June 23: Taking pictures

I pretty much always have my camera with me these days, it’s getting to be a habit. I often think of my friend Karena, who has been taking the most amazing photographs for more than 30 years, and always has a camera with her, as if something’s not quite real unless she photographs it. I learned a lot from her when we were students and then some about looking through a lens.

Looking up a bougainvillea-covered wall

Unfortunately, a camera is only a tool, and I’ve never really figured out how to make it reproduce what I see. I don’t think I’m going to get there, either. I can’t work out all that light and colour. That’s so frustrating here in Nice, where the sun and clear air often make colour seem absolutely surreal. Joel and I went swimming at the beach in Nice on Monday when I DIDN’T have my camera. The sea is turquoise by the beach, and peacock blue further out, and the sky is the same colour as the cloaks on Virgin Mary statues. Add the sparkle of sun on water, and it all seemed like a hallucination. I went back yesterday to take a pic (and have a swim), but all the elements hadn’t combined so perfectly: it was still fairly amazing, but it wasn’t as if I were in a dream. Anyway, I doubt I could have done the colours justice. There are just too many camera settings.

Bindweed climbing a palm tree.

It seems that each time I take a picture of something I think is bike-stoppingly gorgeous, it comes out a bit faded-looking. I can’t capture the brilliance of everything that’s blooming right now: the bougainvillea in particular.

Roses and bindweed

It goes on for months though so I can keep trying… I saw a mass against a bright pink house the other day, with a blue sky backdrop. It was something out of a nursery rhyme, a child’s colouring book; an impossible combination. When I downloaded the pic, it looked grubby and bleached out. Boo-hoo.

My eyes saw the bright blue sky behind the palm tree, but the camera didn't...

I couldn’t take the right pics of la Fete de la Musique on the 21st, either. My nighttime pix are rubbish. I didn’t have much time for pix anyway, as I worked all night at the restaurant! Admittedly it was only clearing plates and tables, but it was fun all the same. La Fete de la Musique happens every June 21 to celebrate the first day of summer. It was inaugurated 20 years or so ago by Jack Lang, then minister of culture. It’s a good idea that’s really taken off – France starts hoppin’! Lots of restaurants have music – we didn’t, because we knew that the Gambetta across the Place had planned an animation – it would only have ended up as an ugly battle of the bands. They had a DJ, a major sound system, laser lights that played all over the buildings and over the Tram as it passed. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to sleep that night… People were dancing all round the Place, including our terrasse. I was SO impressed with my sister-in-law’s dancing – proper rock’n’roll twirly-whirly stuff!

Michele and Lili dancing on the terrasse


Denise working behind the bar.

Luckily, I didn’t break a single plate and only nearly accidentally stabbed the chef in the eye with a knife. My mother-in-law Denise was behind the bar, too, freeing Yen up to help on the packed terrasse. We did Nems a gogo (as many nems as you can eat) hundreds of them! Usually Denise makes them for special occasions, but she didn’t make them on the 21s – she is 81, after all… She’s quite incredible. She was up that night, like all of us, until 2am, and was back down again the next morning for lunch.
Because of the light/dark issue, I didn’t get any good shots of La Fete de la musique. No Coke-commercial-style shots of little kids dancing with their grannies; no quirky portraits of teenagers watching the proceedings from the backs of Vespas; no happy snaps of sweaty dancers; no pictures of bemused diners surrounded by conga dancers. But it was all there, I swear.

Dancers: fete de la musique

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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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