Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Marseilles Dances

Marseilles dances in the autumn heat. It shakes its trees like tailfeathers, and boats sway with an eager kind of grace in the blue, like feet dangled over the edge of the dock. Fishblood and fast-melting chunks of ice get washed down into the small scrap of ocean pincered in between the restaurants and bars that make that downtown locale hum with its own salt-sweet perfume.

Marseilles watches him, and he watches it back.

The plastic of the camera is warm in his right-hand grip. His left hand rests on the top, jutting out over the lens, giving it shade. It needs it. The sun scorches worst and best up here, on the steps of the Notre Dame de la Garde. The gold of the virgin mother maybe fifteen feet above him looks white hot, and the glare off it fills his screen. This won’t do. He knows it, instinctively. It’s his first proper try at location-spotting, but already he feels confident in making that call from his gut.

Lower down, along those steps, at the end of the long dark line that traces their length like a pin splinting bone, is a football training ground. He sees a kid kicking a ball about on the turf, knows that he probably shouldn’t be there. Anyone else who’s looking down, cameras in hand, will know that as well. If they want to find some number to call, alert the authorities to the trespass, they can. He won’t.

Over to his left, on the outcrop at the side of the vieux port’s mouth, there is an old building, looking like a broken-down country house. Taken from Dickens and planted fresh here. He can’t place it among the scraps he recalls from the travel guide he skimmed on the plane. On dark nights, he imagines, it must look haunted. Neighbourhood kids will tell stories about it. Probably involving a dead girl, flinging herself down onto the rocks after being spurned by her love. Her love having a change of heart, but too late to save her, and then turning to madness and wicked habits in the darkened basement of the place, wreaking evil on anyone fool enough to go there now. Daft, he knows, because it all looks well-tended from this distance, and maybe even like a museum or something. His mind is stuck in that groove, though. Ascribing stories to everything. Filling in every detail of the scene. Giving it some sense of past in which he can root the tale he will eventually tell.

Marseilles has its past, of course, and a lot of people know it, and even more people have added to it over the years and not had a clue what they were doing. But sometimes real pasts don’t always translate into stories that film well, he knows, and so they need some tweaking, fine-tuning, to fit into the plot.

It would all be easier, of course, if he had a clue what that plot would be. But, impatient as he is, he came out here today with his camera thinking that it was the kind of thing that would turn up when he needed it. He just couldn’t bear to wait further before starting the hunt.

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