Parisians, hold your (natural) dirty look s’il vous plaît, this girl jumped ship down to the South side where the sun actually shines. It’s true, I’m betraying you, but don’t hate me.
Three years ago when I studied abroad in Paris, I was convinced that it was the most amazing city in France. How mainstream of me, ewiiieee. After four months of living à la lumière, I had learned exactly which smelly metro stops to avoid, where to buy the cheapest and best crêpe without going anywhere near Saint-Michel, and the perfect place to sit and stare at the Seine with a baguette and bottle of cheap Monoprix wine. I was so in love with the semester that I’ve been back almost every year to pretend I still live in the 15ième with my French home-stay.
By the end of my exchange I had traveled to parts of Northern France to vineyards and castles and spent my Spring Break in the Côte d’Azur wandering around Nice, Cannes, and Monaco, and yet still returned to Paris relieved to be “going back home.” Being a loyal lover of Paris seemed like a solid statement until I caught myself creepin’ on the down low with my new girl, Marseille. But here’s why it was worth the cheat.
1. La mer and le soleil
“Mar-seille” shows it’s charm with it’s name alone; mer means sea in French and even more direct, mar means “sea” in Portuguese, coincidence? Psh, no. As a Brazilian it’s critical that I have sunshine and water around me as much as possible, it’s what keeps my spirit alive. So it’s natural that when I lived in Paris, I was really in “Pale-is”, as in I was so damn pale and Vitamin D deficient that it hurt. I mean, the zombie crack-head look is ok for some time, but when I feel the rays on my face it’s like taking three shots of espresso with balloons and unicorns flying everywhere. It’s as though being sun and sea deprived is a tradeoff for being able to live in Paris, and I don’t feel like giving it up anymore.
2. It’s falling apart, in a good way
France as an entire country is aged beautifully. Paris though, has had so many expert architects restore buildings that were once falling apart that it still looks like it’s in mint condition. There’s nothing wrong with that; the most visited city in the world needs regular spa treatments and face lifts. But I realized after visiting Marseille that I need a little scruff, a little rough, and a little tough to fall in love.
When I first walked into Le Panier, the old quarter of Marseille, I felt like I was strolling through untouched streets of pre-Medieval Times France that had been dipped in a bucket of expert graffiti. I couldn’t help but get lost in my time-machine thoughts while walking through alleys between crooked buildings.
3. They’re not afraid of colors
If you didn’t pack black, navy blue, or gray, don’t worry, you won’t be stared at here. Despite being old, off-white and pale yellow aren’t the only color options the Marseillais are into; mmmm mmmm, they are not afraid of using colors. Both in architecture and in how they dress, this place is exploding with vibrance. Every direction you turn there’s a mix of some colorful building with modern graffiti that made me want to buy finger paints. It’s all organized chaos. There was even a tiny crevice between two buildings that inspired us to make our rap music video “Up in Le Panier, Feelin’ like we Kanye,” stay tuned for that one on our channel…
4. People actually smile
The people you meet while traveling always make you a little biased on having had an awesome experience, or a shitty one. For me, I was already sold that people here were nicer than Paris when we had an amazing Airbnb host turned adoptive French mom who bent over backwards to make us feel at home. She prepared lavish breakfasts, packed us a picnic for a day at Les Calanques, and gave us intense French practice with our nightly talks, not because she had to, but because she wanted to, avec plaisir.
Having met her was enough to convince me that people from the South were just overall nicer than Parisians. But then we met this crazy man named Philippe, who owned a soap shop called 72% Pétanque and acted exactly like Robin Williams. His niceness took it to the next level. Philippe welcomed us into his shop with a chipped tooth smile and a contagious cackle laugh and gave us an impromptu and entertaining one-man show.
Without us even having to ask, he began showing us how he makes his soaps, complete with a history of why Marseille is known for its soap production. Mind you, there were people coming into the store that he was completely and obviously ignoring to continue telling us about Marseille. He made a joke (in their face like the bada$$ he is) saying that they’ll live if he took five more minutes to accept their payment.
After a solid hour of soap talk, we laughed at his poses as we took necessary pictures with him. Despite working seven days a week completely alone, he had the most comical expressions and outlook on life. His motto was no cellphone, no computer, just his soap and smiles.
After a quick four day trip I was convinced that my heart belonged more to Marseille, sorry not sorry