Wednesday, 8 May 2013: VE Day in Marseille
Written Wednesday, 8 May 2013
Because I'd had so much trouble making dinner reservations for this evening (and never succeeded in finding anyone open; who knew VE Day was still such a big deal in France?), we had lunch at the airport before taking a cab to our hotel, in case we couldn't find anyplace to eat. After claiming our luggage, we strolled into the ticketing hall, looking for eateries, and the first we came to was a Burger King. The second was a Starbucks. "Ridiculous," I exclaimed, "there has to be at least a Brioche Doreé!" And of course, there was, just beyond the Burger King, but that was the extent of the choices (except for a mini-supermarket). We had a fine lunch of "Rustique Campagnard" sandwiches (rustic baguettes filled with raw ham, shavings of Cantal cheese, butter, lettuce, tomato, and vinaigrette). Characteristically, David had a chausson aux pommes (a puff-pastry apple turnover) and I chose a pain au chocolat. Both excellent.
As it happens we needn't have worried. Our hotel, a block or two away from the Vieux Port (the old port of Marseille, built when a body of water the size of about four football fields could handle all the maritime traffic), is in the midst of an extremely lively commercial district, packed with restaurants, and only one or two out of every four seemed to be closed. Once we'd settled in and unpacked, we went out to get some sun (for the jet lag) and to scout dinner venues—the choices were legion. Our loquacious Corsican taxi driver had assured us this would be the case.
A few years ago, the rage was for life-size fiberglas cows painted in a wide variety of styles. Here and now, the trend has expanded to encompass many other species. For example, this rhinoceros, shown in two views, graces the sidewalk near our dinner restaurant.
This is our first experience with the Étape (now "Ibis Budget") level of Accor hotels. They certainly are economical but are therefore rather spartan. Each single/double room is equipped with a double or twin beds (with fitted bottom sheet and white duvet(s)); a small, wall-mounted flatscreen TV; a 15x40-inch shelf that serves as a table/desk; a sturdy, square plastic stool; two 8x16-inch shelves that serve as bedside tables; a full-length mirror; simple but adequate built-in lighting; and two electrical outlets. That's it. No ice bucket (and no ice anyway; this is France). No telephone. No closet—just a 6-inch rod that protrudes from one wall and bears a few hangers. If you need an alarm clock, hair dryer, or an iron, you can check one out at the reception desk (they also offer baby-changing tables and what they call "umbrella baby beds"). The bathroom is equipped with a quite serviceable shower, sink, and toilet; a single, sturdy wall hook; a small waste basket; two disposable plastic cups; two bath towels; and a bathmat. No toiletries other than two miniature bars of soap.
Written Thursday, 9 May 2013
The one "frill" in the whole operation is the shower head. It's large and well designed, but in addition is equipped with five clusters of three tiny LCD lights. When you first turn the shower on, and the water is cold, the five green lights illuminate. As the water warms, the blue lights come on, and as it warms further, the green ones go out. When it reaches medium-hot, the red lights come on, and eventually, at truly hot, the blue ones go out. More amusing than useful, it seems to me, but fun.
For dinner, we settled at Le Marseillais, which faced the Vieux Port (note the waiter in the doorway waving at the camera). We dispensed with starters and went right to the main course. David ordered "sole meunière," which arrived whole on a platter, accompanied by a dinner plate on which were already arrayed a timbale of olive-oil mashed potato, a heap of bright-yellow rice, and a pile of carrots stewed with mushrooms. The waiter then deboned the fish at tableside, heaped it in a crisscross pattern on the dinner plate, swozzled it liberally with olive oil from a bottle on the table, and squeezed half a lemon over it. David declared it entirely satisfactory.
I couldn't resist the "veritable aioli Marseillais, which consists of fish, shellfish, and vegetables, all served with a fierce garlic mayonnaise. In this case, I got a chunk of cod (reconstituted, as tradition dictates, from the dried salt state and poached), a whole red fish (a "grondin," I think), a large "royal" shrimp, two mussels, two "bulots" (small whelks), carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and a boiled egg (the ovoid brown object to the right of the green beans). Again, it arrived on a serving platter, straight from the poacher, and was then transferred by a waiter to a serving plate at the table. I would have preferred to get my red fish whole, but he rapidly boned it out in the serving process and took the head and frame away. The egg, although greenish around the yolk from overcooking, was especially declicious.
For dessert, David had a raspberry "nougat glacé," frozen nougat, raspberry sorbet, and raspberry coulis. I had "café liegeois," coffee ice cream in a pool of cold coffee topped with lots of whipped cream (I don't know what produced the odd pinkish reflections on top in the photo). I didn't dare consume most of the coffee so late in the evening (I had hoped it would be made with the coffee syrup now widely used in place of real coffee), but the ice cream was outstanding.
Finally, here are what was left of my aioli (and the almost empty dish of garlic mayo) and a painted giraffe we enountered earlier in the afternoon. On the walk back to the hotel, I wish I'd been quicker off the mark with the camera. We were overtaken and passed by a huge motorcycle that was possitively encrusted with colored lights, outlining every edge and curve, every line of chrome—it was spectacular, but by the time I got my camera out of my purse, its wide, illuminated posterior had disappeared up a side street.
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