An American Not-Neurotic in “Nissa la Bella”
A dozen friends and readers forwarded Pamela Druckerman’s article, “An American Neurotic in Paris.”
It was a poignant message for us Americans in Paris at this time, to say the least. She wrote: “The question of whether to stay is especially resonant for Americans in Paris, because many feel that they live here by accident. Not many foreigners move to Paris for their dream job. Many do it on a romantic whim. Expatriates often say that they came for six months, but ended up staying for 15 years. And no one is quite sure where the time went. Its as if Paris is a vortex that lulls you with its hot croissants and grand boulevards. One morning, you wake up middle-aged still speaking mediocre French.”
No wonder they all sent it to me — I AM THAT PERSON. I came for one year and stayed almost twenty. Like her, I’m definitely in the vortex of hot croissants and grand boulevards, my French is still mediocre at best and I’m the new middle aged (now that people live longer). The idea of moving BACK to the States is frightening — it’s like going in reverse. And the never-answered question is, “To where?” What city in the U.S. could follow an act like Paris?
Quite frankly, there isn’t one. New York is what first comes to mind, but even New Yorkers will agree, New York is not Paris. San Francisco has European charm, but all those hills? Even New Orleans would be a possibility with its French roots, and for me as a native, it could be the closest thing to the real thing. Still, searching for “Paris à la Americain” is a false hope.
Instead, I’ve found the antidote here in France: Nice.
This is the third year that I’ve trained down to Aix-en-Provence, picked up a rental car and headed to Barb Westfield’s gorgeous three-story Luberonais village house in Ansouis for a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with American friends. The turkey was a seven-kilo monster she drove to Aix to purchase from a special butcher, roasted in the usual half-the-time (of an overfed American turkey) and carved up for nine of us, leaving more than half a turkey for leftovers. She opened a can of cranberry sauce and dumped it on the serving dish intact so we could see the ridges of the can (highly traditional), made pumpkin pie and stuffing and we all pigged out in just the way one is supposed to on such a holiday.
While Barb was busy in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, my niece, New Yorker Shari Linnick, and I took a driving tour of St. Remy stopping for an exquisite lunch of “Fruits de Mer” at L’Estagnol (you need to know about this one to find it and it’s superb!) and made a special stop at Les Baux to see the Carrières de Lumières.
I wouldn’t tell Shari what they were…it was to be a total surprise. Besides, how does one describe an image, light and sound show projected in an enormous quarry/cavern on white limestone (once used for the construction of the Château and Les Baux)? You just can’t, and in fact, once you’ve seen it, it’s still impossible to put into words. Our photos don’t do it justice — the feeling we had as we wandered in the dark surrounded by the paint strokes of Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Manet and others. It was like being inside one of the master works itself. If you should be so fortunate as to be in the vicinity, it’s worth a special trip.
It was honoring to have the Lord Mayor of Ansouis, Géraud De Sabran Ponteves, invite me to meet with him Friday morning in his office steps from Barb’s home. He wanted to show me a project he’s working on to renovate the old city hall into luxury apartments — one part of his plan to increase the population of Ansouis and keep the village growing. Perhaps some of you would be interested in such a delightful home-away-from-home?
He comes by the title of Lord Mayor naturally if not by vote, as his family member, the Duchess de Sabran-Pontevès, saved the Château d’Ansouis from ruin in the early 19th-century — and as a result it became a “leading example of the lifestyle of the aristocracy during the Enlightenment.” (provenceguide.co.uk/ansouis-castle/)
As is tradition, late morning we visited the beautiful open air market in the village of Lourmarin before heading east by car toward Nice. Fréjus was our stop of choice for lunch along the way and found it a bit ‘manufactured,’ too new and pristine, while quite beautiful. We had one of those ‘French’ vs ‘American’ experiences at one of the port-side restaurants — the kind that always makes me chuckle if not annoyed.
Pamela Druckerman wrote: “The biggest lesson Ive learned in 10 years is that Im American to the core. Its not just my urge to eat turkey in late November.” And so it was when we arrived at the restaurant in Fréjus at 2 p.m. with the kitchen about to close for the day. We were given an okay for staying, but when we asked to be seated at one of the several tables in the sunny windows, we were told, “But Madame, those tables are for four (and we were just two)!” To which I replied, “But Madame, there is no one else here and your kitchen is closing!”
Realizing the logic, she allowed us to sit at a table for four, but the culture clash was acute. Any American restaurant host would have seated us wherever we wanted with no reserve. I thought of the article — ‘the biggest lesson Ive learned in 20 years is that Im American to the core.’
