Carnival Time on the Riviera
My sincerest appreciation goes out to all of you who wrote us with suggestions on ways I can get prepared for the TEF French exam and all the good teacher/tutor recommendations. I didn’t just discover one or two. No, I discovered dozens! Your comments and suggestions were amazing—mostly helpful and supportive.
One such very qualified individual, an American who I have known for a while living in Paris, made it easy for us to meet up. The lessons start upon my return in early March, giving me a month to prep for the test. Wish me luck!
My first cousin, Leslie Keller, came from her second home, Perugia, Italy, to visit with me in Paris and then go on to Nice for Carnaval. To take in a bit of Paris before heading south, we had scored tickets to see the “Frida Kahlo, Au-delà des Apparences” exhibit at the Palais Galliera on Wednesday afternoon. Good thing, too…because the exhibition, on until March 5th, is sold out!
“For the first time in France and in close collaboration with the Museo Frida Kahlo, the exhibition features more than 200 objects from Casa Azul, the house where Frida was born and brought up, including garments, accessories, correspondence, cosmetics, medicines and orthopedic aids. When the artist died in 1954, these personal effects were placed under seal by her husband, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and were not discovered until fifty years later, in 2004.”
I hope the exhibition’s success will render an extension of the closing date so that you won’t have to miss it. It’s really a chance to get up close to the real woman behind the canvases and the corsets.
We came down to Nice on the day of more transportation strikes—with the luck that our train was still running—to participate (or at least, witness) Carnaval! My New Orleans upbringing must make me not want to miss the event, with all of its color, frivolity, festivity, and gaiety. Upon arrival, it was a big pleasure to discover the scaffolding down from my apartment building and the new big balcony they had worked on for months, now ready for occupancy! When I left Nice a couple of weeks ago, they were just in the throes of installing the marble slab floors of the balconies; the protective covering obscured the entire building, so I had no views and very little light from the apartment. This was a more than welcome change. The balcony, now wider and three times longer is a work of art! When the weather warms up, you can be sure I’ll be out there enjoying the sun!
Friday night we had tickets to the Lou Queernaval Carnaval, a free event as part of the official program of the Carnaval de Nice. Seating was “festival,” so we filed in quite early to get good seats, although we were directed to one particular stand that turned out to be less than desirable. The show didn’t start for over an hour after our arrival, while we sat in the cold trying to stay warm and patient.
The event was launched in 2015 and is the first gay carnival in France. There were more than 150 volunteer carnival workers dressed in amazing costumes under the theme of the King of the World’s Treasures. We wished we could have gotten closer to see the costumes, but even so, once the performers filled the Place Masséna, they just danced to the music and that was that. That’s when we got bored…even after having waited so long for it to start…so we left early and chalked it up to “fun while it lasted, glad we did it, but not much to write home about.”
Two things of note: the audience was made up of just the average French of all ages and persuasions. I was expecting a more interesting crowd for the Queernaval, but even the spectators didn’t pass the “so what” test. And as seems to be the norm for the French…even though danceable music played the entire time, the only people even remotely moving in their seats were we Americans, one older woman on the front row who was by herself and one young girl near us who was trying not to get noticed for fear of being laughable. It never ceases to amaze me how reserved the French can be and not let themselves go and just have fun!
Saturday afternoon we hadn’t intended on seeing the Batailles de Fleurs parade, but once we were walking along the Promenade des Anglais, it was impossible to avoid. We didn’t have tickets to be upfront and up close, but along the back, behind the barriers yet along the sea, we could still get a kind of glimpse of the floats, if not the costumed paraders between them. One group of people had discovered they could have a decent view from standing on a huge mound of “galets” (pebbles) on the sea front, perched at the top looking very precarious indeed.
Unfortunately the weather all day Saturday was gray and gloomy—very unNiçois-like, and not the perfect backdrop for a parade of flowers with beautiful women atop every float! It just wasn’t the same without the usual beautiful blue skies, however, that didn’t matter for the Corso Carnavalesque Illuminé that took place Saturday night.
Getting seats for the parade was the first challenge, and done months in advance. Every year we learn something new about positioning ourselves to have the best view. We now know that seats from the middle to the north side of the stands on the east side of the Place are best. We have also learned that the best entry for those seats is from the Promenade de Paillon at rue Alberti, rather than from Place Masséna. There are many more security gates at that point so it flows very fast. These decisions are all part of the logistics that make the event more fun and easier to maneuver.
The parade lasted a good 2.5 hours, although the publicity says to expect 1.5 hours. “King of the World’s Treasures” was this year’s theme. There were 16 floats, each with a different message based on the theme (you can read all about each and every one here).
This year, there weren’t as many scary characters as there usually are, but it’s quite obvious, nonetheless, that there is an element of sadism in the creators’ viewpoint of the world! One float was a devil controlling a variety of characters on puppet strings. Hanging from his claws were the likes of Tim Cook (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and others. It was titled “Monopofric,” and all about the manipulators of the world’s wealth.
The description of the float on the website is, “Who dictates the rules of the game? The DNA of the Nice carnival in its satirical and puppet spirit is amused by this devilish puppeteer who activates his puppets in their follies of grandeur. On the stage the race is in full swing. They are ready to bicker, the trick is to win. But who will be the real master of the game, chance or fate? In any case, when it comes to money, the devil always knows how to pull the right strings. Will they dare to defy him?”
Sixty-two troupes came from all over the world to perform and parade between the floats: Venetians, Africans, Spanish, Italians, Peruvians, Japanese, Brazilians, people from the Caribbean and others! Their costumes were exemplary works of art as were their performances spectacular. Nice is considered the third largest carnival in the world after Rio de Janeiro’s and Venice’s. All in all, it’s quite an extravaganza and worth the effort to get good seats. The Niçois certainly know how to put on a good show!
