Today Rene gets ready to interview the chef of Marseille’s newly recognized three star restaurant.
Coincidentally, Rene’s laptop arrives by courier just as she is getting ready to head out.
I hang around the house in my pajamas and start packing. I don’t know why, but I don’t like to take on this kind of task directly, so I take some time to go through a backlog of podcasts and write a few emails. I write to Jan and Stephanie in Bordeaux as well as to Robert the kind gentleman who allowed me to tour his apartment at Le Corbusier.
When Rene returns, I’m half packed, but still unshaved. She helps move things along by packing a suitcase of her things for me to take home while I jump into the shower and scrape the stubble off my face.
Afterward, we decide to go out for a walk. We wander to the Vieux Port and Rene decides to check out “the Mall of Marseille”. She’s wide eyed with excitement over all that we found. We meander awhile, then duck into France’s answer to Barnes and Noble. On the way out of the mall, we notice a back window by one of the escalators which looks out onto an ancient foundation, I’d like to think it was an old marketplace and that it’s original function is still being carried out millenniums forward into the future.
On the way home, we stop and chat about some business with Cati. I tell them that I would love to share a beer with them, since we are expecting guests later that evening, and I’m feeling a bit constrained on several sides about what I would love to do, considering the limited time I have left to do these things in. Cati and Rene exchange a knowing look and then put their fingers across their lips as if they were keeping a secret — and what a happy secret it is — tomorrow night will be a going away gathering… for me! We share a few quick drinks together and head upstairs to finish packing before we have to leave to pick up our guests.
We are late getting on the metro to pick up Sarah and Nissim – so Rene and I have to walk there at 10:00 at night. We walk up the high steps to the train station. Rene gets a strawberry flavored water and a candy on the platform. The train arrives and Rene tells me to look for a woman, about her height with Red hair. Shortly, out of the crowd, we see them. We shake hands and say hello. We head out of the station quickly and get a taxi before the line gets too long. On the way back to the apartment, Sarah gives Rene some muffins that she made herself.
Once back at the apartment, Rene makes tea for our guests. She and I have coffee. We all stay up and talk. They are a great inspiration, really. I find out that Sarah works for Radio France’s English service and that Nissim is a composer. They talk about their life in France. We talk about Radio Lab shows that we’ve liked. I mention that I like Arvo Part and ask if Nissim’s music is meditative. He tells me that it’s more dramatic, but that he wishes it had a bit more stillness to it. I think to myself, that it’s good to have something to strive for in your art. We listen to some music by Morton Feldman, a composer that Nissim recommends. But really, the conversation overtakes the act of listening which is no problem, but it makes me wish we had more time to work in a game of chess (or doing the dishes) or something where we could simply listen. Working against our desire to stay up talking, we get under the covers and call it a night.
I get up early at 8am. Everyone is sleeping. I head out and get the paper and some bread. Watching the crowds of Friday workers making their way on to the metro, or the parents pushing their strollers or holding the hands of their kids on their way to school, it occurs to me that the newspaper and the baguette are iconic items, emblematic of an urban life that is so foreign from ours that I want to take some photos of this as a kind of remembrance that yes, if only for a short while, we did live this life.
Out there with the camera, it’s so conspicuous, but here I go anyway looking for a wedge of sunlight which cuts through the rooftops to street level. I extend my arm out and point the camera back. It’s not that it’s vain, but that these are priceless, precious moments and so I give myself license to be as shamelessly self-posessed as it takes to saturate this instant into whatever collection of pixels I’m able to angle myself into.
After this public incident, I continue on with my intentions and duck into the grocery store to pick up a few things to fill Rene’s fridge. This time, I decide to try a different market because our usual one was out of strawberries, and in the process, I find the elusive spatula that we’ve been needing. It’s funny, how, here at edge of the continent, such a random, ordinary item turns out to be so elusive.
I tiptoe back up the stairs to the apartment, trying to give everyone an hour more of rest. Alfredo pokes his nose out from under the bed-covers and I scoop him up and swing him downstairs and down the street for his morning walk. Alfredo’s great. He’s been a real trooper through all this. These many weeks, living this itinerant, urban life must be such a change for him, so foreign and so constrained. I’m sure his familiar backyard will seem larger than the curvature of the earth once he’s set his paws back upon Arizona sand.
At the risk of pushing my luck, I drop Alfredo off at the apartment. No fool, he burrows back under the covers. Then, while the angle of the morning sun is still low, I head out again to scope out the the fish market.
