The Strange City that is Marseille

January 3, 2018

So many people, so much hostility. In the streets, women always seem either on the lookout or to watch their feet in an effort to make themselves forgotten. They don’t smile. They make sure they show a meek demeanour. Whereas men look like they own the very city. They walk with their heads high, stand in groups, stare down the women who dare to look up, maybe other men too for all I know. They approach you to comment on the most random things; some are nice “It should be forbidden to be this pretty”, but most make a point at being offensive “Look at her go! Where are you going? I hate your hair! How much do you charge?” are only a few of the remarks that have been addressed to me.

It is sufficient for me to wear heels to feel observed. For the first time in my life, I have the sentiment I am a striking woman. For the first time in my life, I’d rather not. Some of my friends even mentioned my coloured hair, asking why do it if not to make heads turn and incite comments. It didn’t occur to them that I may simply like the look. It had to be an act of rebellion, a way to make myself stand out.

 

I knew the codes. I am not sure I know them anymore, and I certainly don’t think I obey them. I feel as if I have escaped society as they know and want it. I don’t understand their choices. I don’t think they understand mine. I feel different, freed from what caged me before, freed from their ranks. I feel like a stranger in my own country and oftentimes I feel threatened. Is this envy? Is it fear? Aren’t we scared of what we don’t understand? Shouldn’t we combat apprehension instead of stifling what can’t be assimilated?

I don’t know if I ever belonged there, but I certainly don’t feel like I do, and I am rather sure I don’t want to if it means suffocating who I am.

So, going dancing in Marseille… First of all, it was hard to find a club playing anything else than top 40 or electro, and once there, not many would dance, more stand around, watch, and hunt for a suitable prey to bed tonight. I threw the evil eye a few times, I made clear my decision to leave the club unaccompanied, and when I tired of the music and the crowd, I even elbowed my way out. Upon saying goodbye to the group of dancing girls who took me under their wings, I was surprised to hear and see their worry at seeing me leave alone. They repeatedly inquired about the safety of my decision and urged me to be careful.

 

Outside, packs of men were waiting, watching girls go by I guess, bragging about their skills maybe, or absence of thereof. One of them even voiced a blunt “Can you lend me your body?” In this case, I discovered you have only two choices: either you shut up, keep plowing forward and hope for the best; or you voice your outrage and opposition, in hope that this show of bravery will forbid any other unwanted cat-call, offense, or even the threat to be followed.

You all know me, of course I showed my indignation, but I will have to admit that shortly after, I texted my mom to let her know I was on my way back, hoping that if I didn’t make it she would alert the police.

As expected, I safely arrived home, but would I repeat the experience? I don’t think so.

Plus I have to say, the music wasn’t especially to my taste.

Good excuse I guess.

 © 2018 by Elsa Chesnel

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