Bonjour, le beau monde! A pretty sunny day and a boat ride to the Île Sainte-Marguerite to present our report was waiting to inspire us to enjoy our everyday life dotting somewhere a few days ahead. A repetitive breakfast menu was très bien for us as per usual. We were to walk again to the port to embark on our voyage to where we’d already been lucky to be as part of our coach trip to Europe. The largest of the Lerins Islands, this island was famous for its fortress where Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. It was about an hour’s boat ride from Nice. We got there just in time to find our American friend already there. Another nice conversation in English added more confidence to the morning. It turned out we had forgotten to pick up our poster from the conference venue! Well, luckily, we had some kind soul pick it up for us – people seemed incredibly helpful here! We quickly got on our beautiful boat and got ready to get up close and personal with the Mediterranean sliding through its gentle waves with azure here and there – everywhere! We took a comfortable seat to enjoy “the performance” and were a bit later joined by an Italian! Bene! We spent the entire ride talking (I wish I had brushed up on my very limited Italian back home) about Rome (his home city) and how I was in love with it after a bellissimo week I’d spent there. Travels offer so much to talk about and make connections! We even happened to have the same favourite places in the belle Italian capital! Some of my stereotypes of Italy were actually reinforced and others dismantled. You can’t escape Italy while in Nice, can you? It’s walking right here behind you in graceful strides (probably in a pair of stilettos)! I could notice a bit of a fashion show on my right as I saw the famous Breton stripe worn by the owner of the brown eyes to make me release a sigh of admiration. I was speaking to an Italian looking away to take in the handsomeness of a French! Me! A Russian girl! The sun was beating down, but I couldn’t take off my light jacket as I had got a sunburn the day before during our jaw-dropping coastline walk. Azure, azure, azure! I remember you and I’m looking!
I was able to recognize these soothing views as we started approaching the island. That was where I had my first dip in the sea three years ago! What a coincidence! Little did I know I would ever get here again but with a different agenda! As we were walking up the hill to the Maritime Museum where the conference was to be held surrounded by the smell of eucalyptus and the sound of birds singing (that was exactly what my memory preserved as a souvenir of the place), I stroke a chat with that female British professor from Birmingham. She was all smiley with a rucksack on her back! I wished her luck for her key speech a bit later on. I was astonished at how approachable and down-to-earth Western professors are! She seemed genuinely happy to talk to someone like me. And of course the American professor found us too to continue our chat! Before the opening report by the British professor, we had a while to stroll the area. It looked so deserted and calm and we could see Cannes in the distance. Belle is the word! A bit rural with casual workers in their overalls but very clean and beautiful!
The room where we were seated in the Maritime Museum felt damp and about halfway through the British professor’s speech I found myself nodding off even though I was interested in her talk. She joked that everyone must be looking forward to the aperitif. Before we had a chance to enjoy it, we were all taken to marvel at the views of the Mediterranean from the lookout tower. Splendid!
We have the apéritif waiting for us and we walk to a lovely court in the shade for that. Are they serving us home-made sweet wine? I have to love whoever made this one! As one of the organizers saw me with a glass with ice cubes, he came asking me to add a few to his wine. He was so immaculately dressed in an elegant straw hat that I was afraid to leave a smudge on it while I dip in his ice cube into his glass. We carried on our chat with the American professor who seemed to love our company a lot. I was wondering what our English felt to a native speaker. Emotional talks are most engaging and it’s fascinating how when it gets to a point when something concerning your country comes up, you seem to start losing control of your English as some profoundly lingering emotions start coming into play compelling us to call potatoes “our second bread”, referring to “a vegetable garden” where we grow them, etc. We can’t rip our national selves apart from whatever languages we choose to speak. The lunch itself was very tasty with a selection of potatoes, rice, roasted meat. As I stood up from my seat to get another helping, I felt a bit dizzy, which made me aware that I must have helped myself too much to the wine and I had a report to make afterwards. It was in fact a combination of the wine, the scenery and our conversation that got me tipsy in the first place. We all got so relaxed that the last thing on everyone’s mind was listening to more reports. Finally, it was time for some cheese that we had served with more fresh meat. I just adore cheeses and those were homemade! The American tried to have a discussion about their origin with people serving the tables and needless to say, he failed to do that as none of them seemed to have any command of English. I managed to talk to the female British professor more and she asked me if my students used corpora for our classes as she was one of the leading specialists in corpus linguistics. Well, I was happy she had no idea what kind of students I mostly have to teach…
It was finally time to make a presentation and our American ami was the one afraid to miss the action as he was to make one as well. I was happy to be able to get the owner of the brown eyes solve some technical issues. There was a lineup of reports, some in English, some in French. When my turn came (the American professor actually introduced my report and even made an effort to pronounce my family name), I was slightly nervous but strangely enough, I felt very inspired and bewilderingly confident as I was presenting my report which I started with a little introduction in French. That was another combination of factors that contributed to this feeling arising in me. I wasn’t presently in Nice that is named after Νίκη, a Greek goddess of victory, but I felt so victorious! We all need something and someone to give us wings to levitate! Why on earth can’t I feel like this back home? I have yet to figure out whether it was me preventing myself feeling the way I did back then on a daily basis or the environment which certainly has a certain impact on what we are. We had a few discussions with other participants during the poster session. Everyone seemed incredibly laidback and friendly. Is science that intimidating? We made acquaintance with the guy we were too shy to join for lunch our first day. He was a PhD student from Belgium and was very nice! One doesn’t have to be a nerd to be a scientist. I certainly have the environment to blame for my twisted perception of science. Our awkward poster attracted some more attention. When the session was over, we folded our poster and made it outside to take a brief stroll before our boat was due to arrive. It was getting menacingly cloudy and we didn’t walk too far. It was such a solitary and peaceful place which was the last I had expected to visit again. Tall trees, green grass to sit on and watch the sea and hear more French conversations. That was a perfect retreat for someone visiting Nice.
