September 30, Marseille

Wow. Four, maybe five, of the really big tourist attractions I wanted to see were closed. Two might have been because of electrical failures, the others were closed for remodeling. I can see the point, that you want to start working on things just after tourist season, so everything is ready for the next tourist season, but really? Could they wait until October? I certainly wasn’t the only disappointed tourist.

So, started with the first of many tourist breakfasts at the hotel. The lovely little yogurt containers, the non-descript cereal flakes, the only thing resembling fruit, except for the orange juice, were some containers of not-too-sweet applesauce. I mean, not even bananas? I found another fruit vendor today, so will be taking care of that for myself. But it was fine, it was there, it was already paid for. More of the same tomorrow, and for the next several weeks.

So the Museum of the Roman Docks and the Museum of Old Marseille were both closed, due to electrical failure. The guard felt sorry for me and gave me complicated directions to the Vielle Charity, built under King Louis XIV around 1670 as a square of apartments, perhaps for migrants (rather palatial, I would think) surrounding an amazing Roman Baroque chapel. I finally found my way there, and was very pleased both with the architecture of the buildings, and the collections they housed. All the women working there were dressed in non-uniforms, but all in black and white, and I was wondering if I missed a fashion statement. I also decided, and am testing the theory, that the best people to ask for directions are the ones walking dogs. They can’t be in a tearing hurry, are glad to talk to someone, and are used to traversing the area on foot. I’ll report back.

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The chapel had been deconsecrated, and bore no resemblence to a church, though a couple from Michigan and I were able to figure out the parts. The windows didn’t depict any saints, no statues, no paintings, it was a completely bare building. But it was fascinating; I don’t remember seeing that style before, you could almost see how it slid into Neo-Classicism.

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The coolest collection had belonged to a French physician, invited in the first half of the 19th Century to live, I presume, in or near Egypt, and he worked there for many years, and was honored with the title “Bey” which he added to his name. He brought back amazing artifacts on an incredible wide range of Egyptian subjects. The little cat mummies were really sweet, though I didn’t want to photograph them, and the huge sarcophagi gave me the creeps. Certainly they wouldn’t allow any of that stuff taken out of the country today.

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The other collections were from Africa, late 19th and 20th Centuries, French Polynesia, and a few things by Native Americans. Not nearly as appealing to me, but I got a few photos.

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So then off on my next quest, for the Museum of the History of Marseille. I was totally impressed with myself when I came up the hill, and found myself facing it! I’d found it! Actually, I found the gate, which was firmly locked, and the sign explaining they were doing renovations. I managed to look, from a distance at the “garden of vestiges” bits of Greek statuary and columns and walls unearthed, and left where they were found. I also found a kitty in the garden, and hoped someone was taking care of it.

So, heading off to Fort St-Nicholas, on the side of the harbor I hadn’t been to. I had a good hike, uphill, in the bright sunshine, and found lots of stonework and an ancient tower that is a monument for all those who fell fighting for France. (Don’t know about the Resistance movement in the South of France, though I suspect they weren’t waiting for the Americans to come all the way down from Normandy to save them.)

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 My stroll into the main part of the fortress was stopped by a bureaucrat who explained the rest was closed for repairs. I did whine a bit, and asked where the Church of St. Nicholas was. He huffed and said there wasn’t a church (yeah, I bet there was a chapel in the fort somewhere.) Then a little whining about looking for the Abby of Saint-Victor. I mispronounced it, and he huffily corrected my pronunciation, and gave me directions by car, which didn’t work at all. The fort’s official name is Fort d’Entrecasteaux, Fort Between the Castles? There was another bit of the fort on the other side of the road, but it was posted as military property, so no exploring there, either.

However, it was a delight to find the Abbye Saint-Victor. It’s a huge church, very traditional gothic, but the very way-coolest part was a trip to the crypts downstairs, for just one Euro. This was a record of the early Catholic Church, still tinged with practices and artifacts of ancient Greece and Rome. Look at the photo of the doves carved on a lovely 4th Century altar.

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 The photo of the sheep, on the other side of the altar, is fuzzy, (like the sheep?) alas.

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Searching for the Abbey, I found the oldest bakery in Marseille, in continuous operation. It was delightful, and made up for passing a beckoning chocolatier. See the photo, but no photo of the bag of delicious cookie-like goodies I bought. They’re just for me.

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Then I started looking for the Museum of Faience, and both reports I got on its location were far beyond my walking range. I wondered about that little arrow by its name on the map. sigh. Then I found the Museum Cantini, which is mostly 20th Century art, which shows the level of my desperation. I stared several minutes at the locked gates until I realized someone was there to tell me it was closed. More whining ensued, but most of it was in English and probably not completely understood.