The Fête du Citron in Menton was even better. We boarded an SRO train from Nice to Menton Sunday morning and slowly filed out of the station into a crowd I’d never seen before for the festival. Revenge travel has increased the number of people taking advantage of the festivals by what seems like two-fold. From the train station, you exit and immediately find yourself along the Jardins Biovès where massive structures made entirely of lemons and oranges await the crowds.
Once we made our way through the gardens, taking photos at every opportunity, we went through the security gates and found our café along the waterfront where I had made reservations. We were seated quickly at a table directly on the parade route; the clouds rolled away leaving us with blue skies and a very strong, hot sun. Even in the dead of winter, we had to shed our many layers of clothing designed to keep us warm which we no longer needed.
I had purchased tickets that didn’t allow us to have seats in the stands, so we had to take a place in the street to see the parade. I located the very corner where I have stood on other occasions to see the parade and got a front-row “seat,” next to a really nice security guy named Yves, who spoke very good English and with whom it was really fun to talk. While standing there, waiting for the parade to start, a woman came over to me to say thank you for introducing her to the Côte d’Azur—turns out she ended up purchasing an apartment in Nice, not with our help, but because I write so much about it and got her interested. There is no doubt that she is one of many people I don’t know personally, but who have been positively affected by these Nouvellettres®. They paint a rosy picture of the Riviera…that is so true. She had a very big smile on her face and was very proud to tell me her story.
The parade, under the theme “Rock & Opera,” was filled with live bands and performers. It was impossible not to move to the music…at least not for us, but we’re American! The French do not move to the music, as I noticed during the Lou Queernaval Carnaval. Yves, the security guy, totally agreed with me. We had a big laugh over it since while the bands on their floats went by, no one was dancing but us and a small handful of others, who might or might not have been French. His wife is Brazilian, he told me, so he is familiar with the carnival in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil, where they definitely do dance and move to the music! Can someone explain to me why the French can’t break themselves out of their perfect little boxes and live a little!
The costumes this year were exceptional. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the various characters in their disguises, many on stilts, others on the ground dancing, having come from all over the world to participate in the Riviera festivals.
Ultimately we were thankful that we didn’t have seats in the stands. Being upfront and up close on the street was definitely the highlight of the day. After the parade, and after a brief visit to the orchid show that was part of the festival, we hopped back on the train headed to Nice, covered in confetti and fulfilled in many ways. In fact, the Fête du Citron was even more impressive than the Carnaval de Nice!
At home the confetti fell out of every crevice of our clothing and bodies and I am sure I’ll be finding little pieces in obscure places for a long time to come.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with her cousin, Leslie Keller
P.S. Curious about who will be presenting at next month’s Aprés-Midi? You don’t have to wait until we announce it, you can look into the future right now! Visit our Aprés-Midi page to see who will be there in 2023.
Congratulations on your new large balcony. It will make for many more hours of pleasure sitting out in the sun.
Thanks for your great photos of both festivals. It’s been years since I’ve been to either. In my first years in Paris I would go to Nice at least for a month each year. And a best friend lived in Le Cannet above Cannes. I love how easy it is and how quickly you can get anywhere and everywhere by train or bus.
Love the new look of your building and the splendid balcony you have acquired. When we were there in january, we looked at your building, but scaffolding obscured everything. Enjoy the light and soon the balcony
Thanks for all the pictures of Carnival.
One observation – I think the French” let go” when they are participating in une grève. This seems to be their happy time.
Huge thank you for allowing me to enjoy Carnival vicariously every year: GREAT photos!
Anyone non-French who has been in the audience for a concert — or anything musical really — has noticed and commented on the ability of Parisians to sit still, LOL. My theory is that their cultural heritage in music and dance does not rely on drums or hip movement; they remain upright (uptight?) and probably busy in their heads, not their bodies, appreciating the performance intellectually, rather than responding physically. Which raises the question: how did they get the reputation of being good lovers? Possibly because those sexy hip movements the rest of us employ while dancing in public are reserved only for interactions one on one in privacy and in the dark?
ACTUALLY came on to send you this. It’s one person’s report on how their nationality application test went:
GOING THROUGH A NATURALIZATION INTERVIEW
The topics may differ from interview to interview. The goal of this meeting is less to check the applicant’s knowledge of France than to evaluate their ability to explain and describe a variety of unrelated topics in French, jumping from one to the next. Being able to do this demands a good level of French as well as feeling at ease speaking it. In short, the French administration is not checking the level of French grammar so much as the fluidity and ability to converse the French way.
Here is the report:
“She went over my file and all my documents and confirmed everything, asked some questions about my family and where they live, how long my contract will last if I had a CDI.
Why do you want to be French?
Do you see yourself in France in 10 years?
Are you part of any associations?
Do you own property in France or abroad?
What are the nationalities of your entourage in France?
How often do you visit your home country?
Do you still have close ties to your home country?
What cities in France have you visited?
What river goes through Paris?
What river goes through Lyon?
What is democracy and what do you think about it?
Is voting important to you?
Serving on a jury?
What is France’s currency? Describe each value.
What are the rights and duties of a French citizen?
What are the colors of the French flag?
What is the symbol of France that is a woman?
Describe the events of July 14th and why it’s an important day in French history
Describe laïcité and give your opinion of it.
What is your opinion of freedom of expression? Does it have a limit?
Who is the current prime minister?
What is the French healthcare system called? When was it started?
Name an important French person in history and why they are remarkable to you
Do you think men and women are equal in France?
How many countries are in the EU and which country just left?”
This is great! Thank you for sharing.