It takes me a minute to get the exposure right.
But then, the shore is not short on characters.
Or slithery creatures to amaze the kids.
Or old timers with their morning’s catch.
Back on the outskirts of the market, I turn back to catch the moment that Rene talked so much about — the instant where the fishmonger whacks the mackerel onto the slab and comes down on it with the knife.
I grab a public bus back up the slope to our neighborhood and negotiate the niceties of ordering a cafe crem. I sit in the sun and reading through an Elizabeth Bishop poem that is appropriate on so many levels, a sestina whose subject includes waiting for a miracle in a drop of coffee and a hardened crumb. One particular segment of the poem seems, for me, its own miracle of language…
… My crumb
my mansion, made for me by a miracle,
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
working the stone. Every day, in the sun
at breakfastime I sit on my balcony
with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee,
The strange thing about this poem at this particular moment, is that it’ also a kind of a coincidence; since yesterday evening, after showing my manuscript to Sarah, we all discussed briefly the metrical rules of a sestina.
I spot Rene and Sarah and Nissim round the corner in the crowd. We all meet up at the bus stop and set out to explore the city. We head down around the restaurants the surround the port, then up past the movie theater and up into the middle eastern district. Sarah and I talk about how amazed people are when they find out how much production goes into five minutes of radio. Nissim tells me about his life in New York before living in Paris. How they had nurtured a great network of friends and how thankfully, that Paris (as opposed to New York) was a city that enticed their friends to visit. I mentioned my goal for helping to establish a podcast on writers and writing for the Piper Center. Nissim wondered if there was a similar podcast out there for composers of contemporary music and if not, mused that he should create one. On a side note, I mentioned how Coyle and Sharpe’s podcasts are distributed in an interesting way, and how they were plain hilarious on their own merits. I promised that, along with sending Sarah a few links to some poetry podcasts, that I would send Nissim the link to Coyle and Sharpe’s podcast as well.
Rene spots the stairwell that we used to wind around through the neighborhood to get to the old cathedral. She asks the group to make a choice, if we want to go up the steps where I remember Rene spotting the graffiti scrawled on the wall “Live your Dream, don’t dream your life” just a few days back. We decide to walk, instead up the long boulevard, past a long block of boarded up neo-classical tenements.
In a moment which turns out to have quite a fortunate impact on the day. Sarah exclaims, “Look, a passage! Let’s take it!” She talks about how the city of Paris has begun restoring old passages because people have found that folks seem to like them. We discuss this fact, and numerous other qualities of the enlightened city with each step. We find out about Nissim’s teaching assistantship, about the inexplicable social etiquette of obtaining working papers or gaining funding for arts projects in Paris. It’s inspiring to hear how the social structure in France affords them the ability to not just make their art — but to also travel — and to do it in a way that seems simply relaxed, inspired in an unforced, fun and friendly manner.
Not far along into the old, Panier neighborhood…
we find a small soap making operation. I’ve learned a great deal on this trip, enough to appreciate Marseille’s humble, handmade, olive oil based soap for numerous reasons.
Next up is a grand surprise and a real great outing to have saved for the end of the trip. We head over to the old Maison de Charite (poor house) which has been converted into several museums. Under the high, central dome, which I assume was once a chapel, we find a great glass sculpture exhibit with a notable set of slightly creepy but sonorous bells commanding the most attention. Also fun is the arts space itself, curved balconies, blind corners leading to a delightful installation. We couldn’t take pictures but some of the artwork that comes to mind was some found scraps of random ephemera, a foam chair, some spiked shoes, and a video of a “two person hat” which Rene commented reminded her of the Tooka (a two person musical instrument (think tandem slide whistle) the thought of which we found delightfully entertaining when we first started dating). We met one of the artists. He directed us to a video installation where a big, blue donkey (emblematic of creativity and art) is carried on a person’s back through the streets and placed in innumerable social settings and situations. Art projects ensue, learning happens.
Next, we take in the Egyptian art, which — next to our blissful strides through the previous museum — strikes me as stiffly, formal. Sarah comments that this kind of art is always presented a kind of ceremonial and historical context and wonders if that could be at fault.
Rene and I duck out of the Roman art museum to soak up some sun. On the way back, Sarah and Nissim do a two step down the corridor which is reminiscent of Rene’s and my indictment into the ministry of silly walks on the day of our engagement. I was so amused, I tried to snap a photo, but Sarah protested that “it was not to be chronicled.” Looking back, and in light of an upcoming conversation, this has me thinking.
