Radiant City

In Marseille I took a day off from running around visiting sites and interviewing people, and spent an afternoon at Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse, a structure I fell in love with almost immediately. Built between 1947 and 1952, it is arguably the birthplace of Brutalism, and beautiful and welcoming in that uniquely Corbusier way.

The museum on the roof, MaMo, was closed for installation of a new show, so I just wandered, bumping into a couple of other stragglers, as waiters set up for a wedding reception and a couple of painters refreshed the designs on the side of a ventilation stack. Marseille lay spread below, with the mountains to one side and the ocean to another.


It wasn't just the building. "You either love Marseille or you hate it," one of my interviewees told me, and I felt at home here immediately. I can imagine myself living in this city, and one day I hope to. For one thing, I suddenly shed my self-consciousness over how imperfect my French is, gasbagging in French and English with a couple of artists at a gallery opening. Later we went dancing, and walking through Le Panier. I wore my shoes out walking all over the city. There is something so alluringly physical about the place; its narrow lanes, its high buildings, the scouring wind off the ocean, the baking sun. It is a city you can walk from one end of to another. One day soon I will learn to drive, but it was so good to be somewhere that I absolutely didn't have to. 

I had fantasies of somehow picking Mike and Owen up and bringing them to me, whisking them over the ocean. After the push-pull of my anxiety in Greece, it has been easy, easier than I thought; Owen blurted out "I love you, Mummy!" the first time he saw me on the phone, but since then he's become increasingly less interested, giving me a kiss and a wave before going on with whatever game he was already playing. It is clear that he has adjusted to my being away, and so I have let myself give in to daydreams of his adjusting to something bigger, life in a French schoolyard, a small apartment in a city where the sun shines 300 days a year.

That is the danger of travelling, I suppose. That you might find something utterly perfect somewhere unexpected. It makes the returning harder, but at the very least I am trying to console myself with the beauty of La Cité Radieuse as a defence against living somewhere that was also meticulously planned.