Wednesday, July 04, 2007

from Nice: accustomed to her face

So the city grows on you. You find your favorite beach, the best streets to walk, the place to return to for good seafood and it all fits.

And, too, there’s the market. Unlike in many other markets in France, where the vendors are engaged in the serious business of selling and visitors whose main purpose is to take pictures are barely tolerated, in Nice it’s different. Never too crowded, used to tourists, with constantly agreeable weather to boot, sellers smile at those who stop by. Even if it’s clear that there’s not going to be a sale.

Nice has a square that is stunning – closed to traffic, it is a great, spacious communal space. The first day I walked across it (it’s not a café-laden thing, it’s just a regular old square to pass on your way to somewhere), I paused for a moment and heard a little boy say to his dad as they first stumbled upon it: elle est belle! (she’s beautiful!)

She is that. Every day I would enter it and every day I would try to take a shot of her magnificence – but I hated all of the photos. You’re stuck with this last one. No more days in Nice. No more chances to try again.

Place Messena

My last day here. I don’t have to be wordy – you know exactly how I will have spent it. Chasing the blues of the sea and the golds and reds at the market. Wolfing down huge portions of fresh seafood. Drinking rosé wine. Ending with a berry napoleon and a noisette.

But my last notes here will be about the beach. (Yes, I go back to it now, as I’m speeding on a train to Paris.)

I’ve never hung out at a big city beach before. Coney Island, sure, but I was a kid and didn’t know any better.

For me, beaches are best when they are pristine and empty and golden and pure.

I was a beach kid once – I have always loved the sun, unfortunately, given its negative health associations. In various sea destinations, I would roll out a towel and resent the intrusion of others. Keep away from me! One hundred feet is too close! Move, already!

In Nice, I was right smack in the midst of it all. I mean, granted, I paid for a chair, so I had my wee little oasis of quiet. But I chose the chair closest to the public space. So that I could get a sense of Nice there, on this rocky strip of city beach.

And I did get a feel for it -- listening to the conversation of the old women who came regularly, watching generations of mothers and babies and grandmothers find a spot by the water…

three generations

…getting exasperated by the teenage boys who came late in the afternoon and threw pebbles at each other when the ball game got to be too much.

And I watched the visitors mingle with this slice of Nice and I saw the rules unfold – the keep this place clean! – attitude, so that no one left garbage behind, not the kid who finished his chips, not the adult who bought a beer from the peddlers that went back and forth. There's too much garbage already out there in our lives. Let this beach stay clean.

At the end of the day, the sea would always spit out several big waves that went further than all their predecessors. The people closest to the waterline would get drenched. Bags, towels, all of it – soaking wet. It was so predictable, that, around four, I wanted to walk along the edge and say – watch it, the sea is going to play a joke on you in a moment!

But of course, I didn’t. I’m just a passerby. Let the Mediterranean play its game – who am I to interfere. All I can do is keep my camera ready and record the moment. Here it is, the last big wave, creeping up to the woman who, like me, was trying to get some reading done by the water.

it's coming...

049 came

And here’s the rest of my Nice day. Told in the colors of this Provence port.

the market









the sea


recording joy

salade Mediterranee

empty now

the dinner

leaving the hotel: Provence colors

dinner menu: colors of the sea


berry napoleon

walking home: various stages of closure