Friday, June 21, 2013

The Last Day

Today is my last day in Nice. The week has been filled by Mariette’s guidance. The weather has turned quite warm, but I continued to take long walks.
Tuesday afternoon, Vesna was not home, I had forgotten that she was having surgery for carpal tunnel that day. So I went to the Music of Contemporary Art. There were plenty of new things to see and the rooms were air-conditioned.
Wednesday, I was able to meet with Xu Fang in the afternoon. She has a car, so we drove to the galeria (the mall) Cap 3000, just past the airport. She likes Starbucks, and they have a small store there. Xu speaks French quite well, and rapidly, her English is as strong; I am the opposite. Between us we were able to communicate what has been happening for the last two years. She wants to teach singing in a Chinese university some day. She has at least one more year, probably two to complete her diploma in France with a Master’s degree.
On Thursday, I met with Vesna. We had hoped to meet at 2:00, but she was not yet home. I did not know this, but thought perhaps she was needing to sleep after her surgery. So I decided to go to Nuit d’Etoiles (the mall of Nice Centre) to cool off and “shop.” There are so many pretty things here, but very little that is attractive to me because of the prices. The dollar is not doing well against the euro. Each time I withdrew money, it lost ground. (However, TODAY, it is doing a little better.) After an hour of looking around, I returned to Vesna’s house. She was home and a little worried about me, I suppose. I listened to her story about how the she had to pay in advance for the surgery, but it will be repaid, but not for three weeks. Not easy for someone on a set income. I hope it all works out. We went for a walk – more window shopping for me – until after 6:00. I headed back to Chez Mariette about 6:35. We were going to Murielle’s house for an apertif typical of the southern region of France. We took the bus there.
Murielle lives near the airport in a little villa. Her garden is her pride with lots of flowers and fruit trees. The house belonged to her grandparents, since the 1940’s. The furniture inside is theirs also. She has a fat cat named “Squat” who is quite calm. There was a little salamander on the ceiling who was eating insects, but was calmly resting while we were eating below.
Murielle served us a least 4 different kinds of wine or homemade liqueurs. I always forget that an apertif includes multiple stages of food. We had dried ham with cantaloupe, then stuffed courgette (zuchinni special to the region), then both goat and sheep cheese (I prefer the chevre-goat cheese), we passed on the salad (lettuce), then finished with strawberries and a choice of Häagen-Daas ice cream. It was a lot of food! A lovely evening. Afterwards, Murielle drove us home in her little car, so we arrived back about 11:00 PM.
Gratefully, this morning, I did not have to get up too early. Mariette and I took the train to Antibes. What a beautiful little town. We walked all over. Mariette is arranging activities for the students that she will have the next three weeks there. They will have a good time. We even stopped at the school site – it was formerly a Catholic school that is now being used only for special events, like the International School for Language for which Mariette will be teaching.
After walking along the beach and stopping to ask about a possible boating afternoon for the students-to-come, we walked up the rocky path – le chemin de calvier – the way of Calvary. It was quite warm, even walking in the shade as much as possible. There were outdoor stations erected regularly along the hill. Near the top, I needed to sit on a bench for a little while to cool off. Once at the top, the view was perfect. It had a very old church, first built by Constantine in the 4th century. It is dedicated to Helen of the Cross. It was closed when we arrived, but there was some activity on the grounds because on Sunday, the feast of St. Peter, the guardian of fishermen, would be celebrated with a procession and mass.
We ate a sandwich under the trees before descending along the same path – it felt much cooler now. We passed along the beach towards the old town. There we stopped at the school so Mariette could prepare the classrooms she would be using the next three weeks. Then we stopped for some ice cream – I had both fig and black cherry flavors of sorbet. It was very good. Next we walked around to another plaza where there was a café with a garden. Here we had something to drink. The theme of the garden was frogs. There was a sign in English (because it would only work in English): Parking for Frogs only, all others will be Toad. It took a little explaining for this to make sense to Mariette; she did appreciate it. They had a fish tank with an albino frog in it – a little surprising.
Just after ordering our drinks, Mariette remembered to check for her school keys, but they weren’t in her purse, so she ran back to try to find them, which she did. She returned just after our drinks arrived. After this, we made our way back to the train station. It was a lovely day.
Tonight a few friends are gathering for an apertif at Chez Mariette. Then we will attend the first evening of the Festival of Musicians. If I understand correctly, there will be multiple stages around town with music of every kind from around the world. It will be fun to be in the crowd for this.
After a short night of sleep, I will take a taxi at 4:30 AM to the airport and be on my way again, back to home. The time has passed quickly, for sure. We have shared much about our two countries and our lives, Mariette and I. It was a very different experience from my first time here. I feel that I’ve gained much being encouraged to speak about so many things via French.
Where to next, dear Readers?
Au revoir, la France!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Le lundi 17 juin 2013

