Toasting to Nice, Paris, France and 2014
SPECIAL NOTE: From time to time, instead of “Speak Paris” (Parler Paris), you will be receiving “Speak Nice” (Parler Nice). It only makes sense that when I’m on the Côte d’Azur, that instead of pretending to be in Paris talking about Nice and the Riviera, that we should just call ‘a spade a spade’ and talk about Nice instead.
For those of you who are only interested in the Riviera, and not Paris, you may opt in to just Parler Nice. And for those of you who have been reading Parler Paris for a long time, you may just have to put up with a Parler Nice on occasion. If you’re not interested in what goes on on the Mediterranean coast, then just delete the issue and forget you ever saw it.
We toasted to 2014 and we toasted to the city of Nice. Almost all of us were transplanted Niçois — Americans who had decided to either spend their lives here or a part, along with two native Niçois who had left once, only to return years later. They told us of their friends who had been born here, left for Paris or other parts and ended up returning…just like they had.
I am not surprised. It’s conceivable that the young might think Paris (or London or New York) offers more, then realizes after years of living elsewhere what they were really missing. We had three days of pure sunshine and while the temperatures were moderately cold, the sun baked happiness into our bones. There were times I purposely took a seat in a restaurant where the sun could beam so strongly on my face that I was blinded by the light. This was to absorb so much at one time that when returning to ‘Gray Paree,’ it wouldn’t matter — I’d be able to glow from within just remembering the feeling.
This trip to Nice I was able to get to know my neighbors a bit better — having been invited to their apartments for small New Year’s celebrations with champagne and “pissaladière” — a specialty of the region much like an onion tart layered with olives, anchovies, and herbs. The relationship with my Niçois neighbors has become friendlier than that with my Parisian neighbors next to whom I have been living for more than 16 years. They are open, inviting and very friendly indeed. In fact, at the last annual “copropriété” (homeowner’s association) meeting in the summer, one of them announced that they were quite proud to have Americans in the building. It surprised me! But, it must be true, as they have all been very welcoming.
At the party last night ‘chez moi’ and all during the last few days, we Americans in Nice agreed that the general atmosphere in the region is much more open and friendly than in serious, sophisticated Paris. One close friend who is purchasing an apartment here was surprised when the merchant of her new sofabed not only offered to greatly discount the purchase, but also offered to deliver a temporary bed for her to sleep on until her new one was ready for delivery — about a six-week wait. This was the kind of service one doesn’t experience in a place where one is more anonymous…like Paris.
You understand, these observations are not derogatory toward Paris. Paris is Paris and Paris will always be Paris and nothing can touch it. Nothing. But balancing life with casual elegance found on the Riviera is simply perfect. It’s got me hooked, as one can see.
Just a few blocks walk from “Le Matisse” at 65 rue de France is the Villa Massena, now a municipal museum installed in a recent prestigious villa of the 19th-century. My neighbor confessed he hadn’t been in it for too many years to count — typical of how we ignore what is closest to us — like Parisians who have never gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The villa is considered to be a “jewel of the Belle Époque” sold to the city of Nice in 1919 by Prince de Rivoli, André d’Essling, son of Victor Massena — for a price equal to an inheritance tax he had to pay — stating that the garden should be open to the public. The artifacts and art works in the museum today evoke the heyday of Nice, the arrival of the first winter of the late 18th-century to the first decades of the 20th-century. The posters from past epochs are particularly fun.
The villa is stunning and the lifestyle it evokes is of a decadence and elegance long gone. The photos, drawings and paintings, as well as the objects on display, tell us much about the evolution of the city and its people…from a time when the Paillon was a river, not a promenade and street cars rode up avenue Jean-Médicin long before the tramways were installed.
The city’s best “Salade Niçoise” can be found just across the street from the Villa Masséna at the Brasserie La Rotunde of the beautiful Negresco Hotel. The Negresco Hotel on the Promenade des Anglais received its five-star rating in 2009. It is one of the few survivors of the hotels of the early 20th-century and one of the last independent establishments in the industry.
It’s become a special treat to lunch there, either on the terrace overlooking the sea or inside at a table in the kitsch ‘faux’ carousel where the antique horses go up and down and a mannequin of a young girl plays a music box. While a little pricier than the average salad (at 21), the salad and the ambiance is well worth it. This was one of the spots where I found a strong ray of sunshine to melt away all the tensions of the past year.
Tonight we wing our way back to Paris to begin 2014 with a kind of seriousness, yet optimistic outlook. Another year gone by, but with a richer tapestry of experiences, friends and viewpoints.
Vive la France, Paris and Nice. Happy 2014!
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(in the Negresco Hotel powder room)
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