The Mediterranean Sea, the mistral winds, and its history make Marseille a sensorially captivating city. Petra and I spent the last two weeks of May exploring many of its arrondissements. We even sailed to Frioul Island, the shy sister of the Chateau d’If Island, where the Count of Montecristo spent 14 years as a prisoner before swimming to freedom.
Frioul Island has an overpopulation of seagulls and our visit coincided with the end of the nesting season. Gray chicks could be spotted here and there, clumsily walking on the scraggly rocks. Mistakenly, we let our dog Mia off the leash, and as a true Beagle, she followed her nose. She walked too close to the hidden nests for the comfort of the flying parents. Almost immediately they circled over her like fighter planes ready to descend. We called Mia but she ignored our pleas to come back. The seagulls were getting closer with each loop, and their shrill cries had the tone of attack. I knew I had to get to her quickly, otherwise she would get hurt. But the terrain was so uneven and steep that I could barely stand. The seagulls were obvioulsy defending their territory we had invaded. The attack seemed imminent, yet Mia was oblivious to the air scene above her. Between yelling and attempting to run toward her, I managed to stave off the seagulls in time to put the leash on Mia and walk away. It could have been a scene from Hitchcocks’s classic.
The following cinemagraph gives a sense of Frioul Island. Look attentively to appreciate the two flying birds (one is seen by its shadow over the rocks, the other loops around the top left). I like the poetry of cinemagraphs. They are silent moving frozen moments.
On our third day we hired a guide for a walking tour of the 7th arrondissement, one of the largest and nicest in Marseille. It comprises the Roucas Blanc neighborhood with its long staircases, gorgeous views, and pedestrian streets – a luxury in a city overran by autos. Our first four days were defined by the mistral, a strong, cold wind that blows from southern France into the northern Mediterranean. It is common in the winter and spring, and strongest in the transition between the two seasons. It helps in keeping the skies clear, giving Marseille 300 sunny days a year and the climate that defines Provence. The following cinemagraph is a view of the sea from a stairwell in Roucas Blanc during the mistral.
Toward the end of our trip we visited the Palais Longchamp, one of the many monumental projects built in the mid 19th century during the reign of Napoleon III. It was created to celebrate the construction of the Canal de Marseille, built to bring water from the Durance River to Marseille. A large fountain is the centerpiece of the palace, and its gardens, now a park, are among France’s notable gardens. The following cinemagraph is a view of the many small water fountains that make up the large one. Look closely at the two on the right side.