The days are passing so quickly, it’s a challenge to stay current, dear Readers.
Here is a brief review of the last five days:
The weather remains perfect though it is heating up a little.
Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Weiwei, a Chinese friend from my previous time in Nice. She has stayed here the last two years and in one year will complete her degree in Statistics. Next she wants to do a business degree, either here or in China. For a young woman of 22 years, she has had many experiences of life. We walked a bit and enjoyed Italian ice cream, walked some more, and then had coffee at the Café Lyonnaise near the train station.
I got home just before 6 PM. Mariette was not home. I doubted that I had remembered correctly the times for the evening schedule. I was sure that I had missed her because I saw that the aluminum foil for the quiche she had made earlier was on the counter. So I decided to warm-up my voice. Things went better this time around than they had a few days ago.
About 6:35 Mariette arrived home and we prepared to walk to Valeria’s new house. She has a garden. We would have an apertif with her there and then go to a free dramatic performance at the old Roman arena. Mariette’s quiche went along.
We enjoyed a lovely evening in the Valeria’s garden even though the mosquitoes were biting – I only count 6, so that’s not too bad. The supper under the lemon tree was lovely. The theater piece was interesting. It was created in the style of a Greek tragedy and progressed through time with songs of love – I guess ultimately saying that we still strive to find love despite the challenges. The setting of the old Roman arena was charming as was the bat that swooped low over the heads of the crowd. The theatre troupe did a fine job overall.
On Sunday, I went to church at my usual time and did a little shopping for Thea’s birthday. Later in the afternoon, I went to see a French movie called Demi-Soeur. This was a wonderful film about an older woman who was specially-abled and taken care of by her mother all her life. When her mother dies, she is taken to a retirement home, but the home as a rule that there can be no pets, not even her pet turtle. Ultimately she finds her half-brother that she didn’t know she had. They have an adventuresome few days together. It was a darling film and relatively simple to understand the action even though I could not catch all of the words.
Monday was much warmer. I tried calling Vesna to see if she was home, and could only leave a message. So after doing a load of laundry, I decided to take a walk to Florian Confisserie at the port. This is a good long walk, but adding the very warm day, it was tiring. On the way back I stopped for a latte. Lattes here are quite a bit smaller than Starbucks. Though I understand that Starbucks is in the vicinity and is all the rage with the young folks.
In a short turn, that brings us to the present. With another warm day ahead, and lots of wind, it will be a good day to get outside again.

14 juin 2013  Good Food and Some Bargain Shopping in Nice

Today, I think we were out and about more for the experience of being in Nice rather than really focusing on a particular thing. Mariette and I left the house about 10 AM. We made our way to the bank. The experience is similar to ours except that all the banks are small outlets of a larger bank. Large banks are intimidating to the people here. They are using a new system of depositing checks via a machine that stamps each check with a number. I can’t say that I understand how it works. Mariette was leery of the system because the man was in a hurry and did not separate the two accounts that she was depositing to, so she did not deposit her cash at that bank outlet, but at another later on in the day where the people knew her better.
Then we did a little second-hand clothes shopping. Since I’m really not in need of more clothes, as much as I think the French styles are quite cute, I did not purchase anything even though I tried on a few things. In the European system I wear a 40-42. One was a stylish maroon top for performances – that could be worn with a fitted skirt for example. But it was a little too large. And I don’t need to bring more things home than I came with, really.
We also stopped at a little Russian grocery. I picked up some zefirs – marshmallow cookies. These were a little disappointing because they did not have the citrus flavor of those that Anna brought to us last week. Oh well, they may become a snack for me this week – it was warm enough that they melted together on my walk around town.
At 12:30, we arrived at a special Nicoise restaurant that featured home cooking. Tomomi and Pastell were meeting us there. It seems that Pastell and Tomomi had a little breakdown of communication, because Tomomi arrived first. Eventually Pastell caught up with us and the meal began. We ordered a flask (75 cl) of chardonnay. There were three items to choose for each course. I had an “omelette” that was egg and flour that was baked, topped with a fresh tomato salsa with a side of vinegar/oil greens. For the main course I chose the duck because I don’t remember having duck except at home on the farm when I was quite young. The duck was served sliced over cooked potatoes, celery, carrot and zucchini, and under that were puréed potatoes. There was a chutney-like sauce over the top of all. And for dessert I had the peach marscapone. This was delicious even though I was too full and had little room for anything more. (Note to self: learn to make marscapone.) It tasted very fresh and was served in a half pint, rather flat jar (somewhat like a Mason jar) with the lid off to the side. Each course was beautifully displayed and so tasty.
After lunch, Mariette went on to meet Jean for coffee. I headed home with a short stop at a store called Mim – they were having a 2-for-1 sale on everything. I didn’t get anything yet, but I may stop back this weekend.
Once at the apartment, I needed to put my feet up – the sandals were feeling quite tight – so that led to a short nap. Then I made an attempt to practice. It has been a full week since the cold was so bad. Warm-ups were a challenge – the muscles did not respond well at first – I was quite full yet, and I coughed a lot, but if I can do this several more times this week in preparation for all the upcoming performance events, I will feel better about being ready when I arrive home.
This evening Mariette had invited Valeria and Pastell for an apertif. She is so good at creating little plates of tasty morsels – crackers with hummus or tapas, pissaladière, and baked broccoli, and a compote of fresh fruits – lychees, bananas, golden raisins – and lastly a plate cookies – Russian and Niçoise. We had a lovely evening.
The sun is setting after 9:00 so the days seem long. It cooled down considerably this evening, so we did not go out to the park for a theatrical event. We may try to do that tomorrow.
For now it is bedtime in Nice. Bonne nuit!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

