Sunday, 5 December 2010


The world would be a far poorer place without the French.  Just imagine what it would be missing: couture design, as promoted by Coco Chanel No. 5 (for which Coco Chanel No. 4 never forgave her until her dying day); haute cuisine, cooked up by Georges Auguste Escoffier (although frankly his Suzette was crepe);  and Sacha Distel, whose renditions of Dans les Pharmacies, Un Pastis Bien Frais and On N'est Pas Des Grenouilles (knee deep in tradition) have brought tears to the eyes of millions of people around the globe who know a thing or two about music.

But surpassing even these luminaries are the great thinkers - Descartes (I think, therefore I can read maps); Simone de Beauvoir (I think, but I also look good); and Voltaire (I think, whilst at the same time undercutting EasyJet and RyanAir.  Fly Volt!).  

When it comes to everyday rationality, however, the Nicois tend to revere the thought processes of the little-known philosopher - allegedly the illegitimate son of Napoleon I - Jules Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire; for logic along the Cote d'Azur is nothing if not Hilarious.

My friend, Anastasia, and I visited a local museum when she was over from the UK.  (This was in the days before the UK managed to stop people from escaping its shores by the dastardly wheeze of coating tarmac with white water crystals.   Years in development, brilliantly effective.  There's just no holding back sophisticated governments of the 21st Century).  

The Musee Massena is situated in one of the best positions in town, facing the Mediterranean on the Promenade des Anglais.  Entrance is free. However, there's an important ritual that must be followed if you are to gain admission to this breathtakingly beautiful villa.  You first have to enter a shop next to the museum and ask the lady behind the counter for a (free) ticket.  She then gives you a (free) ticket.  You walk out of the shop and in through the gates of the house where, on the steps leading up to the front door, you encounter a guide, who asks you for your (free) ticket.  You hand over your (free) ticket, the guide thanks you very much for your trouble, and you cross the portal, whilst scratching your head (local custom).

Nice has a nice new tram system, which was years in the design and building.  It's very popular and very efficient.  Tickets - however far you're travelling - cost 1 euro, and you buy them from vending machines at tram stops.  

I bought one from my local tram stop the other day.  The tram arrived, I stepped onto it, and put my ticket into the 'composter' machine to be franked.  It immediately spat out my piece of card, alerting everyone in the carriage with a very loud BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP that I was endeavouring to hookwink it with an un-valid billet, and thus was a criminal of the finest order (though there's nothing about me which makes me look remotely like a British politician as far as I'm aware).

The doors having closed and the tram having set off on its route down the main shopping thoroughfare, all I could do was resolve to take the faulty ticket to the Ligne d'Azur shop for a refund. 

And so it was that I visited the Ligne d'Azur shop just opposite the very tram stop where I had wasted my euro on this duff oblong of blue paper. Well, this being a piece about tickets, you didn't really think they were going to let anyone just wander in, now did you?  It's a bit like queueing up for sausages at the Waitrose deli, you have to tear off a piece of paper with a number on it and await your turn.  My ticket said 18, the number of the ticket of the person they were currently serving was 327.  Ah well, I'm British, I know how to wait in line, and anyway, Michael Buble was purring seductively into my ear.  

After 20 minutes it was my turn.  I went up to the counter, waved my ticket in the air and explained that the machine on the tram wouldn't accept it.  Please could I have my euro back.  The woman pointed outside the shop to the tram stop 10 metres away.  Had I purchased the ticket from that machine, she asked?  Yes, I affirmed.  I had.  Well then, she said, you'll have to take it to the Ligne d'Azur shop two kilometres down the street in Place Massena. 

(*&^%$$£   (%^&*()@

(So which were the tickets she dealt with, then?  Those purchased in Scandinavia???)

Mind you, if French reason is unreasonable, just sample Italian thinking...

...I was once trying to get to Sam Remo from Nice - the sorry tale of which I will relate in another post - but all you need to know for now is that I got stuck at Ventimiglia station for what seemed like three weeks.  There is a very nice cafe come deli shop at Ventimiglia station, which enticed me for my lunch (and possibly supper, not to mention Christmas dinner. Think you're getting the idea).  

However, this is not just any cafe come deli shop, nor even is it a Marks & Spencer's cafe come deli shop, it is an Italian cafe come deli shop. Which means you don't go up to the counter, point at something lovely and say I'll take 7 of those por favor, you queue up at the till, tell the lady what you think you want to eat (either having no idea what there is to eat at the counter, or having studied what there is to eat for the last 45 minutes, realising that it is a necessity to memorize what fare there is to chose from - forget teasmade, set of towels, cuddly toy, it's more a case of Genoa Salami, Mortadella, Soppressata - oo, and what was the other thing again???, don't help me, I'll get it on my own...) - you hand over the money, she prints out a receipt with a list of the stuff you've paid for, you take it to the counter and queue up to hand it to the person serving the food, happening to glance down at something mouth-wateringly delicious before realising if you also want a slice of that, you're going to have to invest another 4 hours of your life you'll never get back again.  And thus you come away with 16 packets of coffee beans and a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil because you're menopausal. 

So perhaps living in France isn't quite so bad after all.   I've yet to visit the Ligne d'Azur shop in Place Massena (which is open from 1.24pm to 2.43pm on alternate week days, not including Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays or bank holidays).  But at least there's a certain comedy about it.  I'm not one of those people who knows the cost of everything (1 euro) and the value of nothing (6 gags), you know.


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Please be nice, but not funnier than me. Thanks.