Nice. Jour 3

Another “Bonjour”! But as travels do have this miraculous power to transform, this one had a more dreamy edge to it and at the same time it was more assertive as we were really accommodating to the ville and the feelings it was so subtle and gentle in producing. We did need more temps to relish the dreamy embrace of our niçoise sleep and we got this chance when we had decided to skip the early conference sessions that were in French anyway. So that added a slightly cheeky to our late morning. More mornings – more transformations…? The breakfast was the same again and the croissants and the coffee were equally bien.

We had a walk all the way to the hotel where the conference was taking place and we tried to time it properly to be there just in time for the report by the British professor we were honoured to meet the day before. The city was very tranquil and slow but now this apparent sleepiness seemed to have a less dreamy edge to it and we had our business to attend to again. We were enjoying this “busy sleepiness” after all as we were walking through Promenade du Paillon with its water-shooting cascades and a huge sign reminding us of the Euro 2016 coming up just two days later! Theatre National de Nice right was in front of us and I’m already in love with these typically neoclassical Italian red ochre buildings with green shutters on my right, Nice Cathedral (pronouncedly Italian) on my left, they were a mixture of dreamy and assertive for me and in a weird cosmic way they seemed like me as well! My fashion choice was azure for the day though and it would be dead easy to assume where this inspiration came from. That was the art of adapting at work! A very typical sharp yet serene sound of a typical tram in Nice that got me scared the first time I was here three years ago. Had I actually been here before? I wasn’t quite sure apart from the fact that I remembered where the supermarket was (that came very handy indeed). That was a completely new feeling with the city and definitely a more involved and intimate one.

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Off we step into Place Garibaldi and mentally make another courteous wave to the neighbouring Italy. There are all types of people walking by, happy and not very much so, but generally they seem more cheerful than back home. We didn’t have much time to take wrong turns as pleasurable as that would have been. We did have time to enjoy the same bougenvillas from the previous day and just marvel at this morning landscape we were essentially part of.

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Port Lympia with its mountainous scenery gave a slightly different feel to what looked more like an exquisitely executed painting rather than someone’s reality. I remember this sight from my previous time here and how it seemed to make a sharp contrast from the Old Town but this time round it appeared to provide a perfect addition of the azure scenery. Is that us walking this gorgeously amazing area with real people drying their laundry and having conversations in the street…?

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We arrived just in time for the talk by the British professor. We joined in the rest of the participants in the backyard area for some coffee and were lucky to have a chat with the professor himself. I told him about my dream of visiting London and how challenging it was to make it happen and by the looks of it, he seemed too overwhelmed to even feel sorry about that… He complimented my English and that gave me such a huge boost that I really wasn’t sure if I could succeed in accommodating all these happy feelings inside me without letting them slip into the azure space. My aesthetic senses were nurtured by the same male beauty I caught sight of across the backyard showing off a more casual but equally enchanting outfit. Yes, I did some research the day before and found out that was a scientist! Is that a dream with too much going on in it? Dreams don’t tend to be so elaborate and therefore we forget them while we still feel a recently interrupted sleep lingering on us. I wasn’t going to let that slip – ever! The British professor whose accent was charmingly flowing thanked us for stopping by and making his nerves better. I was really humbled by that – who was I for him to be thankful to…? He had no idea about my tentative relationship with science but here it seemed like a holiday romance passion that no one cares to go into explaining and speculating about, it’s just there to be captured by the soul and body or at least either of these… There were more people willing to talk to me as well and that gave a renewed hope of being able to strive to belong somewhere I was too shy to set my foot. I was starting feeling unwell again from the cold I’d caught back in Moscow and the heat of the early afternoon started getting into me as I was sitting listening to the British professor giving a talk about his study of lost languages. I just couldn’t let this stupid cold prevent me from making the most of the moment I had no idea would ever arrive!

