A brisk and Provence lavender-scented “Bonjour!” Bonjour, le monde! There’s something genuinely divine and life-boosting about every morning you wake up somewhere new with no or a rather vague idea of the surroundings where you’d just spent the night. It’s a bit about taking risks and letting the cover of a foreign night embrace you just because being here during the daytime felt très bien et reposant. No need to say I slept like a log that night. I was so keen to wake up from the douc embrace to let my smile from the day before radiate into the belle even though very confined space of our hotel room and take it all the way down to the lobby where our French-style breakfast was waiting for us and then all the way through the lovely sweetly lazy rues of Nice.
I was a bit anxious about attending the conference so that didn’t feel like my typical morning on a holiday, because what it usually does is have my seeing, hearing and feeling device sharpened. It’s not until you take a leap of faith that you learn if being brave does actually pay off in the end. The surroundings were sure to make this leap feel effortless and flowing. Am I dressed appropriately for the occasion coming up? Do I even need to worry myself too much with what kind of figure I cut in front of everyone? Do I even need to bother with these and a blurry haze of thoughts shooting through my head? Anyway, it was time for le petit déjeuner! The breakfast served in the hotel lobby was going to give my palette another brisk feel of the country that is world-famous for its finely exquisite breakfasts. The last French-made croissant I tried was the one I had in Paris and to be honest, there seemed to be too much oil put into it. Let’s just have what we want to be a lingering and tentative bite of the one I have lying in front me. No, it is actually quicker than that as there’s that urge in my palette that compels me to take advantage of this gastronomical blessing and consummate it without too much or any foreplay. Having the eyes of the hotel guard on me as I’m relishing the delight of having real French croissants and coffee is something I told myself not to fuss about. It’s just that back home we don’t find ourselves in a situation like this and nor do we have French food for breakfast.
We had to have a taxi to the hotel where the conference was to be held booked. According to the map, it was not too far from our hotel but the day before the receptionist had no idea as to where this place could be. Later that day we had to ask another hotel receptionist who I would agree with my sister could well be on the cover of a fashion magazine in Russia probably without changing into something more fancy. He wouldn’t be my first choice though if I was an editor of such a magazine – sounds quite unrealistic, but while you’re here, you find yourself craving to do anything that would involve being part of this casual and serene male beauty show. To someone living in a country like Russia, to me male beauty might seem like something that isn’t ever readily available to enjoy but rather something that it normally takes a miracle to encounter as part of your daily routine. Here in France you have all these gifts from above splashed around the space so generously and bountifully that you might originally fail to catch sight of something you wouldn’t even dare to ask to come our way on a typical morning back home. I was due another très grande dose of this delight I’m robbed of every day of my ordinary life later on that trip and on that day as well…
Anyway, we had our taxi waiting for us outside. Getting this French-style handsome receptionist to book it for us was linguistically challenging and I don’t really know why my desire to make use of my (limited) French fluctuated the way the mood of an average woman does throughout a day. Sometimes it makes for an extremely delightful linguistic comedy to watch misunderstanding having us resorting to some really amusing ways to communicate. This guy had to use a calculator to type the exact time for our departure. I had no idea why he had to do that in fact. Listening to him speaking French nervously on the phone made for another linguistic sweet dessert that we had time to savour. What would reactions to this guy dressed in a T-shirt with a characteristic Breton stripe be back home? This stripe was going to be a profoundly imprinted memory of that trip as well… It was only a while later that it actually occurred to us that what didn’t look much like a taxi was just a private car that he arranged to arrive for us to charge us a few extra euros. Well, I should have made use of my French to avoid being cheated on. But before we were aware of that, here we were driving through the streets of the early morning town, me with our poster in my lap. That was the most beautiful taxi ride in my life made up of the gaudy natural landscape of azure and green that inspired the likes of Paul Cézanne. And did it inspire ME? Well, you know the answer to this one!
Le Saint Paul Hotel near the Grotto of Lazaret where the conference was to start about 30 minutes later looked like a sublime and idyllic place overlooking the Mediterranean, sleepy but cheeky and brisky enough to excite fantasy. What a morning! Est-que c’est rêve? Non, that was so truly and despicably real! Real enough for me to close my eyes and to open them again to see persistently the same landscape being here and signaling my azure reality. I was standing here facing it in what I thought would be an appropriate outfit for the conference and the poster in my hands together with layers of tape with some of them making some important data on it hard to read. I felt I had been taken a few centuries back as I was strolling the area surrounding the hotel. What a serene place to be and to pray obviously as there was a small chapel here that reminded me of Italy. Well, this place was certainly beautiful enough to have me convert into believing in the belle et tranquille charme de Nice. Thousands of dull or hurried mornings seem to be worth getting through just to have one like that. It did seem a bit like a film set as well where my soul and all of my senses did all the acting but needed no audience except the azure eyes of the Mediterranean.
