Saturday, June 30, 2012

Joutes Provençales (Water Jousting)

I recently went to a nearby port, where there was to be a Provençale jousting event. While waiting for it to start, I watched rowboats and sailboats, and looked around the
  Not knowing really what to expect, other than that it involves water and two boats, I was anticipating a fun event. Apparently, there are different varieties of jousting, depending on the region; however, the principal goal is the same: try to push the other competitor into the water, using a lance, before he pushes you in! Technically speaking, there are foot positions and posture, traditional dress, and lance-striking methods to respect.

In the Provençale method of jousting, the lances are made of iron and are aimed at the chest-covered padded vest, or hand-held shield, of each opponent. The jousters are called (in Provençale language) “targaïre” and the lance/weapon is called “targue.” All ages can compete in their own-age category, making this a family/team event. (Source:

As it turned out, one of the team’s boat had a motor problem, so they had to solicit some rowers to power the boat for the competition — this made it a rowing-powered boat against a motor-powered boat — not sure if this was a fair battle or not, but everyone seemed to enjoy seeing which team won in the end!

Failed attempt video

Winner video

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jazz in Nice = A Garden Makeover

Nice’s annual Jazz Festivalis being held in the public garden area of Albert 1st (Jardin Albert 1er), from July 8 through July 12, 2012. Last year, SEAL entertained in the garden venue.

However, the day after this year’s festival, the park will be barricaded and closed for one year, to open just in time for the 2013 Jazz Festival; the closure will allow work needed to complete “La Coulée Verte,” the green-space corridor being built on the site of Nice’s former bus station.

The hundred-year old trees will not be disturbed, when the park undergoes a makeover, with the addition of plant borders, grass, and fountains. The garden’s on-site merry-go-round will stay open and accessible during the renovation works, so families can continue to enjoy it!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brigitte Bardot & The French Riviera

Actually, it’s St. Tropez that this famous French icon, as an actress and singer, “put on the map” back in the 50′s & 60′s! She is highly recognizable throughout the world, and apparently, is still marketable; she is also passionately involved in animal rights.

As I was walking to lunch in Nice, a photo her caught my eye, and I then noticed the shop was featuring her new line of clothing.  No surprise, really — what would the French Riviera be without “BB” (as she is known)!

192 Euros / ~$240

70 Euros / ~ $88

~$181 skirt/~$94 top

~$375 dress/~$240 jacket

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fête de la Musique (Annual Music Festival)

Other than it being the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer, in France, June 21st is a national event! The music festival sees towns, villages, and cities hosting all types of music and local performers,

positioned in the streets and in front of cafes and restaurants. It is a family affair, with all ages enjoying the entertainment!
This annual, French tradition has even crossed the pond to New York City, and perhaps, other U.S. cities!

Since I LOVE to dance, I wasn’t about to miss out — so I listened, watched, and danced in the street only until around midnight — I had to get up for work the next morning (the music goes on until about 3:00AM in the Old Town).

Below are some video clips of the evening’s entertainment, so get on your dancing shoes!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

French Language Practice: Object Pronouns

Fill in the corresponding object pronoun (le, la, les, lui, leur, y, en):

1. Je ____ écris un SMS. (to them)

2. Je ne ____ vois pas. (them)

3. Veux-tu ___ manger? (some)

4. Donne-___ cette montre. (her)

5. Ils ___ vont cet été. (en Italie)

6. Je ___ parle. (to him)

7. Je parle d’ ___ (about them).

8. Il n’___ a qu’un. (of them)

9. N’___ pense pas! (about it)

10. Attends-___ ! (her)

How did you do? Pronouns can be tricky!

 (Answers: 1-leur/2-les/3-en/4-lui/5-y/6-lui/7-eux/8-en/9-y/10-la)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

“Cuisine, terroirs et savoir-faire”

This year’s “Journée du Patrimoine” (heritage day) focused on the know-how of food and working the land. In keeping with this special day, I attended a guided visit to the workshop of M. Barnoin, a local artisan/ceramist, who presented his collection of ceramics and collectable artifacts.

