Wet Marseille


Returning with bags from a grocery shopping expedition in the Belle Aire quarter, the weather alternated between showers, sun, and full downpours. We found cover in the Brasserie Café de la Banque, one of the cafes closest to our apartment and a few steps from the United States Consulate.

The deluge intensified impressively as we sat sipping café crème, causing a fellow sitting next to us with his laptop to comment in amusement.  He said “They say that Marseille gets the same amount of precipitation as Brest [in the north of France], except that Brest gets it all year long and Marseille in a few days!”

When we told him that we had arrived three days earlier and had chosen Marseille in which to live for nine months, he blurted out the only word he spoke in English during our hour-plus long conversation: “Incredible!” But after we explained – see Why Marseille and Why Blog? – our seatmate seemed to understand.

After some pleasantries, I asked him why Marseille did not suffer the unrest and violence of the larger French cities in the fall of 2005. He believed it was because Marseille is more integrated than the other French cities.  Immigrants live downtown among and next to the French, not isolated and segregated.  In a nod to accuracy, he qualified “integrated” with a shrug, as if to accept the fact that the level of integration was as complete as you would expect in the real world of people. He said that Marseille has been a diverse city for centuries, so there is a tolerance you don’t find elsewhere.  Most Marseillais are immigrants or the children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants

Despite the relative calm during the “troubles” in 2005, he said that the Marseillais are a rebellious sort. “You know, the Fort Saint Jean from the 17th century that sits in the entrance to the port had cannons pointed out to sea, to be sure, but some were pointed towards the city as well!”

We continued to talk and switched to drinking rose. After the last downpour, the covered outdoor section of the café that was packed full of people seeking temporary refuge (like us), was now empty.

More tidbits about Marseille: our neighbor spoke of the rivalry between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, 19 miles to the north.  Aix is considered bourgeois compared to the earthy Marseille. He gave an example: while both have universities, Aix concentrates on the social sciences such as economics, political science, law, and French literature, while Marseille academia tends towards the sciences, technology, and medicine.


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2 Responses to “Wet Marseille”

  1. Dave Says:

    I am reminded of the torrential rains that greeted the four of us as we arrived in Marseilles on Erev Yom Kippur.

  2. Michel Says:

    oh la! je kiffe le blog. surtout l’aspect comparartif urbain. j’suis tout a fait d’accord avec les paralleles entre Marseille et San Fran que vous soulignez. une deuxieme etude: le rapport entre Lyon et Boston!! les similarites peuvent choquer. vive les republiques!!! congrats on the great blog (if you don’t know who I am, then ask Johanna!)

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