This past weekend I visited a friend in Marseilles in the south of France. I slept very late the night before, figuring the three hour and fifteen minute train ride would give me plenty of time to nap, but an hour and a half out of Paris, I saw this.And so I gazed at the snow-covered landscapes instead. I realized that I had it perfect. It wasn’t snowing in Paris, and it wouldn’t be snowing in Marseilles. The beautiful scenery was mine to enjoy without getting my boots wet.
Since my train arrived at the Marseille St-Charles train station midday on Friday and my friend didn’t get out of work until the early evening, I had a few hours to wander around by myself. On my walk from the station to the Vieux Port (which means “Old Port”), I saw some building art.
On Saturday, my friend drove us to Aix-en-Provence. Every time I am driven in a car, it feels so luxurious. I’ve gotten used to taking public transportation everywhere, and I even like it, but to be driven somewhere without having to worry about anything—I think it’s one of the my great pleasures in life, along with hot showers after a day out and a warm bed when you’re in between asleep and awake. It was Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz (via Charlie Brown) that first made me aware of how very secure you are when you’re child sitting in the backseat while your parents drive and worry about things for you. Ever since I read that comic strip some years ago, I think of it when I’m lucky enough to be in the passenger or backseat of a car with a person I trust taking me somewhere.As in Paris and Marseilles, Christmas lights were up in Aix. There seemed to be a ladyfinger theme going on.This was my third trip to Aix, and I have to say that it is charming every time.
The next day was a Marseilles day. Marseilles is the “European Capital of Culture” this year. Nativity sets, or crèches, are a specialty of the region. My friend and I walked through an outdoor market that showcased stand after stand of nativity figures. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of sheep figurines in one place. My friend’s cousins are both in the crèche business, but they weren’t present that afternoon.
After lunch, we walked around the MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Mediterranée), a new museum that just opened a few months ago.That partial cage outside the nested structure is full of holes so that when you walk the paths between the core building and the web, you are both inside and outside the museum. The layout is not conducive to finding your way easily. However, the contemporary structure offers the rare opportunity to have a heightened awareness of how architecture shapes your experience. It impels visitors to look out, up, and around as they circulate. The concrete shapes and hard tree-like beams combined with the city and sea visible through the gaps make for a unique experience.On the rooftop of the museum are a variety of chairs that visitors can lounge in with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. My friend and I agreed that if the weather had been warmer, a little siesta with the sun on our faces would have been delicious.
While driving through Marseilles, I saw this sign that made me laugh. The sheets of paper are perfectly lined up but with a disjointed result.This picture of a pedestrian bridge connecting the ancient stone Fort St-Jean and the new concrete and glass museum needs no adjectives from me.I can’t helpful myself, though. The word that first came to mind when I saw this scene was ‘storybook.’ Do you know what I mean?
Marseilles is one of those cities that either elicits a positive or negative reaction from people in France when you mention it. It does have its share of problems: violence, poverty, and racial tension. It’s an interesting city. I struggle to find a word to describe it. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, yet it has its beautiful points. And driving along a winding road next to the sea during sunset—nothing like it.
What do you know of Marseilles? Have you been there?