While walking past many large pottery containers, we were told that the major production of pottery took place in the town of Biot (in 1620), with its stamped emblem of the Croix de Malte (Maltese Cross); Monaco (in 1874); and in Vallauris, where from 1631-1782, there were 21 pottery factories for the “poterie paysan.” These large-type, glazed-on-the-inside pots were used to store olives and olive oil, and also were used to wash clothes.

What’s the difference between pottery & ceramics? Well, it seems that the actual products are called ‘pottery,’ with the term ‘ceramics’ being the finishing technique involved (rather than the finished product itself) — for example, “faience.” — a special type of ceramics.

At the end of the visit, guided by the Mayor’s office representative, we were treated to a glass of violet syrup mixed with carbonated water and pieces of ‘tourte de blettes, a sweet, swiss-chard filled pastry topped with confectioner’s sugar – both deliciously sweet!

So, in the end, we had celebrated the know-how of both: “terroirs” & “cuisine”!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bleu Méditerranéen

The French Riviera & its various shades of blue:  Provençale blue, sky blue, turquoise, cobalt, and of course,……azur!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An unexpected Nice sighting: Crime and Scam Alert

Yes, it’s that time of year (July & August) when Nice is packed with tourists, and so, the pickpockets, thieves, and scammers are actively in ‘business.’  Unbelieveably, my friend who had her wallet stolen on a bus, was on bus #9 and saw the same “serial pickpocket” with his modus operandum of a jacket slung over his arm — No way has it been eight months since we were in court (see linked article)!

As in any big city anywhere, petty theft occurs on unsuspecting tourists, and Nice is no differentv– the most prevalent crimes are:

1. Gold necklaces are yanked from ladies’ necks, since the price of gold is high.  Best to leave your jewelry at home!

2. Gold ring scam: Someone will pick up a gold ring and approach you, assuming that you have dropped it; he suggests that you keep it anyway, since it has value, in return for a gesture of giving him money.  The best thing to do is to just walk away or offer to contact the police about the lost ring.

3. Pickpockets – one man I know had just withdrawn 400 Euros from a cash machine and had his wallet taken from his pants pocket (no, he didn’t feel a thing!)  Purses should be worn slung across your body, backpacks worn on the front in crowded areas, and wallets not in pants back pockets. Be especially alert on crowded buses and trams.

4. Vol à la portière – In heavy traffic, or at red lights, the target is a purse, computer, or camera that can be easily grabbed by opening the car door or breaking the side window. Best to keep doors locked and items out of sight. (The below link shows an unusually aggressive incident)
vol a la portiére  

Nice is generally a safe city with about 400 video cameras in place, so don’t be afraid to come enjoy the French Riviera — just be aware of your surroundings and be “city smart”!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

“11eme Art” : A nice Nice restaurant

Last evening, I had dinner at 11eme Art, with its upscale modern interior and known for its “creative cuisine.”

As it’s one of my favorite restaurants in Nice for a special occasion; I have eaten there several times (am now recognized) and haven’t been disappointed. The attentive service equals the presentation of the food, as each course is served with attention to detail. Admittedly, my food critique is limited, as I have always ordered the (chalkboard listed) “Menu Saveur”: a smorgasbord of six courses – a creative mix of flavors, elegantly and artfully presented!

The ambiance is friendly and professional, with a small lounge-type area for having drinks and a terrace for dining al fresco. It was delicious, as usual, but I noted a minor glitch this time
(* below, as my personal opinion) — here’s what I ate and felt pleasantly full afterwards:

 Véloute d’aspèrges (asperagus soup)

Tarte de Haddock fumé et mousse saffron (Smoked haddock and saffron mousse)

Gambas purée d’artichauts (Shrimp with artichoke puree) – *serving 2 or 3 shrimp would present better

Boeuf façon wok et petits légumes (Beef with vegetables)

Mousse yaourt (Yogurt mousse)

Tartare d’ananas au basilic (Pineapple crumble with pineapple sorbet)

                                          BON APPETIT!

Note: Missing this evening was “11eme Art ” artfully written in chocolate on the rim of the dessert plates – the restaurant was very busy, so maybe the chef eliminated his “signature” work of art!  

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Laws for Noise in Nice

Nice is especially active and lively during this time of year, and………..well, decidedly noisy: buses, scooters and motorcycles, honking cars, tourists, and miscellaneous city sounds! The Mayor’s office recently passed three new laws, in an effort to diminish the noise pollution levels and enforce public orderliness, for the city of Nice.

1. From 8:00PM to 5:00AM, the consummation of alcohol is forbidden in the streets, main city squares and city gardens, as well as on Nice beaches.

2. Street performers (musicians, statue-pantomimes, etc.) must now obtain authorisation from the head of the Mayor’s cultural department, with further location-type restrictions: only 8 in the city center; permitted only in the southern end of Massena, Garibaldi, Rossetti, Palais de Justice in the Old Town, Place Magenta and Grimaldi in the pedestrian zone, Pierre Gautier, et Charles Felix — but only between 12:00 Noon and 2:00PM and 5:00PM to 10:00PM

3. With up to 34 marriage ceremonies taking place on any given Saturday in the summer, the after-wedding car parade celebrations, with music, honking and yelling, will be limited by the mayor’s office to try to avoid excess city noise. A silent fake wedding was staged in protest, just outside the Mayor’s office, with the bride, groom, and guests having tape over their mouths.

While the above new laws may be justified, it will be interesting to see if they will be respected and/or adhered to……………… of now, the jury is still out!

Source: Nice Matin newspaper

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Permis de conduire: Getting a French driving license

Only certain states in the U.S. have a reciprocal driving license agreement with France, where you automatically can exchange one for the other — as luck would have it, MY license was NOT one of them! That meant, my American license was valid to drive in France for only one year, as a new resident. Tant pis!
Living in the 5th largest city in France, with its excellent bus service and all that the city has to offer within walking distance from my apartment, I debated long and hard whether I really NEEDED a French license — especially seeing how crazy the driving is here!

Just out of curiosity though, I walked over to one of the local “Auto Ecole” to get some information, just in case, so I could claim a more intelligent decision for NOT doing it! It turned out that this particular driving school is very reputable for being the first one established in Nice (link to historical photos). The French owner’s wife was very reassuring that it would be simple comme bonjour (a piece of cake), since I already had many driving years behind me in both countries! Even the owner said I would only need to do a few hours of driving lessons (much less than the obligatory 20 hours for beginners) — maybe 5 or 6, but only after studying and passing the road code – the first part of the whole testing process to obtain a license. Even so, this whole endeavor would be expensive:  860€ for the registration, including DVD road code practice sessions, + 80€ driving lesson registration & 38€ per hour for the actual lessons with an instructor — not to mention the time it would take to do all this!

Now, I was even more sure it wasn’t worth it, in all aspects, but with the road code booklet in hand, I spent days looking over car, traffic, and driving vocabulary. Who knew how to say ‘clutch’ and ‘high beam lights’ in French? – not exactly a point of everyday conversation! My husband encouraged me to continue, saying it would be something I would regret not having later on… hmmm, maybe…..  I still wasn’t convinced, but not liking the feeling of defeat, the gauntlet was thrown, and so, I signed up! My learning curve would be much longer than the road curve signs in the book, as there were over 200 new road signs added since the past year — Huh?  How is that even possible?

You could only register to take the real test when you were missing around five answers in the practice sessions, which ran all day long, everyday, non-stop. After months of ‘study’, I took the code test in a classroom with about 50 other younger drivers, who were as nervous and afraid as I was (you could only miss a maximum of 5 out of 40 to pass) — we all waited outside afterwards to hear whether we passed or failed (actual scores not given, and really who cares?  I was so relieved at having passed, I actually cried!

