At the Marseille St. Charles TGV, I turn to my fellow traveler, he, with the wife, three smart phones and two blond children. I smile goodbye. “Waalekum Salaam” he responds.
Francois, mine host, greets me warmly, and, as he leads me down the grand steps outside the station, tells me that this city is France’s most multicultural. We walk down the Longue des Capuchins and the flavors of multiculturalism assail our senses. Hotels and street side stalls present cuisines from the fragrant Orient. Lebanese, Moroccan, Turkish and Arab fares grab our attention. Sweets steeped in sugar syrup, sweets made of burnt milk, sweetmeats not unlike barfis bulge lusciously from corrugated paper canapés. As we turn right into the main thoroughfare La Canebiere making our way towards the quay, the Vieux Port, hotels and street front menus written in chalk on blackboard all show the day’s fare, all halaal. Right on the Quai de la Fraternite, on the Neuve is the Jaipur, an Indian Restaurant. Khalil, mine host, is a Pakistani from Peshawar, and offers you naans you could go to war for.
You could look at anyone on the street and know neither ethnicity nor nationality. France has legislated prohibition on displaying religious affiliation on clothing or person. Everyone dresses similarly, exquisitely. But buildings and artifacts, sights, smells the music and speaking in tongues betray the confluence of cultures that only happen in a robust port city.