Sunday, July 01, 2007

from Nice: vignettes

the benefits of traveling alone in the south of France

When else may you spend so many hours basically staring at people?

I have spent so many weeks, nay, months alone in France that I think I am entitled to put forth some generalizations, based on hours and hours of people-watching. Yes, sure, with all the qualifications about how this is just what I see and it could be that I see a very limited orbit and have a radar with a fuzzy set of detectors. Whatever. I still want to say that:

British women (and I have seen so very many British men and women in the south of France!) are demure. At all ages. I have this feeling that it will never change. That they will project this quality for decades still, even if the prime minister back home ever is a woman. Oh, that’s right, they’ve had one of those already. Twenty-one years of her. It changed things not a bit. In the south of Frnace, British women remain demure. And they ask for things like English breakfast tea, instead of just tea.

British men see themselves as having the burden of explaining the world to the women they travel with. I don’t think they regard it as a burden, actually. The women must be learning a lot because they listen politely, even when they know and I know that what their man is saying is wrong or pigheaded or a random guess. How many breakfasts must I sit through at hotels where the man explains what should happen that day and for what reason?

Polish travelers to France assume that no one in the near vicinity understands what they are saying and so they express their insecurities openly, without attention to who may hear them. What insecurities? Polish people have always loved to travel. But they have this complex and it travels with them: we are insignificant. We are outsiders. We are marginal. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor Poles are (there are quite a number of people in Poland with soaring bank accounts, though like in other countries, they are the minority), they feel like the rules are made by others. (And so they are.)

Italians are never demure. Never. And if you asked them to speak slowly, listlessly, without emotion, particularly about such insignificant things like applying suntan lotion, they’d think you’re out of your mind. Why save passion for the bedroom?

Russians travelers have a bravado about them that comes from either too much vodka, or the fear of death, or something. When mixed with others (like Americans, for example, as at a dinner table just a few nights back), they reach for their wallet to puy rounds of even bigger, better bottles of wine. Sadly, it's all lost on the others. New wealth likes to be generous. Old wealth is blind to the whole thing.

Americans these days are all over the place. You can’t pigeonhole them anymore. Some will try to speak French, some are charmed by what they see, some complain about everything and in particular -- about service, which, in the south of France often is very very slow.

the Princess of Monaco

Today, I had the Princess of Monaco rest on the beach chair next to mine. For an hour. Then she left.

How do I know she was the Princess of Monaco? Because she had a bored, princess look upon her beautiful face (and isn’t it a prerequisite to be beautiful if you aspire to royalty in that country?) and she had with her a towel that had inscribed on it the word – Monaco. So, discreet as she may have been, I caught on fast.

The Princess, I thought, may have been under the weather, because she ordered a Perrier and sipped it listlessly as the world around her frolicked. Maybe she had frolicked too hard last night.

Her entourage (others may have guessed, wrongly, I would posit now, that these were her mom and dad and brother) did not purchase a chair to sit on. They merely hovered. She looked at them with disdain.

She did rouse herself to hail a watermelon seller. She spit the pits into her glass of unfinished Perrier and then watched them sink. That may have been the only thing that captured her imagination.

Come to think of it, maybe she wasn’t a princess from Monaco. She spoke a language that was completely unrecognizable to me, and I would have caught on to any Monacese, which, after all is just French, spoken with royal overtones. So maybe she was Hungarian or even Turkish – two languages that completely defy me.

It was an honor sharing space with one so regal. It was a relief to see her go.

the drawback of traveling alone in the south of France

Every urban beach has its spirit. I remember thinking once in Acapulco – this is soooo – Acapulco.

Nice beaches have their own spirit and soul (now that we have decided that not only humans have souls). And it has its own set of vendors. Most, perhaps all, come from Tunis. Not on the last boat, but some decades bsck, they have traveled to Nice and they have stayed.

I have watched them daily, walking the beaches, selling bottles of water, beer and coke. They carry coolers and sometimes they’ll put the cooler down, sit a while and chat to the people nearby.

Here’s the thing about traveling alone: how is it that you are supposed to apply sunscreen to your back?

One such seller of cold drinks is particularly charismatic. As he shouts out his beers and cokes, he adds: massage!

Just so you know I’m not making this up. This is him:


I watched one woman hail him over the other day. He gave a terrific massage. Shouldn’t he be equally good at applying lotion to backs?

I hailed him over. I don’t need a massage, but some lotion would be very nice.

This did not keep him from pounding and kneading my back vigorously for a good ten minutes. I have to admit it was heavenly. I quickly put aside the embarrassing image of being watched by ten million passing tourists as I gave in to his strong hands (in much the same way I we all watched him deliver this to a woman just a few days back) and enjoyed the huge application of sun screen. You need a lot of lotion to give you friction for all the kneading and pounding, I think.

water play

So why is it that I have yet to swim?

What a silly question. Only the young and restless swim. Most of us read and/or people watch. Children walk the waterline.


Lovers, well, they take their stuff just about anywhere, including in the water.


Me, I just read and people watch.

just like mom used to make

I went to dinner at a small place, one where generations of mothers and their daughters have been cooking for decades. This is it:


The post is getting long, so I wont provide detail, but I will say this about the two other tables – one occupied by an Italian family, the other by a mother-daughter pair from the States:

First, I think that if you do not like your mother, or find her to be from another planet, you should not travel with her. It’s too sad for others to watch your cold distrust of each other. Travel does not mend broken fences.

As to the Italian family – I have never, ever seen anyone take so long to decide what to eat in my entire life. I know what it’s like to be into food, but you truly had more to say about it, just on the basis of menu-reading, than would the restaurant critic for the NYT! Very cool!


And, I liked the way you snitched food from each others’ plates and then rapped your neighbor on the fist when it happened to you! That's amore!

To the current mother-daughter chef team: you’re too generous with loading up the plate. By way of example, here's the second of four courses:


I had no idea that Nicoise food can be so – filling. Oh, and I’m sorry I set you back in your supply of olive oil. Thanks for it all – you are a remarkable team. I enjoyed meeting you, though I am sorry I got a little tongue tied. I get that way with good cooks.

about Nice...

Can I offer any additional thoughts today on what the city is like?

Sure, why not.

Balconies. Everywhere, I see balconies. Most do not have flowers. The art is in the railing and in the window adornment. So, two last photos for today. Of balconies.