June 18: L’Appel du 18 Juin

All French people know about L’Appel du 18 Juin. It’s the speech that Charles de Gaulle made on BBC radio from London on 18 June 1940, calling upon all French people to resist the Germans. The date didn’t ring any bells with me, but after today I won’t forget it – another little step in my slow Frenchification.

Our restaurant is in Place du General de Gaulle, also known as Liberation. If you look on Googlemaps, you’ll see a miserable winter day during the tramway’s construction, before the restaurant existed in its current form. It looks nothing like that now. The statue is the final touch to the civic improvements that have gone on for several years. It was obviously vital that it should be unveiled on the most momentous date in de Gaulle’s story.

The concrete base arrives

But they sure did cut things fine. Yesterday morning a bunch of people in yellow tabards arrived, put metal barriers around the grassy centre, and started to dig a big hole. Word went around that de Gaulle was on his way. Then word went around that de Gaulle’s leg had accidentally been broken at the foundry while lifting him onto a truck. Then an incredibly huge truck arrived, all the roads around were blocked off, the Tram was stopped, and scores more people in yellow tabards hung around shouting at each other and smoking cigarettes. The truck sprouted a crane. Then another truck arrived, with a gigantic piece of concrete on it. I guess once you park and set up a crane like that, it’s a hassle to move it, particularly if you’re pressed for time – but they wouldn’t have nearly hit the lamp post, and they wouldn’t have had to swing the base so high in order not to, resulting in the evacuation of the Gambetta restaurant opposite.

The statue is being lifted

Still, if they hadn’t had to swing de Gaulle himself so high over the lamp post once he arrived, too, it wouldn’t have been half as entertaining for everyone at our restaurant.

Walking on air

It was pretty late at night by the time they finally got him sorted out and on his pedestal. I haven’t erected many statues in my life, but even I could tell that this is an undertaking you really should schedule for daylight hours.

All in black while waiting for the unveiling

He was covered up in a huge black sheet overnight, and guarded by our next-door-neighbour police, who are Police Municipale. I like the way our police look, but jeez, they sure looked scrawny this afternoon in comparison with the Police Nationale who arrived mid-afternoon in time for the unveiling festivities. They were just one set of national forces to show up about 4pm. The tram was cut off again, chairs were set up on the tramlines, the ghostly black sheet that was de Gaulle was suddenly surrounded by lovely green grass and flowers, and the whole Place du General de Gaulle was en fete.

Needless to say, it was all fab for business. How perfect to find a great little place to have a beer while watching the mayor of Nice come to unveil a statue of de Gaulle? The Emergency Services marching band had fluffed up the red feathers in their caps, all the anciens combattants had polished up their medals, the Foreign Legion had polished their boots, the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, had blow-dried his hair… I loved it! I wandered around taking pictures and relaying info by phone to Joel at the restaurant. He relayed it on to the regulars…

I even went to have a look at the demonstration by Pieds-Noirs, the white French who had settled in Algeria and who still have a bone to pick with de Gaulle, who they feel betrayed them by giving Algeria its independence in 1962. An enormous number of Pieds-Noirs settled in Nice after independence, which contributes to explaining why the National Front has always, shamefully, had a presence here. They didn’t acquit themselves well, shouting hysterically and trying to drown out the speeches, but the Police Nationale ringed them up fairly gently as far as I could see and guided them back towards the facade of the now disused train station.

Joel is quite sentimental really, and I thought he might have a tear in his eye when the Sapeurs-Pompiers were playing the Marseillaise. I couldn’t see him of course – he was working while I was enjoying this gorgeous local scene. I was pleased when a bunch of Foreign Legionnaires stopped for a beer at the restaurant on their way back to… wherever. The picture makes me laugh: Joel crouched as he was in the centre of the group. I know it was because he didn’t want to block out anyone’s head, but really, he needn’t have bothered…

Foreign Legionnaires

Sonny came to watch

So did Anny and Massimo


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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