This time lunch was to be served in a stunning terrace overlooking the Mediterranean – yes, just like that! That was a casual buffet lunch that offered a selection of beautiful seafood. We made sure we got our table and after I came back with some roasted ostriches and sandwiches (trying hard not to get hold of too much), I found my sister talking with another British professor who was to give her report the following day. I smiled at the sight as my sister and her looked like a hunter and a prey respectively! This way my sister made sure the company would be nice and that’s even more important than the food! Just before we knew, we had the American professor I had a conversation with the previous day rushing to our table to join us! That was a sign for me that the talk we had didn’t bore him! Nice! So that was going to be the four of us here in the basking Mediterranean sun they had to put up a shield to protect us against while we were deeply engaged in our conversation and the azure sea on the right! For an instant, different social and educational backgrounds didn’t seem to matter to me! And yes, as the American professor mentioned, Corsica wasn’t quite too far! We talked about the origin of our family names, our countries’ policies and the American was certainly the most vocal about that with his sunglasses over his eyes! The British lady was very courteous but friendly sipping on the tea she had brought in a thermos. What a divine cultural and linguistic practice for me! We were the ones most engrossed in our conversation and we had forgotten about the food and when I went to see if there was any left, there certainly wasn’t… It’s a shame because the seafood was the best ever even though I’m not a fan! Well, at least the conversation made up for that and made me yearn to get beyond the boundaries of my homeland. Travels have this victorious edge to them!

We were too elated and a bit hungry to stay any more so off we went along the endlessly azure coastline! I felt a bit like on my first day here but this time I felt like peering into this most beautiful meaningful azure emptiness of the Mediterranean to get it imprinted on my vision forever! That was such an effortless thing to do! We went down to the beach and saw some people sunbathing. I’ve never seen so many shades of blue even though I’d already been here! They were certainly worth coming back for! I think even my sister got that sentimental and dreamy feeling as we posed for some photos getting a few looks from some men who seemed just too young!

 

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I was overwhelmed with how much I loved my sister for making it possible for us to come here! Another too belle to be true moment to experience for us! It was getting too hot and that stopped us from going up to the hill and getting some views from there. Instead, we ended up in a gorgeous park offering spectacular views of the coast. Does anything have to be said to this…? I’d already forgotten about feeling slightly unwell and I knew I would when treated to THE view! Another overwhelmingly serene moment of being content to be alive sitting on that bench overlooking the Mediterranean! I’m actually happy with words failing me in my recollection of the moment…

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We walked back to the Port enjoying a few more lovely views on the way. We were desperate to get something to eat and found a low-key place with a wonderful view. We opted for the plats du jour which was a very nice deal. We were brought a large plate with a seafood salad generously sprinkled with olive oil, which I noticed was a typical thing to do here. We were craving for some champagne which ended up costing us just as much as the meal including a huge tiramisu (which literally means “lift me up” in Italian) that originated in the House of Savoy that used to rule Nice before it was taken over by the French. Well, life’s too short and with a victorious feeling shooting through our veins we needed champagne to top it off with! Cheers to us and the view on the right! Tiramisu if I’m dreaming!

 

After about an hour of this very reposing and relaxing meal, we made it back to the hotel and it was getting cloudy again. Another walk to the Old Town through the port looking a bit menacing against the grey azure sky brought us accidentally into a church overlooking the port where we stopped by for a while. L’église Notre-Dame-du-Port gave me another oddly spiritual experience I was craving for remembering those I had in Italy and Bulgaria. The church was deserted and being inside and taking a moment to look into the statues’ faces was magical!

As we walked a bit more till we reached Place Garibaldi, it started raining. Here at the junction of this area with the Old Town Nice felt a bit more like an ordinary city with people doing their shopping, getting on a tram.

