We are so close to the Italian border here that we go quite often. Usually, we go to the market in Ventimiglia and buy buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola dolcelatte made with mascarpone, vegetables such as crunchy punterelle, which we never see in Nice, and cheap booze. (Taxes on alcohol and cigarettes are much lower in Italy than in France). We almost always add in lunch at a sort-of-shack-of-a-restaurant by the beach called Casablanca in nearby Vallecrosia, which does a fabulous spaghetti vongole. If it’s hot, we bob in the sea afterwards to digest.
Halfway between Ventimiglia and Vallecrosia there’s a turn-off up a small river valley, which leads eventually into the French/Italian Alps. We stop off at a village called Dolceacqua, which is really not much more than a pretty amazing 11th-century castle. To get to it, you have to cross the river walking across a humped bridge, then through dark, steep, narrow, stone streets, between and under the stone houses. It’s a bit like being in someone’s dank cellar. There are some B&Bs hidden in the stones, and a few unremarkable craft-y shops in the holes in the walls, but it’s really just about the last place you’d expect to find an incredible collection of vintage movie posters.
Apparently, the local priest used to run the only cinema in the village (population about 2,000). He opened it in 1971. In those days, when the distributor sent the reels of celluloid film, they sent posters along with it. The cinema itself has mutated into something much grander now, but the people who loved the original cinema realised they might as well do something with all the wonderful posters. So, they’re displayed in a sort of cave, which could pass as a shop, relatively speaking. The lovely, chatty woman who happened to be there when we were was also playing movie soundtracks on her DVD player. It’s not a shop, however – the posters aren’t for sale, which makes them all the more delightful.
Sometimes we go up to Mont Boron here in Nice just to marvel at the fact that, on crystal-clear days, you can see along the Italian coast over one shoulder and along the French coast over the other. Most recently, we went with Bryony who came to visit from London. One of the conversations you end up having more than once if you live in Nice is whether or not you can see Corsica from here (it’s about 250 miles away). Some people say it’s a myth, others say that what you can see under certain very early morning weather conditions is refracted light causing a mirage. When we were up there on a perfect day, we met an elderly couple who started to chat – he was a believer, and gave us the science at length. We listened patiently, and in return he took a photo of the three of us.
There’s an enormous, mostly ruined fort up on Mont Boron which was built in the 1500s – Fort Mont Alban. The area is full of trees and shady walks and stupendous views, but as I once saw a large snake slithering across my path up there, I don’t find its picnic potential as appealing as many people seem to.
Bryony very courageously tried her first steak tartare while she was here – that’s raw beef mixed with raw egg, raw onions, parsley and capers.It’s mysteriously popular here, but though I’ve tasted it, I can never stomach the idea (or the reality) of a whole plateful. Bryony managed, and liked it. She’s hardy! I’m glad our visitors can experience new things: here’s Casey back in January celebrating completing her first-ever 10km run, the Prom Classic! The deal between us was that if she could train through a London winter to be ready, I could finish a plausible second draft of my novel. (Why, yes, remember that? As in arestaurantandanovel?) How could I possibly let her down after all her cold nights traipsing round Regents Park? So, I closed myself away in our rental studio, and wrote. Et vwa-lah! Kind friends are reading the result now. So, there will have to be a next step of some kind…
Joel’s cornish pasty and banana bread phase is not yet over; Ted continues to watch us with as much interest as I watch him.