Friday, March 6, 2015

Cat's Cafe of Nice

The way human owner Ann Monnier tells it, she is just one of the proprietor's of the Nice Cat's Cafe :   at 1 rue Vernier.   

Ann Monnier, one of the owner's, the others are felines

Ann shares ownership with a welcome committee of four cats in permanent residence:  Aldo, Bengale, Blanco and Gribouille.

Other feline visitors are welcomed from the local shelter: Society of the Defense of Animals (SDA) in Nice and are available for adoption. You can see on the web-site, the cats who have already found homes. 

 The first cat cafe started in Japan in 1998 and now the idea has taken off worldwide.  Our cat cafe is one of the first in the south of France and the only one in Nice.    It's an inspired idea and marries Ann's love of sharing with others and her passion for animals.  

Blanco was asleep most of the time we were there.
Bengale was friends of everyone, however. 

Bengale is active and curious. 

Someone was asleep in the basket, but I don't think its Aldo. Who was it?

 The website says that local artists may show their work in the cafe.  Ann claims that the artists of the community have been very helpful in giving their time, art and even furniture to make the place cozy.

Local art and a book borrowing shelf. 

 The Cat's Cafe is a very informal, relaxed place and crowded when we came in around 3pm for a coffee.  I think if you were going to eat the bio meal on offer you might be wise to make a reservation:     09 83 510 729.   

This is Caroline with Blanco
 Besides meeting cats, you can find some friendly folks to talk to like Caroline here.

 Cat lovers are the best. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Bay of Villefranche sur Mer

Photo of Villefranche Bay by John Puckett

One of my faithful readers has let me know that there is more to the story of the name of Villefranche sur Mer than "a French city by the sea".  

 Villefranche Bay is one of the deepest natural harbors of any port in the Mediterranean. 

  Because of this fact,  the town of Villefranche sur Mer has become an important port over the years and can provide safe anchorage for large ships, reaching depths of 95 m(320 ft) between the Cape of Nice and nearby Cap Ferrat.  There is, as well, an undersea canyon at about one nautical mile off the coast.  
Because of these natural assets , the US Navy regularly used the port of Villefranche for its Sixth Fleet between 1948-1966 .  At that time, however,  French President Charles De Gaulle withdrew France from NATO and took away that privilege. 

 However,  from around the years 2000, I was invited to the Niçoise annual July 4th celebration for four consecutive years. 

  This was by way of thanking me for volunteering to help teach English at the club then called   "France/Etats Unis".  Each year that I was invited,  the officers from the American Naval Sixth Fleet were in attendance dressed in their impeccable white uniforms.  I even danced with some of them to the swing tunes of the talented band composed of local "Pompiers" (firemen).  It was during one of the stints when Jaques Peyrat was the mayor of Nice and he approached me and asked me to introduce myself when he saw me start up the dancing. 

 The officers' ship was stationed in the Bay of Villefranche sur Mer they told me. 

  There is a long and complicated relationship with France and the US concerning perhaps this was just a gesture of goodwill at the time.  Maybe one of my readers can tell me how this came to be. 

  Since the 1980's,  I understand that that bay is used only for cruise ships.  In fact Villefranche Bay is the most popular port-of-call for cruise ships in France and one regularly sees them stationed off of the coast when one passes on one of the three roads or "corniche" that run through the mountainside of the town.

But back to the name of that small port town, Villefranche sur Mer: 

 During the late 18th century, Villefranche lost some of its maritime traffic to the new Lympia harbor being dug in Nice, although still remaining an important military and naval base.  

Photo by John Puckett: Villefranche sur Mer

But even before that time the city had its present name.    "In 1295, Charles II, Duke of Anjou, then Count of Provence, enticed the inhabitants of Montolivo and surroundings to settle closer to the coastline in order to secure the area from pirates."  (wikipedia) forming a village at the sea. 

 Then Charles II established Villefranche meaning "free city" a tax free zone giving it its present name.  The tax privileges and lower port fees Charles II established were to compete with the port at Nice even before it was dug out to the size it has become today. 

