Rough and rich Marseille

It has always been a puzzle to me, why so many main train stations are magnets for miserable people and dodgy scenes. Saint-Charles train station in Marseilles is no exception. – The vibe in Marseilles is a bit like Napoli, just more dangerous, especially around the train station, as a local guy now living in Italy told me.

Marseilles as a whole is amongst other known as the ‘Chicago of France’. Not because of a lively night life as was the case for the neighbor town Toulon 70 years ago (as mentioned here earlier) but thanks to a murder rate five times higher than the average in the country.

Unlike in Napoli, I didn’t feel insecure around the main station, and during my short stay I didn’t experience anything close to the sad statistics mentioned above. To me, it was more a matter of misery. Something that is only enhanced by the huge yachts and seven-euro pints in the harbor area less than a mile away. The city’s port is one of the biggest trade hubs in Europe and every year more than a million passengers enter via big cruisers.

This guy woke up on the staircase outside Saint-Charles and started laughing. And then laughed and laughed.

Before heading out Sunday morning, I stood with my bicycle outside a convenient store close to Saint-Charles for about fifteen minutes. This chubby, unhealthy looking man with long, greasy hair, grey sweat pants and tired, begging eyes tried to get a few coins from every by-passer on the sidewalk. I didn’t understand what he said, but he mumbled the same short sentence, pointed to his mouth and grunted something when he was rejected. In that short time he probably asked between 40 and 50 people, and I didn’t see him get a single coin. At one point, after being rejected, he lowered his shoulders and hung his head like he finally gave up – and then rushed to the next by-passer like nothing had happened. His job did not only seem degrading but also extremely hard.

Just a few meters from him stood a man my age in a big, clean t-shirt, new shoes and a skateboard in his hand. Every time I glanced his way my eyes met his and then he quickly looked in another direction. Like a person you think, you should know but can’t place in the right context. I thought he eventually would ask me for help or food but then arrived the trolley and he was gone.

Before he left, he briefly talked to a 12-13 years old girl, who looked half North African and half Roma. She asked me for my empty water bottle, took of the lid, got of the soft plastic inside and started chewing on it. She didn’t beg for money but she could use some, because she had a rash the size of a small hand on her cheek, which definitely needed treatment.

Maybe she was there as moral support for her friend on the bench in the bus shelter. She was way too young to take care of a child, still she must at least have been six months pregnant. If you see a girl that age pushing a stroller, you can at least try to convince yourself, she’s just her sister, but when a 14 year old skinny girl has a huge belly, it only looks like another life born into a ruthless world. She was wearing a veil and traditional looking clothes, so she could be from a culture with a tradition of strong family bonds. Which, from my humble experience, can either be a huge advantage or the exact opposite.

I actually liked being in Marseilles, but next time I should probably visit some other areas.