With my walking shoes

13 juin 2013
Bon anniversaire à mon père. Il a soixante dixneuf ans!            (Happy birthday, Dad!)
Normally, we begin class at 9 AM. This morning Mariette had many errands to run, I think. She came back to the apartment about 9:30 AM.  Then she prepared something to eat later and also made a phone call. It was about 10:15 when we stepped out for the day. We walked many streets up to the Cimiez quartier (neighborhood). We walked and talked. She asks me a question; I attempt to answer. I know too many big words in English so I forget there is a simple way to say things with the French words that I know. The prepositions are a challenge!
We walked up to what was once a Russian chateau, now it is a University of Nice for the Sciences. What a beautiful setting walking through what was the “backyard” of the old home. During the school year, the grounds are off-limits to all but the students, but now anyone is welcome. There were ponds with fountains and scuptures and stairs that climbed up, up, up to the neighborhood above. C’était très jolie. We passed the Chagall house/museum and the music Conservatoire. I remember riding up this way on the bus the last time – it seemed like a l-o-n-g way then -  today it did not seem that far away. As we made our way back down the hill, Mariette is giving me sentences to translate from French to English. (I don’t think I’m getting much better – I really want this to become easier.) We stopped at a café for a (you guessed it) café! This is an espresso in a little demitasse (cup). I always need to add the packet of sugar, then it is very good. The young woman who served us expressed that this was her first day on the job. She was willing to remake the cup if it was not good, but it was just fine!
After a salad lunch, Mariette started my laundry. She was going off with her daughter Roxane for a job interview, which went well – I found out later. I went off to see “The Quartet” at the Mercury Theater. I got in at the senior discount price – OK, in a year and a half I will legitimately be a “senior” anyway. (Crazy thought!) The movie had French subtitles, but it’s a British movie so I had no trouble understanding it. I did attempt to read the subtitles, but they all seemed too formal for what was actually being said. The message was “live life – don’t let it pass by at any age.” It was cute and funny and touching. I recommend it.
After the movie I did a little shopping – I was looking for the new Fragonard shop along the Cours Saleya. Eventually I found it and made a little purchase, then headed home. My feet were tired and I was hot. The day had turned quite steamy. I stopped at a bank on the way home to get the rest of the cash I would need to pay Mariette for the week. After counting it out for her, I ended up with just  20.  The dollar is not doing too well against the Euro. Today it is $1.33 against one Euro. This is actually about what it was two years ago when I was here. But a Euro is not considered that much, as we say a dollar is not worth much. However, being aware of the exchange, I am cautious about throwing too much away on little things that I don’t really need.
Mariette and I arrived home about the same time. She made a lovely supper of mashed potatoes/broccoli, a slice of ham, and bread with Camembert cheese. One small square of dark chocolate finished it off just right.
The evening is mine, and I hope the rest of the day belongs to you, as well. Have a great one.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

12 juin 2013 

It has been a busy week since last I made an entry. I will try to do this more frequently because I know that I will forget all the things I've done. Mariette is very good about planning outings for me with her student-friends.

