June 4: Apartment envy

Half of our studio

I’ve been on a few uncomfortable train journeys over the decades. Two in particular stand out: from Hothot in Mongolia to where I forget now, but it took 12 hours, for all of which I had to stand upright in the cheapest carriage on my own, squashed between people for whom hawking gobs of phlegm onto the floor was culturally acceptable. The other one was with Joel, an overnight journey from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur in India, during which we had to share one very hot and narrow bunk with about 5,000 mosquitos.

The other half of our studio

Both journeys ended where and when they were supposed to. It was just a matter of waiting it out. That’s the attitude I’m trying to take with our little studio. Joel, eternal optimist (of the Indian train he said, Aren’t we lucky to have a bunk…), reminds me of the people in Japan who live, post-tsunami, on a few tatami mats and are happy to be alive.

Plasterwork above an apartment building doorway

I would probably still think this flat was very sweet if I hadn’t seen a few others recently. One belongs to one of the people who run the school where I teach. I had to go to his nearby home to help him clarify a telephone booking in English for a vacation campervan he’s hired in Scotland. It’s bright, modern, spacious, white, wooden flooring… there’s a little niche for his desk… Sigh. Then I went to Antibes to visit Paula, my new Irish friend who is also writing a novel. We had a great evening last night talking about books and egging each other on. Her apartment is also bright and lovely, and she even has an L-shaped sofa and a bathroom with two sinks. I wouldn’t have coveted them in London, but here in our temporary home, such things seem immensely luxurious.

Painted stairwell in an apartment building in Old Nice

The third place I saw was truly covetable, except, like so many places in Nice, it was a bit too noisy. It belonged to the mother of a retired Vietnamese transvestite called Claude. (You meet all sorts of people at the restaurant.) I’m not sure how it came about that Joel and I would use our car to help him move her stuff, but that’s what happened. Claude had told Joel there were only a few bags, but in fact there were about 10 carloads of stuff, from an open drawer full of meat cleavers via a mink coat to a bed to a crate of DVDs – oh! Well, I shouldn’t have peeked at them, it was my own fault. Claude went to his place with the first carload, I stayed in the old place and moved things down in the lift, and Joel drove between the two.

Adam and Eve building in Old Nice

Nice is a very strange mix of the world’s ugliest concrete buildings and ones that are absolutely beautiful. THe new buildings, sadly, have none of the plasterwork details or friezes of the Belle Epoque or Art Deco ones.

A house just round the corner from here

Claude’s mother’s building had a tiny little wooden lift one with two doors with glass windows and brass handles. It went up and down in a cage made of curlicued metal. You find a few lifts like that in the turn of the century buildings, but unfortunately (or fortunately) they are all being modernised for safety’s sake now. The flat had colouruful ceramic tiles in the long hall, and wooden parquet floors in the bedrooms. Each room had floor to ceiling french windows on to a little balcony, which Claude or his mum had planted up with hundreds of geraniums.

Another apartment building a few streets away

I’d love to live in one of the big old apartments like that, but we’ll see… Wherever I go, I’m sizing up the sorts of places I’d like to live. I’d really like to attach balloons to our house in London and fly it over here, but it would look completely curious wherever it landed. Thinking about that reminds me how very, very different everything has become over the past two months.

Home is where the cat is


About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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