Marseille, the Journey (guest editor’s introduction)

17 April, 2021

Marseille by Bernard Plossu (Photo Bernard Plossu,

Mar­seille by Bernard Plos­su (Pho­to Bernard Plos­su, “Mar­seille Inédit” expo­si­tion, cour­tesy of the Ter­ri­toires Partagés Gallery). 

 Jenine Abboushi, Guest Editor

Ancient port city, mod­ern cap­i­tal and cross­roads of south­ern places and peo­ples, with such cachet every­where appar­ent. We are advised against France’s sec­ond city now for decades, guard­ing it per­pet­u­al­ly off-grid (with many Mar­seil­lais pre­fer­ring to keep their city’s gems secret). 

Jenine Abboushi.

Jenine Abboushi.

Out­sider city, poor city, uneasy refuge, rich with migrant cul­tures, strug­gles, and sto­ries both his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary. Who is Mar­seil­lais, and what move­ments and peo­ples cre­ate this south-by-south cos­mopoli­tan town? Maghre­bi-Arab-Kabyle-Lev­an­tine-Como­ri­an-African-Turk­ish-Jew­ish-Armen­ian-pied-noir-Ital­ian-French is the city’s beat­ing heart. One of the last cities in Europe with an unseg­re­gat­ed cen­ter, het­ero­ge­neous in terms of social class, race, and eth­nic­i­ty, Mar­seille’s mag­nif­i­cent, dynam­ic sea-spread seems to promise per­pet­u­al renewal. 

TMR’s Mar­seille issue brings togeth­er art, music, essays, hybrid works, and pho­tog­ra­phy to cre­ate a kinet­ic por­trait of the city and inter­ro­gate the nature of dis­place­ment, exclu­sions, net­works, plu­ral­ism, his­tor­i­cal traces, revived lan­guages, expe­ri­ences, and belonging. 

Here’s a selec­tion of rich offer­ings and per­spec­tives from artists, jour­nal­ists, writ­ers, and singers who are rock­ing our south­ern cor­ner of the world:

François Thomazeau in “Tales from the City of Galé­jades” recounts leg­endary sto­ries about La Rose du Ciel, a promi­nent house over­look­ing the Vieux Port, its famous literati, artist, and fem­i­nist inhab­i­tants who fled or fought the Nazis, the ancient his­to­ry of the site, the Abbey, and “the mosque of the Turks”— shift­ing sto­ries that bespeak Mar­seille itself. 

In “Lost in Mar­seille,” Cather­ine Vin­cent, a French-Chilean-Argen­tin­ian singer-song­writer cou­ple, who lived in Dam­as­cus for a time before the war, open a por­tal to their musi­cal project. They walked in the foot­steps of Wal­ter Ben­jamin in Mar­seille when he fled the Nazis, reen­act his essay “Hashish in Mar­seille” in the neigh­bor­hoods he wan­dered, fol­low­ing him to his end in Port­bou (where they gave a con­cert last year). They reimag­ine Ben­jamin as Jamal Ibn­tre­wan (his exact ana­gram), a Syr­i­an intel­lec­tu­al refugee aground in Ben­jam­in’s home­town, where Cather­ine Vin­cent cre­at­ed their recent album Lost in Berlin.

Bernard Plos­su lends us some of his cel­e­brat­ed and lyri­cal pho­tos in “Deci­sive Moment in Marseille”. 

gethan&myles, an Anglo-Irish artist cou­ple and long-time res­i­dents of the city, write of their gold fever and dreams. We vis­it their expo, Lazarus (that ran at MUCEM last year), of pawned gold jew­el­ry and cor­re­spond­ing sto­ries of work­ing-class and immi­grant Marseille. 

Mary Fitzger­ald in “Cities with­in the City” sets Mar­seille’s cel­e­brat­ed open­ness “to all who come from the sea” in the con­text of the city’s record num­ber of gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties of all kinds, includ­ing the vast La Rou­vière that hous­es Alge­ri­a’s pieds-noir fol­low­ing Alger­ian independence. 

Franck Pour­cel, in “Dusk: a Med­i­ta­tion” (“Cré­pus­cule”), nar­rates his pho­tographs of work­ing class and immi­grant youth who strug­gle to find their place in an uncer­tain light of a city under mod­ern con­struc­tion, of urban waste­lands, in the midst of old­er gen­er­a­tions and their rit­u­als, and in the nar­row spaces for move­ment and growth. He shares the music video he made for the group De la Crau who sing in Occ­i­tan-Provençal-Mar­itime in their new album, Tem­peri

Sylvie Paz draws inspi­ra­tion from her Andalu­sian ori­gins, and with her group Bar­rio Chi­no, she has toured and forged musi­cal col­lab­o­ra­tions in Chi­na, Cuba, Alge­ria, and Europe. She also found­ed the duo Zop­pa with Kalliroi Raouzeou. They draw from a Span­ish-Greek reper­toire, and offer us a pre­view of their album Topographia, releas­ing this autumn. 

Melis­sa Che­man, in “IAM: Mar­seille’s Orig­i­nal Hip Hop Col­lec­tive”, writes of the rise of rap in Mar­seille, and explains what makes IAM so Marseillais. 

Jenine Abboushi in “Walk Down la Canebière,” invites us to accom­pa­ny her down the main boule­vard of Mar­seille that leads to the Vieux Port in all its car­ni­va­lesque glo­ry, reveal­ing how this town allows us to exist, see, project, remem­ber, and imagine. 

Alex­is Stein­man in “Shared Plates” takes us to sim­ple, authen­tic food places in the city to reveal how the inter­min­gling and bor­row­ing between many peo­ples and cuisines in Mar­seille’s bustling neigh­bor­hoods both define and trans­form the city.

Almost all the con­trib­u­tors cur­rent­ly live in Marseille.

And liv­ing in Mar­seille is a form of travel.

—JA

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