Sun Cure in the Côte d’Azur.
 

All beach towns are alike; each non-beach town is non-beachy in its own way.  That’s our overall impression anyway after spending a week in the Côte d’Azur.  It is also an unabashed homage to a great Russian writer whose fellow countrymen-aristocrats and their European peers used to prance around this part of France in search of a “sun cure.”  We, ourselves, were not in need of any kind of cure, really; isn’t living in Paris a cure-all?  We simply had a week off in-between classes and we wanted to go to a warm destination where we could pass lazy days on the beach. 

DAYS   
Day 1
 
Day 2
 
Day 3
 
Day 4
 
Day 5
 
 
Day 7
 
Day 8
 
 
 
 
 
 Nice:  Eschewing the new for the old.
 

6 July 2008.  There was no escaping a side trip to Nice, not when it cast such a large shadow over this part of the world.  From the train station, the first order of business was lunch, which was taken today at one of the many nearby fast food Asian joints called Ah-Ha.  The afternoon heat was expectedly unbearable and no one was lingering on the large thoroughfare, avenue Jean Médicin, which served as a conduit between the trains and the Old Town.  Although it was Sunday some of the shops were open and Nez couldn’t resist a quick visit to the beckoning H&M.  This part of Nice felt like any of the charmless outer Parisian arrondissements, which caused us to start to doubt our decision to come here today instead of one of the other smaller towns along the coast.

 
 
 
  On avenue Jean Médicin:  Reflection of something old in something new.
  A view of Nice’s massive Place Masséna, just outside of its quaint Old Town.
 

But even the mild onset of shopper’s remorse did not last long as we happened upon a large square with shady benches and a traveling band setting up shop.  We too set up shop nearby and began to enjoy another occurrence of one of the real treats of traveling in Europe:  ragged, backpacking bands playing for their next meals and drinks.  This four-piece consisted of an upright bass, a banjo, a trombone, and a trumpet.  In the massive Place Masséna, they played old standards and harmonized in German-accented English.  We fished some change from our pocket and discussed a great idea that just then occurred to us.  We should hire a band like this to play at our wedding!  Free food, drinks, and lodging and in return we get an off-the-beaten-track musical experience.  It would be memorable and helpful to the budget.  We’ll have to remember to look into this.  Another few songs and it was time to head to the beach.  The crowd had grown considerably thicker by then and the band saw us off with a pleasing rendition of Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again.  “We’re the best of friends, insisting that the world be turnin’ our way.”  It could not be any truer.

 
 
















  One of unheralded traveling treats:  Another European town square, another ragged, traveling band.  Will you play our wedding?
 

A left turn at the end of the big street and we found ourselves navigating what could be called the “restaurants row” of Old Nice although it was officially known as the Cours Saleya.  We were not impressed so we made a quick right through one of the arched gateways and made a run for the beach.  For both of us, it was the first experience on a pebbly beach.  Sunbathing on such a surface was a challenge because you had to maneuver yourself into a comfortable lying position, taking care to avoid the protruding pebbles; you couldn’t just plop down as on sand.  It was also different in that it was difficult to walk on near the water where the pebbles were wet and the attempts to regain your balance were often in vain.  The sudden drop of elevation at the waterline provided comic relief in the form of those unfamiliar with this kind of beach, including us, having to resort to crawling out of the water on their hands and feet.  The local bathers had no such trouble and no trouble enjoying their day at the beach.  It seemed as though the gods had intended to make the beach this way to discourage something as frivolous as going to the beach but were themselves thwarted.













  A stretch of beach
along the Quai des État-Unis.

 

The dip in the cool water was refreshing and the hissing noise of the receding waves churning through the pebbles completed the atmosphere.  We napped and sunned; Riot unwittingly applied sun block to his back only to sleep faceup and was duly burned in the front.  Over dinner he would recount to Nez how oblivious people were to the danger of the sun on one's skin when he was a child and going to the beach in Vietnam.  The occasional day at the beach was a real treat and getting burnt and then peeling off masses of dead skin from your back in the days to come were all parts of the package.

 
 
 
  A beach is a beach, pebbles notwithstanding.
  A little dip in the water actually makes it all better.
 
