Our Nice “Assover” Service and It Looks Like Greek to Me
ASSOVER IN NICE
We couldn’t stop giggling. The old, worn-out “haggadahs” (a text/booklet that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder) that were once distributed at an American Cathedral Seder held in Paris eons ago, weren’t printed very well, so the beginning letters of some of the words were missing, such as the “P” of “Passover.” We read it as “Assover,” hence the natural hilarity of our service. These were the copies I had taken down off the bookself, dusted off to bring to Nice for the occasion, also packing the Seder plate my daughter had made in nursery school at the age of four.
I don’t do a Seder often, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity, to celebrate in Nice with close friends. It was a challenge, however, barely fitting four at my tiny table, set with the king-size blue ceramic plates that were the best Ikea had to offer when I outfitted the apartment seven years ago. For Passover, I was willing to go off diet to eat matzot (the traditional unleavened bread) and especially “charoset,” my favorite part of the traditional meal.
Charoset is a mixture of chopped apples (I chose the “Pink Lady” kind), nuts (I like walnuts best), red wine (cheap, but hearty will do) and honey with added cinnamon…and in this case, a dash of fresh orange juice (by the suggestion of an Israeli friend). It represents the mortar that the Israelites used to make bricks while they were slaves in Egypt, but fortunately it tastes a whole lot better than mortar! Marry it with a bit of horse radish (“raifort” in French) to make a matzo sandwich and it’s downright divine, clearing out your sinuses in the process.
I prepared the Seder plate with loving care, placing each item on the appropriate section on the plate, all the while remembering throughout the process how Erica had made it at nursery school in Los Angeles. I’ve cherished it all these years — much more than the fancy-schmancy hand crafted Jerusalem pottery version that we had paid more than a pittance for and carefully carried back in our luggage from the holy city.
Earlier in the week I had been down with some sort of bug and nursed back to health by my daughter’s home-made chicken soup and herbal “voodoo” recipes. She made so much soup in a huge caldron, that even after eating it for two days, there was enough left over to fill three big bottles and a pitcher of the savory liquid. With so much filling my tiny Paris fridge, I was relegated to giving some of it away, then freezing the rest to take to Nice to serve as a first course.
Without the traditional matzo balls (that I didn’t want to try to make), instead I dished out hard boiled eggs (usually signifying springtime and renewal) to add to the broth. One clever Seder participant broke up a matzo and added the bits to the broth, which didn’t look all that appealing, but tasted just as good and gave us all another giggle.
Since we were pigging out on a copious meal, drinking a fair amount of wine, and having a jolly good time, we reflected on the small pang of guilt we were having about our less-than-sober Seder service, which many take very, very seriously. In fact, I could remember a time when I dreaded Passover for that very reason — that some older matriarch would take all the fun out of it by insisting on some serious decorum to which we “young’uns” had a hard time adhering. The guilt was assuaged when we patted ourselves on the back for doing it all and besides, we were telling the story, reflecting on what our forefathers went through to be freed and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
The next day, over lunch dining on the “galets” (Nice beach pebbles) in a local restaurant backdropped by the aqua Mediterranean Sea, while recounting our hilarious Seder tale, one of our Paris friends visiting Nice for the holiday weekend blurted out, “I hate Seder!” She’s not even Jewish, but it sounded as if she had experienced one of those serious Seder services, very different from the one we had.
“Good,” I replied. “I’m glad I didn’t invite you. We had a blast!”
So, I ask you: What could be so bad about great food, great friends, a great story and an “Assover” we’ll never forget?
IT LOOKS LIKE GREEK TO ME
Nice has been the windiest I’ve ever seen it with such gusts that it was near to impossible to be on the Promenade des Anglais without losing your hat. We took the opportunity with the gray skies and strong winds after a leisurely Sunday lunch on the Cour Saleya at “Le Safari” to hop on the 100 bus from the Old Port in the direction of Menton, getting off just about 20 minutes later at “Kérylos” in Beaulieu sur Mer to visit the Villa Kérylos, “A dream of Greece.”
Villa Kérylos is a house built in the early 1900s in an ancient Greek style on a rocky tip of the Baie des Fourmis by French archaeologist, Theodore Reinach and his wife Fanny Kann, a member of the Ephrussi family. (You might also be familiar with the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild not far away on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat?) Reinach was a French statesman, fascinated by the Greek civilization and with the help of architect Emmanuel Pontremoli, he realized his dream, recreating a model of the noble houses of the island of Delos from the 2nd century BC. In 1928 when he died, he bequeathed the villa to the Institut de France, although his children continued to live there until 1966, when the home was listed as a “monument historique” by the French Ministry of Culture.
As an aficionado of mosaic tile, I was overwhelmed by the design and execution of the tile-work throughout the house. I was enamored by the his-and-hers bathrooms, each with its own marble bathtub — that is my own idea of heaven! Put this excursion on your “must to-do” list next time you’re on the Riviera, as it doesn’t take much time for the “aller-retour” (round-trip) from Nice with about an hour visiting the magnificent home.
We arrived back in Nice just in time for Easter dinner, chez American friends, who adorned their table with wind-up chickadees, making for even more giggling.
Nice is home all this week, with next weekend headed to the Luberon for more Provençal adventures.
A la prochaine…
P.S. As you may know, John G. Jones and I taped a House Hunters International together in Nice that aired recently on HGTV. We invite everyone in the Nice vicinity to join us for a viewing of the show tomorrow, Tuesday, April 23rd at 7 p.m. at the Snug and Cellar, 22 rue Droite, 06300 Nice (Old Town)!
After having a rough year, a Texas man is taking a daring leap by selling his landlocked house and pursuing a singing career in Nice, France. His good friend and property expert has pulled off many French miracles in the past but getting her buddy to downsize into a fabulous-yet-affordable home could be her greatest challenge yet.
Hope to see you there!
P.P.S. Every Thursday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., musician and vocalist Larry King plays piano and sings his heart out (from Cole Porter to Michel Legrand) at the SET, a piano bar in Le Vieux Cannet on the Côte d’Azur (163 rue Saint-Sauveur, Le Vieux Cannet, 06110). This coming Thursday, April 25th, Lisa Anselmo (AKA, Queen of Many Talents), will be joining him in song. Lisa, a woman who has worn many hats, most recently as creative director, author, blogger, coach, etc., had a singing career before moving to Paris part-time. Larry invited her to sing at this one special occasion, so we’re coming along for the very enjoyable ride to hear them both.
To all of you in the vicinity of the Côte d’Azur, mark your calendars now and be there! I’ll be there, too, with our Niçois gang in full force! Entry is 5€ plus 10€ for elaborate hors d’oeuvres/tapas. Wine and beer, etc., are available at the bar at the usual prices.
Pass this on to all your friends and hope to see you there!