Saturday, February 28, 2015


The Nice Carnival is one of the world's major carnival events, alongside the Brazilian Carnival and Venetian Carnival. It is held annually in February in Nice on the French Riviera.
The earliest records establish its existence in 1294 when the Count of Provence, Charles Anjou, spent "the joyous days of carnival". This probably makes the Nice Carnival the original carnival celebration.
Today the event attracts over a million visitors to Nice every year. The Carnival spans a two-week period with the final day on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Every year, a special theme is chosen, and traditional artists create 18 floats and other figurines in traditional papier mache for colorful parades. The parades take place day and night, while on the Promenade des Anglais, “flower battles” take place.

The 2015 theme will be The King of Music.[1]  

This comes directly from wikipedia and I can't refute it. 

I have to admit, though, that the Nice Carnival and I got off to a rough start. 

That was the first year I was in Nice and it was my birthday and Monsieur was abroad.  I knew no one so I decided to take myself to the "Bataille des Fleurs" for a little birthday celebration.  I was on the sidelines of the parade, standing next to a big, burly guy who had definitely had a few beers for lunch.  He was ready to grab those flowers from the comely girls pitching them to the crowd. 

 Every time a girl threw a flower in my direction, he reached out in front of me and snatched it.   Grinning like a true champion,  he then handed it to a plump woman at his side.   She all the while was cooing over a limp bundle of blossoms.  

I went away from there with not one flower and my feelings about Carnival decidedly ruffled. 

 Then on the bus the following week,  I had my wallet snatched by a pick-pocket, probably there expressly to take advantage of tourists who had their head in a camera viewfinder or were otherwise untangling themselves from "silly string".    The wallet thing happened to me twice, both times during Carnival and both times on the 22 bus.   You think I'd learn. 

"Gross Tetes" ambling along during an evening parade.

A flag twirler or band member probably from Italy

Besides the fact that I don't like crowds and usually avoid events where people have "carte blanche" to throw stuff ( usually confetti but not always),  I have heard that the Carnival has its allures. 

First, the Nice Carnival held in late Feb./ early March provides a much needed income for a town who takes its sustenance mainly from hotels, restaurants and small boutiques.  For these little businesses to survive,  they need that extra hit of cash in winter to tide them over until "the season" begins.    

And Nicois parents love to pass the ancient tradition of Carnival on to their young children who go in "disguise".  It is fun to see the faces of the little ones as they take in the spectacular floats and people dressed with gigantic heads (Gros Tétes)   

Impressive float going by us with an acrobat suspended behind the woman in front
 Some of the floats are impressive works of art and take endless hours to fabricate.   And there are some quite talented bands and flag twirlers from all over Europe and some from America who come to take part in the parades.   

Little Señorita with noise maker in hand.

That's Obama and the Pope from a few years back.
 If you want to go for the last couple of days, I suggest you take a look at Best of Nice where my friend has brilliantly outlined how to get involved.

I on the other hand will take myself off to my studio for a little "down" time.  Who says I'm "sauvage" ( unsociable)?  

Friday, February 27, 2015

Rules of Etiquette

Mary with French friends, Rebecca and Patrick.  We "tutoyer" each other.   I am the "old" one, so I am flattered. 

You all know by now that one uses "masculine" and "feminine" in the French language.  A lamp is le lampadaire ( masculine) and a table is La table ( feminine).  There is no easy way to learn the differences.   You just have to use all of your memory devices or be here long enough that the right pronouns come naturally to you.  

 The French language also has formal and informal means of addressing a person (as do all Latin languages).  

To " vouvoyer" each other is a transitive verb for formally addressing another.    The informal verb is " tutoyer" and is used in the familiar usage.  There is a big choice to make here if one wants to be respectful in conversation. 

When I first came to Nice and was learning the language, my first instinct was to always use the formal usage just to be on the safe side.  But if you call a young married woman ( of say 23 years) "vous" and "Madame", she may be a little offended.....seeing as how she still looks and feels like a "mademoiselle".  

 As I was attending classes in art and language when I first arrived, it seemed that just being students together , no matter what rank or age, made us all eligible for informality or the "tu" form.  Some older people didn't like the idea that in all of the classroom, you had singled them out with "vous", when they too were students with the rest.  So then I got used to using the informal "tutoyer" at school. 

  But eventually,  I found that my eagerness to plunge in and speak meant that I managed to be correct with my usage only about 50% of the time.  I would hear the "wrong" usage escape my lips before I checked it....because I wanted to speak "at speed". 

