motorbikes, scooters, horns honking, gridlocked or mounting pavements without warning. An elderly lady climbs a steep hill; varicose veins the colour of damson, her shoulders held low with bulging orange shopping bags.

Americans occupy an otherwise peaceful cafe in the Vieux Port. They discuss GM crops, Monsanto and the cause of all their allergies. One brandishes the latest voice activated EPI pen. Talk turns to French produce – freshly squeezed orange juice, un-pasteurised milk and cheese – all are illegal back home in the mighty US of A. They leave, quieter now, troubled by the realization of what they have lost.

A cracked and twisted staircase winds its way through the dim heart of an apartment building. The building gently creaks and whispers as I pass through its hall, reminding me that it is much older than I. Heavy casement doors open onto a cool geometric-tiled floor. Washing gently flaps on the line above the leafy courtyard below.

There is vitality in the air. A smiling market vendor sells me a boule de brioche au chocolat, which I gently tear at and eat as I meander about the streets. The city is busy, but I don’t feel hurried. The mix of cultures here is fluid, somehow deeply ingrained in the city’s DNA. It doesn’t feel as territorial or jaded as London.

Walking home from the Cours Julien, I head past the conservertoire and hear someone practicing jazz trumpet, which melts into the humid evening air. Rubbish and paper dance down the streets in miniature cyclones; the local mistral winds. Flower boxes and impromptu gardens take up pavement space, punctuating the walls between the layers of graffiti.

It feels warm here, messy too, both peaceful and dangerous. I feel alive here.

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