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on walking rue dignan and on remembering where bourdain drank

A straight and narrow street cuts across a central portion of Marseille. It is rue Dignan which slices through the first arrondissement from the Jardin de la Colline Puget to near Cours Julien. It is sandwiched between Boulevard de la Corderie on the west end and the small street rue Estelle on the east end.

Rue Estelle meets the Escaliers du Cours Julien. In French “escalier” means “stairs” or “steps.” The escalier is known for its street art.

Elaine Sciolino, a former New York Times correspondent, wrote a book on rue des Martyrs in Paris titled “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue Des Martyrs.” She has said, “It’s a half-mile of magic.”

Elaine Sciolino lived nearby for a number of years on a small feeder street into rue des Martyrs, so she knows rue des Martyrs well.

I have often wondered if rue Dignan might deserve some recognition. Maybe it might not rise to the stature of rue des Martyrs as Sciolino lived it. However, rue Dignan shape shifts enough that someone clever could write an account that challenges its anonymity.

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The economic fortunes of rue Dignan changes from the Jardin de la Colline Puget to Cours Julien. It seems to be middle class in the area near the Jardin, moves into a more boutique and upscale look in the middle, then becomes decidedly poorer as one approaches rue Estelle and then climbs the stairs to Cours Julien.

Pausing on the overpass that crosses Cr Lieutaud and looking around, it is easy to see that money has not been invested in the area.

A couple of years ago, a building on a feeder street into rue Estelle and not far from it, the rue d’Aubagne, collapsed, killing eight people.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Yet, walking west from the Escaliers du Cours Julien and into the more moneyed section, one can buy chic clothing and Mont Blanc pens and fancy cookware.

Those stairs leading to Cours Julien transports one to yet another vibrant world with restaurants and some shops and many places to sit outside near fountains or under trees.

Crossing Cours Julien one walks into narrow streets, each one branching off into somewhat different directions, much like in a maze. The walls of those streets are covered with wall art and graffiti.

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Sometimes the front of the businesses have been painted with a wall art style. The images are confined to the limits of the business like a frame of a painting.

When I am at Cours Julien, I go always to a small café nearby, situated on a corner of four streets. It is Le Champ de Mars on rue André Poggioli. The espresso is cheap, only 1,30 euros, and monsieur checked my passe sanitaire, which is unusual in Marseille for a small bar café.

I mention this small place for a few reasons. I have yet to see another tourist. Why would they go into a place like it, I wonder?  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

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Outside, in every direction, one sees wall art. It engulfs you. You are surrounded by it. It sometimes feels like it begs for attention. The art shouts at you.

Anthony Bourdain sat in Le Champ de Mars and drank. How he found himself there, I do not know. There is no plaque anywhere mentioning him. I found the place while wandering and taking photos and decided to pause.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Bourdain did wander around Cours Julien and through the side streets, and I can understand why he stopped at Le Champ de Mars.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

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