 
 
 
 |   A seemingly absurd struggle:  We imagine the child must be happy in his Sisyphean task.
 
 

We had worked up a sizeable hunger by then and decided to satisfy that craving.  Just when we were very close to declaring that Nice was not much of a desirable destination we made a random turn into one of the small lanes feeding from the main tourist stretch.  The eclectic collection of non-uniform buildings towering above the narrow alleys felt like canyon walls on which time and history had etched mementos of their visits in the form of a hastily installed pipe or a now bricked-up window.  The pastel colored buildings also brought to mind their cousins on the other side of the border in Italy.  We dug deep and fought off the temptation to get pre-dinner gelato.  The various joints offering Niçoise cuisine did not tickle our taste buds but a little Indian restaurant called Delhi Darbar did.  We secured an outside table and proceeded to wait what seemed like an eternity for each course to arrive.  It was worth every second, even when it meant that we would miss our scheduled 22:10 departure back to Cannes.

 

  The waning sunlight
bathes the upper reach of a building
.
  Dining with a view:  Down this dimly lit lane
one finds exquisite Indian
.

 
 

We wanted to start heading back to the Nice train station to catch the next train to Cannes.  Riot wanted to be able to explain why we were rushing the last part of the meal, ostensibly to practice his French but also to avoid any misunderstanding on the part of the owners that there was something amiss in the delicious meal that had just been consumed.  He double-checked his phrase and practiced the delivery with Nez.  When the proprietress came, he started speaking.  But before he could finish she was already halfway back inside the restaurant.  Nez broke into uncontrollable laughter.  Apparently, the proprietress did not even realize he was speaking either in French or to her.  He felt resigned at another failed attempt at linguistic banter and joined Nez in laughter; Nez was now on the verge of tears.

 
 
 

Midnight at Place Masséna:    The glowing men atop tall poles alternate in color and represent the “communication” between the 7 continents.    A sight best enjoyed at night.

 

Old Nice was beautiful at night with people out and about.  The air was festive but not in a rowdy way.  For this alone, Nice was probably worth an overnight stay.  But to the station we went, back into new Nice, where we found upon arrival that the next train would not leave until after midnight.  We had over an hour to kill so Nez commenced to read to Riot from Barrack Obama’s first book.  Around us, people kept coming and going, and the station that sat in a seedy looking part of town appeared quite lively, and safe.

 
 
 
  “No exchange, no reimbursement”:  Six minutes before departure and we were still not through with our main courses.
  With much time to kill before the last westbound train to Cannes, Nez read to Riot at the Nice Ville station.
 

The 00:24 westbound local train chugged along in the night making calls at every station, evoking in Riot memories of the occasional slow train ride home after a long day at work.  On board, there was barely an empty seat but the only sound about came from the periodic announcements of the next stop.  No one was really sleeping yet everyone seemed to have already departed into the subconscious.  Riot began the journey reading the station names to Nez to allay the minor fear of being discovered that they in fact had tickets for an earlier train.  Nice St-Augustin, Cagnes Sur Mer, Biot.  How many more until Cannes?  After a while, he was only reciting the names to himself, in his head.  

With Nez’s head on his shoulder, he stared at the passing streets, buildings, and streetlights outside the window, scenes that strangely evoked the image of driving late at night on the 405 in Southern California.  His thoughts drifted to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and the iconic phrase, “Listen:  Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”  He thought briefly of the nautical story he longed to write but hadn’t even started before trying, and failing, to recall any line from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.  Antibes, Juan Les Pins, Golfe Juan Vallauris, and the names started to strike a familiar tone.  He leaned in toward Nez’s nuzzling head and closed his eyes.  He vaguely recalled a TV commercial where a group of friends were sitting in silence in a subway car late at night, returning home from somewhere.  The voice-over said something about “the happiest time of our lives.”  It made him smile.  Cannes was just up ahead and happiness seemed singularly simple.  That much was certain.

 
DAYS   
Day 1
 
Day 2
 
Day 3
 
Day 4
 
Day 5
 
 
Day 7
 
Day 8
 
 
Dine Cote dAzur
 
Sleep Cote dAzur
 
A Matter of Numbers
 
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