Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Train Ride Back From Marseille

Day sheds a whole new light on the world
2, 15, 85, and I’ve found my place.
What tales do I have to recount to you all about the city of Marseille? To start, let me tell you that it’s filthy. It seems to me that my reason for existing this year was to describe the caricature that is France this year. A people, riled up in revolt against a senseless government isn’t something extraordinary for this country. 
As for stereotypes of the french lifestyle, stripes are very à la mode this year, I can probably count on one hand the number of meals I’ve been served without bread and indeed, they eat an insane amount of cheese. They do hold themselves in a way I’ve never seen a canadian walk, and they tend to like beautiful things. 
Focusing in on this city, any travel brochure, any review with forewarn you not to travel here in the company of germaphobes. It is fact, not fiction, that the streets are littered with bits of paper, cigarette butts, empty Cola cans, I could go on. On this particular year, in this particular month, and this particular week was the beginning of the mass clean up. Why so particular?
Among the many workforces to go on strike against a raise in the age of retirement were the sanitation and disposal workers: Indeed. The garbage men. A week ago now, they had to quit the strike, because the health department were interfering, for fear that the water (contaminated by rat urine) was going to cause widespread illness. Charming. The incessant rain didn’t held matters, reducing the piles of carton boxes, restaurants leftovers and household trash to piles of sludge 2 meters high. There was literally no where to dispose of trash but the streets, so the streets turned into long, traffic and trash jammed dump yards. 
Luckily for me, they had called in the army a few days before my arrival, and the bulk of the work had been done. One of the first things I saw when I left the Gare St Charles was an incredible palace, built five years before the Eiffel Tower, under the same principal. It was stunning. 
Graffiti, graffiti, graffiti.... This is the city of a thousand fading colors and names. There is no exaggeration to say that it is on almost every building. What are the stories of the people who thought that their names were so important, they should be written? What sorrows were they enduring to cry out for someone to recognize them, without a voice? What are the messages they’re pleading for someone to decode? Have any of them faded with the elements?
We’re on the outskirts of Marseille now. This trip will be a lot longer than my last, since I’m passing Toulons, Cannes, Antibes, and headed all the way home to Nice. When I get off the train, I have to take the bus, to get to the tram, to arrive at the Gare Routiere where Thierry will be waiting for me. I will do all this carrying my satchel (laptop, three books, one binder, two textbooks, and most of my other heavy items. It’s a force of habit to travel with my items of weight and worth on me at all times because of airports), saxophone (affectionately nicknamed “le bete” meaning the beast, or the stupid one), and my duffel bag (it suffices to say that a Girl Guide packed for a week and a half long trip, and foresaw rain and cold, heat and excercise, and a costume party. Needless to say that almost polishing off one’s Christmas shopping didn’t lighten the load any). I will do all this? In black suede pumps. Aurélien will love the justice of it all. 
During my stay with the Chamouleaus, I (cringe to offend any athletes by saying “played”) tested Christophes patience (he passed!) by trying to embrace an education in squash, I blundered, and tripped, and would have made a fortune had I made a video out of my attempt at soccer. I lounged in a 19° pool while the boys did laps, and laughed when they complained about the “cold” (has anyone else ever been to the ocean water pool at White Point Beach Lodge back home?). I rediscovered an (dare I say it?) enjoyment of badminton, only after rediscovering that only idiots play sports with rings on because they give you water blisters. 
The single blister, beyond worth the glee of realizing I’m not a miserable failure at every single sport on earth, was barely noticed as it was. The hike that the boys took me on, saw me home with the bouquet that Mathieu will surely remove from his desk now that he’s recovered his room, and a collection of blisters. Four band aids later, I was able to enjoy my mothers cackles, knowing that there was a little shred of butch in me after all. :) 
Yesterday, despite the threat of rain, Mme. Chamouleau took me in town before lunch (we were back by 1, and were gone for two hours, let your mind theorize the hour I’ve been getting up), and took me to what is possibly the city’s best known feature: L’eglise de Notre Dame de la Garde. I’ve been to a few churches since my arrival, but I have to say that this one is beyond special. Perched on it’s mountain overlooking the city, it’s crowned by a multiple meter gold painted statue of the Virgin. The inside of the chapel is adorned by plaques, thanking her for the boat men she returned safely from long voyages and storms. Strung from the arched roof are chains of exquisite boats, offered to her as thanks for delivering ships home safely. The basement, however, was what caught me off guard.
