Il sud come sud del mondo…o del Mediterraneo per lo meno

I’m in Marseille, France, in the southern region of Provence this week for AMLaP2013, where I’m presenting a poster on my dissertation pilot data. The conference is great and intellectually stimulating, but on the 10th anniversary of my first solo trip to this region, something else left a bigger impression.

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The Mediterranean region will always feel like home to me. Probably in a way that Argentina never will even though I lived there 6 months and loved it. And in a different way than even State College does after being there for 4 years. There’s something about the first place you go on your own. And about being 17 when you do it. You’re so fully aware and almost grown up and yet still so moldable, impressionable, not yet set in your ways. Every time I come back to the south of any Mediterranean country I feel the same way – the rocks, the dirt, the trees, the air, the smells. Stepping off the plane I already feel the rush of nostalgia.

The pungent reek of dog and human urine is happily wafted away by the cheerful odor of sharp espresso and buttery pastries in the span of a single block. Grandmothers across the Mediterranean seem to wear the same compression knee-highs under the same Dr. Scholl’s-esque slippers while they hose down their sidewalks and balconies, making the the air briefly heavy as the sun evaporates the water away. The seedy character on the corner cat-calling in an unfamiliar tongue as you walk by is probably best left un-understood.

I know these sights and smells and sounds. I know them like I know the cornfields and cows and lawnmowers I pass on the road to my father’s house where I grew up. They feel quaint and like home. Strangely comforting. Maybe a little backwards or unpleasant at times, but in the most wonderful way.

People have been telling me that Marseille is the mafia capital of France. They tell me the neighborhood where I’m staying is a bit sketchy. I don’t know about any of that. I’ve looked around me and taken a deep breath and I know all I need to know. I have a feeling I’m going to like it here.