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. 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 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 100 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.