Letter from The Editor 

click to enlarge Marseille, view from Notre Dame du le Garde

Bruce VanWyngarden

Marseille, view from Notre Dame du le Garde

I just flew back from a vacation in France, and boy, mes bras sont fatigués.

France is my wife's home country, and for the last couple of weeks I've been doing a lot of listening, as she and her family spoke français at mach-speed. Oh, I nodded as though I understood, and I laughed when they did. But I wasn't fooling anyone. My college French was about as useful in everyday conversation as Swahili.

It's tough, when you think of yourself as something of a wit, to be linguistically reduced to a third-grader, competent only at basic reading, ordering food and drink, and asking where the bathrooms are. I've resolved that by my next trip I'll be speaking fluently at a sixth-grade level, at least.

We spent much of our time in Marseille, where my wife's family lives. It's a warm, sunny place, sprawling over the hills surrounding the city's old harbor. The houses have tile roofs; the shutters and doors are painted bright colors; the sea is visible from every hill and promenade. Downtown reminded me of New Orleans — three- or four-story buildings with wrought-iron balconies overlooking busy fish and produce markets and sidewalk cafes. The streets are tiny and winding and everyone drives little roller-skate-sized cars or scooters. We ate bouillabaisse, couscous, and fabulous seafood. A wonderful city. Go, if you get the chance.

We took the TGV (high-speed train) to Paris for our final four days. I'd not been to Paris in many years. It is now inhabited by a race of super models — slender, elegantly dressed men and women of all ages, all of whom wear a scarf of some sort knotted around their neck. It's apparently the law. We stayed in the Sixth Arrondissement, the habitat of Hemingway and the American ex-pats. We drank espresso and wine in the historic brasseries, wandered the streets, shopped the boutiques, took the Metro, and hit the usual high spots. On the second day, I gave in to peer pressure, bought a scarf, and convinced myself I looked pretty chic. We ate lamb, duck, scallops, chocolate, and macaroons. The wine was good. Very good.

We returned to Memphis simultaneously refreshed and exhausted. The Memphis-Amsterdam flight is a great thing. It is sad that we are losing it. I missed March Madness, apparently. I even missed Memphis and was weirdly comforted by the fact that the big story in the daily paper when I returned was about a man whose car had been invaded by bees.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with this fancy scarf.

Bruce VanWyngarden

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    • Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs

      Oh would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us. — Robert Burns

      Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the line above in response to seeing a louse on a high-born lady's bonnet at church. The point being, of course, that while we might think we're looking pretty good, someone else might be noticing a flaw we've overlooked.


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