You’d die if you spent much time unprotected on the balconies now. It’s hard to imagine the continued dreariness everyone keeps telling me about in London, even though I’ve lived through many periods when looking out the window there felt like looking into a slimy fish tank. I’ve had two quick reminders recently though: I went to Paris for the day to interview a French design guru called Matali Crasset, and it was grey and spitting. I had to wear a jacket! I had to use an umbrella! I went to Amsterdam the week before, to interview a wonderfully strange artist who makes clouds in odd places, and I wore… socks! it was like having a dose of mood-enhancing light therapy, but in reverse.
(1) “Nee nee nee nee” That’s Louie, next door, singing. He must be nearly a-year-and-a-half-old now. Joel insists French people don’t really say Ooh la la, but Louie’s maman, Marie, disproves that every day, several times. She and Gabriel have recently installed a blue awning of titanic proportion on their balcony, so they can now spend time out there during the baking parts of the day. It means I hear her say “Ooh la la, Louis, NON!” at least twice an hour, but as he also says “Chat!” with such endearing glee whenever he sees Ted, I don’t mind.
By 5.30 or 6pm it’s just cool enough to settle in under our new parasol and read as the sun goes down. I’ve just finished A Tale of Two Cities, which, being set around the time of the French Revolution, felt appropriate to read on July 14th. If we’re here before late-afternoon, Joel and I share Ted’s balcony, where the lunchtime breezes over the tops of the trees are usually pretty cool.
(2) “Wrrrooaaar” That’s a motorbike accelerating away from somewhere. It’s the worst noise pollution in Nice, and you can’t get away from it, wherever you are. It’s not too bad here on our hill, just part of the thrum of the city that floats up. There are usually always small traffic lights at eye level, and bikers always seem to fix their eyes on them. The second the light changes, they tear off like maniacs. The problem is they never tend to look around them before accelerating, they just go.
Joel and I have been on our bicycles a lot recently, and rather than becoming more confident on the roads, I get more wary. We’ve seen two sad and stupid accidents, and have been honked and shouted at in a few months more than in years in London.
However, we’re getting to know Nice so well I rarely get my map out now. Don’t need it! We’ve been looking at apartments. Not for us, but to do up and let out to tourists, which is big business here. We’ve made an offer on two studios so far, though changed our minds about one. The buying process here in France is much more strict than in England. Sellers are obliged to accept an offer if it’s the asking price, and you have to sign a compromis de vente within days of making the verbal offer. Once you sign that, you have a seven-day period of reflection, when you can back out without further ado. But once that period is past, that’s it, you put down a deposit and are committed. The seller is supposed to provide proof that there are no termites or asbestos etc, etc, but otherwise it’s all a bit of a gamble.
Joel and I backed out on the first one, in a 17th-century palazzo, because we talked ourselves out of its potential for maintaining resale value, and because the beautiful painted common parts would probably cost us a bomb to redecorate soon. (This makes it sound as if we know what we’re doing, doesn’t it?) The second one is “in its pipes” so says our new best friend the estate agent – the process is following its course. It has a balcony, and you can see all the way up the hills to the Nice observatory. We can imagine living there ourselves temporarily, which god knows, we may need to do one day.
(3) “Plink-plink-plink” My phone, indicating a “texto” has arrived… I scampered off in the hopes it was something exciting, but it was just the phone company suggesting new “offres”. My French phone, even after a year, feels like a new toy, full of surprises. Because I still use my UK mobile, no one from my Anglophone life, except Joel, even has my French number. When it rings, I know it’s someone du moment, like someone offering teaching work, or the estate agent with a new property, or (most desirable) one of my Nice friends. I miss my friends in London terribly. Though not having to go out and meet them in the rain.
(4) “Flip-flop-flip-flop” Joel is walking about behind me, getting things ready to go to a body-pump class. I’ll go 15 minutes later, to a spinning class. Afterwards, we can leave our stuff in the gym lockers, peel off our sweaty gear, put on swimsuits and walk five minutes to the sea for a total cool-down. That’s the kind of thing I used to dream of doing in London.
So the read-between-liners among you might be wondering by now… Why is Joel around so often, at the busiest time of the restaurant year?
Well, things don’t always work out according to plan, do they?
My sister-in-law Michele is a stubborn sort of woman who has lived in a small town for a long time. Through divorce, health issues, pig-headedness and being awful with money, she finds herself without as many options as Joel. He, on the other hand, is a stubborn sort of man who has lived in a big town for a long time. He has a loving partner, money in the bank, and some imagination. They haven’t been seeing eye to eye for a long time, and finally there was a straw-camel-back situation. Joel has left his sister to it.
It’s a bit alarming – the separation has happened much sooner than we’d expected. But I’m glad. It would have driven either Joel or Michele mad to keep working together. Well, at least it would have driven Michele more mad. Miaow.
So, flip-flop-flip-flop to another phase of our lives.