Our Home in Marseille

It is the eve of our departure from Marseille. So I start this story from its ending.  Friday we returned from a quick 3-day jaunt to Besalu, Spain, to visit James Wallace, ex-Seattleite and former owner of Besalu Cafe in Ballard. James and his wife, Kaire, settled there in 2017, in a 16th-century 3-story stone farmhouse large enough to have 6 rooms available to rent. More of this story in a future post.

On the drive back to Marseille, we enter the city from the east and once again marvel at the immense sprawl of buildings covering the rocky hills that flow down to the water’s edge. Up and down, clinging to ledges, balancing on top of each other, facing every which way. Pastel hues drenched in the late afternoon sun. It is truly a wondrous site and at the highest point, is the cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde or “la Bonne Mere”, topped by its giant golden statue of the Virgin Mary, protector of the fisherman and their boats.

Marseille is coated in layers of time and story. From its earliest beginnings as a Greek colony in 600 BC to becoming a focal point of the french revolution to surviving the plague and Nazi bombings. Now France’s second-largest city, it is a major center for immigrant communities from its former colonies.  Marseille may lack the sophistication and style of Paris, but it more than makes up for it in the gayety and laid-back ease of its polyglot, polychrome inhabitants. Marseille is a beautiful city with many different faces and a whole world of stories.

Someone said to us, Marseille is like a beautiful woman with a large scar on her face—determined to undo her image as a city in the grips of the mafia. The efforts of recent years and a new mayor are paying off. The city is booming with business and tourism.  Very much a rebirth.

In the car, Bob and I talk about how Marseille has grown on us and how much we will miss our little apartment on top of this hill. With its beautiful light and view to the water, our stunning sunsets, blooming oleanders, cypress trees, umbrella pines, Aleppo pines and the sound of children playing in our building’s park. It has come to feel like home.

You notice that I used the word “home”, which begs the question what makes home, home? As someone who has lived straddling two cultures, it is a question that comes up fairly often and I still don’t really know how to answer it. Is it a particular abode, neighborhood, city, country, or group of friends, family, or our mate? Is it a mental construct that we carry around with us wherever we go, a memory of the safety and comfort of parental love? Is it what we bring to a place rather than what we take from a place? How much of home is our own making rather than an accident of birth? 

Bob and I are in a stream-of-consciousness walkabout at the moment. Our lack of home has meant that we are each other’s home wherever we are as long as we are together.  The fact that we can feel “home” in one short month as strangers in a curiously lovely, complex city is very gratifying. We will forever think of Marseille with affection and while we will miss it, there is still adventure to be had and new homes to make and deeper roads to travel.

More stories of Marseille and the surrounds to come.