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It was until we reached Nice Cathedral and saw a mostly wonderful typically Southern things – orange trees with actual oranges hanging on them! That had to be one of the highlights of that trip! I was standing here in the rainy Mediterranean sky and looking up at these beckoningly beautiful oranges that were too high to reach out to! I felt a kid in me wishing I was tall enough to touch them! I was astounded and didn’t mind the rain dripping to land on my skin. These oranges were no less indicative of the relaxed Southern lifestyle than the Mediterranean itself! We kept walking through Le jardin Albert– I, Nice’s oldest public garden and admired some Italian statues here. We made a short cut to the hotel and stumbled across another Italian place we thought we might visit later.

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As we got home, we couldn’t wait for the rain to stop. In the meantime we watched some TV and I admired how some men I saw there were just as handsome as those I’d seen in the street! It stopped raining just as abruptly as it started and took us back to the rue along the shopping street of the Avenue Jean Médecin, Mayor of Nice from 1928 to 1943, till we reached Basilique NotreDame de Nice, the largest church in the city. That was something characteristically French and magnifique! I took my time to peer into the characteristic rose windows of course!

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There were a few construction sites nearby and just around the corner we saw what was recommended as the best crêpe place in Nice (the French equivalent of a pancake) but it had already been closed. After a bit more promenading that we were getting increasingly good at, we ended up walking not far from the Hotel Negresco and got some wonderful fruit (as we couldn’t get those oranges in front of the Nice Cathedral that I fell in love with) from a dodgy Chinese grocery. They were gorgeous! More contemplations, reflections about that talk with the American and British professor and how I could possibly make a change and find that missing piece. We spent a few hours here not saying much just peering into the French sky…

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Back at Place Massena where we came for the daily portion of people-watching, we were a bit ashamed by our national character as we heard a group of fellow Russians singing the famous wartime song “Katyusha” being the only disorderly crowd in the square. This song alone is capable of generating a contagious burst of patriotism. Why on earth do they have to make such a disgrace of themselves singing it and thus drawing the police attention as the security was tight in the run up to the Football Championship. Another bunch of ugly drunken faces… No, I wasn’t feeling homesick at all! They wouldn’t keep it down even after the police warning and as it would be back home, there was soon a group of Russian women trying to flirt with them. No, let’s forget about that and walk a bit further not to get this lovely evening interrupted! Well, of course Russians would always spot each other in a crowd and we knew we would be asked by these ugly guys as we walk by why we didn’t join in their singing… We didn’t bother to answer. We ended the night with a cup of café in our hands away from the disorderly Russians. We were to make our report the following day! Bonne nuit!   

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Nice La Belle (Part 1)

As grateful as I am that I’ve had a chance to discover travelling to make it my heart’s top desire, I feel even more blessed to have someone I’ll always love more, someone who makes it possible to see places that it would be insane for anyone to fail to write about. Of course, since I became a traveler, I’ve always been on a mission to hear, see and feel things in a new way (I’ve been attempting to do that in the comfort zone of the home surroundings ever since as well). But that trip was certainly going to have a bit different agenda. I was going to see whether I was actually capable of exploring the world within the scrutiny of a scientific lens, which to me seems utterly barren of feelings. What happens with feeling in a new way then? How can such an overwhelmingly beautiful and bewilderingly puzzling thing as human language be dealt with in such a prudent fashion as it is by linguists? Anyway, it should be and quite well as the fact that we are merely capable of contemplating and postulating about it suggests. Anything beautiful is such as long as it inspires and anything puzzling is there to be investigated just to make us astounded at the sheer beauty and complexity it has inside it to inspire whoever dares to investigate it even more.  Is the sheer wording of this enough to make me sound like someone whose science career is doomed…?

