Entering Marseille, the sky turned grey and rumbled with thunder for the first time in seven days. Impeccable timing.
I drove past ramshackle clay houses, with holes in their roofs and windows all broken. Toothless women, wearing bandanas on their bald heads, washed laundry a hundred stories up, hanging wet clothes for at least three children, from tiny concrete homes. Teenagers, with curly, oily Mohawks and Barcelona soccer jerseys, pedaled junk from neon lit alleys. Prostitutes sat on their stoops, smoking cigarettes, resting sore feet, minding strollers. This city, pulsing with a bleakness that had not existed since I left Paris, this city, was the grand finale of my voyage.
As Cortazar described the gloom he faced when reaching this same harbor with Osita – thirty years ago – it is a “reverse apotheosis.” The end, but with no wedding bells. The end, and only thunder clouds.
What can I say about Marseille?
I rented the poorest looking hotel I could find, on purpose. I am writing from a room where the toilette is two feet away from the head of the bed. My neighbor across the hall keeps the door open, cigarette smoke wafting out non stop, his wife – no older than seventeen – lays mostly naked, with their television on full blast. They’ve been like that since four this afternoon. Three bottles of whiskey, empty in the hallway. It’s now four in the morning.
Downstairs, an Italian man with blood-shot eyes and a body slightly smaller than a bear’s, watches over the hotel late at night. He speaks hardly any French and gets paid 40 euros for a 12-hour graveyard shift. At home he has two children and a wife. He tells me this as he’s slamming his fists against his chest, sweat pouring from his temples, screaming at me for trying to use the lounge to write, so late. He doesn’t get paid for that shit, he tells me in his broken French, voice quivering in rage. I apologized, in my calmest voice possible, and wished him the best, heading up to my room, with two eyes over my shoulder.
One thing I am sure of is that you take what you can get from a city. What I mean is, if I had arrived here under different pretexts, a less confusing outlook ahead, I might have not seen all this garbage floating around me. But nothing yet is certain, and with the Paris-Marseille trip under the belt, it feels as if I have only started.
The drive, the love and the endless drive, that brought me to Paris, that brought me all those hundreds of kilometers away from it, has not ceased. Here it is. Pulsing in me just as this city does with its anger. Here it is. I feel it like I feel my grinding teeth at night. It never ends.
But I am here at the bottom of the beautiful world, looking out into a blackness, and the only way forward is to go back to the light, to go backwards again and back up to Paris. When all my heart wants to do is skip over the ocean, and face whatever it is I need to face, to have out with it. To see her.
But there is no victory in rushing things. Friends, you all know what I am doing. You all know it, so does everyone who just met me, because it’s the first thing I tell them. Here I am, making sense of love, and every day there’s an easy way out, a fast way, but I won’t take it.
You come to a place like Marseille – a port city which can be so beautiful if you sit in the right restaurant, and order the right kind of wine – but you amble a few feet from the dock lights and you are encapsulated in its deeper being. You come to Marseille at the end of your adventure and you do it to realize that the whole point of you going, was not for any feast, or prize, or victory. It was not for the princess to give you her fancy, tying that bow on your lance. You came because the only thing you could have done was go.
Reverse apotheosis. Isn’t that life?
It’s not about the end game. You don’t travel the highway, full blast, to arrive anywhere. If you plan on that – if you wait till you’re 65 to finally be that writer you always wanted to be, for instance – then you’re screwed.
This is what the cosmoroute is all about. This is the perfect end point, because it reminds you to forget the end point. Life is process. Life is enjoying the rest stops, taking the time to write, with the sun coming down through the mosaic designed by the canopy. Life is your lady, in a VW, and nothing but typewriters and imagination.
Forget the wedding bells and the idea of comfort “one day”. Here, you come to the end with expectations, and your promised land forgets you. It robs you blind.
The only thing to do, then, is drive. But drive slowly. Look her in the eyes next time you tell her you love her, as if it was the last day, as if it was the last chance you had to do so, because maybe it is.