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One Woman's Opinion

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French Connection, Conclusion

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

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Urbanna, Va.— Our last day trip in Provence was to Marseille, a beautiful port city on the Med founded in 600 BC by the Greeks. Because the sea is bright blue in Marseille it is part of the “Cote d’ Azure.”

Husband Chip remembered his ship stopping at Marseille in 1961 when he was in the U.S. Navy. “It was a dump back then,” he recalled, before being restored to its beautiful state now. Millions of Euros issued from the European Union have poured into the city to totally redo the waterfront. The renewed “Vieux Port,” home of 3,000 pleasure boats, overlooks nearby cruise ships lined up along the piers.

Georgia and I chose a ritzy looking waterfront cafe for an outdoor lunch and ordered steak dinners. Little did we know we were to become the latest victims to a tax evasion scam. We did not notice any signs that said they did not take credit cards so when the bill arrived we pulled out our debit cards, which were flatly refused. We did not have the 40 Euros to pay for our meals.
hey wouldn’t take credit or debit cards because they wanted no record of sales so to escape paying taxes. Even the “bill” was unnumbered, merely a piece of notepaper indicating the total for what we had ordered and nothing more. After we paid cash it would immediately be destroyed so there would be no record of the transaction.

Georgia walked across the street to an ATM to get cash to pay the bill while I remained “hostage.” The manager thought it was funny while I glowered at him. A fine joke to abuse customers in order to cheat on taxes. I was sure they trapped every American that came into the restaurant. We learned to be careful of such tax-evading “clip joints” but, unfortunately, only at the end of our trip in France.

Our spirits were lifted, however, with a trip to “Notre Dame de la Garde,” the magnificent Catholic cathedral at the top of the hill, the highest point of the city. Our mini bus huffed and puffed ascending the narrow streets up to the cathedral and let us off in front of what appeared to be a thousand-step stairway to the church. I was determined to make it, but was panting at the top of the mount.

We saw the stone walls were riddled by machine gun bullets from the liberation of Marseille during the final days of WWII. But the best sight of all . . . there was an elevator to take us up another six floors to the cathedral in the clouds.

We walked out on the observation deck on the roof to the most breathtaking view . . . 360 degrees of Marseille below and the blue Mediterranean Sea spread out as far as one could see in front of us.

“See that island,” our guide pointed to the sea. “That is where Alexandre Dumas had his prisoner in “The Count of Monte Cristo.” It had been a long time since I had read the book and I decided I would have to read it again. 

It was Sunday and a mass was taking place. We slipped inside a back pew and sat to take in all the glory to behold. What a splendid cathedral with its walls covered with oil paintings of ships at sea, and massive mobiles of models of historic ships that had once come to Marseille hung from the ceilings.

A priest began to sing mass in Latin in a lifting tenor voice and a lone woman who sang soprano answered him from another part of the cathedral. Their voices echoed back to each other. I shivered in such presence of beautiful sounds and was struck with an eerie sensation that I was truly in the presence of God. I have never felt that in a church before but always at sunrise or sunset, so have now decided that such feelings, at least for me, are triggered by majesty of nature or by music.

Later, passing army units on patrol with machine guns on alert for terrorist activity, we visited the “Observatoire de Beaux Arts,” another castle confiscated after the French Revolution for public use. The castle reminded me of Mussolini’s headquarters in his famous “wedding cake” building in Rome. It had a fountain which, although closed and drained for repairs, could have equaled those in Versailles. The French are known for their splendid statuary, gardens and fountains. 

A month had passed and it was time to return home. It takes great energy to endure air travel these days. Before we left Aix for the 24-hour ordeal, I received a text from Chip: “Dandy’s missing.”

Upon landing in Dulles, I checked my smart phone. “Dandy’s back,” the text read. I would soon hold my dog in my arms. But the best part lay ahead like the promise of joy—writing about the French Connection. Conclusion.

Editor’s note: Mary Wakefield Buxton’s One Woman’s Opinion column will return after Labor Day.

posted 07.03.2017

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