July 6: Heat and dust

Some French words really make me laugh – percuter, for example. Some poor sod was percuté by the tram the other day (hit and injured, sadly), but I couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of the tram ‘persecuting’ the guy, chasing him up and down the rails like some sort of malevolant Thomas the Tram.  Another one is sensible. It’s a topsy-turvy word. In French it means sensitive – for example, my freckly pale skin is very sensible. The way French people say ‘Stoppez!’ also makes me smirk – I can’t really explain that one. It says Stop on stop signs – shorter I guess than Arretez, and perhaps makes the purchase of stop signs in bulk cheaper.

We ascribe meanings to words without really understanding why, almost subconsciously. For instance, the words ‘South of France’ seem to make lots of people visualise houses surrounded by lavender and swimming pools surrounded by parasols. They hear cicadas and feel a siesta in a hammock coming on.

A woman in a hammock in Vieux Nice

Ha! Nice is France’s fifth-largest city. It’s small by NY-LON standards, but it’s still a tough working city. People seem more aggressive than they do in London. They stand their ground when passing on the street, rather than both slightly shifting to accommodate the other. Moving aside to let someone on or off the tram is rare. Giving each other filthy looks is an art form. I can’t do it yet, and I hope I’ll never become the kind of person who can: God forbid you should actually make the mistake of asking a bus driver a simple question when someone is trying to get on behind you. You could turn to stone from the looks you’d get.

Joel loves the restaurant. He spent nearly 30 years away from his family, and now he has the chance to make up for it. How many people can do that in such a picturesque environment? In a way both of us have been given the opportunity to do now what we perhaps ought to have or could have done in the past – a second chance. We weren’t looking for it, however – we were happy in our lovely house in our London lives. But a door swung open as we were strolling past, and we realised it might not be open again. So here we are.

Yesterday's lunch

Joel also works like a dog. The restaurant has usurped his mind and his time like a bodysnatcher. I just went to the restaurant after TEACHING ENGLISH TO FOUR FRENCH SCHOOLCHILDREN FOR THREE HOURS(!!!). For the first few minutes, it was bliss: Joel and I sat and chatted over coffee while the market buzzed on around us. I decompressed (they were brats, those kids, let me tell you…), but then within minutes it was lunch. Just as several customers started sitting under the parasols, Joel’s mum, sister Daniele, Uncles Felix and Eugene, and Aunts Anny(2) and Patricia arrived, unannounced, for lunch. They don’t expect special treatment, but Joel and Michele want to give it. They keep everyone happy. That would be exhausting even in a cool climate.

I only stayed for the champagne, I didn’t stay for lunch – I’ve got MORE French schoolchildren tomorrow, and I’ve got to prepare if I don’t want them to eat me alive. I haven’t had time to write much for two days, which makes me feel very guilty. (OK, yesterday I had lunch with some new friends in Antibes, so it’s not a viable excuse.) As I was walking ‘home’, I thought about Joel’s face, and worried about him being too tired. I was very hot and sweaty, even on the shady side of the Avenue Borriglione. Someone hooted at me and gave me a killer look because I actually tried to cross the street when the green man was green (go figure).  For a few grumpy minutes, I thought about how different life in the ‘South of France’ is from what people imagine.

Courgette flowers in the market

Why are we doing this? I suppose the only answer is because we couldn’t not. Joel just called me to say what a great lunch the restaurant did while I’ve been writing this, how happy his family was, how packed the terrasse was, how it was one of those days where everything just sails. I forgot about him being tired. To hear him so happy, it’s not a siesta in a hammock, but it’ll do.

Meanwhile, I’m eating some cherries I bought in the market, knowing that as soon as I send this blog entry on its way to cyberspace, I’ll click onto a folder marked ‘book’ and flip down to the 120,000 word mark, knowing I’m nearly there for the first draft, at least.  And while I’m closer to dipping my toes into Ted’s litter tray than to dipping my toes in the swimming pool, that’s ok for now.

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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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