This morning I grieve for Nice

This morning I grieve for Nice

There’s a mysterious song by John Prine that always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. In it he sings about Lake Marie, where, ‘standing by peaceful waters’, he would camp with his girl, catch a few fish and grill sausages on the barbecue. A place of simple happiness. But then, in the last verse, everything changes: watching the TV news he sees that the naked bodies of two girls, their faces horribly disfigured, have been found on the shore of Lake Marie, and suddenly:

All the love we shared between her and me was slammed,
Slammed up against the banks of Old Lake Marie!

That’s just how I feel this morning, hearing the terrible news from Nice, a beautiful city by the sea where the two of us have spent several joyful vacations – a love passed on to our daughter who goes there most summers, and will be there again in a few weeks.

A lifetime ago, in the late seventies, returning from a camping holiday somewhere in the Dordogne, the Tarn or the Auvergne, those beautiful, unspoilt regions of la France Profonde, we would stop in some small town or village on the 14th of July and watch as the fireworks lit up the night sky and the locals celebrated their national holiday.

That past seems like another country now. This morning I grieve for Nice, for France, and for humanity. Ordinary people living their ordinary lives have always been casualties of war, but since the start of the twentieth century wars have placed civilians more than soldiers in the gun sights. Whether it be by the technology of total war or the tactics of the suicide bomber.

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Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing

Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing

Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool brings together fifteen paintings from the Tate collection to provide an overview of the artist’s work across five decades. Its centrepiece is The Snail, the largest and most popular of Matisse’s cut-out works; after this show closes, it will never travel outside London again. Continue reading “Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool: The Snail’s last outing”

Painting with scissors: Matisse’s cut-outs at Tate Modern

Painting with scissors: Matisse’s cut-outs at Tate Modern

Fortuitously, my recent trip to France was bookended by visits to exhibitions that showcased Matisse at the beginning and at the end of his career.  Towards the end of the first day I visited the Musee Matisse in his home town of Le Cateau-Cambresis, which houses an astonishing collection of his work, including striking examples from his younger years.  Then, on my way back through London, I  went to Tate Modern to see Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, an unparalleled gathering of 130 of the joyous, exuberant works made by Matisse in the last decade of his life: a period which he regarded as a second life, a gift of time. A period in which he turned to painting with scissors. Continue reading “Painting with scissors: Matisse’s cut-outs at Tate Modern”

Nice: a river runs through it

Nice: a river runs through it

Many towns have grown up around rivers which have later been covered in (Liverpool and London included). Beneath the city streets, waterways continue on their ancient courses in underground culverts. Nice was once such place, where the Paillon, a river fed by mountain streams that flood each year with the melting of the snows, for much of the 19th century divided old Nice from new, poor from rich, servant from master.  Then,  in 1883, the Paillon was culverted, paved over, and became an unknown presence.

But last October, in a dramatic beautification of the city landscape, a new, linear park – the Promenade de Paillon – opened following a major urban renewal project that restores, at least metaphorically, the Paillon to its original place in the heart of the city.   Continue reading “Nice: a river runs through it”

Walking in Nietzsche’s footsteps

Walking in Nietzsche’s footsteps

The last time we were in Nice – last September – a summer-long celebration of Matisse was just drawing to a close, so we spent a lot of time in galleries.  This time was different: armed with John and Pat Underwood’s sublimely-titled Walk and Eat around Nice we spent a good part of our stay taking advantage of the excellent public transport system, travelling out of the city to experience some of the Underwood’s recommended walks.

The first walk we embarked on began at the hilltop town of La Turbie, followed the north side of the Grande Corniche crest with superb views of the snow-clad Mercantour mountains before crossing the shoulder and heading for the medieval hilltop town of Eze. From there we dropped down to the sea, following an old mule track known as the Nietzsche Trail.  There were magnificent coastal views and a profusion of springtime wild flowers. Continue reading “Walking in Nietzsche’s footsteps”

Another fine salade Nicoise

Another fine salade Nicoise

When we last visited Nice – on the occasion, last September, of my 65th birthday – I posted a celebration of the city under the title A new state pensioner’s salade Nicoise.  We’re just back from another few days in Nice, so here’s another mixture of flavours and colours that recall our short break.  There are strong opinions as to what should or should not go into a Salade Nicoise – residents of Nice are horrified at the English tendency to add potatoes, and tinned tuna or anchovies are (surprisingly) acceptable, but both together are not. Furthermore, they don’t use French beans as we tend to: a classic Salade Nicoise should be made with fresh fava beans.

Which is merely a preamble to this eclectic selection of memories of the four days we spent in Nice.  We had found an apartment at the top of the Old Town (the very top, in fact: our building was actually located just inside the wall of the Château gardens. From the balcony we had stunning views across the rooftops of the Old Town, and across the bay to the airport. Continue reading “Another fine salade Nicoise”

Matisse: his last resting place and resurrection

Matisse: his last resting place and resurrection

Back in Nice again, we headed up to Cimiez to wander in the tranquil gardens of the monastery and, of course, revisit the Matisse Museum.  First, though, there was something I wanted to see that I had overlooked on previous visits: the artist’s last resting place. Continue reading “Matisse: his last resting place and resurrection”