France: Racing through the streets of Marseille in a Lancia

Author in Puligny vineyards

Author in Puligny vineyards

Story and photos by Larry Wilson

We had to drive fast and furiously to make another train in Lyons, a city I can’t recommend returning a rental car in; it was only by planning for calamity and an extra two hours that we made it.

Once settled in, it’s a gorgeous ride to the south. The world outside your windows goes from lush Oregon-green to arid New Mexico-dry.

We were on our way to a fabulous stay with Phoebe’s longtime friends Catherine, a Parisian lawyer transplanted to the port city of Marseille, and Juliane, who’d flown in from the Atlantic coast. Catherine’s apartment from the street would appear to be ordinary; inside it was vast, and included a beautiful suburban-sized backyard garden, beautifully tended.

She fed us fabulously and drove us in wild fashion in her Italian Lancia throughout the ancient streets, getting us onto blocks so tight I never thought we’d get by without a scrape; it is a skill no American has.

Sometimes it took Juliane popping out of the shotgun seat and yelling at some apparent Mafiosi in a mini-Mercedes to move it or else, but we always survived in the end.

We paid an enchanting visit to a cathedral dedicated to shipwrecked sailors high above the Mediterranean.

I had figured that this was the place to easily find a big bowl of bouillabaisse, the fish stew invented in Marseille, and compare it with the impostors I had imbibed over the years elsewhere. I had figured wrong.

We ate in most of the time in Catherine’s wonderful backyard, and she insisted the iconic dish would be hard to find. The one time I found it on a menu I immediately ordered it; the waiter informed me that alas it was finished for the evening. At 50 euros, some $70, perhaps it was just as well.

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