Another grande charme was waiting for me as we entered the hotel lobby that offered splendid views through its glass walls. You have to be conscious of the sweeping power of male beauty here and that was when I felt I was blown and swept off guard with a look into another pair of brown eyes. It was as if someone had invaded the privacy of my dreams, retrieved some images and enhanced them to be the image I was facing there in that hotel lobby. What would a male model be doing here handing out conference badges? With all the preoccupation with fashion the French have, well… Do (such) handsome males attend linguistic conferences? I had to repeat our family name again as I’d forgotten about any linguistic boundaries between me and the male beauty for a while. We had our awkward poster to put up and who did I choose to ask to do that…? This gorgeous male creature taking this poster with his hands shaking holding this fragile thing – that was awkward indeed.
The conference hall was getting filled with people and before the conference opening, we had some time to refresh with more coffee at a peaceful backyard with a lovely little fountain (another reminder of Italy – Ciao mia bella!). With all kinds of beauty enslaving my brain, I certainly needed a bit of tranquility and I found it here on a lovely armchair surrounded by mostly French-speaking people. To break the ice, one of the ladies turned to me and said “Joli!” and gave me another moment worthy writing about. I said “Sorry!” and totally ruined the linguistic ambience of the moment. Why did this word have to slip my mind?! “Beautiful”, said she awkwardly. “Yes, it certainly is!”, said I feeling like someone who has just failed a real-life language test I didn’t subscribe to take. “Oui, joli!”, said I to myself peering into the impeccably azure sky practicing what I preach during my classes. Is science that pleasurable or is just the place that is so joli…?
Just as we had our clumsy poster put up by the owner of brun yeux, we saw the stars of forensic linguistics enter the conference hall and the first thing they saw as they did so was… Yes, the poster (very wisely put by these nervous hands)! The first one was a British specialist in authorship attribution and he behaved so very stereotypically British awkwardly and apologetically pointing to the formula on the poster that was noticeably blurred by layers of tape. He was the one who seemed embarrassed by that layer of tape sticking to his finger! Well, Britishness… Just before we knew it, another star in the field made an appearance and he was American! Now I could see the difference between the British and American torn apart by the Atlantic. The American professor was very typically assertive and seemed to have had the British colleague even more embarrassed. I was the one to see those tangible differences come into play! Me! I was proud of my sister, who was really rejoicing to have made these noted people’s acquaintance, trying to have a conversation with both of them. She deserved to be heard and listened to by NATIVE speakers of English as well! The intellectual wit and capacity have a superiority over slips and errors.
During a few opening speeches, we realized that not much English would be spoken and as much as I was eager to get into the francophone mood, I understood that listening to French as romantic as it is for the consecutive hour was wearing me out “linguistically”. There are sometimes mountains too high to climb “linguistically”. But the brown eyes came and went through the speech. Merci, bruns yeux! Then there were some quick instructions in English about where the next sessions will be and it was time for lunch.
We decided we would skip the session before lunch and just stick around the place. As we were sitting at the conference hall, I saw the American professor we met earlier in the same room working on something. “Go talk to him” I thought as grabbing chances seemed such an effortless thing here surrounded by the azure sea and a gentle breeze. It was such a life-boosting feeling to be talking to him without actually thinking that English wasn’t really my first language – did it even matter at all? It was nice to get his reaction to some ideas I had for my research I might try to get a chance to do in the USA if things work out well. Yes, teaching is hugely unrewarding these days, but sometimes we shouldn’t forget that we can be heard and listened to (every once in a while). I was content I’d taken this chance! It didn’t hurt at all!
The lunch was to be served in a lovely dining room. We spotted a friendly young guy to try to join for the meal but we got a bit too shy. We found ourselves being served a very elegant-looking dish and wine of course. There was French being spoken and we got into our own linguistic comfort zone and spoke our language very expressively when I heard a man sitting across the table asking me in perfect Russian “Would you like some more water?”. I jumped with astonishment and said in English “You can speak English” and by this got into the international comfort zone. He must have been listening to what we’d just been saying! This French man was another conference participant and was married to a Ukrainian woman and had a huge fascination with our language. Strangely, that made him less of a foreigner to me and we spent the following hour talking about the differences between the Russian and French, how Russian tourists seem to be the only people who dismiss Paris and its romance calling it filthy and dirty and how Nice isn’t all nice and belle once charmed by it, you make a decision to settle here. Well, I hadn’t been here long enough to take that on board. Look at all those shades of azure (and the brown eyes at the next table)!
