All I knew about Marseilles before arriving was based on the Taxi films and various articles about the rise of the far Right in France. So I was mildly surprised arriving on a warm cloudless winter’s afternoon to find a clean vibrant city with a beautiful port. Thanks to Routard, (French guidebooks equivalent to the Lonely Planet that have now been going for 30 years) I found a fantastic hotel in the Vieux Port with a view over the beautiful harbour – it really is quite a setting. Surrounded by bars and restos, full to the brim with expensive boats and yachts, I got some fabulous photos from the hotels roof terrace.
I was extremely disappointed last night to turn up at the Lounge bar expected a “soiree de jungle/drum’n’bass to find that the bar was closed for “une quinzaine” for renovations – anyone who knows French knows that this should mean two weeks, but generally means sometime in the future… in any case too late for me. I had visions of a vibrant nightlife here but generally found half empty bars with bright fluroscent lights, some haggard moustached gentleman propping up the bar and nothing resembling a “trendy bar”. This isnt always a bad thing but it seemed a lot quieter compared to nights out in Lille.
Today, however, I began to really like Marseilles by wandering around the Arab areas (yes, the same areas the hotel owner had implicitly told me not to go) and soaking up the vibrant culture. Just sitting reading Libe with a cafe and watching the world go around. There are some truly poor areas in the town and I began to realise why some of the locals think they are ignored by Paris when it comes to funding issues.
There was one thing I really wanted to see in Marseilles, the Unité d’Habitation designed by Corbusier in the 60s. Its a fantastic building but his concept of buildings in the sky and a place to live which catered for all your needs is something which generally failed but has been copied worldwide including the amazing duplex Trellick tower in London and those buildings above Sheffield railway station whose concrete walls dont work quite as well under the grey Sheffield sky. I was impressed by the lines, colour and scale of Corbusier’s building anyway, worth a trip out of town.
At every occasion I have tried to tell the French that British people are generally not pro-war and that the Sun is not a paper read by people who know what they are talking about.. Hopefully there are now less people who believe everything they read in the papers! Sometimes its pretty hard to understand what people are saying, the accent is really strong sometimes.
Finally my trip into FNAC has renewed my beliefs that the French music scene is diabolical. Not only is Phil Collins number 3 in “le hit parade”, and Johnnie Halliday number 5, but the only other section apart from International was Hard Rock/Punk…. One good thing was seeing the Hoggboy album on the shelves.