August 16: Lizard or mouse?

Joel removing Ted’s latest lizard from the front steps

Ted’s been bringing lizards to the front door and miaowing loudly to be let in. He used to make the same throaty noise in London when he had dragged a mouse in through the cat-flap. I’m pretty good at telling when a mouse is dead, but lizards are as new to me as they are to Ted. The first time he showed up with one and played with it the way he does with mice, its tail came off. The tail wiggled around like a snake in front of him, making us both jump. I didn’t know then that lizards drop their tails when threatened. Yecchh. We’re hoping he doesn’t come home with one of the tree rats we’ve seen scurrying along the palm fronds in the garden next door. Ted’s having the time of his life, that’s for sure. I don’t think he’s aware that a lizard isn’t a mouse. It means the same thing in his world: stalk, pounce, play.

I should follow his example. I should ignore the fact that French isn’t English. I live in constant fug of possible confusion. My French works in most situations, but I miss out on subtleties and references. There’s a poster ad for Ricard out at the moment, a famous brand of pastis. There’s a picture of a bottle and the words, 80 ans et toujours jaune. They mean, ‘80 years and still yellow’ . I nagged at Joel to translate that into an English ad. He’s usually great at coming up with perfect cultural translations that aren’t literal ones, but it didn’t work with this. Was it a play on the words yellow and young (jeune)? Was it a reference to some collective French memory I don’t share? Was it just a boring ad? Of course Joel doesn’t have a big share of the collective memory either, having lived in London for so long. In the movie Witness, Harrison Ford is served coffee by the Amish woman (Kelly McGillis) and he says ‘Honey, that’s great coffee’. She had never seen the coffee commercial he was referring to having never watched TV, so she looked pretty confused. I feel a bit like Harrison when I speak French, and Kelly when I listen to it. The Ricard ad is particularly frustrating: just a few words, but do they mean lizard, exactly, or mouse?

If I’m not harassing Joel to translate things for me, I’m sticking my camera in his face

Not much of an official nature happens in Nice during August. People shut up shop, offices are closed, hours are reduced, people who live here go away on holiday. Joel and I have decided that resistance is futile, and we’re not trying to make things happen this month. It’s easier to live like estivants (summer people) and go to the outdoor cinemas and watch the fireworks displays and ride our bikes. We’ve been going to all the things Joel barely knew existed when he worked virtually non-stop, like the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, where, at last, there was an exhibition (called Extra Large) that impressed me. Yesterday we went to the Fondation Maeght again, my favourite place, then had a swim at Plage de la Garoupe. Joel deserves this period of languor, so I’m obliged to help him enjoy it…

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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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