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MY FRANCE - MARSEILLE

TOULOUSE

Marseille: ‘A city with a unique soul’

To tell us more about the beguiling Mediterranean port of Marseille, the 2013 European Capital of Culture, The Local caught up with Susan Fitoussi - an artist and operational assistant who has lived in the city for almost 20 years.

Marseille: 'A city with a unique soul'
According to Susan Fitoussi (pictured) everyone who visits Marseille has to walk along the Corniche du President Kennedy (right). Photo: Susan Fitoussi and Joel Takv/Wikimedia Commons

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Susan Fitoussi and I’m originally from Los Angeles, California.

So how did you end up in Marseille?

Well my husband was French, from Marseille in fact, so in 1987 I moved to Paris with him. We lived on the outskirts of the city for a while, before moving to Lot in the south of France, which is a beautiful place. It was only after my husband died that I made my way down to his hometown of Marseille, in 1994.

Where do you always take visitors in Marseille?

There are so many wonderful spots but I’d have to say that the first place to go is [the basilica] of Notre Dame de la Garde, to light a candle to ‘la bonne mère.’ It’s the traditional spiritual centre of the whole city, but aside from that, the walk up the hill to it is spectacular, as is the view from the church.

And after that?

You’d have to go for a stroll along the Corniche du President Kennedy, by the coast. Everyone who visits loves that walk – the sun, the sea air, its perfect.

I also normally take people down to Malmousque, which is a real labyrinth of a neighbourhood with some breath-taking views of the coast.

What about somewhere you keep all to yourself?

Aha! Well, it’s not a total secret or anything, but Le Panier is the old quarter in Marseille, and doesn’t always get a lot of attention from visitors. It’s got a particularly Mediterranean feel to it. Go to Le Panier and get lost, that’s my advice.

What about restaurants – anywhere special you like to go to?

Absolutely – starting in my neighbourhood, Les Catalans, there’s Cesar Pizza which is cheap and a real favourite of mine. If you want to try some Bouillabaisse, the classic Marseille fish soup, you should definitely go to Chez Michel on Rue des Catalans.

My absolute favourite, though, is La Cantinetta in the trendy area called Cours Julien. It’s a little bit pricey, and you usually have to reserve a table, but it’s the best place in Marseille to go for gorgeous, refined Italian food, and it’s got a fantastic courtyard and garden to relax in.

For anyone who’s new to France and doesn’t particularly care for the food, I’d recommend the Victor Café on Boulevard Charles Livon, which is well known for doing a great brunch.

How does Marseille compare to the rest of France?

It's funny, when I first moved here it reminded me a lot of Los Angeles. The sun, the sea, and all the cultural diversity, though obviously Marseille is a little smaller than LA. If I had only word to describe people here, I would say “loud.” Locals are a lot looser in Marseille than elsewhere in France, particularly compared to Parisians.

What advice would you give to another expat thinking of moving to Marseille?

First things first – learn French. Secondly, try to find someone who knows the culture well. When you’re looking into accommodation, or making any sort of financial transactions, I’ve learned it's really valuable to have someone on your side who can spot a scam, or a bad deal.

Apart from that, though, I would say now would be an especially good time to start living here. Marseille is the European City of Culture in 2013, so things are really looking up around here. For example, I’ve been registered on the ‘Couchsurfing’ site for about ten years, and in that time I’ve noticed a huge boom in young visitors and cultural tourism. What this also means is that locals are getting more used to foreigners, which makes Marseille even more welcoming.

Finally, Susan – do you plan to stay there?

Well, I love travel and change, and I’ve lived all over the world, but I’m pretty settled here. Maybe I might want to sample a year somewhere else in the world before deciding, but Marseille is very special to me. My neighbourhood is beautiful and I can walk or take public transport everywhere. But more than that, Marseille has what the French would call a unique  ‘âme’ or soul, and I love it.

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CULTURE

Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.

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