Monday, August 14, 2017

Wild and precious summer....



Morning glorious hillside. photo by Mary M Payne


I have decided that summer is for taking a vacation without going anywhere.     I resist traveling and in high season especially.   And as I have said before , the Cote d'azur is one of the most stunning vacation destinations in the world.    

  So to stop worrying about the state of the planet and to make summertime special I do a bit of toned down holiday making here at home. 

 One afternoon last week I went into town to do   an errand and to search out a gelato at the new spot called Grom.  This gelataria, originally from Torino, has come to France.  They have opened in cap 3000 and also at 6 place Massena on the zone "pietonne".    Their chain of shops claims to use only pure, fresh ingredients : no food coloring, preservatives or fillers.   The  intense "chocolato" with a scoop of "limone" combo is divine.  

When my mother was 83 years old, she came to visit Monsieur and I in Milan.  Every afternoon while there (before she and I took off for Rome and Assisi on the train), my mom would inquire,  "is it gelato time?" and off we would go to a special "gelataria" on Via Solferino.  The chocolate/limone duo was our favorite. 



  Braving the Pietonne in Nice on a midsummer afternoon,  one is tossed in with a host of visitors wandering aimlessly, or so it seems... in search of "je ne sais quoi".   

  Some of the husbands look lost and resigned, some of the young girls are dressed for a party with quite high heels... (awkward when the asphalt is melting).   Everyone has that "baked on the beach" look.    Sometimes it looks nice, sometimes it looks painful.   

   Of course lots of buying and eating is going on which everyone knows is an essential part of a proper holiday.   It is suffocatingly hot but folks are insisting on having the ultimate holiday experience without looking frazzled.  Aside from two old girls at Grom playing cards with a tiny electric fan in front of each of them, it didn't appear that they were succeeding.  

  I won't be wandering into Nice again during summer afternoons. ....to each his own pleasures.  

Here is my own list for the summer holiday. 

 And I don't mean my bucket list, a term whose  origins must derive from "before I kick the bucket" which in turn comes from the days when we hung people to death.  Lovely. 

    No, this is a "to do list" to change things for summer and yes, before I die is included in that.  

1.  Go to the beach early some mornings to dip in the Mediterranean and enjoy the glassy sea before the crowds arrive.    


2.  Stay outside and enjoy breakfast for an hour in the mornings.  Sit and talk to Monsieur, about this and that which includes how lucky we are that the weather is working in our favor here in Nice.   It is getting cooler with less humidity this week.  

3.   Enjoy Monsieur's special "Sacred Sunday" brunch.   Eat my fill of summer fruit...peaches, nectarines,  golden "sugar kiss "melons; wild, small green mangos from Cameroon and huge and crisp Sicilian green grapes. 


Monsieur's special omelette, photo by mary m payne

4. Lie out on the terrace under the shade of the trumpet vine in a bikini.   Take a cool drink, sunscreen, and a trashy novel.  Use the spray bottle to cool off or go sit in the tub for a few minutes and then go back out.  (I already discovered that Mozzi, the hedonistic fur person loves this.  He hogs the mattress when I take a break).  The trashy novel is Jackie Collins that someone left under my gate.   It takes me away from the real problems of the world. 


5.  Work on a special project in the art studio.  

6.  Spend time updating my music library.  Right now I am listening to" Blue Camel",  an interesting mix of traditional Arab music walking a thin line into jazz.  It is not Arab music forced into the way jazz is made, but is not entirely traditional either.  I like it.   Included in the instruments is the Oud ( I must tell Olivier P.... who handcrafts these Instruments and collects oud music).   

7.  Dance with Monsieur to jazz ( which is ever present here in our house.)  I just discovered what a fun dancer he is.   I had given up this idea too soon, it seems.   And one thing leads to another.  

8.  Sleep in my tent in the backyard.  Listen to the sounds of the night. 

9.  Get my bike tire repaired so I can do some early morning biking. 


10.  Try new summer recipes like cold tomato soup with basil and pita/garlic croutons. 


11.  Have lunch out along the way with friends.  Take in the jewel-like Mediterranean coastline of which we are all so boastful.  Step out a bit and make sure that all of my summer frocks get used at least once before being put away again. 

