Shabbat was over, and the good ship Diadema was now steaming towards Marseille, the final port of call on the “AACI’s Marvelous Kosher Cruise” before we would return to Barcelona for the flight back home. It occurred to me that we were headed towards two very different versions of Marseilles: the politically correct city described in Wikipedia (the second largest French city, with a history going back 30,000 years, a major center for trade, industry, and tourism), or the less glamorous one described here (For many years, the busy port city of Marseille has suffered from a serious image problem. Dismissed for its down-at-heel reputation, urban decay and often alarming crime statistics, it’s been the black sheep of the Provençal coastline.) A very serious image problem indeed! Maybe that’s why there was so little interest among our cruise mates to head into the city, even though there is, by all accounts, a lot to see there. I can’t imagine what people expected to happen if we were to wander through Le Panier. Seasoned travelers have stated most emphatically that your chances of having your pocket picked are much greater in Rome or Barcelona, but who’s to say?
Nonetheless, we were taken to one site in town, which I guess we had to see, the 150 year old Grand Synagogue. Now you can’t just walk in there and look around (which might explain why the place gets 100% negative rating on TripAdvisor). You need an appointment and you have to go through security – and only then do they let you get as far as the rest rooms. We, of course, were expected, so that we were greeted there by some dignitaries from the local Jewish community and forced to listen to a speech in not-so-good English about……..I have no idea what they guy was talking about; I tuned out after the first few hundred words…….something about the history of the shul and Jewish life today in Marseille – but don’t hold me to it.
I think a lot of us were itching to look around this very opulent structure, one constructed with the optimism and resources of a by-gone time, and, when the guy finished talking, we finally got our chance. Out came the smart phones and a few cameras. From decades of experience, I am well aware that it’s difficult to walk around a synagogue, or any comparable public building, and take a photograph that’s better than the postcard you can buy in the gift shop on your way out. Try to find some detail that has some meaning to you. I walked up the few steps leading to the aron in which the Torah scrolls are kept. I stood there for a few minutes and made this image.
Suddenly, I heard an angry voice from below. It seems that another member of our group wanted to take a picture, and I had the unmitigated gall to be in his way! Understand that I was fully concentrating on what I was doing and had no idea that he or anybody else was there. He could have made his presence known and asked me politely to get a move on, which I would have gladly done, because I am very careful about not ruining someone else’s picture. Instead, he kept repeating, “Ani lo ma’amin,” (I don’t believe it.) as if I had committed some grievous affront to all mankind. After about the sixth repetition, I had had enough. I walked down the few steps and put my face in his face and told him that we were not going to have this conversation (if you can dignify this exchange of words as a “conversation”). When he insisted on continuing his discourse, I advised him that I was not talking to him and walked away. I must admit that I was taken aback by his stunning response. “I’m not talking to you!,” he yelled at me.
Here’s what’s so sad about our confrontation. We had both spent the week listening to Rabbi Riskin speak about our need to be kind to one another, as we are all made in the image of our Creator. We really took it to heart, didn’t we!
Speaking of man’s inhumanity to man – big time – our next scheduled stop was Camp des Milles, a nearby facility that now serves as a memorial museum to the 10,000 people who were interned there during the Vichy regime. I must say it’s very well done, and the guides there are well informed, actually speak appropriate English, and have no intention in engaging in contemporary politics – not so easy, given the subject matter and the state of affairs in today’s world.
So who were the 10,000 Jews who wound up in this place? Some were actually French citizens whose citizenship was revoked post facto. The rest were refugees, comprising thirty-eight nationalities, all of whom were hoping to leave from Marseille to some safe haven and at the time were unable to do so. You’d think that since they didn’t want to stay there, and the Vichy regime didn’t want them either, that the government would have given them a hand and waved good-bye as they set sail to parts unknown. You would think, wouldn’t you? Most of them did manage to leave, but the last 2,000 refugees were ultimately deported to Auschwitz, and you know the rest.
