restaurants in the Noailles district, 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.
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.
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
On my occasional trips to Hong Kong, I find that the city by day is all sharp corners, rushing traffic, commercialism, and faceless shopping malls. The city softens and changes its personality at night, when it becomes a clash of colors, neon signs, food smells, clamoring crowds, and suddenly-quiet and dark streets. The city becomes more intimate, enclosed; its hidden spaces – storefront restaurants, dimly-lit stairways leading to mysterious spaces above, lighted upper floors – revealing themselves.
On a recent overnight trip, I explored the night streets of the Jordan area, in the Kowloon peninsula, an area abounding in restaurants and the touristy Night Market. Nathan Road, with its tall buildings and double-decker buses, slices through the area, lined with shops and hotels. Side streets branch off to either side, lined with small markets, food stalls, massage parlors, and restaurants offering a dizzying array of cuisines. Near to the Night Market is an entire street of restaurants serving spicy crab and other seafood, seating areas spilling out onto the sidewalks.
I’d had my first Hong Kong dim sum meal earlier in the day, grabbed a half sandwich from Pret a Manger in the afternoon, and was now hungry for dinner. I wasn’t adventurous enough to order a platter of spicy crab (market price), so decided on a plate of fried noodles with shrimp, and steamed clams in brown sauce. My table was on the sidewalk, and I aimed my camera into the crowd and snapped away at random into the nighttime scene, hoping for some interesting results.
The Night Market was far too crowded to explore, so I headed into the side streets and away from the crowds. Architecturally and culturally, Hong Kong is different from mainland China; it’s more cosmopolitan and more westernized, with English spoken as much as Cantonese or Chinese. I photographed night restaurants and shops, and enjoyed the mystery of streets that alternated light and dark. Wandering at night requires you to peer into shadows and to be more alert to changes in atmosphere and mood.
I became tired after a while, so I headed back to Nathan Road and then south to Tsim Sha Tsui, where my hotel was, instead of taking the crowded metro. Back at my hotel, I contemplated my adventures, and began to plan my next nighttime walk.
“La Provence” nighttime news kiosk, Bd. de la Corderie, Marseille, 2015