After a delayed, bumpy, listless, sanguine (huh), laconic train-ride to Marseille with little to eat other than the ham and cheese I bought at Monoprix we finally arrived on the Riviera at 2 in the morning.
Of course the taxi driver tried to charge us 20 Euros for a 6-euro trip but I refused point-blank to give in to his extortion.
Marseille is the oldest city in France.
The Hotel Tonic, accommodation that Eric very kindly found for us, was directly on the Vieux Port, which, unsurprisingly, was less romantic than I remembered it when we – Richard Green and I – visited here 20 years ago.
At 3am bawdy groups of handsome Arabs sit around the harbor, some wearing dejellaba, gesticulating and smoking.
We walked the dog then fell into two tiny beds and fell fast asleep.
The first part of the first day was incredibly frustrating.
Our plan to rent a car and drive to Nice was scuppered by Hertz et al who said they had no cars. They told us gravely that there were in fact no cars to hire in the entire region!
After the preceding days of London drama we fell into an immediate funk. Being forced to stay an extra night in Marseille, getting on each other’s nerves. When we finally returned to the Hotel Tonic I slumped into the elevator and told him that I wanted to go home.
Tired and demoralized after all that had happened in London, unable to rent a car, sleeping in a miserable room, not hearing from the people we were meant to be staying with in St Tropez..
As it turned out it was really the best thing that could have happened.
Circumstance has a rather wonderful way of shape shifting.
Firstly, the good people of the Hotel Tonic upgraded us from our tiny room to a huge room in the attic with a majestic bathroom.
Once there we set about trying to rent a car on-line and immediately did so. The car paid for, as was a train from Nice to Paris on Thursday, we could relax for the first time in 48 hours. I unpacked my suitcase, had a long shower and washed the little dog.
Once settled, we decided to walk up the steep hill to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, the church with the huge golden angel on it overlooking all Marseille.
On our way there we explored the tiny, cobbled streets, leaving the tourists at the port, having my hat blow off my head many times in the refreshing gusts of wind that grew stronger as we climbed the hill.
It occurred to me, once we got there, that my climbing Runyon and praying was obviously a very human spiritual solution. Climbing clears the mind, exhausts the body and once at the top one is somehow prepared to pray.
There was a beautiful boy leaving the church when we arrived, pulling his shirt off for the decent. He had fluffy black hair and perfect disk like nipples. We were both entranced. Walking on either side of him two older men complimenting his perfect body. There was something utterly erotic yet innocent about all three of them.
Dogs not allowed in the church I briefly sat on my own and prayed for serenity.
On the way down the hill we chanced upon and made a reservation at the Passarelle on the rue du Plan Fourmiguier, a small yet intriguing looking restaurant tucked behind the Radisson Hotel on the Vieux Port.
I knew immediately that the Passerelle would make us both very happy. With blue and white awnings over the decked al fresco tables and chairs it all looked reassuringly authentic. As if to prove my point a very chic woman was cooking in the kitchen and took our reservation.
We discovered, quite by chance, a famous bakery called Four des Navettes on the rue Sainte that has sold scented loaves and hard, rose smelling/tasting bread sticks since 1781. I bought the hard sticks of byzantine ecclesiastical ‘bread’ and a sugary ‘brioche’ that was, in fact, a huge doughnut. The bread sticks were disappointing…like eating deodorant.
After a well-deserved nap we dressed for dinner and walked the half-mile back to the Passerelle and ate the most delicious food in the most perfect circumstance. I started with the salad of jambon Palme, melon, mozzarella, rocket and basil sprinkled with toasted seeds. After my salad, a tagine of lamb and couscous (I hate the word garnished) but it was indeed garnished with a delicious stewed pear. He ate grilled Loupe and ratatouille.
Unable to choose between the four deserts we ordered three of them. Yogurt with honey, chocolate tart and fruit salad.
During the dinner there was a children’s fashion show, ten very sweet infants paraded, hand in hand in the most charming crocodile showing off very pretty, beautifully made dresses.
After eating every last mouthful we sat under the awning chatting for a very long time. Drinking coffee and smoking aromatic French cigarettes. The walk back to the hotel, past throngs of happy, drunk holidaymakers was a rather wonderful way to end what promised to be a rather miserable day.
We spent a very long time making love that night. It was perfect.
The following morning we woke late, fled to the station collected our car; kangaroo hopped (stick shift) back to the Hotel Tonic where he manhandled the luggage into the tiny Ka and off we went.
Weaving our way East along the coast we discovered La Ciotat a small tourist town where we saw yet another beautiful man with a perfect smile and even more perfect body/nipples than the man on the steps leading from the church.
There were beaches and beaches covered with equally beautiful, tanned men…we gazed out of the car longingly. Gay men on vacation in the South of France looking at beautiful men. What could be more normal than that?
Interestingly and appropriately for us La Ciotat was the home to the first publicly projected movie by the Lumiere Brothers.
After a few hours of driving we settled into Sanary Sur Mer, a simple town that transformed at 7pm into a huge craft market and fete. In the Victorian bandstand a French rock band sang very spirited covers of amongst many, many others Maroon 5, The Band and Santana.
I upset the kebab shop man by buying kebab meat for the dog. The kebab man was a rude, nasty piece of work and I delighted in feeding the little dog his dinner even though the traveling companion ate half of it before the little thing had a chance.
We ate dinner in a small restaurant near the town center called (I can’t remember sorry). We started with the Moule Marinere then had the freshly caught grilled Tuna. He had the Paella, which had rabbit and chicken and huge prawns in it.
Two glasses of Rose for him only cost three euros. This made him very happy as he is incredibly careful about money.
Walked around the port back to our hotel and fell into a deep and immediate sleep.