"When In Doubt, Go Out": Team Algeria Does Marseille

Saturday, January 3, 2015 | Marseille, France

A partial group shot of the weekend's ever-changing cast of characters, at Chez Etienne pizzeria.
"When in doubt, go out" is a maxim I long ago learned to follow on those nights when a friend calls to invite me out but I'm feeling 50-50 about it. Almost every time, those somehow end up being the quirky, epic, unexpectedly memorable nights out.

In recent years, I've practiced applying that maxim to larger decisions. I now try to beat back my own inner wimp when weighing new jobs, international moves, or the possibility of hopping on airplanes for whirlwind last-minute trips. If you're on the fence, go.

Back in November, a few of my closest Algerian friends were dogging me to join them for a long weekend in Marseille. I had way too much work to do here in
Algiers, and no business missing four days to go mess around in southern France. So, remembering my maxim, I joined them—and, naturally, did not regret it.

We explored the city by day and by night and in between made lavish meals for ourselves back at the house, in Sausset-les-Pins, a beach town just west of Marseille proper. In town we hit the legendary Chez Etienne pizzeria, and I even found a photo studio to develop my film (Photo République, run by two gregarious Malagasy brothers). On Saturday afternoon, in a kitchen not much bigger than a closet, our friend Mendouh's mother managed to cook a couscous lunch for us and about 60 other family friends.

Oh, and we also had a few drinks, now and then. One morning I rose early and beat back my hangover by stumbling down to the town beach to snap photos of the surfers, wishing I owned a wetsuit and a surfboard instead of just an old camera.

One thing I liked more than anything about the trip—I know, I'm crazy—is that during four days in Marseille I hardly felt like I had left Algeria. No, not because of the supposedly uncanny physical resemblance between Marseille and its southern sister, Algiers. (I found that resemblance was actually rather exaggerated.) No, not because you hear more Arabic than French walking down the streets of Marseille, just like back in Algiers. What I liked was our group—all Algerian except for me, the weird outlying foreigner. But I made it work, deploying my Algerian Arabic to the best of my abilities (including inventing a perfect local equivalent of "hangry"), learning lots more during that single weekend, and coming away with many hilarious memories and several new friends.

When in doubt, go out.

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