Our first paying guests are arriving a few days after we get back from London at the end of the month, and we’ve been spending quite a bit of time road-testing the rental flat. We love it. If only it had two or three extra rooms, we’d never leave. Last week, when Sylvie was staying with us, I woke up ridiculously early one morning and, rather than disturb her and Joel with showery/coffee-making noises, I slipped out and cycled down to the flat. No traffic, peach-coloured sky; velvety air. The nearest boulangerie was still virtually empty, except for the first promising tray of warm brioches. (Apparently Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say, “Let them eat cake” during the French Revolution, she said “Let them eat brioches.” She was incapable of checking her privilege, obviously.) I took a shower, then sat on the balcony and read while my hair dried in the early sun, scoffing two. Perfect.
A few days ago, when Joel and I test-slept there, we decided to go the movies at 11am, because the Rialto, which only shows movies in their original versions, is just four minutes’ walk away. It has an old lady-ticket seller behind a glass screen, no popcorn, and wide, deep, red velvet seats. There are six or eight screens, and you line up outside to buy a ticket – no online pre-booking. We saw Promised Land with Matt Damon, the film about shale gas and fracking in the US.
I know there have been debates about this movie, but that’s good. (We’ve just seen the English director Stephen Frears talk at the Cinematheque here in Nice and he lamented the days when everyone used to go to the cinema every week and to the pub afterwards to actually argue about films they’d seen.) Promised Land was very sentimental, very dreamy and rose-tinted. Even Joel, whose only experience of rural America is the high-brow Berkshires in Massachusetts, where my mum lived, saw right through it. Where are all the desperate ignorant rednecks, he asked (though I think he was remembering the bars we’d frequented in suburban Rockland County NY than in MA, to be honest.) No, none of it seemed really real, except the issues.
Of course shale gas will eventually be a significant, well-exploited, plentiful source of cheap energy. No amount of green pressure will alter that – though hopefully the green debate will contribute to miminising the environmental damage that common sense suggests is an inevitable result of the fracking process.The shift to shale gas will change the geopolitical map, as the US and Europe reduce their dependency on imported oil and coal. We can’t stop it, and why would we? Shale gas is an alternative because it’s cheap for some and will make others rich. I assume the international think-tanks full of way-cleverer people than me are identifying future geo-flashpoints in a world powered by shale gas and not oil. I hope so, anyway, though I’m sure a shale gas world will be just as unfair.
I guess we also wanted to see the movie because my brother is a shale gas evangelist. He has been since the days when no one knew much about it, and it was considered unconventional and filled with promise. He hasn’t changed his tune much even now, making his conviction change over time from soi-disant revolutionary to deeply establishment. As a movie sucker, I fell for Matt Damon’s sea-change of opinion in Promised Land, watching the scales fall from his eyes. It’s just a movie of course, and I knowlingly collude with being manipulated by Hollywood when paying the Rialto’s bargain morning price of 5 euros a ticket. But I did think of my brother, and how things have changed around him. Once upon a time he “accused” me of being bourgeois, as if I could have been anything else as a teenager in Rockland County. Did he imagine he was changing the world then? Does he imagine he’s changing it now, by siding with organisations who will always win?
The other reason Promised Land made me cry was because it was so pretty. ‘The country’ terrifies me, to be honest. On the whole, I hate the thought of empty space full of cows and people who can’t use chopsticks or think of using public transport as a novelty. Perhaps that’s how I’ve ended up here. But it did make me feel nostalgic for the Berkshires, where I haven’t been since my mother moved away 10 or 12 years ago. The Beserk-shires, they are also known as, by locals. Maybe this is one of the reasons I’ll collude with Hollywood: you take me home for a couple of hours, and I’ll believe you. Here I am in France, far away: bring me momentarily back to forgotten details: the creak of painted wood on an American porch floor, the light, metallic click as a screen door shuts, the cracked length of straight road, the grimy wood-panelled walls of a local bar, and I am yours.
We went to the flat again this morning, so Joel could take a shower after having run 13 miles! It was Nice’s half-marathon, and he ran it like he did it every day. He’s amazing! For the last 10km I found him and followed alongside on my bike on the Promenade des Anglais, shouting endearments and encouragements. Next stop, the full marathon in November, from Nice to Cannes. Even too much on a bike, I’d say.
One of things we have in mind at the moment is the “selection of DVDs” I’ve rashly advertised as available at the rental apartment. We’re hoping to find a bunch in London before the guests get there: they should all have scenes of Nice or the Riviera. “To Catch a Thief”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, “French Kiss”, etc etc. The steamiest scene in the new film “Mobius” is set in the Hotel Gounod half a block away, so we’ll have to get that too… Maybe one day, in the future, when life is more settled, I’ll watch those movies and, who knows, feel the nostalgia just as deeply.