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What am I doing here? Halloween in Marseilles

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?

31 October 2012
Marseille, France

The locals here all laugh at me when I tell them that I love Marseille.  They’re rightfully dumbfounded since during almost the entire week I’ve been here, the weather has been terrible.  The famous Mistral winds have been tearing things apart at 130 km per hour, a day of bucket dump rain soaked me on my second day here, and on top of that, I got a nasty case of food poisoning when I made the terrible decision to eat some fast Chinese food at a place populated almost exclusively by homeless people seeking shelter from the rain. And yet – I actually am loving Marseille. This wonderful South French city that gets 300 days of sunshine but has graced me with some awful weather.

Welcome Home to MarseilleMarseille has a terrible reputation as a city with nothing much to do, a huge reputation for a legacy of crime, and streets that are filled with dog-shit. It is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in France and also has some of the highest unemployment with rates reaching 30% in some neighborhoods.  When I ask the locals I meet what I should do while I’m here, invariably they recommend that I take the little fake golf-cart tourist train. That, in fact, might be the worst thing about Marseille and even though I am most certainly a tourist – I just can’t bring myself to get on one of those trains.  At worst, I willl sometimes ride a double decker City Tour bus if I am in a strange city for a very short amount of time…but a fake choo-choo…yeah, I just can’t. I refuse.

bog fluffy white pillows at Mama ShelterSo, what am I doing in Marseille? Walking. Eating. Riding the bus. Exploring back streets people tell me not to go down. Drinking the occasional glass of wine from a 2 Euro bottle of red. Marseille has it’s own 2 Buck Chuck, though I suppose it should be Deux Euro Charles. Of course, after living in the cultural wasteland of Sefrou for these several years – I’m made extremely happy by little things.

Steak Tartare in Marseille“Hey, it’s a self service laudramat!” “Oh my God, look at that graffiti” “Wow, a wine shop – right out in the open” “A Chinese restaurant with chinese looking people working in it – holy shit” “Wow, look at that – a walk in grocery store with wheeled carts!” “Huh, they actually sell Immodium in this pharmacy!” – So, I’m an easy customer to please.

Fancy Juice Beakers at HiParkStill, I do have a discerning palatte and a taste for the delicious and Marseille has been fulfilling my needs on that front with no problems at all.  My first couple of nights I stayed at the delightfully quirky Mama Shelter- Marseille and quikcly made friends with the general manager Cyril and the head DJ – Bobzilla. My first Marseille meal was perhaps my favorite meal in 2013.  I’ve always been a big red meat eater and I always have enjoyed sushi and sashimi but I”ve always been a little bit afraid of Steak Tartar which is really just beef sushi.  Bobzilla convinced me to try the Steak Tartare at Mama Shelter and it rocked my world.

Armenian Chef in Marseille making ItalianThe next day Cyril recommended that I visit a delightful little Italian restaurant run by Denis, (Pierre- Antoine) a self trained Armenian immigrant who blew my mind with his homemade orange and lemon ravioli. Even at lunch, it was almost impossible to find a table and if you don’t have a reservation for dinner – forget about it.  La Contonetta is worth a visit to Marseille all by itself and if you can catch him in a spare moment Pierre-Antoine Denis will regale you with stories of how the neighborhood has changed since he and his wife opened the restaurant. (Located at 24 Cours de Julien tel. 04 91 48 10 48 for reservation.)

Delicious meal at La ContonettaPart of the reason my stay has been so nice has been that after Mama Shelter, I moved into the very comfortable apartments of HiPark Marseille. With studios costing as little as 69 Euro per night, this is an ideal accommodation for families or for slightly ill writers with lots of work to do. Four days of having a home in Marseille means that I have been able to cook, work, and sometimes step outside into poor weather and say “Ah, it’s too cold, maybe I should get some work done.”  While I miss my wife and daughter who are back in Morocco, this time has been a godsend for me since I’ve been able to catch up on some projects, prepare for next week’s  World Travel Market in London, and get ready to write my next novel for NanoWriMo 2012.  The title is “The Keys to the Riad” – here is the short synopsis: The discovery of a ring of ancient keys leads a  career focused woman on a journey through the exotic world of mystics and fortune tellers.

Grafitti in MarseilleFor those who don’t know – NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month in November.  You simply commit to writing a set number of words each day and at the end of the month…your novel is written. For me, it’s a great exercise and keeps me a writer when business threatens to make me into something else. This year will be challenging because November is shaping up to be a very busy month. Here are a few more pics and thoughts from my time in Marseille.

Happy Halloween! Now I’m going to head back to Mama Shelter and see what the Marseillese do for Halloween! Tomorrow I’m off to London.

Just for the record, I did accept discounted rates and free food at the hotels mentioned above but with no conditions about writing for them – I like to think I got the discounts just because I’m a nice guy.  As always, I stand by my reviews and recommendations and will never recommend something unless it’s worth recommending.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook