Marseille’s hot noise was so different from Paris’s cool sophistication. To many of our northern-French friends it was terra incognita: they had never been here, and considered it a rough, rude, “southern” place. But it struck me as a rich broth of vigorous, emotional, uninhibited Life—a veritable “bouillabaisse of a city,” as Paul put it. —Julia Child, My Life in France
A few years ago I read Julia Child’s autobiography My Life in France. I was curious about it for three reasons: I cook from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she had lived in Paris, and she had briefly lived in Marseille.
I spend a good amount of time in both cities, and I have a digital copy of her cookbook on my laptop. I consider those good enough reasons to remember her and to imagine her life in Marseille in 1953 and 1954.
I took some passages from My Life in France and put them in italics. I wanted her words to describe what she and Paul, her husband, saw and felt. Except for the hotel where they stayed when they first arrived in Marseille, she was specific about where they lived, the two apartments, even giving the addresses.
I decided to look for those apartment buildings and a 2018 version of their lives.
We arrived in Marseille with our minds open, hope in our hearts, and with our taste buds poised for new flavors. It was just turning 5:00 p.m. on March 2, 1953, when the heavily loaded Tulipe Noire rolled to a stop in front of our little hotel.
My natural inclination was to go out and explore while Paul was at work. But in order to get anything done, I forced myself to keep regular office hours at the hotel. There, my Royal portable typewriter was my steady companion. With no household or marketing work to distract me, I began to catch up on my correspondence and continued to research our cookbook.
APARTMENT #1—VEUX PORT
I paced around our little hotel room. It was cute, but we needed more space. To get rid of my restless energy, I decided to look at rental apartments. The first one I saw struck me as a fake Art Nouveau gnome’s-hut type of place. Then I saw a tasteless circa-1900 stinker. Then I saw a small apartment on the fifth floor of a building on the Vieux Port, overlooking the fishing fleet. It was owned by a Swedish diplomat who had gone home to recuperate from tuberculosis; the caveat was that once his health improved he could return to Marseille at any time. That didn’t appeal. But after a few more days of living out of a suitcase in that dim, cramped hotel room, we decided to take the tubercular Swede’s apartment while we looked for a more permanent roost.
Our new rental apartment was located at 28-A Quai de Rive Neuve, on the fifth floor of a pale-beige Art Deco building with distinctive wave-patterned metal railings. It was a small space, but charming, and it had marvelously expansive views over the Vieux Port and its fishing fleet. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!