One day about three years after I had lived here,  I got a frantic call from a very distinguished Parisienne lady who I will call Monique.  She had retired here with her husband, a doctor and lived in a very elegant apartment ( with a piano that no one played, no less).    She had a very gentile way about her and although we were pals, I always used the formal address when speaking to her.  

"Mary," she said, "I have a problem. You know that new french lady in our group that has just moved from New Caledonia?  Well, she has begun right away to "tutoyer" me and I haven't corrected her.  Maybe that is what they do in " La Nouvelle Calédonie".  I know I have known you a lot longer and I want to give you permission to "tutoyer" me as well. " 

 I just laughed and told Monique " You know I am lucky if I get it right half the time but I am grateful that you don't hold it against me.  I will happily, use "tu" in the future". 

So it does matter to certain French people,  but not so much to others.  Children are almost invariably addressed informally and people much older than oneself almost always are addressed formally.  In some Parisienne homes the children "vouvoyer" their parents I am told.    There are exceptions everywhere one turns but especially in  the "south" where we are more relaxed. 

 A safe rule is to always start with "vous" and wait for permission to use the informal.  And never use the person's first name unless they give it to you as the preferred means of address. 

  But neighbors, or people who you have not been formally introduced to, it is more correct to use Madame or Monsieur without the last name.   The French are very private and especially those of the older generation do not give there names out on the first meeting as one does in America, especially in a work situation.  And in the street even if you know the last name you do not use it....but just say bonjour Madame or Monsieur (unless you are on a first name basis with that neighbor). 

Oh, yes, there are lots of ways to go astray with etiquette. 

 But if you excuse yourself and apologize you will find the French very gracious about your "perceived" mistake.  They are secretly very pleased that you want to learn what they all consider "a very difficult" language.  

And you will win points just for trying......unless that is,  you "butcher" the accent! 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Observations on a Winter's Day

Today on a sunny winter's day I exit the house dressed with wild melon colored coat and tennis shoes and flowered jeans.  Yesterday I met  with an American, Sunny,  and she was dressed with orange lipstick and a peach colored top and jacket.  Today I ran into my Armenian friend, Silva, and she had on a "orangey" pink jacket and red high tops. 

It is very un-French to dress in bright colors.  Only foreigners dress this way.  The average French person has a variety of black coats and jackets and neutral colored clothes from head to shoe. 

On a serious note,  the recent Charlie Hebo slayings of cartoonists and police in Paris were a big shock to all of us, French and foreigners.  On one level though, the event was not surprising.  I think if you print the kind of scathing satires that Charlie Hebo published.... making explicit and obscene drawings depicting the great figures of all was just a matter of time before a terrorist/ or group fought back.  

  A most informative article was written by an American living in Nice,  Dana Kennedy.  She points out that one of the recruiters to jihad hails from her article found in the Daily Beast.   

Now during Carnival we have the largest French police presence in the country going on right now in Nice.  There are young men carrying "serious" guns on the famous market street: Cours Saleya; in front of Galeries Lafayette and walking around in threes and fours all over town.   Other then this addition, I don't see that people's behavior has negatively changed...especially towards muslims .  We did have a recent incident of a man stabbing one of the gendarmes as the assailant exited the tram.    But folks are calm.  The French are perhaps more sanguine, more fatalistic even, than my fellow Americans.  

The children are being escorted to the Carnival these days "deguisee" which you can figure out means: "disguised".  I love how they use that term instead of "in costume".  It is so much more imaginative for the children to be "disguised" even though maybe they are "unrecognizable" only in their own minds.  This new language continues to fascinate me.  

My friend who is new to Nice tells me that she was refused service in the market for not putting her fruits and vegetables in the thin plastic bags provided.  I pointed out to her that the system here is to weigh the fruit, tie up the bag and have the machine or the "fruit and veg. guy" put a price tag on it before you approach the main checkout stand.  

 On an aside to this, at a popular market here,  there is a DIY( Do it yourself) machine for the purpose .  You point to a picture of the fruit or vegetable you are weighing.   But the pictures are not in alphabetical, nor for that any kind of logical order.   It's easy to mix up a parsnip with a daikon. Too bad,  you just have to know. 

The biggest hurdle for a newcomer settling in France is really not about learning the language.   It's about learning new ways of thinking.  And that is the challenge as well as the joy ( and frustration) of growth in general.... isn't it?