I have a sneaking suspicion that if I had declined to cherchez l'homme, as they say, and if I had moved from Italy to Marseille in 2002 instead of from Italy to Paris in 2002, I would have completely different prejudices regarding French people today. Much nicer ones. In fact I loved Marseille so much that now I'm going to have to oblige us to go back for a week next summer so that I have time to at least scratch the surface, instead of lightly brush against it, and hence be able to explain to myself for the rest of my life why the hell it is I don't live there.
Brushing against its surface revealed a few faults: most of the city smells like pee, there's obviously a lot of indigents, and considering it's not a rich town everything except accommodation was Switzerland-expensive; it is a tourist destination on the Mediterranean. Otherwise I was shocked by how fucking awesome it was. Everybody who I met, outside of one cabdriver and one hotel receptionist, who don't count because they have shitty jobs, was cheerful, warm, friendly and helpfully polite - striking up conversations, sharing food, proud of their city and wanting to talk about it in a way that didn't come off as chauvinistic . . .
And the men were gallant. It was a bit strange after the dead fish-face quality of Brussels, where men only eye-fuck you during the week or two of summer weather we get, to suddenly be back on the Mediterranean where they all look so appreciative all the time. But during my peregrinations and during the day of sea-kayaking, when I was the only female in a group of seven, they combined that appreciativeness with this sort of nonthreatening helpfulness that frankly I'd got to thinking only existed in books, at least when it came to French men. I've known for some time, since spending time in Alsace and Brittany, that I'm very wrong to judge France by Paris. But now I really know it; I've been pleasantly punched in the face with the fact.
Anyways, the sea kayaking - this is where we went:
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Except by water rather than by road, of course. Around l'Estaque, which Cézanne liked to paint. It was beautiful. Cool, crystalline water that was fine enough to swim in during our lunchbreak, little black fishies swimming around, hot white beaches, breathtaking views of the savage limestone escarpments jutting out of the sea, little anenomes, caves, mussels, this whole shoreline ecosystem we could bump ourselves around. Birds. Silence.
And the lovely relaxed-swimming feeling of pushing yourself along, as fast or as slow as you wanted, in one of those fucking great boats. I love the feeling of kayaking. And then when we were coming back to the launching point in the late afternoon, the wind picked up a little bit, and there were waves that seemed big to me, who'd never kayaked on waves before, and that was fun. Kayak goes up, kayak goes down. Enough to give you motion sickness but since you're right on the surface of the water, which is moving more or less the same way you are, there doesn't seem like a point to that. I think it will be necessary to sea kayak in Australia. Sharks and saltwater crocodiles notwithstanding.
Anyhoo. Off to work again. They promoted me yesterday - I'm going to take that as permission to tell the Yankee executives to fuck themselves when they need it. In closing, I didn't take my camera to Marseille as I was going on the water but this Cézanne gives you a pretty good idea of what the land looked like from the sea: