Sunday, January 23, 2011

Côte de Blues

Lest I ever give the impression that Nice is a city of perpetual sunshine, let me come clean and show our street a couple of weeks ago. (If you never see my blog again it will mean that the Tourism Police have figured out where I am and zapped my PC.) Today, I hasten to add, it’s not like that: we will soon take our walk along the Promenade des Anglais in our shirtsleeves and find a sunny terrace on which to have lunch. (I think that’s what they told me to say.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this, but, disregarding the occasional blizzard, Nice is nice. It is the birthplace and capital city of the French Riviera. For a few centuries BC it was a trading centre for Phoenician merchantmen, who called it Nikaïa, after the Greek god of victory. When the Romans crossed the Alps in the first century BC, they established a hilltop city here whose ruins can still be seen in what is now the elegant residential suburb of Cimiez. The streets of Roman Cimiez still bear the traces of chariot wheels, but they have hip names (is hip still hip?), like Duke Ellington Alley, Dizzy Gillespie Way and Miles Davis Street – for today it is the home of the Nice Jazz Festival.
Matisse lived next door, and I used to wonder if he moved away for those ten torrid days in July.

France’s – and the Riviera’s - love affair with jazz is as old as jazz itself. While paddle steamers were carrying the new music up the Mississippi to the great eastern cities, GIs on their belated way to World War I carried in their knapsacks the first scratchy products of the burgeoning recording industry. New French words were coined or adopted - "rag-time" became "le temps de chiffon", and swinguer and le big band entered French dictionaries.

I wasn’t there at the time - I’m a relative rookie who’s been attending the Nice Jazz Festival for a mere 29 years. These days we sometimes walk up to Cimiez: the DG likes its fin de siècle architecture but not its exclusivity. But as we pass the Roman ruins I swear I hear music coming from the ancient stones: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Charlie Mingus, Kenton…. Those were the days before Artistes’ Villages and neanderthal security guards: then, the musicians used to eat with the fans. My kids and I would sit and chat with the likes of Michel Petrucciani and Lionel Hampton. Now they and Satchmo are just statues; the rest are street names.

Divided loyalties: Everton played West Ham yesterday, the beleaguered team at the bottom of the table and in need of the points, and supported by one of our dearest friends. Whom do you support, knowing he was going all the way to Liverpool to support them? “Let the better team win”, I prayed, “so long as it’s not the Hammers”. God in his wisdom gave the right result – two-all.


GillieB said...

Have only just discovered that you are back ... yippee! Memories of Cimiez - parking Himself with some locals in a cafe while I visited M. Matisse ... mistake - when I returned, had to pour Himself down the hill.

riviera writer said...

Hi GB. Serves you right for putting Art before Himself - you should know the rules by now

Cliff said...

Beautifully put.