[Continued from Part I]
Later in the afternoon, we accidently drove to Aix-en-Provence. Accidently? Um, yes. We were in fact headed someplace else, took the wrong highway, and found ourselves driving in the direction of the Capital of Calissons. Unfazed and quick to see the finger of Someone Above in this, we said okay, let’s go! In Aix-en-Provence, I could have bought some Calissons of course, but that was really just too obvious, so I bought myself a pair of sexy shoes instead. Not edible, I know, but pretty.
On our way back to Marseille, we stopped at l’Estaque, a quiet little harbor that sprawls up onto a hillside. We took a walk up the steep meandering streets overlooking the port — me trying hard not to trip in my new shoes — and enjoyed the view out onto the sea in the declining light. On the beachfront were several street vendors in small white vans, selling chichis and panisses. Chichis are long and rectangular donuts, fried in the van, rolled in sugar and handed to you in a paper wrapping, while panisses are fried slices of chickpea flour polenta. We had a dinner reservation a bit later at 10 so chichis were not an option (how to spoil your appetite in one easy step) but wouldn’t the panisses make a great amuse-bouche? We bought a half-dozen and got more like ten, in a little paper cone, with a smile on top of that. We sat on a bench by the beach and munched with delight on our salty disks of softly fried dough.
We then headed towards the restaurant Chez Jeannot, which came recommended by a friend as a great place for seafood. Chez Jeannot is located off the Corniche, that long, winding road which runs along the cliff Marseille is built on. More precisely, it is hidden underneath that road, snugly nested at the bottom of the Vallon-des-Auffes, a crevice-like little valley ending in a tiny harbor. To get to it, one has to park the car anywhere one vaguely can — in an improbable and forbidden spot behind a church in a supposedly two-way street that’s barely wide enough for two donkeys to pass each other — then walk down steep convoluted stairs into the vallon : a dimly-lit jumble of anchored boats, little houses and restaurants, loud with the chatter and clatter of diners, and little kids running everywhere, playing tag in the night. I’d never seen a place quite like this : walking down and taking in the mysterious, warm atmosphere, we both suddenly felt like we were stepping into some kind of hidden pirate’s lair (Pirates of the Caribbean, anyone?).
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