1/29 continued, La Bagatelle Baggage: “Ecoutez moi bien!”
La Bagatelle, the ancestral Marseille home well-loved by great great Uncle Louis and Aunt Marie.

La Bagatelle, the ancestral Marseille home well-loved by great great Uncle Louis and Aunt Marie.


So we find freeload pad #2 without much trouble…it’s on the edge of Marseille (huge! sprawling! dramatic!) that we’re entering, and we’re pretty mellow from our morning in Cassis and the sea urchin find. We park on the street, awaiting 3rd cousin Mireille, whom I’ve been forewarned is, um…how to put it…a bit high strung. 10 minutes later up zips a new bug and out jumps an attractive 50-something, and b2 goes out to greet her, arms outstretched for the customary 4-kiss reserved for family. The woman immediately launches into an impassioned diatribe, arms waving, voice rising and b2’s expression changes from a big smile…to a chuckle…to chagrin…to bewilderment, as he gives up trying to give her a kiss / hug / handshake / back pat. He puts up with 10 minutes of finger wagging before I get out of the car to see if my presence will break the monologue; it doesn’t even slow it down. Five minutes more and b1 gets out of the car. She doesn’t wait, but instead (in French) says, “Hey! How come we’re standing out in the street? Are you going to let us in or what?” Twenty minutes of rapid-fire and impassioned French pass before we even make it through the gate, up the driveway, and another 10 to get through the front door.

Apparently the vitriol has to do with sibling, parental and life resentments triggered by the channels by which b2 had asked for use of the house. Fortunately only a little of it directly involved us, (“N’est pas provoke moi, Bernard!”) but our appearance caused their unfortunate and unsettling exposure to daylight. The first 30 minutes were intriguing to piece together (understanding every seventh word), the second 30 minutes were like a scene from a movie. I kept thinking, “someone should be getting this woman on film.” Her gestures and repetitive tics (flick hair, pull up bra strap, pick at collar, pull down sweater in the back, repeat, repeat, repeat) made for a fascinating and disturbing study.

The third 30 minutes I was ready to get a hotel.

It would be a mistake to say she ever simmered down, but somehow we managed to get her out the door. Thankfully she was too distraught to join us for dinner as originally planned, but they made a date for lunch the next day. Hmmm, my datebook looks AWFULLY full.

Though the b’s have been here many times it’s usually family-oriented, so I was happy to lead them into a hopping maze of streets called the Noailles, populated by an eclectic ethnic mix.

Noailles daily market.

Noailles daily market.

Dusk was settling and the streets were teeming with produce sellers, doner kebab stands, patisseries, middle eastern bakeries and a 3-block long outdoor market that ended in a jam-packed market square. The gloriously grimy cobbled streets pulsed with energy and life. Beach towns and medieval villages are nice, but THIS is 7th heaven! (She says, til the next painfully cute harbor or impossibly narrow alleyway framing a lacy bell tower.) p10307622

Feeling smug with my success as a tour-guide, I played King Solomon and solved the dining dispute with a progressive dinner, starting with a shared platter of raw seafood (6 oysters, 6 clams, 6 mussels, 6 limpits, 3 shrimp and 3 large, round, flat, fluted somethings..cockles? my hands-down favorite), carafe of wine, bread, butter and 3 dipping sauces for 24 euro (insane!). Then after a political discussion with a fishmonger on the corner just outside of Toinou Coquillages, it was around the corner for a wood-fired pizza, salad and a wee bit more vin.

Nearly every day someone asks where we’re from, and when we say the U.S. they either shout “Yes we can!” or ask us how we feel about Obama. This fish monger not only knew about Obama but he had an opinion of Cheney, theories on our economic crisis, and updated us on Tom Daschle’s scandal. It’s astounding.

Jesus. This was the longest day of my life.

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.

1/28: Consider What Can be Gathered in a Glance

Had a breakfast of Jambon de Bayonne (French prosciutto) and bread outside in the hot sun of the veranda and read guidebooks about Marseille. It will be nice to have Dad at the wheel in that big, confusing city. Heart’s out, so I guess the salt / fat / caffeine diet isn’t so miraculous after all. Dang, thought I was on to something.

