Mazargues [essay] by Philip Kobylarz

A district. A neighborhood. A place. A certain intersection of streets. An architectural relic left standing like a lonely buttress or a stranded support of an old bridge surrounded by the river it once straddled. An island for lost pigeons.

There are these blocks strung together south and west of the city, yet within the city, that once and still attempt to make up a locality, a livable entity. It was a garment and fashion district. How befitting that it should be left behind like last year’s dresses. The secret way to enter the area, to enter its maze, is on foot, south and directly underneath its hidden spire of a bridge no longer walked. Of course, nobody walks the district anymore, except loyal mothers who continue to shop each day for the essentials that they trail behind them in a wheeled cart of wire. Nobody walks to it anymore due to the new widened boulevards and decent bus service. As a foreigner with no illusions or desires of ever owning a vehicle in this strange land and the liberation this implies, I still pine for those days I didn’t have to drive. Points on a map attained by m├ętro, bus, and a good deal of foot work. The only way to discover a country.

After sauntering down streets and alleys as one will do, being young and alive in Europe, counting how many coquelicots are blooming in between the adobe-like concrete walls and bright green painted wooden doors, vines creeping up them where invisible moisture sweats, with wildly yellow blooming supernovae of mimosa swinging overhead making the pedestrian sick for the scent of a woman’s neck in the evening, a garden path leads behind modern, ugly, but livable apartment buildings. Past fields locked in chain link limbo, as prayers are said, candles lit so those places will never become yet another modern living spread, a collection of villas as they choose to paint them now. At the school of botany, we find most logically, a wonderful park and garden.

The school itself is housed in an old mansion and its grounds are kept impeccable and even a little wild around the edges. Sycamore trees twist their grey torsos from orange-brown dirt and manicured lawns. Here is shade and shade always means rest (except for moss and mushrooms).

After sipping from the water fountain, which tastes a bit like stainless steel, and crossing the busy curve of street that does have pedestrian markings that no one pays attention to, passing a stand of pines along an open-air area of yet another apartment structure (these are HLM, government housing, and reflect dilapidation and exclusion but in a choice setting) that at least does not purport to have a fancy name. Just past this, the defunct blackened walking bridge floating stories above ground.

The bridge exists. Rain darkened stone, chunks of once white rock growing beards of moss, terraced limestone, it is mysteriously connected to an equally gothic boarded-up mansion. The house’s grounds, the bridge linking a yard to the building, are fenced in, off limits, and above the ground, gently lifted by a hill some fifteen feet above the street. A castle hidden and not revealed on maps, this arc and square is the power source of the district. A western pyramid cropping up in a forgotten corner of Old France.

Under the bridge, it always smells of rain. A taste in the nostrils of fat juicy earthworms. It is dark. The walkway is half-paved, as if it were street, but the passage’s curbs are of hewn limestone. There are smears of smashed, bicycle-tracked, stepped-in dogshit. Dried out, it’s innocuous. The ever present moisture, seeping from moss, collecting in pools of rain then spilling into rivulets, reactivates the scent occasionally. There are bunches of leaves from a fall that really never ends, if maybe so then in summer, but with the habitual visits of the mistral, they provide the wind’s calling cards. Above the bridge, perhaps it’s always raining. The rain bridge leading only to its other sides. An accidental arch.


Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This essay refers to Thomas E. Kennedy’s essay “The Air Sculpture.”]

Philip Kobylarz’s recent work appears or will appear in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review, and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. His collection of fiction, Now Leaving Nowheresville, and his book length essay, Nearest Istanbul, are forthcoming.

Image by marlendd