Monday, January 03, 2005

Romance at the World's Portal

My wife and I watched Marius by Maurice Pagnol, a romantic comedy, somewhat melodramatic, that takes place at the port city of Marseilles. Pagnol wanted to create a sentimental portrait of his home town and Provence with a triptych of life along the docks and the pull of the sea. The plot focuses on two young people, one the son of a bar owner, the other the daughter of a fishmonger, who have grown up rooted in an environment in which people are constantly moving. In this first film in the series, the young Marius leaves Marseilles, in conflict with his love for Fanny, to encounter the world on a cargo vessel that is headed for the East Indies. His departure sets up Fanny as a potentially "used woman" who will be unhappy for the rest of her life.

The film positions the world of Marseilles in an interesting way. The city is explicitly provincial. The people are unfamiliar with the cosmopolitanism of Paris (they even quip that it is unreal that the capital is forty times the size of their fair city), and moreover, they reject that they can obtain anything from it. However, they are worldly, sharing the experiences of the sailors and the ships, enjoying the products that are brought into port, associating freely with Italians and Africans who freely move around the Mediterranean coast. It is a transnational culture that is in unmitigated by Paris.

It is interesting that transnationalism and internationalism are set in opposition with one another, but it is probably true that first cities (like Paris, New York, London) connect to the world in ways that are different from border cities (like Marseilles, Liverpool, San Antonio). Internationalism requires a high level of social interaction. It is a journey between major cultural centers between elites (political, economic, or intellectual). Transnationalism is, more often, a lower level of interaction that requires migration, necessary encounters with different nations due to proximity and positioning. It also places the individual closer to the elements of daily life--among the working people who might more likely different from one another, rather than people who are similarly cosmopolitan.


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