It’s nice in Nice (pronounced like: niece in English. French is funny like that). Really nice. It’s warm, sunny…oh it’s nice. My first day, I got in later than expected due to the previously mentioned delayed train. So, for my first day, I didn’t do too much.
I threw my bags down and raced towards the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Tuesday would be my only chance to see this museum, as it was closed on May 1 (a holiday in France, as explained later in this blog) and I would be taking two day trips on Thursday and Friday (to Cannes and Monaco, posts to come). Luckily, I was pretty close to the museum and got there in no time at all…and wow. Let me tell you, this is a fantastic museum. The building itself is a work of art. The rooftop holds exhibitions and gives a great overlook of the city of Nice. I was impressed with the range of artists in the museum and I have to admit…I can’t tell which museum was better, the famous Centre Pompidou in Paris or this museum. Both are definitely worth seeing if you’re in France and have an interest in modern/contemporary art.
I went to the famous Cours Saleya, a flower market. It was late and they were packing up, but I got the general idea. Lots of flowers. And I got a chance to return on Wednesday. The flower market is near the ocean so I headed there to check it out. To my surprise, the Nice beach was completely pebbles. Giant, round pebbles. No sand.
The next day, Wednesday, was May 1. May 1 is La Fête du Travail, which is basically labor day in France…except that everything is shut down. Literally everything. There is no public transportation on May 1, there are no grocery stories…there’s nothing. It’s like you enter some weird world without work. However, I would like to note that I am in a very tourist town. I have heard more loud Americans here than anywhere else…and more English too (which might explain why the beach front is called the Promenade des Anglais). Luckily, there were a few restaurants that stayed open to feed the hungry tourists like me. Also, on May 1, French people give each other lily of the valley flowers (in French: Muguet).* I saw so many of these flowers in Nice – everyone was selling them!
I went to Notre Dame (which was closed, that was a little strange). Then I went to Castle Hill, which gives a great overview of the city and beach. I went down the beach and began my “lazy” day. I didn’t read. I didn’t write. I haven’t done homework in two weeks. I just sat on the beach (with lots of sunscreen) and let time pass me by. I went into the water a bit, but decided that I didn’t like it. The waves were very strong and receded with a sucking motion, that drug the rocks back with an extraordinary force, causing them to sound like exploding firecrackers. And, if your feet are in the way, they are going to get crushed by a million rocks. Not very fun. I returned to sitting on the beach.
Eventually, I got up and went to the Russian Cathedral because I figured that was something unusual. It was like a piece of Russia was dropped in Nice! I went to the cathedral, which was supposed to open at two, but it wasn’t open. There was a security guard, standing there, staring at all of us tourists. His personality came across quite clear to me: a sadist, egotistic man in search of a power trip. That may seem harsh, but it’s true. We were all waiting in the sun for nearly an hour. He was just watching us. Finally, someone called him over. “What time will the cathedral be open? It says it opens at 2 pm, but it’s 3 pm now,” she asked.
“I don’t know. They’re doing work on the inside,” he said with a shrug.
“Could you ask please?” she requested.
He left, walking at an extraordinarily slow pace. He returned ten minutes later, to tell us that he had no idea. “Please let us sit in the shade,” one old man requested, “You don’t have to let us in the building, just let us on the property.”
“Non,” he said.
Okay. Slowly, the message trickled down to everyone in line. It was translated to Russian, Greek, other languages I couldn’t quite tell what they were…and English. One woman was very confused, “Please, does anyone speak English?” she asked.
“I do,” I said and I relayed the bad news.
It wasn’t the first time on this trip that I’ve translated small messages. It’s very strange to be in the gap of two languages. For example, one day, I was at a fast food place and the cashier only spoke French. The customer only spoke English. They were struggling to understand each other, but I understood everything she said. I understood everything he said. It was weird to think that what the other person was saying meant nothing, because it meant something to me. The two were getting frustrated with each other and I stepped in, which made both of them pretty happy. After all, they were trying to say the same thing. They were just saying it differently, in different languages.
Back to the Russian cathedral, the old people were very angry with the demeanor of the security guard. He was not a nice guy, so they let him have it. They yelled at him for a long time, but I didn’t stay to watch. I decided to talk a walk around, try to find some shade, and then come back at a later time.
