Article

Rooftops of Marseille

Picture postcard from Marseille: No mood for adventure

29th September 2015

I was dropped at the main station, the day hot and darkening. The grand white steps of St Charles rose behind me and a warren of streets was beckoning me in. But I had no curiosity to spare. My pride had been wounded that week and a cloud hung over my head.

I had fancied myself as a grape-picker. I fell short, physically and mentally: sustained an injury, lost motivation, cut short my season. For the first time in my life, I swapped a flight for a land journey, but the road quickly lost its thrill for me and the city its promise. All I wanted was comfort, a welcome, maybe something sweet or hot to drink.

The city’s a forest of stone, my dear
The city is a forest of stone,
There once was a chorus of birds,
now there’s a chorus of phones

So many of my decisions that summer were beholden to the pressure of appearing adventurous. I must impress the people whose lives I touch, I must spoil those who host me, I must make their days and brighten their homes. When that fails, for some reason, it hurts.

That day in Marseille my pride was hurting. I bought a six pack of beer to thank my host Ulysse and advanced towards the address on my phone. I was a pretty helpless guest, hollow eyes and heavy sighs.

In later years I’ve come to see that people don’t need me to be more than I am.

Last week in a Berlin café, a man with a ponytail approached me with a hand extended. At first I didn’t recognise him.

Man – it’s Ulysse. From Marseille.

I felt a rush of gratitude and, still, a jolt of shame.

The Fountain is out now.

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Marseille sketch
Marseille sketch

 

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