I have absolutely no idea what kind of galaxies conspired and in what fashion they did to make it possible for my sister and me to go on a conference in linguistics where I was going to see whether me and science has a tiny bit of a chance for a future together. I’m not quite certain if it was too late in my life to even start pondering this and if anyone who definitely makes a good match with the scrutinous scientific lens would even put it the way I did just now. I must blame it all on the place where I was blessed to have my sister take me! Nice – it can’t be true! Let alone that I had been privileged to get a glimpse of the Côte d’Azur once and now… again? Me?! Those galaxies seemed to be in love with me just as much as I am with the azure beauté de la Côte d’Azur. Oui, je parle un peu de français. Maintenant… I wish I had been taught to speak French and at this point of my professional life I’m completely aware of the responsibility we must take for our own language instruction … Juste un peu. Well (or rather “Alors” as a puzzling cross-lingual interplay in my brain has me tempted to carry saying), someone still struggling to be certain about science due to the lack of clarity in defining it and teaching herself what was going to be a very limited French was going to Nice! I felt my sister was a lot more deserving to be there in the first place as she has a very harmonious working relationship with anything that has to do with science and sadly, that doesn’t run in the family really. But as long as she was willing to share this piece of azure tranquil happiness with me the way sisters do, I was happy as I knew whenever I felt I wasn’t, I had to remember I had her to be grateful for.

“Nice – nice or not nice?” was running through my head as I was sitting contemplating about the galaxies, French and recapitulating my experience there and the effect of being there once had had on me so far. Every single time we’re away from home has an overwhelmingly far-reaching effect on us in ways we might not realize as we are sieved through the monotonous razor of the daily drudge. Somehow without me being aware, Nice had an unfinished business with me. Of course, a lot comes down to money, an opportunity but I’d like to think about something else guiding travelling paths we choose to take, something totally out of our intellectual and emotional reach. It might come across as a fairytale but as we grow older and sometimes wiser, we would find ourselves craving to believe in one even more. My fairytale was all going to be of the colour azure, the shade I would laugh off the thought of ever encountering again. Apart from the colour I had yet to piece together in my vision, I was going to plunge myself into a new type of the sea when I mingle in a totally new social setting. I was only to discover that people are even a “huger” (making excessive even more excessive) part of travelling and discovering and we do need fellow humans to enable us to see, hear, feel and to think in a new way. Oui, certainement!

Even my Mum, who with all due love and respect is totally sceptical of my passion for languages and even less so for travelling, randomly mentioned that she had been wondering what on earth had been keeping me from learning French. Really, what was that evil nasty thing? Do our mothers have a way of saying things that trigger a whole lot of thoughts, aspirations and expectations of the world around us? Believing in fairytales, which we were told as part of motherly love we have as tokens in our souls, I embarked on my little mostly night-time French classes. Very tentatively and timidly. I was in no way going for a deep and lusty French kiss, just a coy peck to get my mind around the way the language works. It was a linguistic delight and a blast to watch myself and questioning the way I was making these little steps in shaping up my new “interlanguage”. I really have a zero recollection of doing that for English. What a shame!

Trips have a way of starting long before we physically leave the customary comfort of our homes and it might take just one trip to take you on countless more. It felt sweet and stereotypically romantique, the music of French and my emerging ability to create my own imitation of it. As painstaking and elaborate language learning might get, I never cease to believe in its miraculous power like that of a living being to encourage, to discourage and well (stupidly romantic, I know) to enamour with every little grammatical twist. If French was holding a potential of a sizzling love affair, I’d already made my petites steps towards it rather than hiding or shutting myself away. It was about time to let that trip changer ma vie and bring a new shiny azure Francophone flavour to it. Was Nice nice after all? Who am I know to even dare to pose that question to myself? Me?! Really!

