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another day in le panier

“Marseilles isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see. And you realize, too late, that you’re in the middle of a tragedy. An ancient tragedy in which the hero is death. In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.” ― Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos

“In Paris and later in Marseille, I was surrounded by some of the best food in the world, and I had an enthusiastic audience in my husband, so it seemed only logical that I should learn how to cook ‘la cuisine bourgeoise’—good, traditional French home cooking.” —Julia Child

Several years ago I visited Marseille, France for the first time. It was against the wishes of friends and family. I had been told Marseille is too dangerous: I might get mugged, or worse, I might be killed and left in an alley without my passport and nobody would know who I was and I would be transferred to a morgue and no one would know my name or where I had come from. The latter was not the worse case scenario, they thought. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

I passed a few days in Marseille during that first visit without any menacing experiences. I did not get mugged, but I thought I was tempting fate by walking alone one afternoon into Le Panier, alone with my camera slung over my shoulder and visible to anyone.

Le Panier is the oldest quartier in Marseille. It posed problems for the Germans during the Second World War, so they told everyone to get out, they set dynamite at the foundations of the buildings, and they blew up a large portion of that quarter that lined the Vieux Port. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Today, modern buildings have taken their places. Behind those bland new buildings, the old still standing quarter Le Panier boasts old limestone structures that have been in disrepair over the years but now are experiencing refurbishment.

When I walked through those neighborhoods several years ago and when I felt unease, Le Panier was a low income area. Jobs were wanting. Read Le Marseille Trilogie by Jean-Claude Izzo and you will understand the character of Le Panier then. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

I love wondering through it. I love wandering through Medieval villages along the Côte d’Azur, and wandering through the maze of streets in Le Panier feels the same. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Today, Le Panier is changing. I see a lot of tourists in the streets. Women are walking alone there with cameras in hand. Interesting restaurants serve interesting meals. I had lunch the other day in a small Japanese bento spot, which filled quickly. Tako San is its name.

And . . . everywhere I walked I saw art on the walls. Bright, vivid colors cover large sections or small corners of walls. One sees the usual graffiti, but that is over shadowed by the simplicity and the complexity of the art. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)


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