Last Saturday, the weather was lovely, so along with Pastelle and Tonomi, we took the train to Monaco. We climbed and climbed the hill to the palace in the old town. (Huff-puff-puff) After watching the changing of the guard, we circled through the old town until we got to the Oceanic Museum. They had a new exhibition on sharks, so there was much to see. The exhibit was presented in a modern way, very interactively. Afterwards we ate in the old town at a little cafe that made pizza on a large slice of bread. I had a Coca-cola here - my first one. They taste better here than in the US. I think they are a little less sweet - more like the Coke I remember in days past. Of course, we had to see the Monte Carlo Casino, too, so we took the bus up the other hill. I feel like a tramp whenever I am here because I dress practically rather than chic-ly. Wearing my purple hat with the bow on back does NOT help at all amid the Prada, and Rolls Royce. Oh well, I'm certainly not looking to attract any super-stars. I wouldn't know one if I was introduced to someone since I see so few movies and television shows.

Next we took the train to Ventemiglia, a little Italian town the next port over. The merchandise here is generally less expensive than Nice, and certainly than Monaco. There was an antique flea market in the street near the park - looking for an Elvis album? We crossed the bridge to the old town. The river was not very deep, but the water was so clear. There were hundreds of fish feeding on the plants. They were slowly being pulled toward the mouth of the river into the sea. Goodbye, little fish.
The old town was not well kept here, but there was some renovation going on. I guess few tourists make their way over to the big hill, but perhaps after things look better, more will come.

Before returning to the train, we stopped for an aperitif. I had an Aperol Spritz - it's a very Italian drink. I don't know that I will find it in Dubuque, but it was good - an orange-background to it but not sweet.

The train home took about an hour. I was ready for bed after all the miles we made.

On Sunday, June 9, the day was warm and sunny to begin with. I went to Mass at the same basilica that I attended the last time I was in Nice. Things were much the same - the two priests, the cantor and the fantastic organist - wow. Afterwards I met Mariette in front of the Opera House in the old ville. We walked around a bit, then had a lunch of socca and wine. Then she went off to see a movie, and I to a concert. I had two hours before the concert, so I stopped for some gelato - two flavors - violet and hazelnut - a fantastic combination. I walked back to the appartment just to use the toilet. Then I was off to find the church of St. Paul on Pessicart Avenue. I studied the map and determined it was at the top of the hill out of Nice, so I hopped on the bus going up Gambetta Street. To pass the time, I decided to follow the map. I wasn't on the bus 5 minutes when I saw that we had just passed Pessicart, so I hopped off at the next stop and made my way back and up the little hill to the church.

I arrived about 45 minutes ahead of concert time. Quite a few people were waiting for the doors to open. It seems that this church regularly has organ concerts. Today, I would hear the Choeur Philarmonique de Nice under the direction of Giulio Magnanini, the opera chorus director. The group was accompanied by a woman organist who teaches at the Conservatoire de Nice. They performed Poulenc's Litanies à la Vierge Noir de Rocamadour, Duruflé's Requiem, and Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine. It was a demanding program. Besides, it was difficult to coordinate the choir with the organ which was in the back balcony. The thunderstorm began just as the concert was starting. Those who came in after it began were soaked to the skin. I was lucky to get there when I did. After the concert, I walked home in a very cool evening - I was happy to have my windbreaker, and could have used another layer under that. But it only took about 20 minutes to walk back home where it was warm enough.

Monday, June 10, I re-connected with Vesna. She invited me to her house at 3:30, and we went to Mass at a little church in the old town. There is an altar to St. Rita there. At the little shop, she bought me a magnet of St. Rita for my refrigerator. Then we walked up the main street of shops, Jean Medecin, just to window shop. She did buy a little hat to wear on the beach. She looks good and seems happy - she has a new friend who she met on the Internet. She is being cautious, but he is good company for her.

Tuesday, June 11, I took a long walk to the Museum of Fine Arts. This was a good walk up a hill, many stairs, to an old mansion. The art work in it was not fantastic, but I think it represented some of the lesser artists who passed some years in Nice during the 19th century. Then I walked along the beach because the day was so beautiful. Little be little, I'm gaining some color. When I got back to the house, I had determined that I would like to take in a movie - there are several cinemas in the area. As I was searching the Internet for times and places, Mom called. After that, I decided it was best to spend the rest of the afternoon studying - the futur simple tense needed to be reviewed. So that's what I did.