I returned later and the cathedral was open. There were lots of rules to the cathedral and the security guard made sure that he personally enforced each one of them. He yelled at people who brought dogs on to the property, even yelling at a mother who was changing her baby for “nakedness.” How else is she supposed to change the kid’s diaper? I was a little scared to enter the cathedral, but I made a dash for it when he left his post to yell at a man. I was in the entry, almost inside when I heard a horrible scream. Oh no. What did I do?
“Put your sack down right now! Right now!” he yelled at me.
I put the sack down. “You can’t bring it inside,” he said.
I looked at the rules that were posted. There was no rule about sacks inside the church. I’m pretty sure he just made that one up. Still, I did as he asked. I must admit, the cathedral was worth it. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before, since the architecture was Russian. It was beautiful and I’d love to see more Russian architecture, perhaps one day I’ll visit Russia to see more.
I went to dinner, which was an adventure in itself. I walked around forever trying to find a cheap place to eat…on May 1st…when everything is closed. Eventually, I found a place that was cheap and served a salad Niçoise, which I had been wanting to try. I picked a place that only had tuna on the salad (other places put in other types of fish…and Kellene does not like fish at all). I was seated outside in the old part of Nice, so the streets were like small alleyways. Nice seems like a very safe town, I saw three police officers pass me doing their roves. I was the only one eating at this restaurant. Everything was going well…until I ate a piece of tuna that kinda looked like tuna, but kinda didn’t. It was not tuna. It was a nasty, slimy and salty piece of fish. I have never tasted anything so salty and gross. It was like what I would imagine eating seaweed would taste like. I hated it. That should have been a sign right there.
But my dinner got a little more interesting. I heard a crack and saw a hunk of marble about five feet from me. I thought I fell off of a building or something until I heard yelling. I turned around and, up the street, a man was throwing hunks of marble. He was screaming and being completely crazy. He started to attack some of the shopkeepers (who were actually open on May 1st). Other shopkeepers tried to restrain him and, my restaurant owner/server, rushed to call the police. Things got really interesting when this guy’s friends turned against the shopkeepers and started attacking them. There was blood and one of the shopkeepers had a strangely swollen elbow…all just feet away from where I’m trying to eat my salad with the disgusting fish. Those three police officers? Yep. They were back. They calmed the situation down and more police officers were dispatched. Ambulance people arrived, police started taking statements. It was crazy. My server came back to me, “So…uh…how is your meal?” he asked.
We both laughed nervously. “Does that happen often here?” I asked, nodding to up the street.
“No, this isn’t New York,” he said (darn my accent for giving me away again).** “It was just one crazy guy.”
“That’s…good,” I said.
“Don’t worry. You’re safe in this security perimeter,” he said, pointing to the table.
We both instinctively looked at the piece of marble that was five feet away from me. A police officer came over and picked it up, collecting it for evidence. We looked at each other. Yeah. Right. That could have hit me…or, as one of the shopkeepers said angrily, “A baby! Imagine that, it hits a baby, kills it…Imagine that. He is very dangerous.”
It does look like a very isolated incident though because the shopkeepers did not seem interested in that type of behavior in their neighborhood. They reacted quickly and courageously. I was impressed. I finished my salad, eavesdropping on the shopkeepers and the police, before paying my meal.
“Anything else?” my server asked me.
“No, thank you.”
“Have a good evening,” we said at the same time, exchanging the true meaning of our words, “Don’t die.”
All in all, I would say that Nice is a very nice town. I really do like it here. It is so beautiful…and warm. Did I mention that it was sunny?
*Embarrassing side note: I learned this in my French culture class at West Virginia University. Except that I kinda forgot about the whole “muguet” thing. A few weeks ago, I was talking to this French student and he said the word “muguet” and I had no clue what he was talking about. He kept mentioning May 1st and I was very confused as to what he was talking about. He pulled out a notebook and actually drew the flower for me, at which point I was like, oh yeah. I learned that in class. And then I forgot. Well, now I’m definitely going to remember!
**The United States actually has a reputation abroad for being a violent country. In many countries, guns are illegal and people can’t understand why Americans have guns. In fact, one girl is so afraid of the violence in America that she says she doesn’t want to visit because of it. She pointed to the Boston bombings, Newtown and countless other events. I had to reassure here that these are not ordinary events and that the news only reports the bad things. She didn’t look convinced.