As we had an early morning flight, we thought it wise to arrive in Moscow just a day before and use it as an excuse to explore our capital’s charms a little bit more. I’m very much aware of how visiting my capital before an overseas trip builds up the excitement for seeing, hearing and feeling something new and in fact has me thinking that sometimes I don’t even need to leave my country to do that. If it wasn’t for travelling abroad, I might have never got to develop any relationship with my capital at all. I do remember my first visit here when I was about ten and how intimidated I was by all that hustle and bustle and how I had a cry on the train there because I was so fearful to leave my own little home place. I always find myself wondering what it was that has changed me into someone who’s now so willing to leave and would rather shed a tear if I haven’t hit the road for long to make me depressed and unable to be somewhere I used to be so reluctant to leave. Life and everything we do as we go through it has a very extraordinary and mysterious way of transforming us. Anyway, Moscow has this wonderful power to transform me as well. Is this a country within a country? It well might be, but there’s something so reassuring and persistent here that would always prevent us from feeling like tourists here. I have yet to explore this feeling I get whenever I come. Even though it was June already, the weather was really nasty with just a few sunny spells throughout our stay. That made me even more incredulous about where we were going next. As much as the excitement of going somewhere might seem to slip away the more you travel, it makes you thankful more for those moments that looking back seem so huge and significant just like every little thing that we might fail to get the essence of as it is happening here and now. Curling my hair at the hotel to let what hopefully would be a warm Meditarrenean breeze run through those curls the next day… Little moments to treasure…

As an increasingly keen traveler, I just love airports! I couldn’t wait to arrive at the Vnukovo airport for the first time ever as we were driving through the cold streets of the early morning Moscow. That was just the thought of getting somewhere a lot warmer that made that temperature hardly bearable! That was a really small and rather deserted airport and I couldn’t fail to recognize a spot that was filmed in a very popular Russian movie at the time called “Crew” telling about a beautiful and heart-wrenching love story between pilots. Every trip has to have a little cinematic feel to it, doesn’t it? Even though this particular story allegedly took place at the Sheremetyevo aiport which  might have not been available for filming. There is something that airports generally seem to share, but that had been my first very quiet and peaceful morning with us sipping on our coffees sat facing the Turkish Airlines advertisement and dreaming of the warmth and some breeze not particularly of Nice but anywhere in fact.

There had to be something posh or rather pretentious (because that’s Russia) about someone on a plane to Nice! There was a couple in the aisle in front of us talking about their children living in Cannes. What a lucky bunch of people they were! If it wasn’t for the conference we were attending, we wouldn’t certainly have afforded a trip to such an extravagant location. But it worked out for us and on that particular day we were on that particular plane so it’s not just the bitter “c’est la vie” sometimes.

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Arriving at the Côte d’Azur airport was going to be spectacular as it was just near the sea coast and we could get a glimpse of Méditerranée from the plane and it seemed as if we were going to land just here. The tranquil blue skies, alluring palm trees – was I merely dreaming? I wish we all got a change of scene like that as a reward for dealing with persistently dreary spells back home. It should be not by chance that in the European languages I have a bit of knowledge of, there is the same word for something you see in your sleep and what you aspire to get. C’était un rêve and I was awake to experience and embrace it! A few noticeably French male’s faces as we make our way to the passport control. Is it a bit too early to even start noticing? Not really especially when the sky is so azure!

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The first thing we felt as we exited the airport was how hot it was! Dressed in our blazers, we must have looked a bit out of place in this beautiful part of the world. We didn’t have to walk too far to get a typical Provençal view of bouganvillas gracefully clinging on the walls of the buildings in the area. I knew the South of France was going to open up to me a bit more this time. As we were to find our way to the city centre, I felt an irresistible urge to make use of my very limited French against such a beautiful backdrop. I felt so good about being able to say this little but so meaningful “Parlez-vous anglais?” as I asked about where the bus stop was. Of course I could have said a very simple “Do you speak English” and by saying this, I intended to get into the comfort zone of this international language that I teach for a living. But making a bit of effort to avoid using this impersonal phrase especially in a country with a language that belle seemed to go a long way. I was able to get a few lovely French smiles as a welcome to Nice when I said this. Even dealing with typical French strikes and resulting transport delays wasn’t annoying at all.