Today, June 12, Wednesday, Mariette and I took the train to Cannes. We walked along the beach, pass the Congress and Casino towards the old town, which is very clean and neat. I took in the Museum of Ancient Arts - a lovely collection of items from Greek, Roman, Inuit, etc. There were some nice paintings there, too. We returned to the beach, picked up a sandwich and sat beside the carousel to eat. After that, we walked back to the Casino to meet Anna who was meeting us there with her car. With her we drove to Mougins, another little villa up the hill a little ways. The old town here features painters and artisans in every shop. There was a museum of photos of famous painters, but mostly Picasso. With it was a display of contemporary art - the theme: Se derobe. It was interesting to see how the artists interpreted that theme. No pictures were taken - I forgot to pack my camera.

After that, it was a short ride to the place where Anna was staying. She is renovating the inside of this little villa for a Russian family - this is their summer home. We had a lovely visit for the rest of the day. She brought us back by car to Nice. Everything looks very different - a new perspective from the train and the bus.
So it was a lovely day, and it's time for bed.
Wishing you a lovely day, too!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Back in Nice

Return to Nice

Samedi 1 juin, 2013
Well, I’m heading back to Nice, France. Eileen dropped me off at O’Hare about 2:00 PM. The traffic heading in to Chicago was busy – the 35 miles through the construction zone was heavily traveled.
At the airport, I was reminded that no bag could be over 12 kilos, about 25 pounds. In order to manage that, I am carrying my computer separately. It was a little juggling act on the floor for about 5 minutes. But that worked and I got in line for security. They were very busy today, too. I reached the gate in plenty of time, so I’ve readjusted a bit more. The plane will be boarding about 4:30 – later than hoped, but at least there is no rushing.
Jeudi 6 juin 2013
Since I have been in Nice for five days already, it is a good time to review all that has happened.
The flight from Chicago to Amsterdam went well, but I could tell that my ears were filling up. Then on the shorter flight from there to Nice, I found that I couldn’t hear much at all. However it would only take two or three days for them to clear. That Sunday morning, Mariette met me at the airport. She has no car, so we got on the bus towards the train station that is very near her home. Soon I was settled into my room that is somewhat dimly lit. The window is a little difficult to open, and it opens to the next building anyway, so it is not very bright. However the front room, where we meet for lessons is sunny. The first evening I did my best to stay awake for several hours until dinnertime. 
Mariette is a wonderful cook and she prepares tasty and healthy meals for both dinner and lunches.  Breakfast is somewhat more casual, i.e. less structured and I am usually at the table by myself. I’m quite happy for this, because speaking in French is a taxing way to start the day. However, each day it is getting easier to say simple things.
By the time the first evening came, I knew that I had a head cold. Mariette let me use her saline syringe to clear my sinuses. I’m not sure it worked because I couldn’t get much to move out of my nose. Nonetheless, the salt water couldn’t hurt. Now that it is Thursday, the cold hangs on, but during the day I am not really bothered by it. I will have to watch it for a few days to be sure it doesn’t turn into a sinus infection or bronchitis, but so far so good.
I slept a long time the first night, from 9h 30 PM until 9h 15 AM. Ouau! (Wow!) Gratefully, Mariette understood and so we began our first lesson around 11 AM.  Normally our class is held from 9 until noon each day. Yesterday and today, we went for a walk around town to practice vocabulary and asking/answering questions. This continues to be a slow process for me, but I think I’m getting it. As I write this, some small French words come to me before the English, which I think is interesting.
On Sunday, Mariette introduced me to Pastelle, a retired lawyer from Washington, D.C. who is studying French at Azurlingua. Yesterday, Wednesday, Mariette took us on a bus to Eze-sur-la-mer to see the old town at the top of the hill. Pastelle’s new language friend Tonomi came along, too. I took a few pictures and will post them for you. It is really for tourists; most of the citadel has been transformed into shops. At the very top, where the old chateau was located, now there is a desert garden with cacti from around the world. The bees were quite happy there. We walked a lot – up and down the stairs and hills. Then we took the bus down the hill to Ville Franche. We were looking for the Institut de Français – a language school that Pastelle is interested in attending next summer. We walked along the wharf. There is a little chapel there for the local fishermen decorated by Jean Cocteau. The drawings are large (yet refined) for such a small space. No pictures were allowed, but there are many images on the Internet. C’est très jolie. The day was great. I slept quite well last night.
Mariette’s daughter Roxane is 17 years old. She is beautiful girl and has just finished school. She will take her university entrance exam in two weeks. She is spending most of her days and evenings studying with her boyfriend.  I haven't seen much of her because she has been sleeping in in the mornings and staying out later in the evenings. I hope she does well.