Took an afternoon drive to the intriguingly named Olliouilles, which we drive by daily on our errands, and after driving through that adorable town, a wrong turn wound us up a different gorge than planned. Ended up in a seeming ghost village Evenos, one of those gray, lichen- stone-covered (streets, buildings, walls, terracing) villages with stunning views, a dilapidated fortress, and our own spaniel guide dog. He’d run to us panting, dash off down an alley and come back five minutes later to see if we were still following. Through the streets, around a narrow path along the sheer cliff face, through the ruins, back into “town” where the only other living thing we saw was a restaurant patio full of chickens and geese. They seemed to be on good terms with each other…maybe they run the town? Like an Orwell story come to life. (Adorable photos either lost or locked in K’s camera, whose batteries have given up the ghost.

The sea is beautiful but honestly if you’ve seen one port you’ve seen most all, and we’re nothing if not port rich here. Give me a perched village any day.

Us, driving through a tunnel. No a culvert. No, maybe a tunnel...

Us, driving through a tunnel. No a culvert. No, maybe a tunnel...

B1: Run the dishwasher.
B2: Okay
B1: Is the dishwasher running?
B2: Yeah.
B1: It’s so quiet, are you sure it’s running?
D: Yeah, it’s running.

3 hours later…

B2: Oh my god, I never ran the dishwasher.
D: Yes you did.
B2: I think I set it up but never pushed the button.
B1: I knew it was too quiet!
B2: I’ll run it now.

Runs dishwasher. Very quiet. Exactly like the first time it got run.

1/24: Letting the Frog Legs get the Better of Us

Cancelled our visit to “the big city” of Toulon (pop 170,000) to await the electrician after blowing up the stove while boiling eggs. Have I mentioned the technological black hole in which we live? It’s pouring rain with gale force winds outside so no one minds, but we’re becoming shut-ins. Looked for a local internet cafe or “le wee-fee”…hahaaha….and read The Tipping Point. Can’t stand that Giuliani’s team was right and that washing the graffiti off the subways in the 90s dramatically helped NY’s crime. But political affiliation aside, what an amazing thing

Also didn’t like that I couldn’t identify myself as either a: maven, trendsetter, connector, or salesman. (Yes, it’s all about me.) As a job seeker in search of an identity was seriously hoping for some career-defining inspiration

Oh, did I manage to wander away from the topic of food for more than five minutes? Zoot! For sustenance we raided the pantry and opened a bag of 70 individually frozen and wrapped miniature frog’s legs, garlicked, dredged and fried them up. Eh. A little weird, like eating fillet of sole.

With a pelvis.

And flippers. (Yes, I have a photo but I’m sparing you.)

Thank heavens for the marinated string bean salad (with stove-breaking boiled eggs…quelle forte!) and the cheese, toujours le cheese.

Decent movie library here so we’re working our way though Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Gosford Park, Bagdad Cafe, etc. I’ve seen them all before but since I have to describe them to b1, it’s just as well. Have you SEEN Gosford Park? “Okay now it’s the servant Parks who goes by the name of Stockbridge downstairs because that’s his master’s name, who’s really the bastard son of the lord and the housekeeper, who’s sister to the cook. And that’s the mean guy married to the poor woman who always wears the same dress but I have no idea how they’re related to anyone or why they’re there.”

1/23: A Gambol to Bandol

Had the worst croissant ever today and a below average coffee after the waterfront market in our village, but the place had character at least. bruscmktShould have followed my instinct and ordered a plate of coucroute (sauerkraut, sausage, ham, hocks, more sausage, etc.) from one of the TWO market carts. At 9 a.m.  In a market with fewer than 20 stalls. (note the bay and bobbing boats behind them. painfully picturesque!)

After going out of rhythm in the middle of the night I’m hoping a steady diet of espresso and pork fat will get my heart back on track.

We met French friends back in Bandol for lunch at a waterfront restaurant (decor: Jetsons meets the America’s Cup). This time the moules were excellent (though I had the risotto, also excellent.), and served in the cutest pots with deep lids for the cast-off shells. I’ll bet I could find them at Carrefour, but schlepping them home…oy. bandol1Tarte tatin with caramel on a puff crust, and orange tart on a shortbread crust were included for 15e. And another bottle of excellent Bandol Rose. Then a promenade and an espresso, and a few wrong turns home for a nap.