12.  Have a cooling summer drink while watching an old movie.  My specialty, learned from Martha, is a variation of a "lemon drop".  She and I have it with or without the sugar rim and make it just with sparkling water, vodka and plenty of fresh lemon juice.  

 Right now the movie we are watching is called "The Tycoon", written by Harold Pinter and directed by Elia Kazan.... with excellent performances from everyone.

13.  Try some of Monsieur's rare green teas at room temperature.  It's like drinking flowers.  A connoisseur's idea of iced tea. 


My garden steps , Zyosia grass on right.  Cycas on left.  Photo by Mary m Payne


14,  Sit in the garden and dig, watch and listen to the creatures. Unearth a night crawler but put him back safely.    Listen to the first ever cicadas to visit us ( in the cherry tree).   Trim a bit of the thatch of our Zoysia Japanese bumpy grass.  Gaze and wonder.   

15.  Go to one of Nice's many private beaches with a friend and sun bathe, talk, eat, drink and swim.   Take a parasol and chaise for the day. 



These are just simple ideas for enjoying "one wild and precious life".   
"Tell me what else I should have done.Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?"   


The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver





Sunday, August 6, 2017

Visit to Eze

  We all think of Eze as a "cutesy" little village on the hillside with lots of well tended garden pots and charming corners.  It is a spiffed up version of a French country village and mostly only tourists are to be found there.   There are a handful of galleries and little boutiques and some very pricey restaurants and there you have it.   The best value is to take a glass of champagne at one of the restaurant terraces and sit and take in the beauty of the coastline. 




Or you can visit a hidden hillside haven which is what I did a few days ago. 

 Leave it to my friend June to ferret out the best addresses,  some rarely on the market, and book a week to 10 days to avoid the gaggle of monster children running around the pool.   She finds a holiday sanctuary in one of the most sought after vacation destinations in the world but she lives just a town over.   Brilliant. 

But before she whisked me to her retreat, we went to have lunch along the coast highway.  Both our chosen destinations were closed for lunch so we headed for a family run tavern filled with locals.  

There I found the irony of our part of the world:  the authenticity of French life less than a kilometer away from a fantasized version of an authentic French village.  

The menu was typical at our small local cafe.  I had the "moules" ( mussels) in their broth. June had "dinde"( turkey breast) in bread crumbs....Two glasses of rosé and a tall Pellegrino.  It was perfect. 

 After a friendly conversation with two French gentlemen,  I heard music and turned to see someone had brought a guitar.   A beautiful young lady with an exceptional alto voice was singing.  Being this place, this moment and this song, I went over and joined in. She was gracious about sharing and so it was one of those joyful moments that if you dare....you grab. 

 Then I went back to my table and tried to pretend that this was an everyday occurrence.  But it certainly had more authenticity to it than the tourist mecca of Eze Village. 

After quitting the restaurant, (where several people thanked me),   we wound our way up the hill of Eze in June's trusty "bangole".  

These photos give you a glimpse and I even dared post one that June snapped of me in my new red bathing suit. 

















 And then there is Wesley, June's majestic feline of the first order who for the moment has even a guest bedroom to explore as well as two levels of private deck.  He can sit and watch the squirrels or just lie under a convenient bonsai.  




    I don't know who was happier,  Wesley or the old girl who got to sing "House of the Rising Sun" once more. 






Saturday, August 5, 2017

How do we compare?




Its already August, the summer's half gone.   Nice is crowded as usual at this time of year.   However,  except for the beach and the good time to be had at a private beach,  I don't really think Nice shows very well in Summer.  

Yes, the sea is beautiful but everywhere tempers are frayed , prices go up, trash receptacles overflow and places are over-crowded.  

   We just had my sister and brother in law visit and although we made the best of our 5 days together, I couldn't help thinking that my people hadn't had the best of Nice. 
  
   Their visit got me thinking about my unorthodox life in France and how it must be seen by my American friends and family.   Here are a few things I had to realize. .....

 1.)  Here in the west of Nice we have very few pretty restaurants within walking distance.    The closest nice place is the Rooftop Radisson open only in warm weather.    In Summer,  Miami ( the private beach) is good for lunch or drinks but it doesn't open until 9am and closes early on Sundays.  Last time we tried to eat there , it happened that their electricity had gone out in the kitchen.  

