In a city as large and well-known as Marseille, which is more populous than San Francisco, California — you expect that anonymity that comes with metropolitan life. There’s a sense that you’ll never recognize anyone you pass on the street, and that no one will recognize you either. There’s a certain comfort in that.
Except, in Marseille, regardless of what I might have expected it didn’t work that way for me.
On my first morning there, I met a man at my hotel. He was going from room to room offering to take people’s dirty laundry, wash it, and return it. Being something of a cheapskate when I travel (well, except when it comes to food), I managed to turn down the service before I even heard the full spiel. He was entertained; “I’ve never been rejected so quickly and so politely at the same time,” he informed me.
I thought that was the end of that. Until, later that afternoon, I ran into the same fellow outside the Marseille Cathedral. The cathedral wasn’t quite on the opposite end of the city from my hotel, but it was far enough away that I certainly wouldn’t have expected to see him there too, yet there he was. We chatted for a moment, then I observed that he looked a bit like Santa Claus, with his sack of laundry slung over his shoulder.
Again, I thought that was it. Until that evening, at dinner, who was seated at the next table? The very same gentleman. He pulled the empty bag from the backpack beside his chair, winked at me, and said, “I’ve delivered all the gifts. At least, until tomorrow.”
That night, I resolved that I would let him do my laundry the next morning when he made his rounds of the hotel. Except he didn’t show up.