14.4.15

Graffitti and the "Bo-Bo" of Marseille - Cours Julien


I have trust issues with stairs. The last time I met with a cluster of stairs, a guy in Hampi told us about a temple atop a hill, and that the climb had “Sixty Seven” stairs. Now, there were THREE of us. All three heard “Sixty Seven”. But after Three Hundred steps, we were beginning to doubt that man. Turns out, there were Five Hundred and Sixty Seven steps. Our guy forgot the “Five Hundred” bit. So when, in Marseille, the husband and I stood at the bottom of what looked like a lot of steps, I looked at him very accusingly. It was his fault.

The husband, usually a quiet introvert, has this knack for getting strangers talking to him. There we would be... me, with my genial smile, and overall friendliness, matching the enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy, with him seated opposite me, quiet, brooding. And the next thing you know, folks are chatting up with him. Restaurant owners, museum guides, boulangerie staff, random street folks... just talking to him like they are his long lost friends. Well, whatever.

The previous night, on our walk back from the Old Port in Marseille, to our AirBnB accommodation near the Post Office building, he spotted this restaurant called “Khan”. So Mr Khan instantly wanted to eat there. I wasn't so enthusiastic. But the next afternoon, he persisted. So one moment, we were having a quiet lunch. Next moment, there were conversations happening at the table, with the servers, the chef and the restaurant owner. Politics of South Asia was discussed. Some jokes were cracked. And suddenly, a tide of suggestions happened. The elderly owner insisted that we go to this “Old village”, very close to the restaurant. The chef agreed. So did the server. They kept kissing the tips of their fingers to tell us how beautiful the place is. And as the video below will tell you, they weren't exaggerating!

And then, the stairs happened. Quite a few of them. And we landed in one of the most beautiful places in the city – Cours Julien. Of course, at that time, we didn't even know what this place was called. But we were stunned. There were quiet, quaint lanes, lined with bars, restaurants, theatres, small shops, and boutiques... many painted with stunning facades. Known as the beloved of Marseille’s “Bo-Bo” (bourgeois-bohemian) community, Cours Julien is like getting a sudden entry into a wonderland tucked away in an innocuous nook of the city. Walls after walls, covered with graffiti, some unremarkable, but lots of it with striking colours and created as a form of art expression by edgy artists. Elaborate, vivid murals shine out, as evening gibes way to music, and even a spot of impromptu dancing, as folks start gathering with their wines and their pastis.






Once we were able to recover from the shock and pleasant surprise of having uncovered this place, we started closely observing the walls. They could be brightly coloured advertisements for a restaurant, or a cafe, to tongue-in-cheek political statements, or with some reference to artists, movies, and some pertinent social issues.
As if the exquisite street art isn’t enough, the district, despite its rare charm, isn’t crawling with tourists. The prices are not sky high, and it’s a great place for a drink or a relaxed meal. I would also recommend La Licome, a shop that makes its soap the traditional way, with olive oil, pressing the products with a formidable iron contraption.
You can also browse around for hand-made clothes, second-hand clothing and lots of vintage products, alongside art galleries, and art based products.










It was not a sunny day, and as we walked around for what later turned out to be a couple of hours, it began to drizzle. The evening was setting in, and we could guess that this place would have some fabulous nightlife. But we had already planned a dinner with our AirBnB hosts, and we had to rush back. Suddenly, I wasn’t upset at all about the stairs, though this should in no way be construed as a thawing of my relationship with them. Though on this occasion, I actually loved our climb down, back home.

Marseille is easily one of the most fascinating places in Europe, and I’d like to do many more posts on different aspects of the city. But I’d definitely like to revisit France, for Marseille alone, and for the many more treasures this country holds. 

All photographs by BreakfastProjekt!
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1 comment:

Hope you are thoroughly enjoying your tryst with the Wonderland madness! Share your whims here. We are open to brickbats and love...