There are several reasons I came to France this summer. Three mainly. 1) To treat myself. I’m a big believer in treating myself; 2.) to do something special for my birthday, you’ll read about that later; and 3) to do intensive research on a novel I’ve been working on for nearly a decade. It’s the story of my grandmother’s life when she lived in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a gorgeous village ten minutes from Nice. But we must, as the great Julie Andrews said so accurately, start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
On the morning of the 27th I was quite sad. I’m depressed every single time I leave Paris. There’s no place in the world that is more my home than that city. I will never be able to properly explain what it is about it that enchants me so much. I honestly don’t know. I shouldn’t love it as much as I do, Paris can be endlessly frustrating, but for some reason, I even adore the nonsensical situations that arise. It satisfies something very primal in me, I suppose. So when I’m there and content, I don’t want to leave, even if I am leaving for an apartment on the beach on the Riviera for three weeks. (I don’t take vacationing lightly, reader, as you know well by now.)
It was no trouble at all to get to the Gare de Lyon or find my seat on the train. Much more comfortable and sensible than the Amtrak back home, even if there wasn’t a power outlet next to my seat. What is this nonsense, Europe? Everybody has a phone to charge! Even the homeless people have phones.
The journey through the countryside is one I’ve always wanted to take, but never managed to make. The last time I was in the south of France was the winter of 2009. I took myself to Villefranche for two days to celebrate my graduation from Le Cordon Bleu. I have only the vaguest memories of that time — there is surely some horrible blog post from then if you dig through the archive. I remember that I was fat and I constantly wore this chunky Tommy Hilfiger sweater I was ridiculously proud of. It was not a good sweater, reader, but I was not quite the person that I am today. He was there…just not quite ready to come to the surface.
Anyway, it’s a nice trip, a little under six hours and you pass some interesting scenery. There are churches all over the place; the train surely passed hundreds. I saw the most massive solar farm, and my ecological side exploded with glee. Alternative energy is a subject I have a lot of enthusiasm about, but much less knowledge. I have long been obsessed with the idea of creating a perpetual magnetic generator. Theoretically it’s impossible, but I’m not convinced. We passed a nuclear plant, and I nodded approvingly. They’re not all going to blow up, after all. Of course they’re not ideal, but I think a bit better than burning fossil fuels. There were endless fields of sunflowers and dozens of crumbling chateaus perched picturesquely on hilltops. I wanted one. BADLY. We ran through Avignon, the site of the papacy schism in the middle ages. I would have loved to stop and do a bit of exploring, but I was on a schedule. And soon we were in Nice.
It was hella hot and bright. A complete reversal from the grey skies and gloom that is always part of Paris. Maybe that’s why I like it so? Grey is my favorite color, after all.
The bus wasn’t difficult to find and soon I was rambling along the Promenade des Anglais heading toward my apartment, which is located a way down the road. It’s not the most ideal location, but it’s across the street from the beach and cost a pittance.
The host was late meeting me because the previous occupants hadn’t cleared out in time, so I sat, basking in the sun with the local prostitute. I feel bad for her. I see her every day, multiple times; I think we’re close to being on nodding terms. She has the most uncomfortable looking wedge heels — the remind me of those wild Alexander McQueen contraptions that Gaga was always wearing, but a very watered down generic version. Her hair is flat ironed within an inch of its life and she just looks so upset. I’d be, too, I suppose, strutting up and down the street in this weather in a skintight pleather skirt. Poor thing.
Finally the host came out and led me to the apartment. It’s not my favorite. Here’s how I feel about it:
After unpacking my bags, I went off to do a bit of shopping. Everything is cheaper than back in Paris, so that was a delight. Something that wasn’t delightful is the state of the baguette in this city. The people of Nice prefer them undercooked and short. They’re awful. It took me an entire week of bakery hunting to find one that is actually any good.
Exhausted, I passed out, feeling a bit depressed. I really wasn’t sure where I was, and I certainly wasn’t in Paris, so that didn’t make me happy at all. Also, it’s so incredibly hot here. I’m on the seventh floor without air conditioning and a twenty-five year old fan. I had a joke to tell, but it was inappropriate, so make up your own. I saw a guy wearing a galabeya on the bus, and I was obsessed with them back in Egypt. I need to get one of my own. Everything could breathe! I only packed black clothing…not my smartest move.
The next day, I was still not adjusted to anything. I hadn’t quite learned that you don’t really need to leave your apartment before four o’clock in the afternoon. It’s too hot earlier and you’ll fry. So I sweat off forty-five pounds while exploring the streets.
I found some interesting shops and finally found a hairbrush after an afternoon’s search. I still don’t understand why it was so hard to find! I went in pharmacies and shops and even hair salons! They had all the hairspray I could ever want but no brushes. It was ridiculous.
The Place Massena is a big open square where people luxuriate in the sun or bop into the shops. There’s free wifi and an outlet of the Galeries Lafayette there, so I’m a fan. Inside that wonderful department store is a kiosk that sells Pierre Hermé macarons, and it was at that moment, biting into an incredible grapefruit macaron, that I knew I’d be okay here.
The weather cools down to bearable levels in the afternoons, so I continued my explorations after nearly dying back at the apartment. The ELEVATOR STOPPED. So did my heart.
Here’s the elevator:
Here’s me in the elevator:
It was horrible. But it finally started moving again and I ran out onto the streets.
I still wasn’t convinced that Nice was the place for me, but after a week, I found that I love it. More on those revelations to come.