A journey through the history, cultures, and societies of Marseille. There are many Marseilles, or at least many versions of Marseille: seaside village, haven of gangsters, gateway to the East, city of immigrants and outcasts. It is by turns the dull bourgeois provincial town where nothing ever happens and the mysterious unknowable city of the Mediterranean. In Marseille Mix, William Firebrace explores the many Marseilles, the invented and the actual. Leading readers down narrow streets, through undulating terrain that seems at once, or serially, Italian, Greek, Levantine, and North African, Firebrace traces the history and culture of Marseille through landscapes, buildings, food, films, literature, and criminology.
In seven chapters, in writing that is by turns essay, narrative, description, list, recipe, glossary, and conversation, Firebrace investigates the city's defining mix. He tells stories of famous Marseillais, including Marcel Pagnol and Antonin Artaud, and famous visitors, including the dying Arthur Rimbaud and Walter Benjamin (who wrote about one visit in “Hashish in Marseille”). He describes the brief period when Marseille was the point of departure for European refugees fleeing the Nazis and the city's mixture of desperation and decadence during the Vichy regime. He visits the basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde and gazes down from its terrace at the panoramic view: an agglomeration of neighborhoods and landscapes that became a city.
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