Archive for the 'Nice' Category

Chemin de la Maioun Grossa

Posted in La France, Nice at 13:36

This morning I decided to try out an enticing hillside stairway that had long piqued my curiosity. Our weather hasn’t gotten much better; there was another strong risk of rain, so I only took my little handheld camera rather than my nicer Nikon. Still, it was quite interesting, and these photos will help me remember what to look for when I go back in safer weather with a proper camera!

Maioun Grossa, start

Maioun Grossa, turn

Maioun Grossa, straight stretch

Maioun Grossa, curve and greenery

I was surprised at how far up the path climbed! Other stairways I’ve taken in Nice have been shorter, but this one was a veritable hillside hike. It took a good twenty minutes to reach the top. As you can see, it’s maintained by the city, with rails, gutters, and even lights. When I looked back at what I’d climbed, my head spun a bit:

Maioun Grossa, looking down

The view from Pessicart, the avenue at the top of the Maioun Grossa stairway, was quite beautiful. The first photo is looking east-northeast, and the second is to its right, looking straight east. The stark difference in lighting in the second photo is relatively true to life – those are black storm clouds over the hill on the right, while the morning sun was shining brightly through lighter clouds.

Maioun Grossa, view to east-northeast

Maioun Grossa, view to east

After a bit of exploration, I wended my way back down.

Maioun Grossa, walking down

Rain, rain, go away

Posted in Nice at 14:18

Cessole, Hills

Like many places in the northern hemisphere this year, we have been having a very strange winter. Snow, sleet and hail not once, but at least four times, which for snow was never heard of before. Once is rare, twice almost never happens – four times?! Then there has been the rain. Endless, record-breaking rain. Several mudslides. I have a subscription to the Monaco-Monte Carlo opera again this season, and it’s been quite surprising to see so many train cancellations and warnings for mudslides. The earth here just isn’t able to soak up the quantities of water that have been dumped on it from the sky.

Thankfully, today the sun came out and even warmed us up a bit. I took the photo above this morning, after going to market.

Nice city center is getting a makeover: our mayor has made it historical, thus requiring buildings with façades in disrepair to be renovated. Along with the rain came a flurry of scaffolding, much of which is slowly giving way to newly-repainted buildings. It’s quite beautiful, can’t wait to see what all of them will look like once finished.

I’ve also been happy thanks to feedback from readers of Behind the Façades! It’s been read on at least three continents now, very exciting. For me the greatest reward in writing has always been to know that readers find something they relate to. Merci pour votre soutien !

Another side of Nice

Posted in La France, Nice at 19:50


A few days ago, three friends and I decided to try out a path we’ve heard about over the years, along the Canal de Gairaut in the north of Nice. While Niçois acquaintances and colleagues of mine had often talked about it as easy to find, it was not actually so simple… Nonetheless, we did eventually reach the beautiful Cascades de Gairaut, waterfalls once overseen by the Compagnie des Eaux, or water board. You can also reach them by car or by bus, as there’s a parking area a few hundred meters from the site.

There was a great view of Nice, and the falling water chilled the otherwise hot and stuffy summer air. Below are some other photos from along our walk. The decorative building was the guard house, Maison de Garde, used by the Compagnie des Eaux.

Old truck, Vieux Chemin de Gairaut

        Cascades de Gairaut      Maison de Garde

Maison de Garde

Ella la pipistrelle

Posted in La France, Nice at 13:50

Ella sleeping

After finding la petite ratapignata, I contacted Nice’s Maison de l’Environnement, which is not far from where I live. In the recent past, I’d seen them advertise information meetings about bats where they distributed bat houses, so I hoped they would be able to tell me how/where to find one for the bat(s) on my patio. They replied today, and although the information meetings were finished this spring, the woman there gave me contact information for another lady who works for the city of Nice and should be able to provide a bat house.

She also sent me a notice about bats in Nice. Miss Ella now has a very fine name: Ella la Pipistrelle de Kuhl, Ratapignata de Nissa. All bats are protected in France, as they’re threatened species. Indeed, while I gave Ella a name, it’s merely affectionate – wild animals, perhaps especially birds and bats, should never be domesticated; it’s best for them and for we humans that they be allowed to live as peacefully and independently as possible. This photo is from two days ago: Ella is now roosting elsewhere, I suspect ensconced in a nice narrow spot, which are favored by pipistrelles. I don’t want to disturb her by looking too closely.

While bats are often maligned in popular culture, in reality, they’re excellent pest hunters, their guano makes wonderful fertilizer, they fly silently, and the chirps of pipistrelles are frankly adorable. After learning Ella’s voice, I now recognize more than one pipistrelle chirping in the evenings, so there may well be others safely snuggled in my patio and elsewhere. A real boon in mosquito season: the furry little lady you see above can eat as many as three thousand insects in a single night.

