La Marseillaise

Old Port Under Stormclouds

Marseille feels better like blue sky feels better, ocean after miles and miles of deadlock and checkerboard farm. There is noise. Traffic. Kebab stands. Garbage. Blinding sun. Pale white cliffs that tumble into blue. A seafarer’s church on a hill.

The old port in its neat horseshoe is crammed in with blue water and the toothpick masts of little boats and big boats with names like Tetris and Eileen 1932. Fish mongers sell little fish whose sides flash like mirrors, and one mustached man, with a shout, plops the biggest lobster I have ever seen on a counter. The biggest lobster. As long as my arm. Tourists cram in for photos. Another man sells seahorses while escargot wriggle in a tin cup beside him, their sticky antennae flailing, looking a little desperate.

We are only just arrived but in the afternoon we knock back pastis — cloudy like milk in the glass — on the terrace of a corner bar while everyone watches the Europe Cup on a wide-screen TV that’s been moved outside for the occasion. The clouds roll overhead but we are unhurried, minding the sting at the back of our throats.

We start walking five minutes before it starts to rain in fat, splashing drops and we’re soaked to the knees an instant later, even with umbrellas, and a solid thirty minute walk from the hotel. The sky is half blue-black clouds like a bruise and half shimmering white behind a lighthouse and the stones of the old fort. A mile away, a single bolt of lightening flickers out of a cloud and touches down on the hill near the church. The thuderclap shakes the pavement.

After the rain, it doesn’t get cold. It stays balmy like summer and that’s how I know I’ve come in the right direction.

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