2.) There are only four funky little coffee shops within 10 minutes walk from our house but they are not along the Promenade des Anglais so folks tend not to find them on their own.  My guests discovered this when they slipped out of the house one morning so as not to wake us up early. They came back with patisserie but hadn't found their morning coffee. 

  Coffee houses are a big deal on the west coast of America and perhaps throughout the whole country.   In Italy, our own coffee house in the neighborhood was much more popular than it is here in France.   

3.) We have a mosquito problem in Nice.      Maybe Monsieur and I are now immune because we rarely feel a bite but Anglo Saxon skin is vulnerable .    It is a problem in humid, hot spots the world over so we could not really enjoy the terrace in the evenings or mornings when it is an otherwise ideal time to sit out.   My sister, it turns out was just too delicious. 

4) There is a real cosmetic difference in Nice and a "young" American town or city.  Right now Nice is a mess with the second tram line going in from downtown to the airport.  Its noisy and chaotic.....not fun for us or for visitors, especially if we are all using  buses.  But I am not referring to that.  More I am thinking about style. 

 Nice is an old town, inhabited since 350 BC,  bombed during the war, shabby but noble.  It is the kind of place that is lovely in its authenticity and loved by its people.  I have come to be very fond of its natural beauties and particularly my street with its 80 year old homes and the turquoise sea nearby.      But how do Americans see this town compared to other comparable sized cities in the USA?  


When I refer to cosmetic differences, let's take street paving as an example.  Aside from all of the roadworks going on,  the little streets like ours are a patchwork of old and new asphalt thrown "willy nilly" onto the street if there is a pothole.    I have seen the truck come up my street to throw some new macadam down and not even bother to tamp it down:  the traffic is expected to do that. 

 This approach makes for a "blemished" look, a" poor man's answer" to paving.   

  Taxpayers money and plenty of it has just been spent on a new bike lane and glazed sidewalks for the famous Promenade des Anglais and the resurfacing of the same.   

 But as for the little alleyways and country roads being paved  the Niçois don't "care a fig" about that.   (However, we did just have a bevy of macho weed cutters and leaf blowers and even a little vehicle street cleaner come around.  Our country lane now looks as good as it can look). 



5)  Americans use the bus only occasionally.  Most people in the USA take a car or the subway to work.   Cities are usually sprawling and vastly laid out so there is some reason for this precedent. 

 When Monsieur and I moved here,  we wished for a simpler life  without a car.   In Nice I am used to taking the buses.  I have my kindle app and I know usually where to board to get a seat to relax on the way home.   But summer days here in Nice we host music concerts or games where the buses are crowded going to the Nikaia or the Stade.  The bus drivers seem more aggressive and the air conditioning doesn't always work.  Yesterday,  the bus-driver nearly squashed a "poussette" with a baby in it by closing the door too soon. Everyone shouted.  The driver came back with " Well, the door is made of rubber" to excuse his negligence.  And during the Triathlon that the city  hosted while my family was here, there were no buses that day. 

6) I am a bit ashamed also that some taxis and restaurants take advantage of the tourists.  Two different taxis tried to charge 44 euros for a 10-15 minute ride for my husband and wife couple who arrived separately.  Outrageous.  The normal fee is 25 euros to our house. 

  Luckily neither one of them took the bait. 

   And I have had restaurants swear to me that they are serving fresh fish when it is obviously frozen.  When I told them that I was a resident , they "backpedaled" and admitted their "mistake" .  I was  even offered a free dessert.  But this behavior is disgraceful and does nothing to endear me or our visitors to Nice in Summer.  

  Perhaps very few tourist towns show well when the locals leave and the crowds descend.  I don't know.    I have had to accept though, that all of the strangeness that my visitors  embraced, made it part of their little adventure.  And an adventure was what they set out to have.  

Isn't it true that it's never what you were expecting that you learn the most from.  And its often what you learn the most from that makes you satisfied.    Confucius says....or somebody should.    

P.S. I was happy to hear that my peeps loved their holiday. 



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Clash of cultures....



                       Breakfast of roast gecko , no seriously, doesn't look like oatmeal to me.