So now it was past 4pm, and I’d only had a nectarine since breakfast. A trip back to my nearby hotel, two cookies, and I was on the street again, looking for a restaurant. Many advertised fish in way more daring fashions and varieties than I would eat, or fries with everything, or too much white bread. I even asked if my hotel served dinner, and she sent me back out looking, and I found a delightful place, Brasserie Richelieu, right at the end of my block, and had a most perfect meal, grilled shrimp salad with veggies, with lemon tart and de-caf (and hot milk), while people-watching in the late afternoon sun. It was certainly worth waiting all day for. yum.

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Then back to the hotel for laundry and letters.

Even I couldn’t plug in all the photos I took, so if you’re

curious, check my photobucket account.


September 29th, Marseille

Did you know the French spell Marseille with an ultimate s, as in Marseilles? Not sure why, since they don’t pronounce it.

So I was rather sad about leaving Ann and her household in Cleveland. Her less-large cat, Ivan, after ignoring me for years, fell in love with me, followed me around, sat in my lap, let me take liberties with his person, etc. That was hard to leave, as also was Lucy, her little rescue doggie who becomes more charming and beguiling as she continues to feel more secure. And Ann and her dh are about the world’s best companions, but we were all brave.

The airline flights were fine. It was crowded to Newark then enough empty seats on the trip to Brussels to make things much more comfortable. We also, ta-da, were given a meal. Wow. It was pretty awful. I should have stuck to my energy bars. The final flight, to Marseille, was a bit of a time crunch, as we had to show our passports and go through security again to transfer, but we were rewarded with a 1/3 full plane, so it was very comfortable. When I finally got organized enough to leave the airport, I was just in time to be the final fare on the bus to the Gare Saint-Charles, the main train station. My timing is seldom that exquisite. The driver was less than impressed with the feeble job I did of trying to wedge my huge bag in the already-stuffed baggage hold.

Then I had to find my hotel. I haven’t been in a totally unfamiliar place for a while, and had forgotten what a not only non-existent, but latently evil, non-sense of direction I had. I would ask someone about every ten minutes for directions, would only slightly understand the directions, then head off again. So, I waited to ask a middle-aged woman who was being dropped off by a friend, The two consulted, looked at the map, then told me to put my stuff in her car, that she’d take me there. I would never recommend this idea to anyone, but I know we middle-aged women are the most trustworthy creatures on the planet. So she took me almost to the door, stopped only by a one-way street, and I had a 20 foot walk to the front door of the Premier Classe Hotel. It’s a rather spartan hotel, but clean and comfortable, and has wi-fi. And look at the scene from my window, taken in late afternoon sunlight. Lovely.

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After a much needed shower, I headed out again. After a little airline food, I needed lunch, and at the first restaurant, I waited at an outside table for ten minutes, then finally left. Service was much better at Cafe de la Banque. I asked for lots of water, and had to get a photo of the French table setting–water in an old wine bottle, the cut baguette, the wine, the water glass. Very nice. Look at the salmon; it was very nice too, and good to have some protein, finally. I thought I ordered a creme brulee, but she didn’t bring one, and didn’t bill me for one, and I didn’t want after dealing with the salmon, so that worked.HPIM0344.jpg image by zecainfrance

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It was wonderful to people-watch in France again. French people are certainly a lot trimmer than Americans overall, though they do have a range of body types. Too much smoking, alas, including the young woman with the huge baby bump and the cigarette in her hand. And I’m sad to report that the French are almost as hooked on cell phones as we are. The phone is kept on the table, for an immediate response to anything that might arrive. And people walked down the street, eyes glued on the phone, impervious to the beautiful world around them. sigh.

So my museum tracking was very unfortunate because of poor signage, technical problems at the museum, and short hours. I did make it to the completely Romanesque Church of Saint Laurent, which was first built in the Ninth Century. I think I found some of the original walls, with a beautiful pink tint in the stones. I also like the geometric patterns in the stained glass windows, .HPIM0350.jpg image by zecainfrance

HPIM0349.jpg image by zecainfranceand the use of oil paintings of religious themes for decorations

While cruising around, looking at interesting buildings, I saw one especially imposing 19th Century, Second Empire one that had the look of an administrative function, and I headed in for a look. A voice, increasingly urgent, began calling “Madame!” and I finally figured I was the madame in question. I stopped, and was confronted by a cute young gendarme, looking at me quizically. “Qu’est-ce c’est?” I asked, “What is this?” He answered that it was the prefecture building for the police. Deciding abasement was the best policy, I announced I was a tourist, apologized, thanked him, and left the building.

More wandering around, lost but enjoying the view, and then I returned to the hotel to succomb to jet lag and another shower.