July 16: Quatorze Juillet

My bunting is the right way round when Michele and Sonny look at it

In the run-up the 4th of July in the U.S., you can’t move for red, white and blue stuff to buy, from Stars & Stripes streamers to hang up on your porch to flags to stick in your hot dogs. There was very little of that kind of thing here – none, in fact. Bastille Day, the quatorze juillet, is a jour ferié, a national holiday, but there doesn’t seem anything frenetic about it, as in, Oh, god, I’ve forgotten the red, white and blue paper plates, I must rush back to the supermarket before they’re sold out.

There are fireworks displays everywhere of course. In Nice there is always a magnificent display over the sea in the Baie des Anges – people come from miles around to see it. There are parades, and lots of villages have little fetes to celebrate in front of the town hall or church, with music and dancing. I noticed one or two bleu-blanc-rouge flags on top of stalls in the market, but otherwise, not much. It’s a laid-back sort of national holiday, marked publicly rather than individually – which is appropriately French, really.

Mini bunting (Ted helped make this)

So people were slightly bemused when I climbed up a ladder in front of the restaurant on the morning of the 14th of July and hung up blue, white and red bunting – homemade, I’ll have you know! – from the scaffolding. (The ville de Nice put up the scaffolding to protect people from any plaster than might fall off the police HQ. There’s scaffolding all over Nice – people blame the mostly imaginary flying plaster issue on the construction of the Tram; it’s a long, ongoing story…)

Can you see my bunting flapping? (Look hard...)

Unfortunately, I hung the bunting up backwards, so that it looks red, white and blue from outside the restaurant. Well, it gave everyone the chance to point it out. Ever noticed how the one thing we’re all really good at is criticising? And guess what?It’s still holding up in the heat two days later! I like bunting, it’s so chirpy, as well as being easy to make.

Patrick with the farcis

We had a special menu that included farcis niçois: tomatoes, courgettes, onions and potatoes stuffed with a mix of minced pork and veal and roasted in olive oil. This is one of my absolute favourites! Pretty much every restaurant in this region has their own recipe, a variation on the proportion of pork to veal or beef, the texture of the mince, the size and shape of the vegetables, the amount of vegetable flesh mixed back into the stuffing, the firmness of the vegetables after cooking, the quality and quantity of the olive oil… The sous chef, Patrick, who we call Ratatouille, made ours. He’s excellent on the local dishes, although his nickname comes from his slightly rattish appearance in a floppy chef’s hat rather than from his ratatouille, another typically Niçois dish, and also excellent.

I’d made a date a few days ago with some new friends to have dinner at the restaurant on the 14th – none of us had thought about it being a holiday. It didn’t matter of course, but Joel had asked me to be prepared to help out. In the event I didn’t have to: Denise stayed behind the bar, so with Michele, Yen and Joel zooming about on the floor, I could enjoy my farcis on the terrasse like an ordinary punter. At 10pm, when the fireworks started, every seagull in Nice seemed to take off screeching at the same time, which was quite a surreal experience.

My purslane salad

If I had met three new and interesting people in London, it would have taken months and months for us all to find a time and motive to meet again, but life really is less complicated here. So, I celebrated Bastille Day with Toni, who runs a luxurious B&B; Nadia, a beautiful Palestinian who chose to live in Nice because it’s more central for her work as UN consultant on gender in the arab world, and Gayle, who works with a team of international language trainers in Monaco. I brought Toni some purslane because it’s a bit like watercress, which she couldn’t find the other day. Denise says it’s a weed that they use in soups in Vietnam, but I’ve been eating as a plain salad because I’ve discovered it’s like a superfood, full of omega-3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants, and even melatonin. It’s cheap too. Do they sell this stuff in Sainbury’s and I just never noticed?


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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