After we’d enjoyed our French lunch, we didn’t feel like staying for any much longer to listen to French reports so we decided we would walk to our hotel and drop off some conference stuff that was a bit too heavy to carry around. Carrying heavy stuff hadn’t originally been planned but the view, the view! As we walked, I couldn’t help being fascinated by the Port Lympia, its backyard streets, more bouganvillas clinging on lovely houses. I will drop off all this heavy stuff and get a chance to take all of this in again!
It was pretty easy to find our way back to the hotel walking by more lovely houses getting a bit jealous of whoever was living there because they all shared the best and très belle azure neighbor who they could see, feel, hear and smell in those walls! Piazza Garibaldi, named after the hero of the Italian unification who was born in Nice (yes, one more reference to another neighbor they can be envied to have here!), had a distinct Italian feel to it with cosy cafes and was a junction to Vieux Nice where we were staying. Certainly this walk inspired us to take a few more like this one later on…
After trying to figure out how to get our phone connection back and taking a while to do so, we went out for a light meal that we thought we might want to get in the same street we did the day before. It’s a very liberating feeling to be walking the streets after you’d already been here as opposed to when you’ve just arrived all sweaty and exhausted. Now it felt as if we were locals going about their business but ours was very pleasurable and relaxed one. It felt a must to check out a local L’Occitane en Provence shop. It was amazing to be in an authentic one and smell all those amazing beauty products without thinking they were made somewhere in Russia and sold at the price of a real thing. It was hard to choose what to buy because who knows if we will ever be able to be in such a place again. The guy at the check-out counter was very funny and slightly feminine as he asked me to pass him an extra product I got as a gift for him to ring it off. He even sprinkled my shopping bag with a touch of a perfume – again in a very feminine fashion! Merci!
It was now time to find a place to eat. I found myself craving for some pizza (yes, Italy was meant to be part of that day that was turning cloudy). There was a pizza place and it was obviously and evidently run by Italians as we were instantly warmly and cordially welcomed to enjoy our meal here by an insatiably enthusiastic old Italian gentleman! Am I in Rome again…? I craved for some cheese as well of course and went for a quattro formaggi pizza. In the meantime we saw the owner of the place multitasking the Italian way – walking from table to table checking on the visitors, flirting (si, Italia…), joining a group of customers for a drink and then another one! I think no dish served here could represent and give us a taste of Italy better than this signore did! He single-handedly took me back to his homeland! The pizza was bello of course and just big! My sister isn’t a fan of cheese that the pizza was so abundantly and generously topped with so she shared a lot of it with me! Cheese overdose! And across the road of this busy street I see another male beauty who was just a humble waiter of another café! Another kind of overdose! Another “too handsome to be true” moment! Behind us we can hear Americans speaking and note how they aren’t too bad to look at either. The Italian signore keeps multitasking and comes back from a nearby shop with some beauty products that he’s proud to display! Are we in Italy…? Merrily and happily filled, we leave the place with a big “Grazie!” and approach that waiter to see that at least he wasn’t so heavenly and divinely handsome as he seemed from that table. He was just very handsome, that’s all! Yes, very handsome is becoming just normal for me. And I’m only a bit over a day in…
We decided to get our dessert and wine at the beach and dropped in a very appetizing place selling macarons – a traditional French sweet delight. They were like a rainbow of colours on this cloudy early evening! We stacked on some wine (dry unfortunately) in the Monoprix shop and that was just us, our beautiful food and the sea till the sun went down! I think no time would be too long to be here! There are no more fireworks in my heart celebrating me and my life but just a very relaxed and serene feeling of happiness all over me sizzling and bubbling synchronous to the sea waves. J’aime bien!
As the night starts settling in and so does the feeling of sheer happiness, we join in the happiness of a relaxed promenade the way English people who were the inspiration behind the construction of Promenade des Anglais did. Not much has to be said really. Let’s just be British on the outside courteously strolling and discreetly looking around and Italian on the inside keeping ourselves from bursting into tears of joy of being here and now! The lit façade of the legendary Negresco Hotel! We are part of a very subtle yet pronounced Southern French chick! Let’s be quick learners and keep strolling in this newly acquired classy fashion of ours.
We wrap up the day with more doses of male beauty we settle to watch in the same place near the Apollo fountain in Place Massena. I could get used to the feeling of French wine in my blood, the Mediterranean air in my lungs and the look of French faces in my eyes…
Another conference day is coming tomorrow, which definitely means another portion of beauty and who knows how many more the following day will bring… Bonne nuit (Buona notte would do as well)!