Friday, 8 October 2010


The decorator came to my apartment for two days work last week.  He was Italian.  We'll call him Giuseppe.  (Wish we wouldn't, it's not very easy to type).  Stocky man, glasses, not that tall.  In fact, his shorts were longer than he was.  He had to paint the hallway, and he closed all the doors leading off it before climbing up onto his ladder.  (This was for professional purposes; I'm not certain he uses the ladder for recreation, but it might be an idea).  After an hour of work on my book (available in all good stores Christmas 2037!) I came out of the living room to find him cheerfully plastering bits of the ceiling with a fag hanging out of his mouth.  

'I hope it doesn't put you out that I smoke', he said, in French with a heavy Italian accent (not sure there's a font for that).

'Biffo', I managed to mumble,  (fluent Franglais that Italians can understand), surprised he hadn't asked me for permission to light up.

Thinking about it whilst making a coffee, I started to boil along with the kettle.  I marched to the hallway (I presume it was the hallway, there was a bit of a white fog now).

'Actually, I'm terribly sorry, but I have asthma.  Would you mind going outside to smoke, please?'

He was immediately acquiescent, and very apologetic. But it's typical of life here; you get away with whatever you can.

The next day he started to leer, ever so slightly.  And lean close when he was talking to me.  And smile a lot, and tell me what a pretty name I have (I've always liked NiceEtoile myself).  Not to mention gaze at my breasts when he was addressing me.  Halfway through the morning he sang me a chirpy song in Italian, bobbing up and down and clicking his fingers to keep time. When he'd completed the whole job in the early afternoon he came close and put his head next to mine, lowered his voice and semi-growled something I couldn't make out about an 'apero'.  I thought he was asking me out for a drink later (he's married, I've met his wife) and so I just laughed, but he was intent on getting his message across and kept repeating the phrase.  In the end, I understood:  he was asking me for a glass of wine, as a treat, for having finished the job.  He looked deep into my eyes as I finally cottoned on.

Hell, he's weighing up whether or not to make a pass at me, I thought. But, for the sake of International Relations (I have a Politics Degree, I take these things seriously), I opened a new bottle of rose I had chilling in the 'fridge.  (Two for the price of one in Monoprix; drinking it, you understand why.  I think Giuseppe would have worked slightly faster had he used it to remove the ancient paint the previous day). 

He downed the wine almost in one.  

'How is it?' I asked.

'It's good, very good', he lied, fixing me intently with his dark eyes once again.  

I affected a business-like manner and managed to get rid of him - eventually - without being propositioned.  But it was a pretty close thing.

This sums up my life here.  People make their own rules, there's a deep sense of entitlement, and married men blatantly and unashamedly come onto women.   (WHY DON'T THE SINGLE ONES, FOR GOD'S SAKE???!!!  COME ONTO ME, ALREADY!!!  I'M OVER HERE!!!)

A drama writer by inclination, I've been persuaded to write a book about my first year in Nice.  What you'll (eventually) read will shock you:  I'll laugh, I'll cry, I'll make my living from writing Health & Beauty articles (aaaarrggghhhhh!!!!) and - when I can get the work - from teaching.  But what might shake you to the core is the attitude of the people who are drawn to this most heart-stoppingly beautiful place: the ex-pats.  

They've come from all over the world, they have aspirations for an easy life and many of them tread on each other in order to get it.  I've worked for two schools, one university, a local magazine and a private individual.  In every instance there has been questionable moral behaviour, and not one person involved in the sorry tale has been French.

Forget comfy middle-class diaries about Rupert and Camilla trying to make local builders understand, in the depths of the French countryside, that it is not mandatory to install a bidet in Every Single Room in the forty-five bedroomed 200 year-old chateau they're doing up with Camilla's inheritance from Lady Constance, cast aside those memories of John Thaw mooching morosely around the soft-focussed hills of Provence, this is real life: tough, urban, completely at odds with what you might expect when you imagine the glamour and beauty of the Cote d'Azur.

There is a well-known book by Chris Stewart, one-time drummer with Genesis before they became famous (I know that feeling), called Driving Over Lemons.  Chris and his wife bought a remote farm in rural Andalucia (that's funny, I could have sworn they'd gone to Spain), and his writing relates their adventures in doing up the property and having to steer over the indigenous yellow citrus fruit.

People don't drive over lemons here, though.  They drive over ex-pats.

This is the story of my endeavours to write a book about my experiences, whilst trying to earn enough to keep my freezer stocked with Picard's fish fingers.  (Good quality fish, nice crunchy coating, not many additives. Quite a reasonable price.)  It's a colourful picture of places, of people, of other things beginning with 'P'.  The story of everyday life on the Riviera.  Read it whilst I weep.





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