Waiting at a bus stop for a good half an hour was something we didn’t mind at all, because as a reward we got to see an increasingly international crowd and their reactions to the wait. The bus that really took its time to arrive got packed and getting on it with our suitcases was a bit challenging. I geared myself up for what I thought would be more like a typical bus ride for me (except for the view) but I quickly found a place where I would be fine standing because unlike most buses here, there was a soft surface to lean my back on, which really amazed me. Miracles didn’t cease as I was trying to make my way to the only vacant seat I saw at the back and leave my suitcase in the middle, a gentleman reached out and snatched it out of hand and put it next to the seat I was going to take! I don’t know whether that was his physical strength or willingness to help that impressed me more. All I could say was “Merci!” That seemed the most appropriate thing to say to that.

Even though the bus was packed, people kept being polite as they got off at their stops and only the sound of a few loud fellow Russians made it seemed a tiny bit like home. We made it to the city centre about 20 minutes later and the view, the view! The one not to kill but to live for! To live to see if you haven’t yet! Just like at the thought of going to Nice again I just had a laugh and turned away as I got a glimpse of the alluring azure coast stretching on my right! What am I doing here with a feel of the Moscow cold timidly lingering on my skin…? My clothes were totally out of place and I couldn’t let that go. “Do you remember we were living in that house during one of our vacations here and then in this one?” I heard the fellow Russians saying. Well, Russian people do get around. Well, some of them anyway. The beach was very queit and there were just a few people here, probably locals just enjoying a typical niçoise afternoon. A ball splashing lazily in the water at a distance, people talking… Très belle! Will I get to practice my limited French? What would the city feel like this time? Will Nice be nice for us and to us? A string of questions running through my head…

I vaguely remembered Place Masséna, Nice’s central square, and that was where we had to get off. I miscalculated the distance and we got off a stop earlier. As much as I was loving to be here and enjoying the peaceful tranquility of the central Nice lined with petite comfortable shops and cafes, I wasn’t loving carrying my suitcases over the cobbled pavement. A city like this is to be taken easily and joyfully during a lovely promenade but not like this. I was happy I was able to read a few signs and I was a bit proud of myself for opening myself up for French a bit. As we were walking, we got a little taste of what the next few days would bring and there was certainly a lot to look forward to. As the European Football Championship was to kick off a few days later and France was to host it, we saw a huge Euro 2016 sign right in the park and that made us feel part of something we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Why was it so hot? It had to take some getting used to. We had a bit of a difficulty finding our hotel, which was supposed to be just around the corner. Taking a few wrong turns had to be part of our adventure. Place Massena – it’s me walking here again! Me!!! That’s Europe for ME again!

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We did find our hotel a few arguments later. It was really small, but the location was superb and now we could definitely appreciate that! I did attempt to speak to the receptionist in French and guess what – she understood me! I mean as a language teacher with fairly enough common sense, I knew she would, but speaking French after learning it for about a month and that was me again! French people are notoriously bad at speaking other languages rather than their own, but this lady was quite fluent in English as well. As she was busy with some paperwork for us, I told her that “Il fait plus chaud ici à Nice et à Russie il fait….” And here it just slipped my mind! “Froid?” “Oui, froid!”. That was amazing, wasn’t it? You don’t have to learn a languages for ages to be able to have this sort of a conversation about the weather. My students often make me forget about that…

Our room was very small but who would mind that in a place like this as long as we were safe in the knowledge Méditerranée was there! That was just what I imagined living here in one of those little apartments we could see in our window would be like. I chose to ignore some missed calls on my phone just to find out I had no connection at all and neither did my sister. That wasn’t fun at all and we argued for a while over what we thought could have caused that. I think we might have caused a baby in the next room to burst out crying in the process. Hearing two Russians arguing must have been a phonetically traumatizing experience and we’re sorry about any inconvenience this might have caused. There was no more time for arguing as the belle Meditarrenean evening was waiting to be experienced and we were so hungry we thought we could start eating our elbows!

