In Marcel Pagnol Country

23rd February 2003

Marseille is so much its own thing, a modern city stretched around its bay, that it's easy to forget it's part of Provence. Take the tramway #68 its entire distance from Noaille station though, connect with Bus 12S and stay on it till it stops, and you can climb into the local hills.

The village of la Treille is some way up the hillside from the bus stop. On the right, before the village, drop into the cemetery and stand awhile in homage by the grave of Marcel Pagnol. This is Pagnol country, marked by Pagnol routes, the area redolent for lovers of French literature with his sense of bucolic landscape and scheming villagers. The village is a constant ascent, past Pagnol's last home, and out along a path already steaming out scents of rosemary and thyme though February winds were chill. A pair of eagles caught currents to whirl around in the air as I turned and looked back on Marseille. Ahead of me, in the hills, was lonesome beauty. In contrast Marseille, which makes for a handsome city, looked peculiarly barren. The city is proof of our herd instincts, that hundreds of thousands choose to cluster there leaving the hills unpopulated.

We choose to live in cities, yet read with longing about landscapes. Part of the peculiar schism of life.

Back in la Treille we walked into Pagnol's bar, Le Cigalon. Posters from his films decorate the walls, though it is for films made from his books that he is better known outside of France, especially Jean de Florette. Michelle, le Cigalon's propietress of 26 years, was sitting with her chef drinking red wine. Otherwise the restaurant was empty, her regular clientele away on school vacations. She leapt up and embraced us, kissing me on the cheeks. Confused by the welcome and the flow of swift French I presumed she had mistaken me for an old friend. In fact it was happy effusiveness. Go for the welcome, and stay for the daube, a rich and tender stew, and save some red wine to accompany the bottled and spicy house goat cheese for dessert.

Walking the hills, observing, writing, drinking in stories at the local bar - Pagnol offers a fair template for a writer's life.

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