Secrets of Marseilles

Yesterday was a busy day once we hit the door. We first went to a big mall in Marseilles. As we drove into the northern part of the city, I immediately noticed all the projects. But the thing is, their projects look nice — nice enough, in fact, that at first I thought they were just big apartment complexes like they have in Hollywood. Nope, they’re projects. We drove right through the project that the famous soccer player Zidane grew up in, too. The immigrant population is enormous in Marseilles, particularly from North Africa. Even in the malls, the “hip” springs and summer outfits for the younger set all featured this Algerian “desert” theme of “urban turbans” and drop-waist dresses with leggings.

What a lot of people don’t know is that, while Paris and other cities in France have been having trouble with race riots, Marseilles has had absolutely no problems at all and yet their immigrant population is enormous. The reason? No one knows for sure but theories by leading experts (which include The Frenchman) are that in Marseilles the projects are integrated beautifully with the city itself. They don’t sit five miles away in isolation so that their inhabitants have to take a dinghy train to reach the main population and jobs. They are actually a part of the city here. And, as I mentioned, they’re easy on the eyes, some overlooking the Mediterranean (from a distance and with nasty industrialized sectors in the way, but it’s no different than any other part of Marseilles).

That’s not to say there isn’t despair, crime and other problems in Marseilles. In the mall, there were very few people. It being Saturday around noon and not a Muslim holiday that we could think of, the only conclusion we could reach is that the people here are largely too poor even for the cheap shoe shops that sell 15€ boots. The Carrefour in that mall, which is like a two-story Target with a supermarket attached, was a bit busy, but not nearly what one would expect. Again, lots of Muslim families. I notice fashion a great deal here, and the Muslim women had integrated the French skirt-boots-jacket combination with head scarves and darker colors.

In contrast, last night we rented Marie Antoinette. Sophia Coppola has such an interesting style. I loved the costumes, the food, the way she grabbed the feminist reconstruction of La Reine, the occasional integration of pop music. It was beautifully done. On the other hand, the story was a bit flat. We never see the full consequences of any “dangerous” activity. The Queen has an affair with a soldier who “has a reputation,” yet nothing comes of all the gossip and hand wringing. There isn’t even any gossip about the legitimacy of her son. And in the end, after a glut of indulgent activity in the film, we don’t see the actual fall of the monarchy, just a single shot of one semi-destroyed room in Versailles as they flee. (It wasn’t even that badly damaged.) I think the bottom line is that we never see the bloody and dangerous results of the lifestyle that killed the monarchy. Yes, historically we know there were consequences, we know that our Revolution fueled theirs, but without any of them in the movie it feels like the end of a successful party that was merely busted up by the cops. And maybe that’s all she wanted to show. For me, it wasn’t very satisfying as a story.

Writing today. With my tax refunds in place, I can now focus on the next project in peace.

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