Friday 5 July 2013

La Dame de la Garde et la Dame Blanche

When I revisit a city, I like to do something new - and go back to somewhere I loved the first time.  In Marseille, the choice for revisit was a toss up between Le Corbusier's Cite Radieuse apartment block or the church of Notre Dame de la Garde.  The church won, perhaps because it was on my mind as soon as I left Marseille-St Charles train station.  You can see it from almost everywhere in the city, perched on top of the highest hill, the gold statue of the Madonna like a beacon.

Notre Dame de la Garde is a very clear example of the psychology of faith.  In a city that was founded by sea-farers, build a beacon that can be seen from way out to sea. (The French word for lighthouse, 'phare', and the nickname for Marseille, 'la cite Phoceenne', are tangled in my head, so that I want to call Marseille 'la cite Phareenne', the city of lighthouses.)  When you come safely back to shore, pay your respects - and in cases of near-escape from death, leave a token of gratitude for your delivery.

The ex-votos hanging in the church - models of ships, paintings of ships, plaques with names and dates - are endlessly fascinating to me.

Be warned, it is a long walk up the hill and this time, rather than cycle, I got the bus.  I did walk back down though and, in what has become something of a birthday tradition, ordered a Dame Blanche to replenish my strength.

Vanilla ice cream, creme chantilly, hot chocolate sauce.  Oh la la.  One bite and I was twelve years old again.

From Notre Dame de la Garde to la Dame Blanche.  Two forms of spiritual pilgrimage, you might say.

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