I can’t say enough times how much I love Marseille; it is one of the most colourful cities I know. The Marseillais are known for speaking in an accent and with a sense of humour incomprehensible to the rest of France, and for spinning the weird stories of everyday life into legends. See that broad boulevard over there? It goes to the end of the universe. Did you hear about the time the sardine blocked the port? Well, I kid you not, it happened. (There was actually a big ship called the Sardine that ran aground in the bay and blocked the port, but with a name like the Sardine, wouldn’t you think it was a fish?)
We nearly didn’t get out of Marseille alive.
You have to understand that the local top division football team, Olympique de Marseille, is practically a way of life there. OM’s great rival is Paris St-Germain (although neither of them, interestingly enough, are doing as well as our own region’s team, Montpellier-Hérault FC. But I digress). Who else but Jean-Claude would stand in the middle of the Vieux-Port de Marseille and sing, in a lovely booming voice, “P-S-G, P-S-G, P-S-G!” at the top of his lungs? He and Thomas, the host, and I had to run like hell to escape the angry mob wanting to throw us in the harbour. Of course, it was only the crew of the Sardine, coming at us from the boulevard which leads to the end of the universe, but if it was playoff season we would have been in real trouble.
The next step in my adventure, after saying goodbye to Jean-Claude and our hosts –and running all over Marseille looking for an Albanian phrasebook among the fantastic used bookshops of the Cours Julien and finding it and a heavy biography of Mobutu besides, damn this book-buying obsession of mine!– was going up to Paris to catch my flight to Ljubljana. Instead of my original plan of sleeping in Charles de Gaulle Airport, I had kindly been offered couch space by my godmother’s sister Judith. I’d met Judith and her husband quite a few times, most recently when I was in Paris three years ago. I won’t say I know her that well, but I like her a lot. She’s the mirror image of my godmother, Miriam, who’s wonderful. Also, unlike a lot of older women—hell, a lot of PEOPLE– I know, she’s not all dreams and no action. Instead of just fantasizing, like so many American women seem to do, about moving to Paris, learning French, marrying a handsome artist with a sweet accent, opening an atelier to make medieval musical instruments and starting a family of cute, bilingual kids with names like Louis and Pierre, and a couple of cats (sounds like a Joni Mitchell song, doesn’t it? With the exception of that bit about the kids, perhaps?) Judith actually did it. Fais de ta vie une rêve et de tes rêves une réalité, as St-Exupéry put it. Her husband Jerome is a friendly, softspoken guy who produces independent films and teaches film school. Of the aforementioned Louis and Pierre, one is finished his undergrad at the Sorbonne and the other is almost finished. I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard that. How could it be that those two little guys, all big eyes and funny accents and shy friendliness like their father, who made sandcastles, splashed in the waves, built Lego castles and played endless games of Battleship with me at their parents’ beach house in Delaware—are finished their undergrad? But hang on, the youngest one is what, three years younger than me…I guess so! Judith was probably thinking the same thing—what happened to the skinny girl in the flowered one-piece, or the smart-mouthed 16-year-old, and who is this tattooed 20-something backpacker standing on my doorstep at one in the morning with a bottle of rosé?
Just wait until people start getting married and having kids. Then we’ll really be old. Oh wait, that’s already started…
Judith and Jerome both have white hair now but otherwise look and speak exactly the same. Jerome’s English is better, or maybe I’m just a better listener (both, in fact, I think). They have a warm, solid brick house with ivy creeping up the front and enough cozy rooms for four people plus a guest, and two kids who have grown up educated, worldly and articulate like they are. Will we be so lucky?
I was woken up the next morning by the smell of toast and coffee, at an hour of the morning that I can normally never be dragged out of bed for, except for flights. Judith and Jerome were kind enough to share breakfast with me, and she drew me a map to the metro before I took off into the morning that hadn’t entirely risen yet. I got to de Gaulle in plenty of time, got to the gate…and suddenly I was surrounded by guys speaking Slovenian.