Magazine Fall 2008 Roads of the Diaspora: Côte D'Azur

24 August 2008, 16:55
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Roads of the Diaspora: Côte D'Azur

According to a famous song, every coastline and every seashore is unique. There are the shores we'd like to forget, such as the Turkish Shore. There are foreign shores, such as the Ivory Coast in West Africa or Bondi Beach in Australia. Finally, there is the Côte D'Azur: the most gorgeous and the most familiar of all European shores.

A Very “Armenian” City
Real places and real things rarely live up to our imaginations. Marseille, however, does just that – it is a dazzling city by the sea, festive, cheerful, ethnically and culturally diverse and more than a little bit adventurous, depending on what the visitor has in mind. “Only 50% of people who live here are native citizens – all the rest are new immigrants,” lamented an Armenian from Marseille who, like most of the diaspora there, considers himself a Marseille native. The most recent immigrants come from former French colonies – the Congo, Senegal, Morocco and Algeria as well as other developing countries.
One can find newly arrived residents at the local port – one of the most beautiful in the world. On the quayside, they sell souvenirs, steamboat tickets and fresh seafood on the colorful street lined with vendors and peddlers. White motor boats and yachts, an imposing fort and a “crew” of two swimmers crossing the bay complete the picture. Something isn't right though… why bother to swim across? It takes only five minutes to go around the bay the ”the long way”. But that’s Marseille for you, always offering what one least expects!
The beautiful Notre Dame de la Gard Cathedral, visible throughout the city, sits atop one of the highest hills that encircle Marseille. There are few Armenian churches among the large number of houses of worship located in Marseille. Overall, it is a very “Armenian” city. After all, ships first brought our countrymen here in 1915, as they were fleeing the Genocide. There are many Armenian establishments in the city, among them a monument to Misak Manushian – a hero of the French Resistance. One can also see several street names that refer to Armenia: Rue Armenie, Boulevard Ararat, Boulevard Charles Zeytountsian, Avenue du 24 Avril 1915. Armenians are greatly respected here and thought of as natives. The city government and citizens alike hold Armenians in high esteem.
It was in Marseille that the Armenian director, Henri Verneuil, shot his great film Mayrig. By the way, in Marseille and throughout France, for that matter, it is widely known that Verneuil is Armenian. It is also common knowledge here that the late, great author Henri Troyat was an Armenian, although for some reason in Russia he is considered to be a Russian writer. Cafe Mayrig is located on the street where the motion picture of the same name was filmed and is patronized by Armenian and non-Armenians alike.
Various Armenian organizations ensure that events such as concerts, festivals, conferences and meetings take place in the city throughout the year. For example, during our stay the first All-Armenian Youth Convention, organized by JAF (Jeunesse Armenienne de France, “Young Armenians of France”), met in Marseille and young Armenians from 20 countries flew in for the convention.
Marseille is the largest port and second largest city in all of France. However, despite its size, the city does not seem big, but compact and cozy. Furthermore, one can always expect to feel warm, regardless of the season, thanks to its fortunate location on the coast, sheltered from the Continental weather patterns. In addition to the sights mentioned above, Marseille has wonderful museums worth visiting, devoted to city's history, French fashion, fine arts and so on. However, unlike Paris or Lyons, one does not feel obligated to go to the museums here. It must be the natural offerings – the sea, the sun and the fresh salty air that are to blame. Nevertheless, I decided to visit the museum devoted to the ancient Roman docks. After this experience, I decided that it might be better to see Roman docks in Rome itself. In Marseille it seems to make more sense to take long walks and have leisurely visits with good friends at the many local cafes.

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