- Marseille showed up on Saturday afternoon when it really mattered.
- The city is hosting the Springboks for the first time since 2007.
- There were some sleepy parts, but it also buzzed as it got ready for the Test, and the stadium itself is mind-blowing.
This port city is deceiving and in every sense of the word.
If you go to one side of the town, especially the old Port area with the old museum, nothing screams that a big rugby match is taking place.
There were a few rugby jerseys, but of bigger interest were the boat cruises, public displays of affection, small picnics, the museum, the circus and, significantly, a gentle but immensely cooling breeze that came off the Mediterranean sea.
Near the Dockside Mall, the restaurants are all quiet.
Closer to the port, especially on Old Quay Port Road, is where things really get festive.
With Marseille being a tourist town, it’s expected that rugby may not always be the biggest attraction.
After all, this is the place that houses France’s only UEFA Champions League side Olympique Marseille who hoisted the famous European trophy in 1993.
There are a few football jerseys, but there are far more rugby jerseys on this day.
On the one side of the port, with the bulk of the restaurants, business was being conducted in an orderly manner.
The conversations, mostly in French, were boisterous, but every so often, Afrikaans and English would puncture the air.
However, it was at Quinze’s and Murphy’s bars where things took a turn for the hectic.
The patrons sang along to a song, and when the chorus came around, they absolutely belted it out.
The two bars are as popular as the ones you’d find in the port quarter.
However, they occupy prime real estate by being on the corner of a very busy intersection.
With the nature of French bars being self-serving and with drinking done outside, it’s a winner for everyone.
The mild autumn weather also played a role, even though a particular nip kicked in from time to time.
The Joliette Underground train station was a hive of activity in a trio of languages.
The carriage was packed to capacity.
Then again, not everything is about sport, but it has to be said the heat experienced in the crammed carriage was the hottest it had been since I left Johannesburg.
The arrival at the stadium was as chaotic as the carriage.
There was a drunken but smooth rendition of La Marseillaise, but Nkosi Sikelela’s response was as disjointed as SA’s goalkicking last week.
The stadium? Well, it’s a beauty that only the eye can behold.
It has a mall attached to it, plus a spectator bank where fans can sit and wait patiently before the gates open.
Its design is reminiscent of what Loftus Versfeld and the Cape Town Stadium are trying to be.
The place is mad but also beautiful.
The neighbourhood in which the stadium is situated was a world away from the quiet humdrum of the portside area.
If there’s one thing I have experienced in France over the past week, it’s that melodic chaos isn’t just acceptable, but it’s a way of life.
21:00 (22:00 in South Africa) just seemed a bit too far away.