I’m delighted that there are pipistrelles sharing my abode, and hope to update soon with a bat house – nichoir de chauve-souris in French – installed on the patio. As it is, I now know to keep an even closer eye on the cats when they’re outside, and to avoid pesticides and any chemical treatment of the wood on my patio. Bats are very sensitive to certain wood treatments, so it’s best for wood to be left natural, when at all possible, or to use non-nocive products. Wherever you are in France, your local Maison de l’Environnement can also be contacted if you ever come across an injured bat.

La ratapignata

Posted in Nice at 12:17

Siás pinhata, siás pirata,
Ratapinhata, vòla lèu.
Jànluc Sauvaigo, ‘Gigi Pantai’

In French: Tu es pignate, tu es pirate, vole vite ratapignata. To the difference of the original Nissart word order, this rhymes when spoken with a southern French accent, where a final ‘e’ is usually pronounced much like the vowel ‘a’ in the same accent.

In English: You’re a pinnate, you’re a pirate, fly, fly, ratapignata. I preferred to repeat the ‘fly’ since in English it already carries the sense of going quickly; fleeing. You may also have noticed a similarity with the Spanish piñata, and indeed, pignata/pinhata is prounounced the same, however, the Latin roots are different. The Nissart (Niçois language) “pignata” has the same root as our English “pinnate“, which is the Latin pinna, “feather”. Piñata, however, comes from the Latin root pinea, “pinecone”.

If you’ve guessed “feathered rat”, you’re very close (it is the literal translation) – the ratapignata is the “flying rat”, the bat, chauve-souris in French.

The ratapignata of Nice is not well-known outside of the city, and even articles on it in French tend to diminish its importance, due largely to its status as a symbol of imperial resistance. Nice’s history is also unfamiliar to non-Niçois, though I’ve mentioned it before on my blog: Nice was once part of the Duché de Savoie, which was not French. It only became part of France just over 150 years ago, and under rather suspicious circumstances – the ballot was stuffed, with people long dead mysteriously voting to become part of France, and votes against the rattachement oddly being lost. Even before that, however, Nice’s place in Savoy was the result of conquest; the Comté de Nice had been a semi-autonomous member of the Comté de Provence starting in the 12th century, after the fall of Rome.

While most French articles about the ratapignata start with the Carnaval of 1875, the black bat has been a counterweight to the royal eagle for much longer than that. Indeed, as this excellent article in French by Niçois Eric Fontan notes, it symbolizes the power of the people, being the eagle turned upside down. With its wings open wide, to the difference of the more restrained eagle, it is also said to represent the desire of Niçois to take an active part in their city’s affairs.


Fontan’s further remarks on the symbolism are interesting: “On the one hand, there is the red eagle, representing light, day, the sky, the masculine principle, courage faced with the sun, elevated spirituality. On the other hand, there is the black bat, representing resistance, shadows, night, earth, the feminine principle, perspicacity in darkness, and the strengths of the occult. Taking a wider view by comparing these to life principles found in early religions, the eagle represents all that is grand and the bat all that is small; one could also say yang and yin. These two figures are indispensable for harmony in Nice’s society. They complement one another.”

For these reasons, as well as my childhood familiarity with bats in Oregon, I was happy to be able to help this little one out of danger from Susu on my patio this morning. Once the cats and I were inside, la petite ratapignata climbed up onto the wood rafters, where she’s now resting. There are plenty of insects to keep her fed, and she showed she was alert by flicking her ears when I took her photo asleep, so hopefully she’ll be fine.

Ratapignata in safety

An update as it passes 10pm here: Miss Ella the Ratapignata is waking up now and chirping contentedly, quite different from her panicked shouts this morning. Susu didn’t pick her up by the mouth, so hopefully there’s no risk of infection, and the small injury on her wing should heal since the membranes do grow back – the UK Bat Conservation Trust website has been very informative. I’ve also checked with our local environmental organization to ask about bat houses, so that I can put one up for Ella. Bats return to the same roost, so it’s important for her and any others in the future to be protected from my cats. In the meantime I won’t let the cats out while Ella roosts unless I’m able to be there to keep an eye on things. The kitties have plenty to do inside!

Soaps, ravioli, tea, cheese…

Posted in La France, Nice, Travel at 18:56

Things have been busy for me lately, meaning less frequent posts, as regulars probably have noticed! Last weekend I did do another walkabout video while in Vieux Nice, linked above.

I’m very happy to say that in June, I’ll be going on a 2-day hiking trip to the Vallée des Merveilles, the Mercantour National Park’s “Valley of Marvels”! Our comité d’entreprise, works council (organization of employees for employees, essentially), organized the trip and got us a 60% discount. I used to camp and hike overnight in the US pretty regularly with family and friends; this will be the first time since a 1998 trip through the Jura mountains that I’ve done more than a 3-hour hike in France. The Jura trip was lovely – with a group of friends, we spent 7 days and 6 nights hiking through the Jura mountain range. Unforgettable.

In the Valley of Marvels, we’ll be staying at the foot of Mont Bégo, which anthropologists believe was considered a sacred mountain in prehistoric times, due to the large amount of rock carvings (petroglyphs) left in the area. In addition to deriving from the Indo-European root beg, meaning “divine”, Bégo’s rocky peak juts above all others and is the focal point of lightning strikes during summer and autumn thunderstorms. As we’ll be there in early summer, our group is hoping for a thunderstorm. Not your usual wish when hiking, but certainly understandable in this case!