Sorry, Blogspot has a font problem that they can't help me solve so put your glasses on.  Can any of you help me with this?

Summer has taken a new intensity here in the South of France with some light breezes each day but with "killer" heat.  It will hover around 90  F. all this week.  


To try to beat the heat and because I am not a great swimmer, my days have been starting un-habitually early with a walk/run....out of the sun and away from the crowd.


 Last year I did yoga and Pilates but it's not enough. I don't like sheduled appointments that break up the morning either. If I do one thing it will be to walk.  The secret to my new regime however is that I don't go every day and if I am tired when I get back I go back to bed for another hour's sleep. 


 At the crack of dawn there is a special culture out there.    There are the cleaning crews for the Promenade des Anglais, a truck to spray the beach and sidewalks and guys who take up the trash. 


 Until recently there were the workers re-surfacing the Promenade sidewalks and bike lanes but that has slowed somewhat since the Homage on Bastille day.   That day the city was immaculate for visiting dignitaries and attendees of the all day ceremonies honoring the victims of last year's terrorist act.   President elect Emmanuel Macron, François Holland and Nicholas Sarkosy were in attendance as well as many Niçois. 


Until that day the sidewalks were a mess of buildings, wire, fences and debris while the work was progressing to remake the Promenade safer and more beautiful.    I would often run past a crew passing buckets of tar before five am. 


So besides the workers early in the morning there are a few people speeding somewhere on their bikes or scooters.  Maybe I pass 5 or 6 of them in 45 minutes.  I just wish they would do their biking in the "piste de velo" instead of on the sidewalk. 


 But hey, we are in France where signs and laws are only a suggestion and rebellion is in the blood.  


 And there are the runners and the walkers like me, about 5-10 of us depending how long one stays out.  And there is at least one regular  walker older than I, a woman in her 80's I would guess.  I think she is there every day. 


And the kids getting out of the night clubs, alone or in a gang, let's not forget them.  They are often loud, loud...walking it off ,  goofing around or weaving down the sidewalk.  The trick is to do the "run" part of walk/run past them. 


On our corner at Av de Fabron there is often a long, tall transexual with excellent legs, short skirts and golden tresses.  The lips are definitely "Jessica Rabbit" although even with filler how does he gets them to protrude so.... and glisten!   


And there are a few "ladies of the evening" on various corners as one progresses towards town.  



This morning two of my exotic morning cultures came together  with a question from a young man/ boy who stopped me while I was slowing down to cross the Prom to ask discreetly: "Avez- vous vu la prostituée?"  


"Non, j'ai pas vu ce matin. " 


I think he was asking about the Jessica Rabbit lipped "Trannie" who is usually at that corner.   But seriously,  can you see this exchange being anything but unusual in the States?  Not where I come from....anyway.  


 "Merci, Madame" says the lad.   The French, you will find, have quite nice manners.  


On the way home I was suddenly aware of my quick response ...I amaze myself sometimes.   




Friday, May 12, 2017

Zen circle intaglio

 It's spring..... but here in Nice we have been having rain for at least a few minutes most everyday.  So when it is sunny I am basking outside part of the day.... but otherwise I have been spring cleaning my studio and posting on my art blog: artmarympayne.blogspot.com




And as you can see I finally found a way to watermark my photos.  Of course, that doesn't show up on the piece itself although red does look kind of cool with the red Chinese chop. 

If you are in mind for some of my brand of art for your house I am giving my friends and family some smaller pieces that I have created. 

 Send a message if you see something you like and we can meet up and go through my big box of stuff.   Failing that tell me what you like that you have seen on the blog and I will see whether it is daunting or easy to mail art from France.  

One of the last intaglio copper plates that I created was of the zen circle. Take a look.



Chine collie with Japanese fiber paper, Chinese chop



Chine collie with Japanese fiber paper, Chinese characters


plain paper, with Chinese chop and  Chinese character for beauty



Graduated ink rolled on for background and then printed after.




Rolled out ink gradation with Chinese chop and character for Beauty

Chinese chop and background of graduated printers ink




Chinese fiber paper and Chinese chop in red






My Chinese seals or chops were carved by Feng Zhuo onto soapstone.  One says my name in Chinese characters the other says: "pervasive moonlight".  It refers to "home, hearth, the place of one's childhood".  I found this engraver on Etsy site for handmade items....under Chinese seal.   I really enjoy using them. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why did the chicken cross the road....