A change of clothes was essential and making wrong fashion choices is particularly easy after you’d just been on a flight. Seeing and being seen was going to be enjoyable here. A meal was no less essential after the fashion choices had finally been made. Of course back home you promise yourself you will be avoiding touristy places around central squares but you would end up in one anyway. The city centre here is quite small so we thought we would go for whatever wouldn’t seem too extravagant for our budget. Unlike Italy whose influences you wouldn’t fail to note here as Nice used to be part of the Kingdom of Sardinia back in the 19th century, catering staff here wasn’t too pushy and you could read into the menu carefully. This lovely street just around the corner from Place Massena was so picturesque with all these lovely cafes! A quintessential European experience! We chose a nice place that wasn’t too crowded but had a few diners that seemed to be Asian. I could just sit here watching people walking by. Yes, that was France indeed! I had to figure out a way to keep watching that wouldn’t seem too impolite. I instinctively ordered some “shashlyks” which is a traditional Russian barbecue dish and I was curious about what the local interpretation would be. And the wine to go with it! Certainement! With the food ordered, I could forget how hungry I was and looked into a random window in front of me and thought of not thinking about where I sure knew I would be now if I wasn’t where I was. This beautiful feeling of the first day of a trip is something to savour and hold onto. Cheers to that! I even forgot to try to speak French now, I was just too happy to think of which language to speak in fact! The food was just merveilleux! The tender meat sprinkled abundantly with olive oil (very Provençal I guess). I even took hold of a few portions of the Dijon mustard because I’d been told by a French friend who lives there that had to be tried. Evenings like these are to be lived for! The more you get around, the more you learn to appreciate good places and food on your table.

Now it was time for an evening promenade! As we were walking, I hope I was just hearing things when I thought I heard someone say “Russian”. Yes, we do like to dress up but that’s just what we felt like doing living in a country like that I’m afraid. We seemed to remember where a Monoprix supermarket was so we decided to stock up on some snacks to take to the beach. Cheese, cheese, cheese! Yes, there was as much of it as it was here the first time I came! One might spend some time reading on what sorts are a must to try but once you get into a supermarket, you forget all about it. I was certainly having some real French cheese that night and that was all that seemed to matter at the time! It was so good the tourist season hadn’t started yet and there weren’t too many people outside so we could linger in Place Massena right next to the Apollo Statue and even have a “moment” with this place, which meant taking a mental image of random architectural details and let your mind set off fireworks to celebrate being alive.

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The sea! Méditerranée! Que tu es belle! Is there anything to say at all… I remember enjoying that same view two years ago right here in this spot. As France had had unusually low temperatures for the season, we were likely left just to enjoy the view of it rather than swim… It was time for a picnic French style facing the belle Promenade des Anglais, the central pedestrian area that came to be admired by the Englishmen in the 19th century and hence the name. It was so classy to be here and finally eat my cheese, which my sister said smelled like a pair of socks. I wouldn’t say that was out of this world (and the expectations are always up high in a place like this) but it certainly added to the flavour and ambiance of the night at the seafront. I certainly knew I could spend hours on end just sitting here eating this cheese, sipping on my wine and most importantly, watching the sea and letting it work its magic on me… The breeze and the curls – it had all finally come together!