These tax laws lasted well into the 18th century. The project of digging the new enlargement of the Lympia port of Nice itself began in 1748 with King Charles-Emmanuel III and continued for a century and a half till its completion.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mozzi has a girlfriend

Mozzi has a girlfriend.  Being a castrated male,  I have no idea if he knows what to do with her. 

 But he seems to like using my pink sweater for a female , biting it and "overtaking" it's lushness in a stupor of domination.     So maybe he still knows what to do. 

Mozzi and his favorite sweater.  

This new grey and black tiger striped female has been hanging around the house for days, coming quickly in and out when the door is open.... but mostly mewling piteously around the property. 

 Its driving me nuts.

On Monday Mozzi ( pronounced Mot-zi) jumped in at the window and the girl cat followed.  But when she saw me, it was quickly out again.  I saw him follow her out to have a quiet word,  and then he came in again and slept on the bed all night without the slightest concern.  

Since then she has been looking in the window at us even though it is well closed.   Mozzi stays in and sleeps. 

Maybe she isn't really "The one".  Obviously she really wants kids and Mozzi is not going for it.   

I really can't blame him.  That's a serious commitment. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Villefranche Sur Mer

Villefranche Sur Mer,  Cote d'Azur

When the sun shines around here for the first truly warm days of 
Winter ( March 2 was 19C, 66.2F ), it changes everyone.

 Young people venture out in shorts,  old guys smile at me sweetly,   and the colors of buildings seem to vibrate..... making me joyful that the towns of the south have designated color choices...... subtle, glowing earth tones that mature nicely after seasons in the sun.   

"trompe l'oeil " shutters, cat in window and
 pigeons beside real windows. Villefranche sur Mer

Sienna, burnt orange, terra cotta....
what can we call these colors? Villefrance sur Mer

Yesterday I met up with my two good pals , Colette and June, both world travelers that always entice me with their stories of Bali, Singapore, The Bahamas,  Laos , Vietnam etc.  

 We decided to meet together in Villefranche sur Mer in the one week Colette was here from Bali on her way to other people, other places, other dreams.   

I used a one euro bus ticket ( card of ten) to go from my house to Villefranche sur Mer (the next town over from Nice) changing buses at the port of Nice. 

 What other town in the western world only charges the equivalent of a euro for a bus ride of that distance?      And Villefranche is really one of the most attractive of all of our seaside villages because of its intimate size, its overall livability and its proximity to Nice. 

Shadows and alleyways , Villefranche

 Jean Cocteau Fishermen's chapel, Villefranche

Some wonder if I ever get tired of the hundreds of sleepy towns of France?  Well...  perhaps....sometimes ( mostly on a cold, rainy, grumpy day). 

But on a day like yesterday with the sea "as blue as blue".... and the easy way of the natives having informal lunch on a sunny terrace above the sea...... and friends to see....

Looking down from "moyen piste" of the village , Villefranche

Restaurants taking advantage of the seaside dining at Villefranche sur Mer

City sanitation crew member with his traditional "balai bamboo" for hand sweeping a street...Villefranche sur Mer

Boats: Villefranche sur Mer

Colette and June in the square at Villefranche sur Mer

  the answer is NO. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Origins of the Nice Carnival

My friend Bruce B. inadvertently started me on a search about the history of the Carnival in Nice by mentioning the Mossa family, Alexis (father) and Gustav-Adolf,( son)and their huge contribution to the traditions of the  Nice Carnival, its publications and cartoons ( bandes dessinées) in and around 1873. 

That will be another interesting line of inquiry.  In the meantime I have uncovered some information regarding the origins of our Carnival. 

Scholars think that the word "carnival" comes from "carrus Navalis" or naval char ( a char is a parade float).  Others think that the name comes from "Carnelevar" having to do with the removal of meat (carne) and greasy foods from the diet before Lent. 

  In the middle ages the Carnival was the domain of churches then led by semi-pagan priests.   The churches of the time looked and acted like taverns.  Both sexes took part in obscene games without being labeled sinners.   Places of worship doubled as entertainment halls and places for parties to be held. 

