Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Marseille part 2

People love Marseille. They think it's the greatest, liveliest, most sun-soaked city in France. Or the hate it. Filthy, crime-ridden, congested, just as expensive as Paris without the class.

This is my second time here, again in May, and so far I'm with the naysayers. Perhaps I've wandered around the wrong bits, but it is indeed filthy. And the traffic! I had to walk a few nasty blocks to get to the hotel where the training thing is being held, and I was moving much faster than the cars. Not faster than the kamikaze motorcyclists, but it's ok with me not to risk my life to be trained in doing audits.

Not a place to live, in my book.

You could live on the outskirts, as long as you didn't have to commute into the city. The coast is magnificent, and it's much like San Diego: beautiful vistas and perfect weather mean that everybody wants to move there. And so they do, by their teeming millions.

So I'm not prolonging my stay for the weekend. I'll be heading home Saturday morning to feed the kittybits and water the garden and collect cherries for the first jam of the season.
The Internal Audit workshop starts out slowly. Some of the participants have not much idea of what to expect from a Quality System at all, so at the first break we're still on defining terms and introducing the basics. The guy next to me is soon rolling his eyes and whispering comments. After lunch we do get going. It does become clearer what's involved in conducting an audit, and what tactics can help keep you on a useful and constructive path, rather than the auditees feeling they're on the hot-seat and you're looking to find fault.

Well, the auditor is looking for faults. Of the system. In order to fix them. It's not a witch-hunt.

Tomorrow we get to practice, at last.

Tonight: a walk around looking for a present for my mom, and then the thing that actually is great about Marseille - a seafood dinner.

See: when I travel it's:

1) trains

2) complaining

3) food.

Every time.

To start, a plate of coquillage. Shellfish. I expect a platter of fresh, raw shellfish, like that exquisite assortment I tasted once in Dieppe. What I get is entirely different. It's a hot dish of mussels and oysters in a glorious buttery garlic sauce. Fair enough - not the same coast, not the same season. Sublime all the same.

My fish soup has mussels, shrimp, and two filets of delicate fish, plus as much pink garlic mayonnaise as I wish to add. There's a basket of toasted bread for dipping, and dry white wine in delicious counterpoint..

Walking back to my hotel I chance upon a rugby bar. Common enough in Clermont and Toulouse, I hadn't hoped for one in football-mad Marseille. They're not showing any sport tonight, but the barman assures me that tomorrow the Top 14 quarterfinal between the ASM and Biarritz will indeed be on. Yea!! I won't miss it after all!

In the morning, we start late but finish on time. The mock audit they have us role-play is quite instructive, even if we have only the morning to examine the documents provided, decide on a plan, and come up with a list of questions to ask. The afternoon role-play of the audit visit itself could have been better if everyone had a chance to participate, but we have a lot of things pointed out that we didn't realize we were missing. It's only a 14-hour course, but I do leave feeling better about conducting an internal audit of my lab.

And I'd better have at least some idea. This training session makes me the first and only person of my team qualified to do an audit. Gotta start somewhere...

Now about that present. I've got a couple of shopping hours in the evening, and spend them walking all around the old port and its surrounding areas, looking for treasure. Nothing, alas, presents itself. Strangely, there seems to be no middle ground at the shops. There's cheap crap. There's hugely expensive. In the middle are the useless knicknacks nobody wants. Nothing local is both affordable and worthy. Strikeout for shopping.

There's an archeological dig right in the middle of the old port neighborhood. Closed to visitors for the moment. Tonight there are five cats visible, all clustered in one corner. Maybe they're waiting to be fed. One seagull. A bunch of pigeons.

The game is at 9, and when I wander by around 8, the barmaid says well, if people want to watch a match, we'll watch it. What game was that again? Huh?

This chick is obviously not a fan. It's a crappy little bar, so instead of hanging out there I wander off in search of a snack. I end up with a platter of finger-foods and a kir with ice. Ice? in kir? This is a mistake. Go ahead, put ice in sangria if you must, but leave it out of the kir. Chill the wine instead. No ice, ever.

Back at the rugby spot, the game is about to kick off, but the tv is still showing lame music videos to the barmaid. At a table, a family has soft drinks and pays no attention. At the bar, two middle aged guys nurse beers and pay no attention either. When I ask to see the game, it is explained to me that she can only put the game on if there's a consensus about watching it. Nobody but me wants to see rubgy tonight, and well, she has regulars here for the music. She can't deprive them of that just for me.

Yeah, right. Clearly, it's the barmaid who would rather not be bothered. I ask generally if anybody would mind if we had the game on. Nobody says yes, nobody says no. Nobody cares. Barbitch is clearly displeased at the prospect of bowing to a single rugby fan and insists she can't change channels for one person. There's no ambiance. You've got to have dozens of cheering fans for there to be sport. I'm obviously not going to make that much noise on my own.

I'm obviously not going to hang around in the face of such hostility.

So, no match. I'm not hungry enough now for dinner. Too late for a movie. I take a walk along the waterfront, enjoying the sight of the pleasure port in the evening lights. Some boats come in late. Couples are strolling. At one point a man with a north african face asks me if I'm out walking alone, as if it's a particularly strange thing to do. Maybe in his culture it's unthinkable, but not in mine. I dislike the idea that because I'm alone here I have to sequester myself in my hotel room.

In the morning the shops at the train station are open for my amusement, and I do purchase t-shirts and books. Done with Marseille. I don't think I'll be back here for vacation.


steven said...

poof!! there goes another delusion!!! tough about the price of learning to do an internal audit nancy! steven

Bagman and Butler said...

I think you should send your rhubarb to the bar to teach them a lesson! This didn't seem to be the greatest conference experience...did you bring your camera?

NanU said...

Nah, they would just like rhubarb. I didn't take the camera, and of course there were moments when I wished I had. Next time.
Tonight, however: the Semifinal, and I have a table reserved in my usual big-screen place.

Rachel Fox said...

What a coincidence - I had a kir the day before yesterday for the first time in years! I was in San Francisco - lady in the restaurant/bistro from Haiti via NYC. It was very tasty (the drink). And no ice. x