Before we embarked on our boat, we had a quick chat with the British professor who now knew about my cherished dream of visiting London. That was his first time visiting the island and he was amazed it wasn’t for us. My sister had forgotten her jacket in the venue and it was after we had one of the organizers chasing us with it that she realized she had. Soon after we’d embarked on our boat, the sky was about to burst into loud tears of rain.
The sight of the owner of the brown eyes lovingly and admiringly peering into the Mediterranean with a French flag waving in the background was able to amaze even my sister. Handsome men certainly belong here to match the surroundings! The grey skies finally culminated into a pouring rain. Here we were in the storm in the Mediterranean!
My sister feared she would catch a cold as we only had our umbrellas that we could barely keep from being blown away to keep us dry. It wouldn’t stop raining when we arrived back in Nice. I caught sight of the owner of the brown eyes lending his umbrella to a lady…. Yes, people seem to match their surroundings. The rain stopped before we reached our hotel but the wet streets were almost empty. My sister was feeling hungry as unlike myself, she didn’t get to eat much throughout our conversation with the American professor due to what she called “an excessive cognitive load” she had to deal with struggling to speak English over such an extensive period. Obviously, we did have to stay inside in the next few hours and it was already an early evening so we thought we needed to choose a place for our meal. I changed into my warm Breton stripe blazer for the night. We went to the same restaurant we went to on our first evening here. All the diners were inside now that it had just been raining. The interior of the place was splendid and bohemian. We asked the same waiter who served us on our first ever meal here in Nice to recommend us some wine and that was the second best wine I’d tried here. We were actually done with the conference now and decided to use our last full day here on our own instead of trying to find Université Nice Sophia Antipolis Université where the last session of the conference was to be held. It was getting sad to be leaving so soon… The amazing and huge portion of mussels I got made parting with Nice seem too early to ponder. A group of senior ladies and a gentleman were seated at the next table and were loving their meal as well. I always admire how older people I see on my trips are capable of enjoying their time travelling and making retirement seem such a leisurely thing to finally do whatever you never got to do before you retired. When they asked the waiter “What music is playing?”, they summed it all up for me – retirement doesn’t have to be about having your children and grandchildren at your back begging you for any kind of help or begging your children to give your grandchildren to give your life back its worth. It’s about the older but wiser you enjoying small things in life like this wet evening here in Nice over a glass of fine food and wine… I taught my sister how to ask for the bill in French and hearing her say “L’addition, s’il vous plaît” put a genuine smile on the waiter’s typically French face. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I totally agree with Nelson Mandela on this…
We went on our late-evening promenade taking a different path to the Promenade des Anglais to see more of the backstreets of Nice and ended up in a sounevir shop that was still open. I couldn’t help getting a little painting of the iconic view of the Hotel Negresco and holidaymakers casually strolling. I collect these small paintings endearingly to shake up my visual memory when it’s too blurred by my everyday reality. It was a wet walk along the sea and it was rather chilly. The moist air made the smell of fish at some of the restaurants, which took us back to Varna, even more beckoning…
There were people enjoying their meals, entering some clubs. As we were walking by one of the dining places, I saw a very beautiful young couple dressed perfectly and looking so romantic together. I wish I could have them on a painting to put up in my room to remind me that romance isn’t dead… We walked some more around the Opera Theatre area (Opera Nice Côte d’Azur) admiring the French style and beauty and Eiffel Tower toys in the window-shops. We end the night near the Apollo fountain watching more beautiful people. May tomorrow be pleasurable and long! Bonne nuit!