Posts Tagged ‘Marseille’

Just a South-of-France update, for those of you who are interested in social justice and/or camping in the great outdoors for months on end with no toilets or running water.

The local administrative court in Marseille has just approved a decree authorizing the evacuation (read: expulsion) of a Roma encampment near the city’s Porte d’Aix, which you might remember as the sad southern cousin of the Arc de Triomphe. The neighborhood is at the edge of Marseille, near the highway that leads to Aix-en-Provence (Hence “The door of Aix”. They make so much sense, these Frenchmen.), and every day (well, four days a week) for seven months, when I returned to Marseille from Martigues or Aix-en-Provence, I would pass the tent city on the side of the road,  frequently illuminated by bonfires and animated by children playing, surrounded by the most ordinary of life’s detritus: broken strollers, plastic bags, food scraps.

By most accounts, the place was disgusting, probably extremely unsanitary, and its residents would undoubtedly have benefitted from a better living situation. The problem is, however, that their current situation is being taken away from them, with no real alternatives being proposed. Several times since the beginning of the national campaign against the gypsies who are just bringin’ everybody down in France, humanitarian groups have spoken up to suggest Emergency Housing Centers and work programs for these immigrants, many of whom, as illegal immigrants, aren’t allowed to work in France, make their living on petty crimes and begging. But it is rare for such centers to materialize, as a well-publicized announcement in February to open an emergency center in April has failed to yield any tangible results in Marseille. And even when such centers do open, they are likely to close soon after due to lack of funding or general ineffectiveness.

The camp is periodically evacuated, but after several weeks or months, the debris reappears, the bonfire resumes, and it’s business as usual for its residents. By most indications, this expulsion does not appear to be any different, but the process grows tiring, and city leaders can only effectively express sympathy to the tent city inhabitants’ plight for so long. Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, justifies the expulsion from a humanitarian perspective: “conditions of despicableness [I am dubious about this translation, WordReference], extreme precariousness, insecurity and wretchedness”. So sure, the living conditions are terrible, JC. Are you going to suggest long-term positive social change? Probably, right? This guy sounds legit.

“These people, there are too many of them, we wish they’d go somewhere else.” – Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, five days earlier.


Yes, because of this encampment, the Porte d’Aix neighborhood by the Gare St. Charles has a distinctly shoddy feel. People living without water or toilets are risking their health, yes! They shouldn’t have to stay there!  But forcing them out without offering up a viable Plan B is just dooming this population to repeat this same exact story time and time again in a kind of bizarro Whack-A-Mole situation. And full disclosure, I might not be as interested in this if I hadn’t witnessed the comings and goings of this particular camp for seven months. This is by far the most esoteric and self-serving post this blog has seen. Not sure why you’re still reading. But it gives me a good soapbox from which I can chastise this group of lawmakers for treating the symptoms, and not the causes of a population in crisis.

Obviously this is all indicative of a larger trend in France, as you may remember Sarkozy ranting against the damage Roma do to the fabric of society blah blah et cetera. But as much as news stories and blog posts and public forums are dedicated to the reasoning behind their expulsion, next to no one talks about the end result: where do these people go? When you’ve built a life, however modest, what must it feel like to be told that not just you but your entire ethnic group has to abandon it? It turns out, it’s all the more cruel when the French government has decided that their destination is going to be You-don’t-gotta-go-home-but-you-gotta-get-the-hell-up-out-of-here-istan.

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Gangs of Marseille??

So it has recently come to my attention that there is a significant portion of the American tourism handbook industry that is actively telling people not to come to Marseille. The section on Marseille in France for Dummies (actually entitled “Marseille: Crime and Bouillabaisse”) includes such gems as “don’t take your car [to Marseille] as it will almost certainly get broken into or stolen” and “make a quick tour of Marseille…a major transportation hub in the South.” Transportation hub?? Also, they suggest that everybody that comes to Marseille pretty much only does so for prostitutes and/or drugs. I even read one online source that (legitimately?) warns travelers who are not up to date on their vaccinations of the potential risk of hepatitis A.

Well consider this post a rebuttal to “Crime and Bouillabaisse” from someone who has not only never been robbed/attacked in Marseille (I mean, knock on wood I guess) but is also a vegetarian and has never had a 60 euro bowl of fish stew. Furthermore, I did not come here in search of prostitutes and drugs. Ok maybe a few prostitutes, but listen, Marseille is great, and I’ll tell you why: (more…)

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I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit, blog-wise, so, as a stepping stone to my eventual recovery and future regaling posts, I’d like to share something with you that literally just happened, so that you can be as up to date as humanly possible. This sequence of events was so cartoonishly representative of my life in Marseille that it, perhaps more than anything I’ve posted yet, deserves a place on this blog. (more…)

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When I arrived in the South of France in late September, people repeatedly told me I was coming in the worst time of the year: that despite the olive trees and Mediterranean Sea being right there, it was going to get cold. I…did not believe them. I thought that I, who have lived through winters in New York and Maryland and Cleveland for heaven’s sake, could handle whatever Mediterranean “winter” they could throw at me.

