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.
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.)
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.