03 November 2010

Got into a fight today

I am writing this on a computer that is chained to my desk. You see, Marseille has a reputation for very high crime rates, but it's actually a very safe city. At least according to people I have asked. A friend who helped me choose my apartment, for example. While I was admiring the view, or (usually) the lack thereof, she would inspect the three-point locking system, the steel plating on the door, and opportunities to break through a window. But don't worry, she says, nothing can happen, Marseille is a very safe city. I half expected her to recommend a gun rack next to my door, so I could dissuade unwelcome visitors by spraying them with bullets.

Shopkeepers have a somewhat different perspective on the matter. While ground-floor apartments protect their windows with cast-iron bars, most shops have steel shutters that would stop a tank. I don't know the percentage of burglars who drive to work in a tank but it must be significant. A few months ago, some guys tried to stop a Brinks van by very literally spraying it with bullets from their very literal AK-47 Kalashnikov submachine guns, right down at the old fishing harbor, a ten-minute walk from here. There were bullet holes everywhere, it's a miracle that nobody was hurt. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. But Marseille is a very safe city, trust me.

Just now I got into a fight with a pickpocket. I was walking up rue d'Aubagne from the Marché des Capucins (a major tourist attraction in the Moroccan quarter close to my house) when a dark-skinned unshaven young guy started chatting to me under a pretext. I caught him when he pulled my wallet from my front pants pocket, attempting a distraction that alerted me. Rather than going for the wallet I attacked the guy to wrestle him down, and it quickly turned out that I was bigger and stronger. He dropped the wallet and I didn't lose anything and wasn't hurt.

When I told the story to my friend, she asked if I punched him and hurt him badly. She was disappointed that I didn't, because I am in Marseille now and that's what people here do to pickpockets. But Marseille is a very safe city. For Karate black belts carrying AK-47s and sufficient ammo, maybe.

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