Saturday, June 30, 2007

from Nice: footsteps

I am following in the footsteps of myself. Yesterday’s pattern repeats itself.

A beach chair in the front row, facing the water, is hard to come by after noon. And so I head out early (by Nice standards). I’m set for a day of reading by the sea.

Except I begin to get restless. A week will pass and I will have spent it looking at blue water.


Nice, but what of Nice?

And so in the afternoon, I abandon my prize chair and head for the hills.

High expectations. I was betting on the Matisse Museum. Reopened just this month after extensive renovations/additions, it should have wowed me. A gorgeous villa of Nicoise colors, amidst olive groves, high in the hills of Nice-Cimiez – it’s primed to set me spinning.


But it doesn’t do that. I mean, the villa is beautiful and peaceful and quite empty, but for the men playing boules and a girl riding a bike – how good is that!


And yet… inside, the collection is small. Moreover, I neglect to read the signs (posted everywhere) about taking and distributing photos (I read that to mean through, for example, a blog) and how this constitutes crime against humanity (I may have overstated it in the translation). I have, in sheer ignorance, taken quite okay photos, but posting them would probably net me a nice prison term, so forget it.

And don’t think the house is where Matisse once lived. Indeed not. From what I can figure out, he spent years at the Belle Epoque hotel down the road. Along with frequent visitor Queen Victoria. Okay, she preceded him by some 100 years, but still, they shared space, so to speak.


Walking down the Boulevard de Cimiez, I had a chance to admire the villas and hotels that show off Nice’s love for Belle Epoque architecture. New wealth coming in from the final union of Nice with France meant that rich people needed spaces to live in and there you have it – the Boulevard was born.

It reminds me sort of what Beverly Hills may have looked like had someone begun that project several hundred years ago and had a few skilled Savoyards and Frenchmen coming in to lend a hand.


Forgive the inadequate photos. Grand residences tend to stand behind high walls.

Amazingly, I have time for the Chagall Museum (it’s on the way). Not only do I have time for the Museum, but I have time for a late lunch at the Museum CafĂ©. It’s a day of Italian influences (I plan on eating dinner at a place where the cook is Italian) and so I order the tomato/mozzarella combination. In a garden setting. Tranquil. I regain hope.


And maybe it’s the lunch that put me in a good mood, although I don’t think so. It’s the museum itself. The Chagall exhibit is breathtakingly beautiful. They allow photos, but I took very few. I was too busy gazing.

Toward the end, I sat and watched a brief film about Chagall’s work on the mosaic he created for Chicago. I’d actually seen the film before, though not in a million years will I be able to remember where or when. I do remember being moved then – especially by the scene where he and his wife (you would have to think his adoration for the female form has something to do with his love for his wife, no?) arrive in Chicago and whisper together about what improvements need to be made to the great mosaic. She loves him, he loves her, they talk tiles. So romantic!

So I took a photo of the mosaic in the Museum, naturally. And a close up of one little goat.


Farm animals are all over Chagall’s works, maybe because life reminds him of his Russian past, amidst farm animals. Sort of like me, except my past isn’t Russian and I didn’t have that much contact with farm animals except for my summers at my grandparents’ village home, but still…

In the evening I hike to the port (it’s far). Nice views of the bay, of the setting sun, of balconies – how can one not be charmed.



I eat in a small place that does only vegetarian foods (La Zucca Magica). The cook has been called the best Italian cook in Nice, which of course says nothing, but I have hope.

It’s one of those places where you don’t know what you’re getting or what the price is until it’s all over and done with. But I was pleased. Zucchini soup, tomato stuffed with pesto pasta, a cheese tart with lemon and saffron, pasta with peppers, tiramisu. Very honest, very tasty, great on the budget.


It’s late. The moon is out over the old port…


So where is the heart of the city? Where are the neighborhoods that aren’t packed with outsiders? Here, I come across a night hangout where only French is spoken. Men drive up on moterbikes. Two girls walk by, shout a greeting, move on.


But this seems small compared with the heart of the old town, where streets are packed with indistinguishable, cheap eating places. Hundreds of them. And when you leave the old streets, you enter the new ones and again, all you see is miles of people eating.

Nothing wrong with it. Food is good. But I think I am still missing the places where it’s not just us, the outsiders, being loud and drinking cheap wines. Maybe the neighborhoods are too jumbled with outsiders and insiders sharing space.

It’s a lot easier to feel the Nicoise air in the daytime. At night, the real city, for all its noise and late nightlife, hides itself.