We decide that our growing hunger trumps the need jump over from cultural epochs to the art of the North American and Asian continents that we cut our visit short.
We walk out into the adjoining square where we are lucky enough to discover a new salad which contained romaine lettuce, goat cheese, olives and, interestingly enough, the addition of a a fried, chickpea based fritter, the recipe of which was particular to Marseille. I get a Heineken and a four cheese crepe. We talk about life and family and working in Radio and about the tools for making radio and the tools for making music. Nissim is learning about two kinds of electronic music (? and ?) using the tools that folks like Jad Abumrad from Radio Lab use to press at the edges of radio effects. I mention how the addition of the BR-600 to my studio has turned my view of recording music on its head.
Incidentally, there was a lot of talk about Radio Lab… their Ring Cycle episode, the latest Lying episode, as well as their segment on music commissioned for a morgue. There also was some talk about a few Studio 360 episodes, including a video where they “swede” scenes from the movie the Big Lebowski.
When the check comes, Rene and I realize that our appetite had overtaken our wallets, but our guests graciously agree to pick up the slack.
At one point in the conversation, I set the camera at plate-level on the table and attempt to photograph Rene and Sarah talking together. Somehow, the timing of it didn’t match up, and it seemed like it was being counterproductive to the conversation, so I put away the gadget. This helps to bring into focus a conversation that Sarah and I had later in the evening about taking your radio kit with you on vacation. Sarah hadn’t made up her mind about how she wanted to approach it, the idea of, when you your out and meeting interesting people, did you want to bring the microphone along… or would that prevent you from truly experiencing, or would you be thinking, “oh this is great, should I be getting this on tape.” And this touches on the conversation that I had with David Hunsaker, the photographer I met with two weeks prior to this trip, how he told me that he never photographed birthdays or other traditional events but that when he was hanging out or visiting, they they knew to expect him to be have his camera out. Sarah referred to this as “being on” and that for her, the verdict was still out. I replied that I could see what she was talking about, and that it was worth thinking about.
We find a secret staircase which leads to the shoreline. We find out about Nissim and Sarah’s trip to Croatia, and how it’s a very English speaking region, how they went to a movie screening and how everything, unexpectedly, was in English. We walk back, at sunset, around the entire Vieux Port.
After picking up two bottles of Fisher and some Pastis, we arrive back at the apartment just in time to start getting ready for the party! Rene went down to help Cati and Sarah and Nissim put together a peach and strawberry tart and warmed it in the oven.
Just as when I first arrived, we all sat out on the patio and talked. There were candles placed on tiny card tables and shelves. Beside them were potted plants or cut flowers in vases. There was Pastis; a traditional Marseille anise liquor that is mixed with water and lightly chilled with ice.
Cati cooked while Olivier chatted with Sarah and Nissim. Rene grabbed the camera and started taking pictures.
Alfredo was passed around.
Laurent came by with a surprise. He asked if I liked stinky cheese. I said, “Sure!” He came out with a contraption, a hand crank for fromage. We spun it once or twice around and shaved off a slice of cheese, like shavings would curl off a pencil as it was being sharpened.
The cheese was indeed stinky, but tasty and it went well with the Bordeaux wine.
We talked about how there needed to be a direct flight from Tempe to Marseille. I said how we would begin this flight so that the Tempe pétanque (bocce) team could play the team from Marseille. There was much talk about that, as our guests from the North also played Bolles, as it was called in Paris.
We all sat down to the table. It was a banquet of color as well as appetizers. They made me a sign that read, John Le Roi (John the King) I exclaimed back, “Ju sui, le whroi!” We all laughed. There was much conversation which started in English for a sentence or two (to keep me along) which then led to sweeping bouts of quickly spoken French between the other guests. I asked Olivier to explain how Marseillans had slightly different words for things down here, knowing that Sarah and Nissim would be interested in hearing about the linguistic differences. An animated discussion ensued.
We had red peppers with olive oil and garlic. Dinner was chicken in a curry and pepper sauce.
We took a group photo. After there was a short skirmish of pétanque using the colorful, foil wrapped chocolate eggs. As a gift, Cati and Olivier gave me two panoramic photos and a children’s book in French. After the wine bottles had been emptied, Cati explained, sadly in English, “the party is over.”
We said our goodbyes to all our fond, new friends and promised to see each other again.