Petite visite du marché des fleurs

Posted in La France, Nice at 15:23

I shot this little video today while visiting Cours Saleya. It goes quickly because as soon as you stop, the nearest seller will ask you what you’re looking for.

Cats and snow

Posted in Cats, Nice at 16:08

Here you have my Mister Furry-Britches, aka Kanoko, accompanied by Miss Soot Sprite, aka Susu. Filmed in 720p HD for your viewing pleasure. I’d just gotten the handheld camcorder, so hadn’t yet changed the settings to 1080p, but well, it’s cats. I hope to catch Susu doing her “throw my own toys” trick soon, and some of the funny shenanigans she and Kanoko get up to. As you can see even in this short video, they get along pretty well.

I also hope to film things in my part of the world – this is just a little camera, but I’m already impressed with how well it films. Plus, as it’s so small, it will be easy to put in my purse and take everywhere.

We’re in the middle of a cold snap in France, the Riviera included. A couple of days ago we had snow, though mainly in the back country. I walked up a nearby hill to photograph what I could from Nice.

Vue de l'observatoire, Nice

Vue de Cimiez et des collines

When words collide

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice at 13:37

Italian cheese

A few weeks ago, an Italian officemate corrected someone talking about carbonara sauce with cream, saying that true carbonara sauce was from the Rome region, and she was pretty sure it used pecorino cheese – in any case, certainly not cream. In France, carbonara sauce is generally considered to be diced-up bacon (cooked), and a fresh egg mixed with cream. The hot bacon and pasta, when stirred with the sauce, cook the egg and cream just enough to thicken.

On a certain social site (which has been great for getting back in touch with friends around the world!), an Italian friend confirmed that the sauce used pecorino, and one of her friends mentioned that a dash of ground black pepper should be added too – that was where the “carbon” came from in the name. It all sounded delicious, so I was very much looking forward to finding some pecorino here in Nice. “Shouldn’t be too difficult, we’re near the border, I bet there will be some at the Libé market,” I thought.

I went there today, and sure enough, there was an Italian shop selling Italian hams and cheeses! With not one, but two types of pecorino: romano and tendre sardegna, which you can see in this blurry photo (taken with my cameraphone). The pecorino tendre sardegna is the cheese with black rind, two of them are stacked on the right. The pecorino romano is in the middle, marked 17.90€/kg. It also has a black crust, which isn’t visible here.

I asked for une tranche de pecorino romano (“a slice of pecorino romano”) in my own Niçois-ish accent, meaning what I said sounded more like “una transha de pecorino romano”. (French people who don’t know me first assume I’m from the area due to my accent… it’s a bit odd, knowing I picked up the accent because it’s actually easier for me to pronounce, being more rhythmic.) Also, having studied Italian at university, I used Italian “r” sounds, in the front of the mouth, not the French “r” rolled in the back of the mouth. “Romano??” the shopkeeper asked, seeming surprised. “Romano!” I nodded, smiling. “È italiano!” he smiled. I nodded, smiling again, happy to have found Italian cheeses.

Immediately after I’d nodded, I realized I’d misheard him: he had said “è italiana“, meaning he’d assumed I was Italian (“a” makes it feminine, me being a woman, whereas pecorino is masculine), and I had just said “yes” with my nod. English, French and Italian jumbled in my mind, I couldn’t say a word to correct the misunderstanding. “Italiani hanno molto buon gusto,” the man said cheerily. Again I understood right away (“Italians have very good taste”), so I chuckled and nodded, then mentally kicked myself for getting into a conversation in which I couldn’t participate. My hesitation made me too late to say anything in any language again: “Dopo?” the man asked. “Next?” literally – in French, market sellers often say “Autre chose?”, equivalent to our “anything else?” I motioned “no” and said “okay” for just the pecorino romano. (“OK” seems to work in 99% of Indo-European languages.) He rang me up, looking disappointed, and I left, feeling much the same way, wishing I’d been able to express myself.

Then again, it’s not exactly easy to explain: as simple a statement as “I’m American” may seem, those of us who live here know that it doesn’t conjure images of multilingualism or “good taste.” I am also “French”, though not born here, and being French does equate to ideas of “good taste” for some, but there’s friendly rivalry between Spain, France, and Italy as to whose taste is “better”, and depending on the person, you never quite know what stereotypes you’ll be running into. In any case, one thing is certain: I speak just enough Italian to embarrass myself. I still remember that stage of speaking French, too!

More typography in Nice

Posted in Nice at 18:37

Tabac Gorbella - librairie

This morning I had errands to run in Le Ray, a quartier in the northern part of Nice. There are several businesses and buildings with neat typography on them in the area – I had photographed a few with my cameraphone last year, but it doesn’t take very good quality pictures. I thought to take my DSLR along with me on my errands today. You can see all the photos in my new set on Flickr: Signage in Nice.

AB Serrurerie, Le Ray