A Few Ordinary Days in Marseille

Two days ago, Rene and I set out into the bitter wind to explore the city.

I bundled up my scarf in a way that kept me warm, but which Rene thought looked ridiculous.

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We had plans to go to the Modern Art Museum, where there was an exposition of artists from the local academy. There was some interesting and provocative work on display. I was drawn to the photographic portraits of workers, Rene was drawn to a sculpture of colorful light and glass.

We headed upstairs and no sooner did we put our foot on the top step, than we ran into Cati’s guests from Bordeaux, Stephanie and her daughter Matilde and her son Niels. We decided to meet up downstairs and spend some of our day walking together.

Rene and I looked at some of the cubist and fauvist paintings from Marseille’s past, some local artists of international renown who were part of the museum’s permanent collection.

We then met up with our friends downstairs and walked together through the shopping district. Some considerable time was spent at the Monoprix, France’s answer to Super Target. Afterward, we set out to find Marseille’s legendary soap factory. The reputation of the city’s ability to provide the world with notable soap was far more inflated than the modest storefront that we found.

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But afterward, we walked on, undeterred, our senses filled with the perfume of various, fresh bathroom scents. On the way, we saw a European restaurant chain with a funny name, Chickenville:

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We were so inspired by the prospect of fast food, that we ducked into McDonalds for a free wifi fix and to see how the world class purveyor of wrapped sandwiches was doing things in the south of France. We checked our email on my Palm mobile device and listened to an interesting surf/rap mashup take advantage of Dick Dale’s signature sound in a new context.

After our meal, we had stalled for just enough time to take in a movie. We bought our tickets for Jack Black’s “Be Kind Please Rewind” set in Passaic, New Jersey. It was light fare when it came to character development or plot, but where it really hit it out of the park was in the Jack Black character’s comic inventiveness and in the film’s brilliant, endearing concept of “sweded” videotapes. Rene commented that the re-made scenes from Ghostbusters alone were worth the price of admission. I think too, seeing a distinctly American film, about an underdog, American city was a comfort to us. We laughed outwardly at a lot of the jokes, some of which might have been lost to the rest of the French audience reading the subtitles in the theater.

Fast forward to 24 hours. I spent most of the day reading, Seth Godin’s “The Dip” and, given the high price of last minute, in-person, language instruction, studying French through the audio CD that Rene had given me for my birthday. Aside from that, and a good afternoon nap, I helped stir and taste the chili which Rene had simmering on the stove for half the day. The last half of last night was spent drinking and talking at a going away party for one of Cati’s friends, of which the chili was an integral part. I know Rene will be blogging about the finer details of the event, so I’ll plan to link to her description here.

  • Chris

    You missed the big old soap factories in Marseille. There are only two left and the little shop you visited on Cours Julien is not one of them (though it is a charming little family-run factory with fantastic soaps). I get mine delivered via http://marseillesoap.com by the way. But I guess if your hitting the Monoprix and McDonald’s there, you might be a little lost in Marseille.

  • Thanks Chris! ‘Appreciate the tip. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction 😉

    You are right. Marseille is, of course, too interesting not to get off the main boulevard and explore.

    We’ve been out to Frioul and have plans to check out the Le Corbusier’s Unité. But if you have any further suggestions, please feel free to let us know.

  • Sidney Falco

    Your ridiculous puff piece about Marseille failed to mention the city streets clogged with cars and motorbikes that, worst in France, are parked on sidewalks. The motorbikes, in fact, are routinely DRIVEN on sidewalks. The image that, I think, best expresses Marseille is that of an undulating junk yard. Don’t expect to take a walk in Marseille in peace. I’m an American living in Marseille for the past year.

  • Hi Sidney,

    Thanks for the post. I agree, it’s a puff piece for sure. But hey, I’m on vacation… I here to support my wife, who’s in Marseille for two months to try her hand at freelance radio reporting from France.

    But you’re right. Rene and I were just talking tonight, walking home from dinner, how the cars get pretty banged up here.

    I wonder, what brings you here, and what’s kept you here this past year? Maybe you could fill us in on more of the “quality of life” here in Marseille.