Walking into my Niçois apartment, “Le Matisse,” was a heavenly moment. It’s a sunny reprieve with a happy-go-lucky spirit. “Henri” the cactus, grows miles with every absence — it seemed he had grown almost another foot in height in two months since my last stay. The Kalanchoes I planted in the window boxes were thriving beautifully, too, and all was at peace with the world on the Côte d’Azur, thanks to Monsieur Matisse. Rue Masséna is lit with enormous gifts made up of colored lights making the sky bright. Christmas lights are all over Nice, decorating most of the major streets and centers of activity.
There was no time to lose Friday evening to meet up with a real estate agent to do a ‘walk-through’ of an apartment in a nearby district that a friend is in the process of purchasing. It’s a mere 14.5 square meters (156 square feet) including the kitchen and bath, but it will suit her purposes and her budget. Can she live in such a small space? That is to be seen!
For dinner we were invited to a friend’s who’s from my home town of New Orleans — someone I met in Paris a few years ago who now lives in Nice, Anne Sliwinwki. Visiting her was an old friend of hers from New Orleans, Linda Yasni — someone I had known from childhood, but hadn’t seen since we were 13 to 15 years old! It was one of those moments of ‘six degrees of separation’ except that it was more like two than six. We spent the evening dining extravagantly on homemade gourmet goodies in one of the city’s most elegant apartments, then playing what we call “Jewish geography” and realizing how many people we had in common — hundreds if not thousands.
As a New Orleanian/Parisian now living in Nice, Anne wrote of her feelings about her new city: “I guess it’s the beauty of the city that pulled me in — and keeps me here. The sun, sea, palms, bougainvillea; the beautiful belle époque apartment buildings with their high ceilings and elegant moldings, hardwood and marble floors…and wonderful art deco apartments along with the Italian influence in the cuisine and attitude. ‘Nissa La Bella’ deserves her name.”
Saturday morning I couldn’t wait to see the new Promenade de Paillon that recently opened after three years of reconstruction. Everyone has given it the ‘thumb’s up’ and deservedly so. The immediate affect and change this new park has given Nice is astounding. Once a real barrier between Vieux Nice and Nice proper, the new garden is a wonderland of activity and a delight to cross at any point.
At Place Masséna is the Holiday ferris wheel from which we had great views of the Promenade and the temporary Christmas market below on a Saturday midnight ride. The wheel is temporarily interrupting the flow of the park from the sea to Place Garabaldi. In spite of being ‘low season’ for tourism, the park was awash with visitors — it seems the town residents have really taken to its new and improved environment. Along the Promenade des Anglais, there is also construction — where they are removing traffic lanes in lieu of pedestrian space so as to reduce the noise and pollution while increasing the foot traffic. The train station is getting a face-lift, as well, and almost everywhere you look, Nice is ‘movin’ and shakin’.’
Saturday was a cold, wet, dreary day, but come Sunday morning the sky was bright blue and the sun was strong. The Cours Saleya was hoppin’ with both locals and visitors buying up flowers, produce and local products. The sun beamed on our faces to the point of acquiring a light tan while we sipped on café crème. We reflected on our two days of dining well with lots of Niçois friends — some long standing and others newly acquired.
Before taking the TGV back to Paris, we visited Vieux Nice, walked along the Promenade des Anglais and took in the Niçois Mediterranean air. As we boarded the tramway to the station, the sun was setting and the colors of the Côte d’Azur were warm and glowing.
Could I trade Paris for Nice?
No. But I don’t have to. I can have them both and fortunately, unlike Pamela Druckerman, not be ‘neurotic’ about it.
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(at the Ferris Wheel in Nice)
P.S. For our “Niceophile” friends — enjoy an evening of jazz! Lisa Chavous and the Philadelphia Blues Messengers are heating up the Nice night with their rhythm and blues revue, December 5 and 6 at B Spot, 24, avenue Maréchal Foch, Nice, France. Doors open at 7 p.m., show begins at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are 14 euros in advance, 18 euros at the door. To reserve your table, call 06.24.25.48.81. For more details visit bspot.fr/ .
P.P.S. Today we’re filming our 16th House Hunters International — in Paris! If any of you happened to record the episode that aired on November 27th (“Living a Teenage Dream in Paris, France” – Episode HHINT-6105H), I’d be most appreciative if you could find a way for me to view it — haven’t seen it yet myself! Thank you in advance! Email me directly at [email protected].