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Niçois Hidden Treasures, Dumb Mistakes and Ganesh Gaiety in Paris

I had a really good excuse to go to Nice last week — the signing of the deed of an apartment by one of our clients making an investment purchase. The apartment just happens to be steps away from my own apartment in Nice (Le Matisse) in a building that houses one of my favorite restaurants, Il Vicoletto…by sheer coincidence and good fortune.

The three short days in Nice, designed for business, turned into absolute pleasure. Nice is brimming with tourists, but less so than usual, it seemed. Upon arrival, old friend, Anne Morton, who now lives part-time in Nice, whisked me off to the Musée Matisse to see an exhibition, “Henri Matisse: Nice, Dreaming of Odalisques” (on until September 29th). A poster reproduction of one of his Odalisque paintings (Odalisque in red trousers, 1921) hangs in Le Matisse, so considering my emotional connection with Matisse and “Henri, le Cactus” (which has grown another several inches in just three weeks), she knew the exhibition would be of interest.

Several buses take you straight up to the museum and the other sights in this area of Nice called “Cimiez” (Bus numbers 15, 17, 20, 22, 25; 1.50€, stop “Les Arènes/Musée Matisse”) — the Musée Matisse, Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, L’Eglise and Le Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez and Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez. The museum entry is free.

It was exciting to learn that Matisse had painted and drawn so many “Odaliques.” An “Odalisque” was a female slave or concubine in a Turkish harem, particularly the concubines in the household of the Ottoman sultan. (One of them was stolen from a museum in Caracas more than a decade ago.) In 1921, when Matisse moved to Nice at 1 Place Charles Felix on the Cours Saleya (the tall yellow building at the eastern end), “the painter developed his interpretation of the theme of the odalisque from a surprising series of lithographs.” The exhibition of works is accompanied by personal items, furniture and fabrics he used to create the scenery that surrounded the models. One is more beautiful than the next and the ‘props’ make you feel like you were there with him in Nice in his studio as he painted.

After the visit, Anne showed me another hidden treasure of Nice — Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez with its beautiful and serene garden from where the view of the city is expansive. This is a lovely place to meditate, read or just hide away for a while.

Friday we spent the whole day on the beach under blue skies and warm, breezy air…pure heaven. Starting out early we carried our beach chairs out onto the ‘pebbles’ (more like river rocks that I wish were sand) at “Blue Beach” near the Hôtel Negresco and set them up for the ‘long haul’ — at least till 5 p.m. On the beach, a group of Russian tourists continually sang together, accompanied by a trumpet, barreling out a list of songs you might hear sung by Métro performers — even singing in a group while standing in the water up to their waists. The water was calm and not too cool inviting waders, swimmers and rafters. The blue water sparkled in the sunlight and it seemed like a perfect way to say goodbye to the summer season.

Every evening in Nice was spent visiting with Niçois friends — mostly Americans living both part-time and full-time in Nice, dining in restaurants we hadn’t tried before. One meal was better than the next, but one stood out in particular because the atmosphere compared to the reasonable price (29€ for three courses) was surprising. The “Wi Lounge Wi Jungle” at the Hotel Windsor is a ‘must try’ you will be thanking me for just as I am thanking my Niçois friends. Alone, with friends, or with a lover, the jungle-like garden is a romantic oasis just a few blocks from the sea, but in a world of its own — one to be treasured.

Saturday before heading out to the airport, I decided to lunch at Il Vicoletto as I often do because their “plat du jour” is always delicious and a big bargain at 15€ for two courses. In keeping with my “M.O.,” I opened up the laptop and logged on to email. Air France sent a notice warning about a possible strike and delayed or canceled flights. It was then I realized my folly — the ticket I purchased to leave at 6 p.m. that evening was actually 6 A.M. and clearly missed the flight. The shock created a panic in my gut, knowing it was the last weekend of the summer season and it wouldn’t be easy to get another flight back to Paris.

The only other time I made this mistake was in 1995 when I was a “newbie” on the military/maritime 24-hour system of telling time and booked a flight to Tel Aviv for 7 p.m., when in fact it left at 7 a.m. In that case, I didn’t discover it until I was at the airport and the check-in clerk said, “Mais Madame, your flight was this morning!” At the time, I taxied home crying like a child the whole way then revisited the travel agency the next morning (this was before Internet and booking online) who didn’t want to do anything for me…until I cried again…and that worked! They shared the expense with me, at least, and I vowed never to do it again…but here I go, doing it again.

This time sitting at the table eating lunch while wrestling with a bad Internet connection and the battery getting low on the laptop, I had Air France on hold waiting for an agent at some silly cost per minute (another example of typical French-style customer service) while I searched for other flights on other airlines and possible train tickets. There was only one Air France flight left all evening (Air France has flights virtually every 30 minutes between Paris and Nice)– to land at Charles de Gaulle airport instead of Orly (55€ or more to taxi home) at the highest price — 250€ (The original round trip had only cost 168€). Ugh.

While the agent was taking the credit card information by phone, a first-class train ticket popped up on iDTGV at 174€ leaving in just two hours. ( iDTGV is a wholly owned subsidiary of the French state-owned train company SNCF, operating high-speed TGV services on multiple LGV lines throughout France. All trains run either to or from Paris, serving 25 French stations. Tickets can only be purchased online 3 to 6 months in advance.)

Perfect — I grabbed it…except that the Internet connection kept breaking down while I was breaking into a sweat. When the ticket finally confirmed after watching the ‘pinwheel of death’ go round and round, it struck me that I had no way to print the ticket on time — a requirement by the iDTGV. Fortunately, technology won out: I downloaded the pdf file of the ticket, emailed it to myself and thanks to ‘ye ol” iPhone, could pull up the code for scanning and went right on the train without a hitch. Whew! May this dumb mistake never happen again.

Paris was much cooler than Nice, but not rainy and Sunday morning was glorious for the annual Fête de Ganesh that takes place in the 10th arrondissement in an area known as “Little India” (also “Little Jaffna”) where there is a large community of Indians, Pakistanis and Sri-Lankans. Here is where you will find a cornucopia of restaurants and shops devoted to these communities’ needs — everything from barbers, cash-and-carries, Bollywood film DVD’s, saris, silk fabrics, jewelry, food products and imports, etc.

Ganesh (or “Ganesha,” “Ganapati” and “Vinayaka”) is a highly worshipped Hindu god known as the ‘remover of obstacles,’ the patron of arts and sciences and the diva of intellect and wisdom. Every year, American in Paris Nancy Szczepanski, who lives on the ‘parade route,’ invites her friends to share in her good cooking (she caters parties in her spare time!) and see the parade from her 5th floor apartment balcony. We have this ‘bird’s eye view’ of the festivities below — including the breaking of coconuts which is believed you will be freed of all sins.

I dressed in a Punjabi Salwar Suit from Delhi, carried a large scarf from Rajasthan and celebrated the start of “La Rentrée” in Hindu style.

Happy Labor Day and La Rentrée!

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds, The Adrian Leeds Group Inc - by Michael HoneggerAdrian Leeds

The Adrian Leeds Group

(Photo by Michael Honegger)

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