Well, allow me to be the first to admit that I’m freezing. This is entirely my fault. I neglected to consider the 20-minute walk I have to do to get to and from school, so that even though it’s a balmy 30-40ish degrees Fahrenheit, I spend much more time outdoors than I do at similar times in New York. I also neglected to take into account the indisputable fact that my current “winter wardrobe” is woefully insufficient for anything remotely resembling actual below-freezing temperatures, and as hard as it is to find warm vegan boots in the States…well…you know the rest.

The evident upside of the cold snap is that it reminds me inevitably of Christmas. In New York, the first dip below 30 degrees heralds the end of fall and the beginning of the frost-bitten, well-illuminated, clothing-layering, tourist-avoiding, spiked-hot-chocolate-drinking, ice-skating, window-shopping holiday season. Cue music. Preferably “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” but the Chipmunk song will also do. (more…)

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Several months ago, I came across the website for an English immersion camp for French children and teenagers, I scanned their website, said “Hey! I speak English!” and decided that working as a counselor there might make a good way to stay in France over the summer after my teaching contract finished, if I so desired. I wrote the link on my desktop notepad and soon forgot about it.

Somewhere around the beginning of August, I rediscovered the link, and looking through it again, I noted that they had a fall break session, and were looking for two more counselors to work over the All Saint’s Day holiday (yes that’s right I got a week and a half off of school for All Saint’s Day. Suckas.). I applied, and after a 5am phone interview (thanks time difference), they hired me. (more…)

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The relentless drama that was my search for a roof and a bed has, I am proud to announce, officially come to a close. I am a proud lessee in a 2-bedroom apartment near Place Castellane, in quite a chic neighborhood of Marseille, if I do say so myself. I’ve been moved in for about five days now, but since I only signed the lease and paid the rent last night, I wanted to hold off on any celebratory blogging, lest something else go wrong, which, let’s face it, is not unheard of.

One of the other language assistants sent out a notice about two weeks ago, saying that a teacher at his school were looking to rent a second bedroom in an apartment where another English language assistant was already living. As this announcement came to me while I was deep within the throes of exhausting internet searches and telephone calls to real estate agents, looking for a place with Corey, this seemed like a rather handy solution for me, one in which I wouldn’t have to pay a finders’ fee, easy to get to the train station to commute to Marseille…seemed pretty sweet. So I visited, I thought about it for a few days, and I eventually decided that although this apartment wasn’t perfect, I preferred it to the agonizing uncertainty that would be continuing to look. So, without even having met the Liverpudlian roommate, I agreed to move in the following weekend. (more…)

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You normally have to be wary of places that call themselves the [Major City] of [Entirely Different Place]; “The Paris of the Midwest,” “The Tokyo of the Middle East”….it’s generally not only misleading but a complete affront to the original city.

My front porch

In the case of Martigues, the Official Tourism Website of which features, in huge font, the words “La Venise Provençale,” the claim to be a French iteration of the northern Italian lagoon/city does, I find, a rather large disservice to both cities. (more…)

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August 2010

8/15: After having sent a frantic email out to all the language assistants, I find two or three who are willing to room with me in Martigues. One of them says “I’m not racist but…” and one lives far away and wants to live in her town. The third is Austrian Christina. We agree to look for a place to live together.

September 2010

9/22: I arrive in France, and immediately begin looking for an apartment in Martigues. They are all old, unfurnished and overpriced.

9/23: I see a few more apartments, but not very many, because everyone is on strike.

9/24: I meet up with Austrian Christina, we walk around aimlessly looking for low-cost housing options. Everyone tells us we should go to the Foyer des Jeunes Travailleurs for an inexpensive option. We go, they are closed.

9/27: I go back to the Foyer, and they agree to rent me a room. I take a tour, and it is kind of crappy, but I’m okay with it, and agree to move in on Oct 1. I take the rest of the week off. (more…)

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In the continued saga that is my search for a home/living place/bed for the next seven months, there have been a lot of ups and downs and ridiculous encounters with various people who either want way too much money or who are trying to get rid of super crappy apartments. This is boring. I am not going to tell all those little stories because they are terrible and will make you never want to move to France, and above all they make me very very angry.

However, today was a first. While I searched frantically for accommodation in Martigues and also in neighboring Marseille, I was the intended victim of a fairly classic scam, and quite frankly it added a bit of spice to the supremely boring and frustrating task that is finding an apartment for such a short period of time. Thus I will share it with you.


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My arrival into France was heralded by some pretty stark reminders, both direct and indirect, of the French propensity for la manifestation, or protest.

In many ways which may seem foreign to outsiders, when the French are unhappy about something, they are not satisfied with blogging or complaining about the state of affairs on cable news. No, public dissatisfaction with lawmakers and governing officials can only be adequately expressed by taking to the streets. Or, by ignoring any attempts at imposing said regulations. (more…)

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