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Mad dogs and Englishpersons … and the mid-day gun

21/05/2010

Panorama of the Port from Club Nautique (Colline du Château in background), the start of the Sentier is nearby. Photo thanks to Patrice Semeria

le sentier du littoral, Nice-Villefrance via la Ville de Nice

Glorious day, today. Better still, freedom beckoned. So off I went to le sentier du littoral, the coastal footpath that

le sentier du littoral, Nice, via le Compté de Nice

winds its frequently precipitous way along the coast from here to Menton. Once past le Port the view opens out, birdsong becomes identifiable and tranquility increases – although locals use the rocky bays along the route for fishing, swimming and sunbathing; runners, too, are regularly encountered and quite often troupes of primary schoolchildren out following a heavily-supervised nature trail. Somehow the rocky acoustic contrives to soften or even swallow up any jarring sounds.
Early on I encountered two groups of clamorous infants and their minders, noting that both genders were equally represented among the professional staff. I overheard one young man turn on a highly disruptive a little boy and deliver the kind of stern admonishment that he probably wouldn’t get away with in England.
“You!” roared the adult pointing at the child, “you will stop this nonsense – at once!” He crossed his arms and scowled, continuing “you are behaving like a four-year old!”
That did it: the little boy suddenly looked duly chastened, even shocked, “but I am six!” he wailed tearfully.
“Exactly!” snapped his teacher.
A splendid demonstration of French Cartesianism! Walking on, admiring the spectacular view, I revelled in the sights and colours of the sea – the Mediterranean showing all its range of blues from turquoise to sapphire; the jagged, honeycombed bleached

le sentier du littoral, Cap de Nice via le Comté de Nice

rocks contrasting with the jewel-coloured ocean, and the sudden outcrops of exotic flowers and plants mostly to be found near the discreet villas and restaurants alongside the road up above. But you can’t hear the traffic, so all is peaceful. Following the sentier truly is a breath of fresh air – and more, far more: here you feel replenished, and your sense of proportion is restored by awareness of a history stretching back to earliest man.  Le sentier littoral contains myriad messages for those able and willing to decipher them.
Meandering home around the Port and through Vieux-Nice via my favourite bakery, I passed a parked car and had to

This kind of car - only white (Citroën 2, thanks to Commons Wiki)!

double back to read the phrases posted at strategic points on the chassis in elegant cursive script. And laugh out loud: the black lettering stood out as a form of decoration on the white paintwork, but the owner’s cheerfully down to earth wit required a close reading. On the bonnet, the car declared itself a ‘French car, made in Italy by immigrant labour’ but went on to assure us above the driver’s window that its owner is ‘100 percent niçois’. Ah, so that’s all right, then. The wing-mirrors observed that ‘these are really useful. So why not try using them?’ So far, so accident-preventive – or at least potentially so. Under the rear window: ‘Honk your horn if you like, I won’t go any faster. I am sticking firmly to the speed limit. And if you don’t like it: tough!’ The brake lights were arrowed, the text reading: ‘yes, they light up! Pretty, aren’t they? This means I have put the brakes on, so SLOW DOWN or STOP!’  Obviously, it loses somewhat in translation and out of context: the sight had to be seen to be appreciated to the full. Still giggling, I continued on my way only to hear tumbling out of the open windows of an apartment building across the way the passionate, dancing notes of a Chopin sonata – being played with more commitment than skill, but all the more charming for that. Two neighbours on either side of the pianist’s flat leaned on their window-sills tuning in to the free recital while treating the street as living cinema. One of them, an elderly woman, smiled down at me as I stopped to gaze upward and listen. I waved; she waved. I blew her a kiss; she reciprocated. Both laughing amicably, we waved a final farewell just as the music ended.

The bakery, corner of rue du marché/rue du moulin, Nice (by Patrice Semeria - un grand merci)

At the boulangerie in Vieux-Nice Madame la Mamy and Amandine were busily engaged with orders for a crowd of French tourists.  Several of the men were vying for Amandine’s attention (she is a lush, Latin beauty).  One young man made as if he would have liked to ask her out, but Amandine resolutely ignored him. And I ordered a demi-baguette, my usual request – although so good are the baguettes produced here that I often have an order to fulfil for friends. Would you like to try one? The delivery might prove problematic …
Once back in the open and in dazzling daylight, I was caught unawares halfway across a pedestrian crossing by the sound of the mid-day cannon and leapt in fright. The white van driver and his mate who’d stopped to let me cross fell about laughing; relieved, I joined in. Really, I ought to be accustomed to that gun by now: it goes off every day at noon, a custom instigated by a particularly mad-dog Englishman who liked to eat on the dot. Irritated by his wife’s propensity for returning late from her morning constitutional, he hit on the cannon blast as a reminder to her that it was time for lunch.
What a martinet! No wonder his wife rebelled, taking longer and longer for her morning walk to delay the inevitable return to his presumably impatient, intolerant side. And do we really think she was out walking all that time, hm? Perhaps she spent her mornings with a lover – a local man with an uproarious sense of humour, a way with words and smiles. He might have played the piano to her. And maybe, I thought as I bit into my bread, he possessed the ability to make bread that is delicately, crisply crusty on the outside and inside has a crumb which melts in the mouth … No, surely that would be asking too much?
I’ve reached home now. So ‘goodbye’, mind how you go and remember: ‘M-S-M’, stick to the speed limit – and enjoy your daily bread.

[As usual, click on pix to enlarge.]

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