1/29: Moving Day. “Where’s the pastis? Didn’t you pack the pastis? Oh my god we left the pastis.”

After days where the simple act of showering or getting gas filled us with a sense of accomplishment, we were ill prepared to hit the road. But by 11 b1 was stuffed into the back seat of our rented Yaris , along with the half of the luggage that didn’t fit in the hatchback, and off we chugged along the coast west to Marseille. Stopped in Cassis for an early lunch: jambon cru, cheese and a baguette from the open market. After a week of seaside towns, some cute (Bandol) some ugly (Six Fours) and some bustling (Toulon) I thought myself immune, or at least hardened, but nope. A-d-o-r-a-b-l-e little port…like the Mini Coupe of seaside towns.

The sun was warm so we had a pick-me-up coffee quay-side along all the French vacationers having their pre-lunch pastis or chilled bottle of rose. The man from our neighboring table deserted his companion for at least ten minutes, returning with a platter of glistening something…but what? As he set it on a tall wire stand I counted 15 raw sea urchins on the half shell. So THAT’s what those guys are selling from that table by that boat! Recently back in rhythm I wanted to limit my salt, but what kind of loser traveler would let that experience pass me by? So we had one apiece, scooping the insides out with our remaining baguette and tossing the spent shell into the water.

Spiny, briny bounty.

Spiny, briny bounty.

Then on to the big city and La Bagatelle, the now empty family home of my third cousin. The “cottage” sits just off the Corniche, a spectacular batch of coast (in the Guinness book of world records as the world’s longest beach, apprently) that changes from deserted cliffs to mansions and on into teeming, sprawling Marseille. Four blocks from the beach, one block off a major thoroughfare lined with grand houses, behind a large HSBC bank, and behind a low wall with a crotchety security gate sits a rustic country home. It’s a disconcerting juxtaposition and amazing location, though not without its price in family drama. Oooo…fodder for the next post

Mansions along the Marseille Corniche.

Mansions along the Marseille Corniche.


  1. Jill Said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    Oh man…you’re making us wait to hear the family drama? And I’d like a description of what the sea urchins tasted like, please. I’m guessing something other than chicken. And finally, please post a photo of the house where you’re now staying…or I guess I can wait until you get home, but it’d be fun to see while reading the next chapter about the family! Thanks for the post – it’s fun to live vicariously.

  2. Richard Said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

    Mmmm, urchin.

    How does it compare to the uni-on-rice sushi experience? I’ve always thought that it tasted like a mouthful of delicately textured ocean-floor slime … in a good way! ;)

    Also: what’s your favourite pastis? When in Marseille, Ricard, I s’pose…

    Mmmm, pastis.

  3. admin Said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    The urchins here vary hugely in meat even if they’re the same external size. Male vs female? I’ll need to research. We had 1 urchin the size of a hunk of uni, but most have 5 very small “stars” of goo-yum radiating from the center. Love your description; very apt! Saltier here though I think, possibly because we’re scooping out the whole shell to get a single bite.

    And my favorite pastis…hmmm. B2 swears he prefers “51” though I don’t know how anyone can tell the difference. Side-by-side pastis tasting next trip (where it’s cheap)! I use it as a vehicle for separating the flavors of the headcheese from the jambon cru from the pate. Though at a French person’s house, it will be served with an array of complexly shaped, hydrogenated faux cheeze (you know that sensation of ice cold and melty that you can only get from fake food?) and cracker snack-like constructions. Facing the appertif aisle of every grocery store is a matched-length aisle of these snacks. And they’re ridiculously expensive, easily more than a fabulous raw ewe’s milk cheese. Oh the horror (if not a bit of a guilty pleasure).

  4. Leslie Zemenek Said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

    I’m envious of your culinary adventures. Keep up the mouth watering descriptions!

    P.S. Thanks for the chocolate. -L

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