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Nice people – and footsoldiers

29/03/2010

le drapeau de Nice

Their presence was announced by a swift tug on one of the straps of my little leather rucksack.  Turning, I found myself facing a towering vision of glaringly maquillée brunette glamour in shocking pink satin hotpants, skintight white lycra ‘T’-shirt and strappy pink sandals with vertiginous heels. I gawped – upwards, as the vision topped me by a good half dozen centimetres (and I’m tall). For a second or two I found myself wondering if she were in fact a bloke en travesti – un travelo’ (et pourquoi pas?). But no, that beaming, noisy abundance couldn’t be other than female in this town. Could it? No matter! Next to her stood a tiny dabchick of a woman, drab but delicate, her fragility belied by a steely gaze.  There was something of Nice in these two: the display of contrasts; the maternal element of genuine concern masked by loud berating, and the close attention paid openly and naturally.

“Your bag,” chided the colourful Amazon in deafening tones, waving an admonitory finger complete with fuschia-enamelled claw under my nose (easily done from her lofty position), “it’s open – an invitation to thieves, Madame!” “Yes,” murmured the much older lady by her side, “you must be careful!” She smiled sweetly at me as if to soften the news. “This city is full of dangers.” She reached out and patted my arm gently.

Of course, dangers abound here – it’s a big city (the fifth largest in France). And as this is a Mediterranean city blessed with a benign microclimate, a great deal of life takes place in the open. Street theatre of an entirely unselfconscious, unintentional kind is ubiquitous – and fortunately rarely threatening.

Clocher - Palais Rusca, Place du Palais

Holding his mobile to his ear, yelling at the top of his voice and moving in small steps through the lunchtime crowds went the short, smart, middle-aged man.  His splayfooted progress was tapped out by shoes with absurdly elongated toes. “YES!” He howled. “I know!” (tap, tap). “Yes, I know you’re leaving with him! Fine!” he shrieked (tap, tap, tap). “Great – leave!” he shouted. “What do you want from me, my blessing?”

Fascinated, I walked on. But not much further before my eyes were attracted by another spectacle. Shoulders back, chin up, the straight-backed woman in her sixties or seventies (hard to tell) walked gracefully and confidently along la piétonne, arm in arm with her similarly handsome husband. Clad in perfectly co-ordinated autumnal colours from head to … well, almost. Having clocked the silk scarf in shades of brown, gold and cream at her neck, the pale gold silk sweater, the caramel cotton jacket, the linen trousers the colour of coffee fudge, you arrived at the feet. And the feet were encased in slippers. Blue plush bedroom slippers with thick, foam soles and teddy bear trim no less: if you must be ringard, do it properly!

I wondered whether the footwear was due to forgetfulness or painful feet. But the reason hardly mattered: the juxtapostion of her casual style with those old-fashioned and decidedly unmatching slippers was simply delicious – and utterly characteristic of this city. Why should she care, after all?  M’en bati, sieu Nissart! (or, in her case, Nissarda)* And quite right, too.

* Roughly = ‘I don’t give a monkey’s, I’m Niçois(e)!’  A favourite saying, which does seem to illustrate the strength, flamboyance – and sheer bloody-minded defiance! – of the local identity.

All pix sourced from Wiki (click to enlarge).

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