The first trace of the Nice Carnival in the archives is from 1294 when Charles II of Anjou came to take part in the festivities of "drinking, fighting , ribaldry,  games and licentious behavior".  The mask was a popular accouterment for romping, aping and mocking the powerful and became part of the Carnival scene.

Excess was permitted and even encouraged by the Lords so that famine, oppressive taxes, and the diseases of leprosy, plague and cholera could be briefly forgotten.   There were special days for distributing flour to the masses.  The idea of the Lords was that once the Carnival effigies went up in flames at the end of the festival, everything would be better and hardship would be forgotten and the masses would be easier to govern. 

In the 16th century the churches tried to curb the power of the Carnival but the trustees of the city selected "abbés des Fous" ( the fools' abbots), citizens of the town, who were selected to maintain order and contain brawls and theft that were the inevitable results of inebriation and the anonymity of masks.   The nobility also, hidden and disguised, enjoyed the "slumming". 

In 1539 the trustees of the city decided that the social classes should mix more and each elected "abbot" would organize his own balls. But shortly after this time the selected abbots began considerable abuse of their powers over the less fortunate.  

Among those abuses were the "Pelota" "Charivari" and the "Hullabaloo"
The pelota was a tax levied against young brides if they left or entered the city limits.   The husband had to warn the "abbots" three days before he and his wife were to travel.  If the husband paid the fee for the class of his wife the couple was entitled to an escort and entertainment.  If he refused to pay the selected officials,  the young bride was sequestered by the disreputable "abbots"... (especially if he found the wife to his liking).     Some of the husbands were subject to an exaggerated tax if the abbots fancied the wife and some were just too poor to pay.  

The Charivari was another corrupt fee charged by the officials.   It applied in cases of a widower or widow who wanted to remarry.  If the spouse did not pay this tax, they were subjected to a serenade as a first warning....then a "hullabaloo" if they still refused.   The poor debtor was barricaded in his home and the crowd used horns, trumpets, broken pots and other utensils to make a scene or Hullabaloo.  

In the 18th century this custom degenerated to the point that the Marquis Foschieri issued a proclamation banning "pelota and charivari" altogether.  

Carnival "battles".
As a tribute to the Sardinian monarchy,  Nice started the first parades and street battles.  These marked the "people's" return to the street since they were excluded from the fancy private balls going on with the rich, winter visitors to Nice at the end of the 18th century.   At first only flowers, cigars, sweets and confetti were thrown to the crowds.  This was the beginning of what is now called " Le Bataille des Fleurs" where flowers are thrown to the stands.  

It is in the 19th century when we start to see more "carts" in the streets and occupants of windows or terraces throwing items to/at the crowd.   People of all classes take to the streets for these joyful battles of throwing all manner of things.  

The first parades formerly took place on the Cours Saleya and the Rue Saint Francis of Paola.  The rich occupied the terraces and best positions up above the crowd. 
"The ideal place for watching the battles was Visconti terrace. On the edge of the terrace were a long lines of boxes of grapes" ( for throwing), a visitor reports.  "Behind them are positioned the most distinguished men of Europe reverting to being kids"....she claims.... (throwing things down on the crowd below).  

If some wealthy winter tourists still threw cigars and candy,  the less affluent replaced that with confetti made of candy sugar and plaster. The poorest citizens threw spoiled flour, rotten oranges, eggs, soot etc.  

 To go out during Carnival battles you needed a "dust cover" or domino over one's clothes, a mesh mask like fencers wear and/or a large umbrella. 

Today marks the last day of the Carnival 2015.  They will undoubtedly "burn the king" char tonight and then Nice will have its Carnival fireworks display to mark the end of Carnival for another year.

  I am starting to have a fondness for this rich history of Nice Carnival.   In fact,  I am beginning to see the fun of throwing things, at least symbolically.   And I have also noticed that every single one of my male neighbors has a tradition of bonfires.  Is this also a spillover tradition from Carnival?    I wonder.