Monday, August 16, 11:12 a.m.
Somewhere over central France
We’re on the last leg of our journey into Marseille — a one-hour flight from Charles de Gaule airport down to the Mediterranean coast where, they promise us, it is significantly warmer and drier than the 50-degree, sopping wet Paris that welcomed us. Our flights have been on time, mishap-free, and relatively restful — well, for me (J), anyway. D barely slept at all overnight. I think we’ll both be ready to turn in early this evening.
We had the unexpected pleasure of connecting once more with our friends, Joe and Topher, who were also connecting through Atlanta on their way home. I love airport rencontres (not the kind that happen in the bathrooms) — the reminder that we’re all not too far away from one another, and the chance that we might just meet up with someone we know far from home.
I’m already experiencing the jitters of plunging back into the language — the anxiety as flight attendants speak rapidly, the worries about finding our rental car, and then our apartment. But at the same time, the phrases and the terminology — carte d’embarquement, cabine telephonique, crème solaire — are starting to come back as I dust off that slightly hardened portion of my brain.
We’ve begun our descent into Marseille, so away goes the laptop. A bientôt…
Same day, 8:01 p.m.
After 35 kilometers spent traveling the wrong way on the autoroute, two tolls that we needn’t have payed (5 Euros in total), and countless wrong turns down unlabeled one lane roads leading up and down the hills of Marseille at impossible angles, we found our new home for the next few days. The architects of this neighborhood were creative. Rather than build one large house in the center of the hill and try to make it work with the incline, the designers decided to split up the residence into terrasses: the top level houses the main house; about a meter down into the hill, our little one bedroom apartment sits, a stand-alone, but ever aware of its dependence on the main house for things like the high-speed internet cord, which the owner swaps out for his own computer whenever he decides he needs it more than we; below us is a small patio housing the laundry facilities (a trek which almost negates the benefit of having your own lavelinge); below the laundry, a small studio where the owner rehearses with his fusion band; and finally down one more level, the garage, which opens onto the negligible rue Berger. The effect of such a layout is that it keeps one outside much more than a normal day of household chores would in America, which obviously has it’s benefits and drawbacks.
Our plan for the day was to buy a quick lunch and sunscreen, then hit the beach. Unfortunately, by the time we made it through the two-level Carrefour supermarket, discovered that we had no reliable map of the region, and realized that it was already going on five o’clock, we decided to buy dinner and call it an early evening. Unfortunately, in all my theft-preemptive forethought, I had only brought enough cash for sunscreen. Another quick trip up the torturous rue Berger, then back down to Carrefour, and we finally had our dinner: one white baguette, a wheel of delicious chèvre cheese, a bottle of Chateau du Dauphin 2008 Saint-Emillion wine (a Bordeaux), a few slices of salame pavé de poivre, and three of our landlord’s garden tomatoes (the tastiest we’ve eaten all summer!). Every time we go out in our rental car, we see another near-accident which seems to be the way of life for the marseillais. Every time, we pray it doesn’t involve our limited rental insurance.
I (J) have found few dishes more powerful than the simple staples of French cuisine. Were I to eat nothing but a baguette, a wheel of cheese, and a glass of inexpensive French wine every meal for the rest of my life, I’d live a long, happy, and healthy life. This was pretty much my steady diet when I lived in Troyes a few years ago (unable to afford much else, the second half of the baguette would become my breakfast the next morning), and, as might be expected, I lost weight. However, I (D) would probably need a little more spice to life! (Though admittedly, I don’t think I’d be complaining too much about the savory simplicity of French staple.)
We ate our simple meal tonight out on the terrasse, under the drooping grapes, soaking up the late afternoon sun reflected off the red roofs of Marseille and the Mediterranean, which we can see from the apartment. Does life always seem to move more slowly in Europe simply because we only vacation here? Do les français feel as harried in their daily routines as we do? Or does the fact that they live in a nearly-timeless environment somehow temper the tyranny of the urgent? Are there whispers of ancestors that tell them to drink wine at lunchtime as well as dinner? And do we have any access to similar voices of our own ancestors, or is our new society doomed to its continually recreated and renovated voices of the future to tell it how to live? Ahhh, the blissful musings of two Americans on a French honeymoon . . .