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cassis–a day at bloomsbury-on-méditerranée

Qu’a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n’ai rèn vist. [“One may have seen Paris, but if one hasn’t seen Cassis, one hasn’t seen anything.”] –Frédéric Mistral, Nobel Prize laureate

Cassis was a lovely fishing village, once. Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Group, would travel there each summer when they would rent a cottage called La Bergère in the grounds of Château de Fontcreuse.

After her first time in Cassis in 1925 Virginia Woolf wrote: “Nobody shall say of me that I have not known perfect happiness.”

Because of Cassis’s special quality of light, painters in the 1920s such as Dufy, Signac and even Winston Churchill would unpack their easels in Cassis.

Expanding the time frame during the the 19th and 20th centuries many painters made their way to Cassis, many of them painting scenes in and around Cassis between 1850 and 1950. Au cours des 19ème et 20ème siècle Cassis a vu passer de grands maîtres de la peinture–Derain, Picabia, Signac, Camoin, Verdilhan, Monticelli, Cazille, Guindon.

A larger list of artists, some well-known and others not, would include: Emile Othon Friesz (1879-1949), Paul Guigou (1834-1871), Ernest Georges Chauvier de Leon (1835-1907), Adolphe Joseph Monticelli (1824-1886), Jean-Baptiste Olive (1848-1936), Félix Ziem (1821-1911), Joseph Ravaisou (1865-1925), René Seyssaud (1867-1952), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Louis Mathieu Verdilhan (1875-1928), Charles Camoin (1879-1965), Auguste Pegurier (1856-1936), Georges Brague (1882-1963), André Derain (1880-1954), Paul Signac (1863-1935), Pierre Ambrogiani (1906-1985), Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958), Moiese Kisling (1891-1953), Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), François Nardi (1861-1936), Rudolf Kundera (1911-2005). But wait, there’s more!

chez moi–43.2820°N, 5.3488°E–à la presqu’île de malmousque

J’écrivis cette première méditation (L’isolement) un soir du mois de septembre 1819, au coucher du soleil, sur la montagne qui domine la maison de mon père, à Milly. J’étais isolé depuis plusieurs mois dans cette solitude. —Lamartine, Premières méditations, I, Commentaire.

Le Malmousquin, 35 Rue Boudouresque (Malmousque) Marseille 13007. La ligne de bus est bien le 83 et l’arrêt c’est Endoume. c’ètait là où j’ai habité en octobre. Genial. Isloé. Tranquil. Parfait pour moi qui avait voulu échapper la vie quotidienne de Paris et de Valetta.

I chose to stay in Malmousque, a small former fishing village now attached to Marseille, because I had wanted to be isolated a little after leaving Malta. I wanted quiet. During the previous two months, I had been living in Paris and on Malta in its capital Valetta. Now I wanted a small town, but after a short bus ride to find myself surrounded by people, if I wished it. I had wanted good restaurants, too.

Each morning then after leaving my apartment, what do I see? What I see is often bathed by the morning light. I leave between 9:00 and 10:00. The sun shines most days. A tee-shirt is sufficient or an additional shirt sometimes is needed.

One afternoon leaving my apartment and turning left and left again, I arrived after a short walk at the eastern shore of the small peninsula. I saw the Anse de Maldorméune des plages les plus fréquentées du quartier, and not too much farther the chic seafront villa Le Petit Nice Passedat with a Michelin starred restaurant(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Menu Passedat en 9 services–formule Déjeuner et Dîner à 250€ par personne. Menu Evolution en 7 services–formule Déjeuner et Dîner à 200€ par personne. But wait, there’s more!

why put martigues on the list?

I forgot why I had wanted to visit Martigues. It was there in plain type on my list under Marseille, which was in bold type. Go to Marseille and spend some time in Martigues.

I remembered only that the little Venice-like town with boats lining the canals has an history going back to the Prehistoric era, the Gallo-Roman times, and the Medieval period.

Sometimes I put a little town on the list because it has a connection to a writer or a painter or a musician. Nina Simone lived and died in nearby Carry-le-Rouet, for example.

The little fishing village L’Estaque, attached to Marseille, is generally not well known, but it is associated with Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism. Cézanne, Braque, Derain, Dufy, Marquet, Friesz, Macke, Renoir, Guigou and Monticelli painted a number of pictures there.

James Baldwin spent the last years of his life in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Marc Chagall lived there as well as did British actor Donald Pleasence.

Martigues is not far from L’Estaque. It should not be surprising that Martigues attracted a number of painters. That is why I wanted to visit.

On one of the canals, four brightly painted boats, red and yellow, reflected off the deep dark blue of the water. They were a sharp contrast to the predominant white boats that lined most of the canals. I kept coming back to them, pausing for a moment, always surprised each time by their intensity. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!

une vraie bouillabaisse at chez fonfon

I imagined the young man a Michelin Guide restaurant reviewer in disguise. He had arrived at Chez Fonfon without a reservation. He wore a tee-shirt and carried a copy of T. E. Lawrence’s Lawrence of Arabia in his hand. He was perfect for the job. No one would suspect.

His eyes belonged to Marcel Proust when he was young. His nose was slightly beaked, too. A close shaved beard made him seem a little older.

Could he be a reviewer after all? No young people eat at Chez Fonfon unless their parents have invited them and are paying the bill. Did he have an inheritance? Was he, so to speak, independent?

I noticed him for two reasons: I heard him say he had no reservation, and, secondly, he did not get any attention after he was seated.

A few days earlier on a Wednesday, I climbed the steps to Chez Fonfon. I had wanted to eat bouillabaisse, the wonderful Marseille soup that has rules. (I will say more about that later.) I had no reservation. Monsieur m’a dit, « Non ! C’est complet ! » I was being turned away.

Ruth Reichl described the experience this way: “‘Do you have a reservation?’ This is said so challengingly I instantly feel as if I am an intruder who has wandered into the wrong restaurant.”

The young man had arrived with no reservation, so naturally, I wanted to know his fate. He was permitted to stay. He was the only one. For others who followed, « Non, c’est complet. Désolé ! »

Yet when he sat down, no one brought a menu. Waiters scurried about him, going this way and that, cutting paths that encompassed him in a triangle. No one asked if he wanted an aperitif. He had patience, this young man. But wait, there’s more!