I love the French culture, not just the beautiful old things - fabulous art, medieval towns, ancient churches - but the customs that prevail to this day. The little niceties, the generosity of spirit. It's a polite culture. Greeting each other with kisses and kind words slows things down from the rush I'm used to. The young and men offer seats on the bus and tram. This never happens where I live. Men hug and kiss and not just on football teams. That doesn't happen back home either.
One day up at the main square in Villefranche sur Mer, I saunter into a small café (having practiced my French) and ask the Proprietor for three things: un toilette, un café, et wifi. In the nicest possible way he corrects me. "Quatre choses: bonjour monsieur, un toilette, un café, wifi." I haven't forgotten. Now from bus drivers to students in my class, I always stop and greet people first. When departing from someone, one always wishes them a bon journéé, bon soiréé...a good day, good evening. It's the French way.
a kiss with every meal
they greet with kisses and
leave with well wishes
as if intending you well
The wonderful city of Nice, thanks to an activist Mayor, is becoming more green (with the autobleus and velobleus, recycling), more beautiful (with the new central park, better realignments). It's "un ville qui bouge," a city on the move. a dynamic city! Me too...I've never moved more, averaging about seven to eight miles per day on foot. I know the secret to French womens' trim figures: Bread and café. Bread and lunch. Bread and dinner. Tartes. Croissants. Wine. More wine. Then they walk...everywhere!
The French are efficient. Trains and busses come and go on time, announce the next stop on the vehicles and departures and arrivals at each station, roll on and off at the same level...unlike Italy, where I clocked one over an hour late, hauled luggage up and down huge steps in and out of trains, could never figure out where I was or when I was leaving...or arriving. A week in Italy and you'll really appreciate French efficiency! And I already mentioned the water - delicious and drinkable, unlike back home...or in Italy. Even Italian food is better in France!
I'm becoming a flậneur, a connoisseur of the street, getting the art of the stroll down. Whether meandering the streets of old town or along the promenade, I don't rush as is my custom. At a certain pace, thoughts vanish, and all that's left is the experience of the moment, le joie de vivre.
I'm also learning how to nap. they do siestas here. Shops close midday for a couple of hours. I don't know if it's the Italian influence or the sun...or just human need, but it's a great tradition...along with all the little kindnesses: a lemoncello from a friendly cafe owner following a fun conversation, the waiter who tries to fix a single man up with me when offering him a table, the little old gent squeezing past me on the bus, 'a bit close' he says in French, smiling broadly. His flirt puts a smile on my face and makes the whole crowded trip go better.
I call Guillaume and his bike taxi to move me from one residence to another, across town. $10 is the quote, but then he goes out of his way, down the Promenade, stopping for photos, pointing out the dedication this year of a small Statue of Liberty - to commemorate the Americans who liberated France. Then he bikes a few blocks out of his way to show me the lamps on the Opera House, also designed by Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Tower of his name and the Statue of Liberty). Overall I get a forty-minute ride for a ten minute trip, full of information and friendship.
The Albanian waiter, the Senegalese Ambassador, the French chef and Thai proprietor, so many others - they each exhibit a patience with me, a certain warmth. These kindnesses are not lost on me. Gently I am learning to slow down, to be enriched by people and places - all so lovely. France speaks sweetly to me, and I learn to see what I don't yet know, to see as vibration (like the impressionists), rather than language or concept...or thought. It's a beautiful, rich culture. It's seductive and alive. And I am thoroughly enchanted by it.