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Flâner: Francophiles love this word (and so do the French)

Brasserie le bolero in Marseille near old port

A stroll through Marseilles, some cheesy characters, a faulty ego and a sack of steel? De quoi faire une histoire amusante. All you need for an entertaining story!

flâner (flah-nay)

    : (to walk) to stroll, wander
    : (to do nothing) to laze, idle, lounge about

These flâner definitions are as charming as the word itself: to amble, lounge, lollygag, to traipse, sashay, drift... May they carry you away to a delightful place today!

Also le flâneur/la flâneuse = idler, lounger

A Day in a FRENCH Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Flaneur for a Day

When Jean-Marc mentioned he had some deliveries in Marseilles, Tuesday, I hitched a ride with him to the city. I had administrative paperwork to take care of, and was grateful the American Consulate could accommodate this last-minute ride share, by penciling me in!

"But I'll have to drop you off early," Jean-Marc warned. "An hour before the consulate opens."

That wouldn't be a problem, I assured my husband, happy not to have to drive or find parking in centre ville. There was only one little pépin, or glitch, to this free ride: I'd be sharing it with a carload of wine and a gigantic surfboard! 

"C'est la planche à voile de Pierre..." Jean-Marc explained, as he lifted the bars beside the armrest so I could crawl to the seat. Crammed in with the board on one side and the bars on the other, my breath suddenly shortened and I sensed a panic attack coming on, years after keeping anxieties at bay. It was time to refocus. Seated there in a sort of windsurfing vise, I reasoned: this is indeed another absurd situation--one only my husband could create!--but it would make for a good story, eventually. Now sit tight!

In Marseilles I learned that absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. Currently beholding a 6 pound set of steel balls, I huffed and puffed carrying out an errand Jean-Marc had given me ("In your spare time, please stop by Fred's office. He has a gift for Max....")

It was the least I could do, deliver Godfather's present to my son. I just wished I had known, beforehand, what was in the package (a set of bocce balls!). I could then have adjusted my planning--and done the pick-up after my hour-long stroll up and down the streets of Marseilles, from Rue Breteuil to the Vieux Port and back to the consulate to catch my ride home.

Then again, those heavy steel balls (or boules or pétanque balls as they are called here) were a kind of carte blanche in the city, opening many doors and opportunities....

Standing in front of Les Arcenaulx, a favorite artsy spot (you can have tea in a room full of books! and then visit the art gallery upstairs). For years I have enjoyed peeping in beyond the great doors, to the escalier lined with old mailboxes--each with a character all her own!

No sooner had I arrived, a three-kilo sack of steel balls dangling from my side, then the gaggle of old ladies in the entry quickly cleared! I now had an unobstructed view of les boîtes à lettres! As the women sent surreptitious glances, I snapped away.

mailboxes - les arcenaulx (c) Kristin Espinasse

Now, a little farther down the square, when I spotted a couple of construction workers in a third-story window, I didn't hesitate to ask for their photo. 

And when they balked, I smiled, lifting my little bag of boules. Photo? or a game of pétanque? With that, they chuckled, hamming it up:

  construction workers in marseille
Then they turned the tables--asking me for my photo! As they pulled out their smartphones I smiled up at them, feeling very small, wondering how gray were my temples, how thin was my skin? It was painful standing there like that, until I let go of my ego just as these two strangers had. 

Beaming from the unexpected exchange, I hugged my camera and package close, and wondered where the lucky charms would lead next.

After strolling past the friendly fishmongers lined up along the Vieux Port (and enjoying the school children who squealed seeing the octopus and other splashing fish on display), I needed a rest. The pétanque balls were heavier than ever and it felt good to set them down on the café table at La Samaritaine--my mom's favorite café, and an institution in Marseilles! 

Seated just inside the front door, I had a wonderful view of the Ferris wheel--and more memories of Mom came flooding back (how she dreams of riding the "Paris Wheel" as she calls the Ferris wheels of France, no matter where they are).

Ferris wheel in marseilles

Lost in a tender rêverie, the waiter's voice was startling to me. "Boules?" he questioned, the appreciation written across his face was unmistakable.

"Oh, they belong to my son," I said, wishing for a wittier response.

And when it came time to pay the bill, the clever response came (only it came from the waiter):

"Voici, Mademoiselle!"

Touché! The mademoiselle remark did wonders for the spirit, young as ever--no matter the weather! (And for his compliment, the waiter got a big tip and who cares whether he was honest!)

Watching the waiter erase the ardoise, or menu board, and add the day's special, I knew it was l'heure: "time," as the French say. Time to go meet my husband. But not without a great sigh of appreciation. The morning stroll through old Marseilles was enough to refuel this creative wagon and its sometimes overserious passenger....

...which brings me back to the car ride and the reminder that the day's voyage had begun with such absurdity! Come to think of it, that's an awfully unfriendly word for what is nothing more than innovation on my husband's part! And creativity leads to more creativity until, before you know it, you are floating through a new experience buoyed by exciting new characters--your heart soaring so high it might pop, but for a handy sack of steel balls to keep you safely grounded.

la planche à voile = windsurf board
un escalier = stairs
la boîte à lettres = mailbox
c'est l'heure = it's time

son Max playing boules or petanque

Delivered Fred's present to his godson, Max--who immediately put the boules or pétanque balls to good use :-)

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety