Archive for February, 2010

A new home

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 17:25

Art Deco lines
This will come as a bit of a surprise to readers, since I never mentioned it before, wanting to keep quiet until I knew for certain. This morning I had an interview for obtaining French citizenship at the préfecture in Nice. It went very well, and the préfet’s representative told me that there was no valid reason to refuse my application. In legal French, and in the context of the naturalisation for which I’d applied, this means it will be accepted by the Ministry in charge of naturalisations. That will take about a year, as the representative also told me.

Of his own accord, he also pointed out that the process had gone surprisingly fast. Indeed, I had applied around the start of November last year, and received notice of my interview at the end of January. The préfet’s representative explained that it was because the police investigation had gone quickly. “I can’t remember the last time I got a police report so soon after requesting one,” he laughed, then he asked me, “did the police ever contact you or visit you?” I answered “no, but I’m often in contact with them, ha! I have a dangerous neighbor, so I call them a lot.” Continuing with the joke, the man pulled out the police report and chuckled, “well, they say they have no idea who you are!” In French legalese, “ne pas être connu”, “to not be known” by the police means that you have no criminal record. The man interviewing me even added another layer of word play when he saw that I’d understood the joke, saying “et bien, on peut rajouter que le français ne vous est pas étranger !” In English, “well, I can add that French isn’t foreign to you!” It was nice to have met with someone easy-going.

That said, I’ve almost always dealt with easy-going public employees in France. At the tax office, train station (SNCF), post office (which is where I’ve met the grumpy ones), prefecture, city police, national police — they’ve nearly all been helpful and even funny. I’ll never forget the towering gendarme (national policeman) in my living room who, after he’d recognized my violent neighbor was indeed a danger to others, and after I’d showed photos of excrement she kept putting on my patio, said in his booming, authoritative voice, totally deadpan, “En effet. Mademoiselle, on peut dire que vous êtes dans la merde.” “Indeed. Miss, it could be said that you’re in a shitty situation.”

In addition to having a new home country, my home apartment became much more welcoming this weekend, with the addition of a sofa and two matching chairs, shown in this entry’s photo. On Saturday, I went to my favorite brocante, secondhand shop, to look for a small end table. In the window was a gorgeous forest green leather Chesterfield, but well out of my budget range. Further inside, I noticed a sofa and chairs set with oddly-styled arms; curved wood over an upholstered arm, but the wood “floated” over the upholstery. I love clean, curved lines on furniture. Furthermore, it looked like the pieces were narrow enough to fit through my living room door frame, which is just 75cm/30 inches wide. I checked their price, expecting something in the 300-500 euro range. 50 euros — fifty! “Oh dear, something must be terribly wrong with them,” I thought, and so I looked around the rest of the store. Finding no end tables I liked, I returned to the living room set. “At that price, I might as well try them out and check them over,” I told myself. They were in perfect condition, and incredibly comfortable, with firm springs. They were in such good condition, in fact, that I had no idea what period they could possibly be from, since they obviously weren’t contemporary, but not antique, either. I measured their depth: 70 centimeters (27″). Perfect. I bought them. Delivery cost as much as they did, and in another stroke of luck, I’d bought them ten minutes before the delivery van arrived for its afternoon round — they kindly delivered them the very same day!

Once home, I photographed the sofa and the two chairs, and submitted a question to one of my favorite sites, ApartmentTherapy. “What style are these chairs and sofa? Commenters all agreed: 1940s French Art Deco! My apartment building is Art Deco too, and was built in 1953. My living area truly is d’époque, period, and I didn’t even do it on purpose! I am very glad to finally have a couch after two years without, and the kitties are happy too.

Snow on the French Riviera

Posted in La France, Nice at 17:15

Oak behind the office, end of storm
On Wednesday (the 10th), we got news that a strong winter weather system was heading our way. Dozens of inches of snow were predicted for the hills, and up to six inches along the coastline — never before seen on the French Riviera. We get snow once every few years, but it’s usually a dusting, like we had in December, and melts by noon.

Thursday morning, I woke up to 4°C (39°F) and rain. I decided to try for the bus, and put on my nice hiking boots, wool socks, a turtleneck, and a wool knit cap, as well as taking along a pair of gloves just in case. I figured that if the bus came, it meant the weather was fine at our offices in Sophia Antipolis, some 28 kilometers (17 miles) to the west of Nice. The bus did indeed come; when we arrived in Sophia an hour later, it was raining there too.

Until just before 11am, that is. Snow began to fall, but it was still above freezing, so it wasn’t really sticking. Then the temperature began to dip, and the snow started picking up. By 11:30, the snow had built up noticeably. Roads quickly became blocked. The buses were no longer running. Not long afterwards, our prefect formally forbade drivers from going on the roads, and the highways were closed. Weather reports said that the worst was still to come in the evening! At 4:30pm I took the photo above, as well as a few others (full photoset here), and then my reflex’s battery died.

With roads still closed, buses not running and the news continuing to report a larger storm front about to roll in, I realized I was probably going to spend the night at the office. When I joked about camping in front of my office radiator with another colleague, he mentioned that he lived 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) away and was going to walk home — he offered to let me eat and sleep at his place. His children were with their grandparents, so there would be a spot for me without a problem. I took him up on his offer. In addition to working together, we often cross each other’s paths on the trails at lunch time — he goes running, and I go mountain biking. So we both knew we’d be fine with the 8-kilometer hike through snow.

It turned out to be one of the most beautiful hikes in my life. We passed the Mougins golf course, Fontmerle lagoon, and Picasso’s former home. Just as we passed the sign pointing to Picasso’s home, the setting sun set afire the Estérel coastal range beneath the grey storm clouds. I took these photos with my mobile phone, since it was the only camera we had available. A few minutes later, we looked behind us and had our breath taken away again, this time by the all-encompassing ink blue that was enveloping the Pré-Alpes just to the north of us. To the south, the sunset skies had transformed into pinks, purples and blues.

The next morning, it was below freezing, so we set out to walk the 8 kilometers back. It was more dangerous than on Thursday, since melting snow had frozen. We both had to catch ourselves from slipping a few times, but thanks to our trusty hiking shoes, we made it to the offices safely. Along the way, I took more photos (reminder, full photoset) and shot two videos:
o Etang de Fontmerle in the snow and morning sun
o Trail after the Mougins golf course, about a kilometer from Sophia Antipolis

Luckily the weather warmed up on Friday and I was finally able to get home by bus. There’s no more snow in Nice, but it is still falling heavily in the back country! And today I made sure to get some nice chocolates for my kind colleague.