The villa opposite the one where we live belongs to the family of a woman called Françoise. Her grandparents owned land around it, and in the 1950s and 60s, they built a small cul-de-sac by the house and built a couple of small apartment buildings, just three or four storeys. Françoise’s family was very canny to have kept the land: rent down the ages! Lots of old Niçoise houses have a similar set-up, but the owners tend to sell off the land, so they are often dwarfed by ugly apartment buildings over which they have no control. More canniness on the part of the family: they own the road, so they made sure there are trees and views and nice things to live with. They also left their fabulous garden, which has a summer kitchen, complete with pizza oven. They don’t even live there, which Joel and I marvel at, but as they live in an apartment in one of their buildings, they can stroll down anytime within literally one minute.
Françoise loves the garden. She’s tiny and tough (and pretty), and loves to chop tree trunks and put up fences. She has a startingly beautiful toddler granddaughter, who’s often with her. I noticed when the oranges were fruiting in early spring that she gathered up the fallen fruit and put it in a basket on an old table under one of the trees. It was a classic pretty magazine image of the gardening good life, but it was non-chalantly genuine.
On the other side of that house is Parc Chambrun, a public park that used to be the gardens of the Comte de Chambrun. The Chambruns and their palatial villa are long gone, but their “Temple of Love” remains at the top of a wide, steep sweep of steps, which I notice is often used by personal trainers and their clients. In the 1870s, the Chambruns bought a huge tract of land including a botanic garden designed by the former owner, the Count Cais de Pierlas. (I only remember that because the first gym we belonged to here was on Rue Cais de Pierlas.) In the Chambruns’ heyday, the temple was a music kiosk, where the Countess de Chambrun, one of the owners of the Baccarat cristallerie, held private concerts. One of my favourite Nice guidebooks describes her as a fervente mélomane. I wonder if she hung up chandeliers during the concerts? The temple is surrounded by a variety of trees, including palms and cedars of Lebanon, one of which was supposedly planted in the 18th century. It makes a pretty amazing treeline to look at while hanging up the washing. Well after the Chambruns, someone tried to turn the Temple into an ice-skating rink! I don’t think that lasted long. I do tai chi there now with Antoine and Julie, on Monday mornings. I never used to do tai chi, but they come over for breakfast afterwards, so it’s spiritual in a social sort of way.
Françoise’s garden is full of orange trees, and right now they are in flower, so the scent is incredibly lovely. I thought it was jasmine at first – everywhere, sweet and powerful, more so in the evening. You get whiffs of orange flower all over Nice, sort of like walking into a cloud that makes you sniff the air like a dog and go, mmmmmm!
Otherwise living in this house is a bit odd. We’re on the ground floor, with a garden – so far so normal. But the floors above us are Toni’s posh b&b (that’s not its name…). Toni lives on the top floor, where she does breakfast for the guests, with her dog. We refer to all guests as Dancing Doctors, because the very first guests in April were a couple of doctors going to a conference. They got up incredibly early in the morning and made such a racket of dragging cases around that we wondered if they were preparing body parts for a medical lecture. They stomped a lot, too, thus the reference to dancing. To be fair, we’ve hardly noticed the all the other Dancing Doctors. We only know a set has arrived when we hear Toni, who has a confident voice, shall we say, launch into her spiel about how to open the gate and how to get to the Tram. Sometimes they sit on the front patio, and we feel obliged to be extra cheery as we pass them coming in and out.
Ted finds it a bit odd, too. Toni’s dog barks at cats, which I’m sure Ted finds mindless, if a bit frightening. However, he’s found that he can sit on the side wall next to the fence between the patio and our garden and eye Fudge through the slats. Fudge hasn’t learned to ignore him yet, and barks up against the fence. I swear I can see Ted smile in a properly haughty cat-way.
Guests have started staying in our studio apartment! Others are booking regularly! I spend quite a lot of time answering enquiry emails. Nowt so queer as folk, as they say. People ask strange questions, but as with Toni’s guests, I just keep being cheery. I feel fairly constrained now, about blogging. The things about our life here in Nice that consistently have Joel and I rolling about in hysterics are the very things I really shouldn’t say for all the world to see. So, then, I guess that’s quite a phase come to a close.