Dinner was a snack of chacuterie and pastis at home, followed by a crepe-off: banana and chocolate by b1 (eh…try again with home-made chocolate sauce…) and lemon, butter and sugar from me. We each think we won………

1/22: A Technological Canard

“Our” villa in Brusc is about a kilometer from the sea, and the open floorplan, well-stocked kitchen, giant pool (covered now), cat, lemon tree heavy with fruit, and outdoor built-in bbq fireplace makes me wish it was summer and that the cooking gang was here. cat2It’s pretty perfect as long as you’re not trying to get any sort of internet connection. Or change the channel on the TV. We’re all having our separate tech issues: b1 with her hand-held “Brailleberry” that’s supposed to connect her to the internet, read her books, and be a notebook and calendar. b2 with the house computer, which he needs to consult with Rinpoche in Indiana and the editor in New York for their book that’s on deadline. Literally 12 minutes to boot up. About 7 minutes to connect. 45% of the time this crashes everything and you have to start over. b2′s gotten good about walking away while it does its thing (good buddhist practice), but if he gets wrapped up in a TV program in the meantime (oops, just blew the image of him meditating), he has to start the whole dance over again because after about an hour everything jams up and needs to be rebooted.

And me, trying to get connected to French internet so I can use my own laptop and avoid the horror….quelle disastre! Fuggedaboudit. I think I’ve managed to purge the 37 MB of French CDs I loaded fruitlessly and I’m praying our host doesn’t return to exhorbitant internet bills. Well, clicking on the thing that kind of sounded like, “are you willing to enjoy payments by the minutes?” was the only way to keep me moving forward, at one point…Who knows what I agreed to? As tech incompetent as I am in English, following instructions in French was quite the adventure.

So I’m working to change my expectation and “goals” of these first ten days. I’m tapping Havi!

We set aside our frustrations and jaunted to the top of “our” mountain to chdmaiview2check out one of the six fortresses which gives Six Fours les Plages its name, then on to the supermarket to stock up on headcheese, wine and other staples, including a huge-ass can of cassoulet (vs the big-ass tin of confit du canard), to which we’d add to our own beans. That all punctuated by a long and loud debate about the relative merits of different brands: how big will the chunks of duck be? How much will we get? Remember the time we got that brand and the meat was microscopic? Oh but then the last time, what brand was that? It had tons of duck. I think it was from ___________. The best comes from ________. Let’s get the one from __________. But do we want cassoulet or just the confit?

The French canned food aisle has me mesmerized. Instead of Chef Boyardee and Dennisons, there are rows and rows of tinned foie gras, confit (of course), and tripe stew. Six different brands of that at last count.

Up til now b1 & b2 have been working their way through the prepared foods the stores have to offer. Instead of General Tsao’s Chicken and mac ‘n cheese it’s been Boullabaise, poulet au provencal and tripe. But tonight I cooked a bourguignon with mushrooms so I could use the host’s glorious blaze orange le Crueset.

Tuesday 1/20: “Get me gunpowder, and all the empty champagne bottles you can find!”*

Long but easy day flying. PDX to Minneapolis was packed, cramped and miserable, but a quick jaunt to a faraway gate landed me in a spacious seat to Amsterdam. A trashy novel, plenty of snacks and a good movie (The Duchess…Ralph Fiennes in a supporting role with a large dose of his usual grimness but this time with some beautifully underplayed humor) made short work of a ten-hour flight. 

Three long hours in a cold Amsterdam airport, where the sun didn’t rise until after 9, then a short hop (and my first nap) through the clouds to a chilly but blue Marseille. Customs was nonexistent, and 15 minutes after landing we were in b & b’s awaiting car getting lost (not) navigating the roundabouts through Marseille. But an hour later we tucked into moules frites and an excellent Bandol Rose in, where else? Bandol, about 20 minutes from “our town”. (Here’s where, if my camera cable was working, I’d insert the photo either of my moule covered in an odd, floury gunk, or the Boules players on the waterfront court outside our heated pavilion window. The actual scene was more magical than my bad photos, so hooray for my tech incompetence.) As I downed my third glass of wine I realized, “hey! my heart’s back in rhythm for the first time in 3 days!” 

There seems to be a to-do all over tv over some new leader of the free world. B2′s been flipping between BBC and CNN for the past few hours which have covered it live, moment by moment. I’m thinking bed sounds better than watching the parade, but can I sleep with such a recent vision of Cheney in that wheelchair with his black leather gloves? “Mwa ha ha ha!” echoes through my brain.

Home sweet home for the next week.

Home sweet home for the next week.


*Overheard on a western, as b1 was flipping channels.