Marseille and the 9-3

A week ago, I was telling my husband that he should read an article about Marseille, published in the New York Times Style Magazine.  Like Amy Wilentz who wrote the piece, I am partial to places that aren’t too polished, preferring authenticity to nicety, rough to quaint. 
“You should read it,” I insisted when my husband had only smirked.
“Why would anyone in her right mind talk about the greatness of Marseille?” he said. “It’s a city crippled by the mafia, drug trafficking, and petite delinquance.”
Unlike me, who grew up in a quiet village two miles away from a peaceful town in the heart of Normandy, my husband spent his childhood and youth in Parisian suburbs. Seine-Saint-Denis, a French department already tough long before it became the infamous 9-3, has been his hometown for twenty years.
For him, the eastern Parisian suburbs rhyme with bad experiences on the street, in the trains that take hordes of banlieuesards to Paris every morning and then back to the suburbs at night, and even at school. Marseille doesn’t conjure pictures of loud and multi ethnic ebullience but danger lurking at every corner. 
“But the article tells about the contrasts of Marseille,” I insisted. “Not only about the Vieux Port and the bouillabaisse. It also tells how greatly Marseille is different because everybody lives in town, not in the suburbs. That’s the suburbs that create the social and economic issues. I really liked this article.”
Oui, oui,” my husband said. I didn’t think he would like it.
Today, he emailed me, forwarding me a link to an article that he thought I would be interested to read.
Published by L’Express, the article is one of a series about Marseille and an increased wave of violence that is shaking the city and scaring the inhabitants, even the old Marseillais, used to the extravagant Phocean city. 
Attacks on women in broad daylight are more common.  Gold is the new attraction for the attackers called the minots, the popular French name for young kids.  In less than a week, three attacks killed three people and injured seriously two more.  In addition, robberies and criminal fires plague the sun-bathed city.  The weapon of choice is the Kalashnikov, originally from the Eastern Europe, instead of the traditional knife.
These stories make the headlines of the French papers, equally from the right or the left.
In 1953, Julia Child wrote eloquently about the noisy, colorful and canaille Marseille she loved.
In 2011, Amy Wilentz has done the same.
But the people of Marseille tell of other stories.  
And I have to agree that the people of the 9-3 have a valid point.  A point based on daily life that no foreigner or reporter passing by can ever experience. A point, that a girl who grew up in safe Normandy cannot entirely get.

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