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As we were cherishing the moment making it a memory to last, we saw two black guys walking by. It is not that I’m racist or anything, but of course we do have some stereotypes and expectations of people based on their looks and it’s not just about the skin colour. I did notice that these guys seem to pay a lot of attention to females walking by. As I was reflecting all of that, I saw them suddenly turning back in order to approach us. At least they didn’t seem to pose any threat so I thought we could do with a quick chat. I wasn’t quite ready to have a full-blown conversation in French at that point as these guys didn’t really speak any English. That was going to be a lot of fun! I did manage a few simple phrases and with each single one I cared less and less about how many mistakes I was making and how horrible my French sounded. It isn’t just about showcasing the way you think “r” should sound like, you know. I told them about what I did and at least one of them could manage some English and that helped a bit. I don’t remember exactly how it came up but I mentioned to them that it was Alexander Pushkin’s, our famous writer and poet’s, birthday today. “Un célèbre écrivain”. Well, sometimes I felt they didn’t understand or pretended not to. I did understand the word “charmante” used to describe me. That was one very bizarre conversation but they seem to come your way when you least expect them to. We had to start leaving because we didn’t think we were not comfortable with carrying on with it. The guys weren’t happy about that (especially one of them). I heard one of them saying something to me as we were leaving but I turned back to smile and say “No” to whatever it was. Yes, you have to be prepared to make use of your language skills with whoever and wherever you have to.

The Promenade, the famous Hotel Negresco lit up against the tranquil Meditarrenean sky! We are in France! Nous sommes à France! Oui, oui, oui!!!

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We walked to Place Massena to see the famous art installation just along the tram lines featuring seven statues that are lit in random colours each representing an ongoing dialogue and interaction of cultures. I didn’t get to see them at night during our first visit and that was just magnifique to be sitting here in this square filling up with people and marveling at an Italian feel it got. It was certainly not what a similar Parisian experience would be like. And another type of treat was to follow as well. Humans! Yes, they are essential to making all these unforgettable memories! Here male beauty came in all sorts of forms and shapes. That was the central meeting point and you would see bunches of young men coming here probably to hang out together and they were so affectionate kissing on the cheek or hugging each other instead of saying a simple “Salut”. How endearing that was to watch them here in what I felt like calling “a piazza”. The vibe was so great! I did need to find a way to stare without making it too explicit. That was like a casual fashion show right here in front of the Apollo Statue in the heart of Nice! After a few bohemian and relaxed reflections, it was time to head back to the hotel as it was already past midnight and we had the conference to go to the next day. Yes, staying focused on it was getting increasingly difficult! As we were walking, we did notice another pair of male fashion gods strutting their superb style and had a laugh about what kind of a reaction they would produce at my all-female university department! All I knew was that they wouldn’t go unnoticed! As we were just to turn the corner, I saw a pair of very beautiful brown eyes of one of these young men looking at me and I heard their owner asking me if I spoke English. I still have no idea why I said what I did but I said “No!”. I wasn’t just used to such handsome men coming up to me like this and I thought he was asking if I spoke French and I felt I was done with it for the night after that random encounter with the black guys back at the seafront. Despite my “No!”, we carried on our conversation and the other guy even attempted to say something in Russian when we said where we were from. It turned out they were looking for a club, poor souls. I know it might not be something a lady would be encouraged to do but I thought I had to compliment how gorgeous they looked and then I went on to say something that would have us laughing long after that went like “Our men don’t look like that!”. I have no regret I said this! They certainly don’t! That’s just one thing that’s horribly wrong with them. In response, that guy with huge brown eyes said “Me? Really?” Those were my exact words when I found out we would be travelling here and little did I know I would be having a conversation like this! How on earth don’t they know? He did sound genuinely amazed by my compliment and that’s what they are for anyway! I think we left them both standing there speechless when we told them we were scientists attending a “conférence”. They might have felt part of some intriguing scientific experiment now because we didn’t seem to look like scientists to them. We do have our own expectations of people… We turned the corner leaving these two male fashion gods standing there contemplating what had just happened. Back at the hotel, I just lay on my bed staring pensively at the ceiling contemplating that as well and how so surprisingly easy it was to have our all this handsomeness as part of your evening. My sister proceeded with putting together our poster for the conference for the next day and could have probably scared that child next door again. People here don’t make it easy to think about science and instead leave you with a cheeky smile that won’t go away until your dizzy head finally hits the pillow. I’m sleeping here in Nice. Me?! Oui! Bonne nuit!