What is so moving about this place is that it is in situ. You get to see where the detainees ate and slept, in what had once been a factory to manufacture tiles; you pass by the graffiti on the walls. You can get an inkling of what it must have been like, forced to stay there, not knowing what will happen to you next, only that the Nazi noose is methodically tightening, and you gotta get out of there to somewhere, anywhere, else.
We needed to go someplace and see something on the lighter side after this somber stroll down memory lane. Aix-en-Provence, that’s the ticket! As our brochure says, “…famous for its outdoor markets and handsome pedestrian lanes, as well as its cultivated residents and their ability to embrace the good life.” I have no idea how “cultivated” its residents are, but I think we were all more than ready to embrace the good life. It was Sunday, meaning that – since we’re not in Israel – everyone was off from work. We all walked from our buses and found a tree-lined street filled with shops.
Look over there. It’s an antique car! There’s another one, and another! There were at least ten of these wonderful vehicles, some going back to the ‘60’s, some going back to the 1920’s. You could walk right up to one of these beauties and get a gander at the interior. You could even arrange a ride, and lots of tourists were doing just that. Barbara and I were more than content to stroll up and down the avenue, taking in the sights. We weren’t looking to buy anything, but when we came upon a shop with the following postcard size sign: J’HABITE CHEZ MON CHAT (I live with my cat), we had to, had to, pick up two, one for Natania, and one to put on the refrigerator chez nous, just to remind us, if there were any doubt, who runs the joint.
There was only one thing left to do to complete our day: join a whole bunch of our colleagues who had all gravitated to the one safe haven in town, the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream store. Little did we know, as we were pondering our selections, that our friend Richard, who was with another group, had taken a pratfall, and one of our entourage, who had come to his aid, had managed to lose her money and some of her credit cards. Life isn’t always a Ben and Jerry’s flavor.
That evening, the four of us, The Levines, Barbara, and I, reconvened for our last dinner on board the ship – joined by our hapless colleague, who sat through the meal looking glum. Richard was OK, just a few minor bruises. As far as the woman was concerned, the ship’s concierge was making the requisite phone calls to deal with her missing credit cards (You think that with 4,000 passengers on board every day of the year, this was the first time someone lost or had a credit card stolen?). I was going to look out the big picture window one last time and watch as the sun set over the Mediterranean and the evening clouds began to form. We had our last bottle of the plonk we had been drinking all week, but this time, we got the “damages.” We had been charged the equivalent of 100NIS per bottle for what I wouldn’t pay 20NIS back in Jerusalem! And we had to beg the caterer to get it for us. Oh well……….
There’s not much more to report. Just about everything we did that evening and the following morning had that “this is the last time we’ll be doing it” feeling, whether it was repairing to our little hide-away on the stern of the main deck or just walking up and down the stairs and the seemingly endless corridors. It would be our turn to leave our luggage out in the hallway – so that the passengers who remained on board would have to walk around it. It would be our way of signaling that it was over; it was done; we were through. The Costa Diadema had completed its Mediterranean circuit and we were back in Barcelona, where we had started. Off the boat; make sure our luggage was too; onto the bus and back to the airport. This time nothing went wrong – except that in Barcelona you have to do your purchases in Duty-Free before you go through Security, which we didn’t know. (In case you should ever be in that airport. Barbara and The Levines would love to return. I’m not so sure. But then again, I’m kinda traveled out. No desire to go anywhere that involves standing on a line to go through Security.)
And then we landed at good old Ben-Gurion airport, where the food is kosher and getting a taxi home is a balagan. Maybe by the time I’m ready to face a trip to the airport, the train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv will be up and running – meaning it would take twenty minutes to get to Jerusalem from the airport, about as long as it takes now to get a cab. They’re saying SOOON. Call me when it happens. Maybe then I’ll take down one of our new suitcases and decide what to pack. And where to go.