Observations of Carnaval in Nice
Nice was as nice as Nice gets with the sun blasting down and the air a bit cool all day yesterday. The rest of the week is predicted to be grayer, cooler and wetter, unfortunately, but “c’est la vie…à Nice.”
We’re here for the last week of “Carnaval” — this 132nd edition is under the theme of “The King of the Media Parade” — the right to freedom of expression that stimulates the imagination. The king and the queen sit at Place Masséna awaiting each parade of which they lead along with their son, the Carnival Kid, the 16 floats that are each 12 meters long, 3 meters wide and 8 to 17 meters high.
Since my friend, Kathy, had never been to Nice, we took the first day to just take a walking tour of the main parts of the city. We circled from Le Matisse through Place Masséna into Vieux Nice and down Cours Saleya, where for 2€ I bought a baby Henri-le-Cactus to add to the family of cacti at the apartment (Henri has grown yet again several inches!). Then, up we went through the narrow winding streets of Old Town to arrive at Place Garabaldi where we dined on seafood at Café de Turin.
She and I have a long history of eating seafood together in New Orleans, so it was only fitting that we should dig into fresh boiled seafood — although a seafood platter in France doesn’t really resemble one that might be presented to you in Louisiana. The typical cooked seafood platter at Café Turin consists of “bulots,” “bigorneaux,” “crevettes grises,” “crevettes moyennes” and a “tourteau.” None of these delicacies are found in the Gulf of Mexico or swamps of Louisiana, except for the shrimp. Either way, I will eat anything that comes out of the sea.
With the sun pounding on our faces, we headed down rue Bonaparte and visited a long-time high school friend of my daughter’s who has opened a new sushi bar and Asian restaurant called “Asian Factory” at Place du Pin, 19 rue Bonaparte, in the heart of “Le Petit Marais” just north of the Old Port, steps from Place Garabaldi. The area has become the center of Nice’s gay community and is they city’s new hip corner. (This is also one of the best places to invest in Nice as the new Tramway is being built to service the Port from the airport and that means it’s becoming even more desirable as a place to live and vacation.)
Last night at 9 p.m. the bleachers set up at Place Masséna and along the Promenade Anglais filled with spectators to see the “Corso Parade” on which 20 tons of confetti rained down over the floats. Barricades had been installed around the Place to allow for only a few specific entrances into the area, with security personnel checking bags and patting down each person, as well as taking tickets.
Some areas of the route are free, but if you want a seat, buying tickets is required. Thanks to the Office de Tourisme de Nice and an international press pass, we had free passes. Tickets are 35€ for reserved seating for two parades, 10€ for kids 6 to 12 and kids under 6 years old are free as long as they sit on their parents’ laps. For the “promenoir” (standing areas), you save about 10€ per ticket. Anyone who dresses up for the occasion gets in free. And no matter what, the price of admission is well worth it.
We were happy to stand in front of the bleachers on the parade level in the center of Place Masséna to be a part of it and really take it in. For two New Orleanians with many years of Mardi Gras experience, we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way…but Carnaval in Nice only barely resembles the festival that takes place in our home town. Let’s face it, the French do things their own way!
The Carnaval is much like a public circus, made up of a two-hour long parade of massively high and colorful floats and balloons, acrobatics, musicians and entertainers accompanied by music, confetti and whole lot of ‘silly crazy party string!’ It all makes a seriously big impression, but…
Here are some observations from a seasoned Mardi-Gras-going New Orleanian:
The floats, costumes and masks are beautifully made, wildly colorful, but scary as hell! These faces are not overly friendly and could turn into the kinds of nightmares you would gladly lose sleep over. And we wondered…why?
The floats are designed with such an intellectual theme that if you don’t read the brochure, you may never understand them. One was called “Le Piège” (The Trap) and described as: “Armed with the power to make or break a career, the brutal spotlight of the media…” On it is a man with two heads, two bodies — one resembling DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn) and the other Berlusconi, turning on the float, each being seduced by a beautiful woman scantily dressed! Another is called “Big Brother” — “Who’s watching us?” It’s a serious monster-of-a-float with massive eyes reflecting the crowd below. If that hasn’t gotten your attention, there are lots of bare breasts on the floats to get the crowd livened up.
The crowd needs livening up, too! I observed the observers, sitting in their bleacher seats, unmoving to the music and only mildly smiling or amused. We couldn’t understand how it was possible not to post a perpetually smiling face on oneself or dance to the music while the revelry passed by. Perhaps that was the problem — they weren’t IN the revelry — only observing. There were three young boys on the ground near us, each dressed in a black costume (like Batman for instance) and therefore might have gotten in free. Now THEY were having a blast!! They toyed and played with every single person and thing that crossed their paths and it was one big amazing party for them! They will go home with fond memories the rest of their lives.
All this may sound critical of what the locals and tourists look forward to annually, but really, it’s all amazingly fun and as I said, well worth the price of admission…even if I think it’s ridiculous that there is a charge for something so public. The reason for charging for admission is not about maintaining security…but because they haven’t figured out how to use private enterprise to pay for/sponsor public events like America has. If it were free, rest assured there would be more observers and more money to be had from the proceeds of the additional tourists and parade-goers…but then again, I’m thinking like a capitalistic American. These are just the kind of things that make the French culture so enigmatic.
This afternoon is the “Bataille de Fleurs” (Flower Parade) along the Promenade des Anglais that we will not miss of course, after a leisurely lunch at La Rotonde, the 18th-century carousel-turned-restaurant in the Hotel Negresco, just a few blocks away from the parade route. The skies are predicted to be gray — a shame, when the colors of the flowers deserve the usual blue skies.
Can’t wait! (And you can bet we won’t be in the bleachers, but on the ground among the petals.)
A la prochaine,
Editor of Parler Nice
The Adrian Leeds Group
(seafood platter at Café Turin)
P.S. Don’t miss Parle Paris Après Midi March 8, 2016 when I will be the guest speaker! “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!” I have never spoken at her own event in all the years of its existence! This is your chance to learn how she got here, how she survived and prospered and how what she learned can benefit you!