There was an aerated chamber downstairs full of the candles for which a circulation system was specifically installed. The point was to allow the candles to burn all the way out, never being put out even through the night, which is only slightly short of evil. The candles are wishes, said to be granted by Mary if they are made with pure intentions. In Marseille, she is more prominent, and these candles in her name are more potent than prayer to Jesus.
As always, it was only stepping out of the church that I realized that I was moved almost to tears, felt the same quiver in my heart that I feel every time I’m in an old church. Either way, getting off the topic of religion now.
On our way down from the mountain, after capting the panorama to the best of my ability on my cell (camera is dead again), she stopped the car in the middle of the road to point out a tank from the second world war. It was guarded by a white picket fence, and the fresh writing on her side read Jeanne D’Arc. She told me about the canon that was dragged up to the church in the last year of war by the Germans to destroy the 26 century old city below, and she told me about how the soldiers who manned that canon managed to destroy the German counterpart and saved the city before they all died. My throat was already tight before she looked at me and smiled gently, and told me they were all Canadian. 
Just thought that I should let you all know that I think I’m learning more about my culture, my history and what it means to be Canadian since I’ve left than I ever would have known at home. My country just keeps meaning more and more to me. 
Tomorrow is my little man’s first birthday. That’s impossible, I forgot about even putting together my application together when he was born, how can a year have passed already? Where did the time go? 
The train is stopped in Toulons. I still have three quarters of the trip to go.
But am I talking about the train, or this year?
Two weeks from little Shane’s birthday, and I will have been gone from home for three months. Two weeks is nothing at all.
Two weeks is sight reading and a first run through a new vocal piece.
Two weeks is two or three scale sets in saxophone.
Two weeks is buying a sandwich on the run to choir twice.
Two weeks is only putting a dent in my lesson for the prépas.
Two weeks is a quarter of the new session we’re starting in gym.
Two weeks is barely any progress in spanish class.
Two weeks is almost half of a month.
And I just said that two weeks go by in the blink of an eye, a month passes, and the only change I notice here since there really aren’t seasons is a little surprise when I start have to change from writing Sept to Oct and Oct to Nov on my worksheets. Other than that, one month flows quietly into the next, without a distinction in the whirlwind I’m waging war against. Holy accidental alliteration (can you tell my dad was a journalist?). The point is, I honestly didn’t realize much time had passed until vacation started, then I knew that I had already done 7 weeks of schooling, and had two off. 
But those silly little two weeks are over now, just like the preceding, and the next two will fly away just as quickly.
My trip is flying by, in a flash of cypress trees, music scores and marks out of 20, in castles I didn’t have time to see (this trip), smiles of people I’ll see again soon and the days that melt away between one event and the next. On the 14th, I’m going to see Ta Bouche, an Operette where Eva and her brother will play (and sing). That’s 10 days away now, but when I first arrived at her house it was a week short of a month away. 
I’ll blink and a year will have gone by, and I’ll blink, and a year will have gone by and I’ll be gone again. 
Somehow, when I had imagined a train ride through the mountains of Province in france, I didn’t imagine as many factories, and storage plants. How strange, to look up one minute, and be in a concrete graveyard, and the next be passing a winding road that leads up to a villa on a hill, over looking infant vineyards. How beautiful, to see a 2 meter high farmhouse, in the middle of a field where a nameless farmer is storing his rusty old tools. It’s like a photograph my mother feel in love with, only a fall rendition. I guess there are seasons here after all, I just have to stop looking for red maple leaves.
Actually, I guess I wouldn’t find such a spectacle at home either, since you’re already sleeping under flurries. What a funny friend you are time, it seems to me that you steal everything that we r. 

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