HILDHOOD memories are never the best barome- ter when it comes to judg- ing a destination you haven’t visited since you were barely out of short trousers – several visits to France since my stripling days have since made this fundamental clear.
Perhaps it was the endless car sickness-blighted journeys from Fife to the continent in the back seat of our family Ford Sierra or my less than endearing habit of getting into scrapes with other kids on innumerable “family friendly” camp sites, but either way my Gallic recollections were always tinged with a brattish brand of whiny melancholia, with one notable exception – I thought Marseille was the most exciting city in the world.
All of this is strange. Marseille, for its many attributes, is not a city for kids. It is a grown-up place with grown-up obsessions like music, gastronomy and political activism, and grown-up problems such as street crime,drugs and a poverty gap which polarises it between wealthy enclaves to the south and gritty working class suburbs in the north.
However, somewhere amid the grime and the glamour lies a proud metropolis unlike any in France, whose vitality can be grasped by any visitor with a taste for the lurid.
Brash and brawny, rough and ready – you’ll find none of the usual Gallic airs and graces here. What it lacks in seduction, however, it makes up for in intoxication.