We got a nice present last night, carefully and charmingly packaged.   

 I can't think of a gift more welcome than what is left for us by the workers of the building across the street....unless its hearing those barnyard sounds of 9 boasting hens every morning. 




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

National Theatre of Nice: Fugue

  After trying out two seasons of plays and musical offerings at our National theatre here in Nice,  I withdrew membership.  But this was 15 years ago and things change.  

Friday night I returned to the National Theatre of Nice ready to give it another try.  A good friend had offered me tickets and this was to be our first outing for this season.


Fugue: Photo Avignon Festival


The play we saw was called "Fugue" by Samuel Achache. ...  a fugue being a form of music in which a short melody or musical phrase is introduced by one voice and then is taken up by the others and developed and tossed around to weave new cloth. ... (just to mix my metaphors).  

In this case the playwright,  Samuel Achache places the piece at the South Pole at an explorers station.  The main set is the interior of the station and the surrounding stage is covered with powdery "snow".    Five actors command the stage and alternately sing contrapuntal music, play instruments (cello, trumpet, keyboard, guitar, drums, clarinet) ,  engage in burlesque gags, interact, or deliver impressively long monologues on love, death and the meaning or meaninglessness of it all.   

 What is interesting is that Achache started with musicians as actors and let them look at the relationships of counterpoint, let them ramble and discuss the subject and see how these musical connections would relate to human relationships and then develop the play from improvisation.   This from the Avignon festival where the play previewed in May 2015:     
"The Story is intrinsically musical, maybe even operatic, but the point of departure is none other than Pythagorus’ theories of harmony and temper. Its paradox: the cycle
of fifths it is based on cannot be closed, as a comma is missing from the last one. The mathematical relationship is perfect in theory, and yet in practice the cycle it produces is a spiral. To embody this question, have fun with it, and maybe solve its impossible harmony, the musician-actor-singers brought
together by Samuel Achache combine their voices, like the subjects and countersubjects of a fugue, and delve into the ideas of being in tune and of misunderstanding."


 The research and background for this play is intellectually impressive and was a labor of love by the whole cast.   Achache's new way of working is unusual and seems to have resulted in a solid team of actors comfortable with the material and with each other.   The cast seems to include international muscians judging by these names and includes: Vladislav Galard, Anne-Lise Heimburger, Florent Hubert, Leo- Antonin Luthier, and Thilbault Perriard.   The instruments they play all existed in the middle ages, from birth of the fugue up to Bach's time.




Fugue:  Photo by Avignon Festival

 I have the feeling the play held together quite successfully but I only understood about 50% of it.  What a disappointment to see that my French isn't as solid as I had imagined.    I was still impressed, however with the levels of the performance and the ability of the actors to engage the audience.

The most successful passage was played by Leo Antonin Luthier, the performer who does an outrageous naked mime of fashioning a  bathing costume and cap made of duct tape ( lest the audience behold his nakedness), preparing himself to take a warming bath after a spell of being frozen and lost.   He is mostly being ignored by the sole actress in the cast who is near him in the hut but with whom he seems to have lost favor.


 Luthier in Fugue: Photo Avignon Festival

  Just as astonishing is Monsieur Luthier's voice....above a tenor, like a woman's.  I would say castrato ( a soprano or mezzo soprano?) but I am doubly sure after the brief nude scene last night that Mr Luthier is anything but a castrato.  They must be using a different term these days.  


Luthier from Fugue,  Photo by Avignon festival 

  After a series of delightful acrobatic displays in the snow Luthier lands in the bathtub and begins to sing a Bach melody with touching sweetness.   In the midst of this,  he cleverly interjects sound effects of tea drinking and smoking , copying the actions of the actress in the room.    This sequence was an audience favorite. 


Anne-Lise Hamburger and Leo Antonin Luthier in Fugue: photo by Avignon Festival


  Although I can't judge the piece itself, I was pleased to see some fine performers, comfortable with their craft and delivering sure performances....actors/musicians/comedians and singers ... what a package deal.