night in Marseille

Canebière Capucins tram stop at night

 

I once spent an entire night wandering the streets of Marseille. It was 1979, I’d spent the day in the city, and I’d just managed to miss the last train to Aix-en-Provence, where I was living as a student. I was too cheap, or couldn’t afford, to pay for a hotel in Marseille, so I decided to just tough it out and stay awake until the first train left for Aix in the morning.

Marseille was a lot rougher around the edges then than it is now; in my student journal for 1979-80 I described it as taking on a “sinister aspect” by night. The area around the old port offered a rather enticing sense of danger, as well as several late-night cafes that glowed from within with dim, yellowish night. I entered one of these cafes and sat awhile;  however, as there was nothing to watch outside the windows, and not much inside but people drinking into the night, I soon became bored

 

 

La Canebière, pedestrians

 

The narrow streets surrounding the port featured some rather disreputable-looking bars; in the doorways of some of them sat women who beckoned passerby to take a chance and venture inside. One such woman stared at me with a challenging look, as if to say “I dare you, monsieur, to come inside and see what happens.” I walked up to her and asked, rather sheepishly, what went on inside. With a shrug of her shoulders she replied, “It’s a bar.” I walked on.

The rest of the night was a blur, but somehow the time passed as I walked and walked down dark streets, up hills, across large empty squares, and finally past the hulking shadows of the Palais Longchamp, fronted by a spectacular fountain, now silent for the night, and home to a couple of the city’s museums.

 

mysterious street, Marseille, night

 

When looking at some of my night photos from a week spent Marseille during summer 2015, I re-read parts of my student journal from my study-abroad year in France in 1979-80. There was some good description of the city, but oddly, no notes about my all-night walk. Perhaps it was an inconvenience I wanted to erase from memory.

 

nighttime tram

 

Most of the city seems to close down soon after dusk, which in the summer comes well after 10 p.m., and the streets becoming eerily quiet. On one evening, I walked along the south side of the old port and then up the hill to the Abbaye St.-Victor, whose bell towers glowed from within with purple light. There were a few people sitting on benches looking out at the view over the port and the city lights. Continuing down side streets and past restaurant shuttering for the night, my solitary walk took me back toward the main shopping area of the city.

 

restaurants in the Noailles district, night

 

By day, the city lies under a sky of deep, rich blue, the smell and nearness of the sparkling Mediterranean always in the air, if not visible. By night, in contrast, the bright Mediterranean sun is replaced by the vivid glow of colored lights from below: tram stops with people spotlighted under bright lights, a brilliant confusion of light and color from inside passing trams, restaurant lights spilling out onto sidewalks, buildings glowing under yellow street lights.

 

Cours Lieutaud bridge

 

In my night photo of the Cours Lieutaud bridge, the dull daytime gray of the buildings and concrete has suddenly become a stage set, lit by greenish-yellow glow from street lights, accented by electric-blue illumination from underneath the bridge, the blue creeping up the walls of an adjacent building. The bridge, and a set of hillside stairs nearby, lead to the Cours Julien, the “Quartier des Artistes” and one of the city’s areas for nightlife. The area is featured in a Google Night Walk, led by Julie de Mur, creator of the audio city tours Promenades Sonores, and narrated by Christophe Perruchi, a French production designer. Although I can’t access the Night Walk in China, a description of it can be found here.

 

Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, above the Abbaye St.-Victor, illuminated at night

 

For a “soundtrack” to night walks, you might enjoy listening to the album Night Walks by Hidden Orchestra.

 

night door, Rue de la République

2 days in Hong Kong

Nathan Road in Jordan district Hong Kong

interesting building on Nathan Road in the Jordan district, Hong Kong

I made a quick trip to Hong Kong, on my way to Guangdong Province in south China to take care of the work visa for my new teaching job in the city of Zhongshan. It was my first time in Hong Kong, and the brutal heat and humidity prevented me from walking around much. I can’t say it’s an attractive city – it seemed to me to be one big shopping mall – but there were pockets of interesting things to see. I walked up the long flights of stairs of Ladder Street, took the Kowloon-Hong Kong Ferry, had some Indian food in the infamous Chungking Mansions, and rode on the double-decker trams, which are quite fun. Zhongshan is just an hour and a half away by boat, so I plan to come back and visit HK often.