I thought the hard part was over, but then came the actual driving lessons – no problem for me, as I had driven a stick shift car in the U.S. ‘forever.’ No deal — you had to ‘caress the brakes’ 30 meters before a green light, just in case it turned orange (ah, don’t you mean yellow?) – and how far is 30 meters anyway? There were many other little idiosyncrasies that I had to do while driving, like moving your hands on the wheel in a certain way, while going around a sharp curve; staying to the right, so scooters could pass, even in a no passing zone where they don’t legally have the right, keeping my heel on the floor while letting out the clutch — WHAT, REALLY? I finally became so annoyed at the ridiculousness of it all, including inside the car and under the hood French vocabulary, that I decided to quit – it seemed like they were just trying to nitpick and/or get more money from lessons — both were happening and  I had enough!

After taking two weeks off, and not wanting to lose all that I had invested: money, time and sheer determination, I took a few more lessons and then took the real test with an official and my instructor in the backseat – I was nervous beyond belief, but followed his verbal instructions of where to drive, parallel park, etc., and answered car/motor questions in French. Out of the maximum 30 points, I scored 30! What a relief (no, I didn’t cry), and in hindsight, yes – I’m glad I stuck with it, and yes – it drove me crazy (yes, pun intended)!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mediterranean cuisine: A recipe

You say “to-may-toe” and I say “to-mah-toe”, you say “po-tay-toe” and I say “po-tah-toe”…, garbanzo beans and chickpeas are also pronounced differently, but are the same ingredient, being one of the staples of Mediterranean cuisine. For example, socca is very popular and nutrious, and is made from chickpea flour – served hot and topped with pepper, eaten with your fingers-type snack – a real Nice specialty!

In keeping with Mediterranean cuisine, a friend of mine gave me the following recipe using chickpeas/garbanzo beans, and it was easy, quick, and tasted great, not to mention that I need all the help I can get, in lacking the cooking gene:

Ingredients: (for 2 people)
- A jar of cooked chickpeas
- 1-2 leeks
- garlic
- olive oil
- rosemary
- pasta or rice
1. Saute the chopped up leeks (white part only) in a large pain with olive oil
2. Add crushed garlic and some chopped rosemary
3. When the leeks are soft and yellowed, add the chickpeas (drain and save liquid before)
4. With a fork, mash 1/2 of the chickpeas in the pan, so they become pasty and keep mixing
so that the flavors combine well. If it seems dry, add some of the liquid from the drained chickpeas)
5. Serve over cooked pasta or rice

Et voila – un vrai délice!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cooking for the French vs. French Cooking

OK – it’s no secret that I didn’t inherit the ‘cooking gene’ — when I was growing up, it was mostly plain, broiled steak, spaghetti, pot roast, hamburger, or meatloaf for dinner. However, I did spend summers at my aunt’s house in the country, and boy, could she cook (mostly hearty, meat and potato-type meals); and bake like nobody’s business — I remember how she always had a pie or cake cooling on the kitchen window sill and the wonderful smells in the house! Unfortunately, I was too young to care and resented having to help shuck corn and snap green beans from the huge garden. I wish I had paid more attention!

“Le Réveillon de Noël” (Christmas eve dinner) in France is a really big deal. I had been lucky enough to not have to host it….until, last Christmas — it was MY turn, as the American cooking for the French! I started stressing out months before, trying to figure out what to serve, let alone attempt to cook, for the expected 10-12 French guests. I finally settled on:

    • an entrée (starter) of the classic, grilled foie gras, served on a toasted slice of pain d’épice (spice ginger-type bread)
    • leg of lamb, as the plat principale (which I had never cooked before nor eaten much of), served with potatoes au gratin
    • salade verte (green salad) with vinaigrette, served after the main course
    • cheese tray – not as easy as you might think, in choosing from the over 400 types of French cheeses
    • La Bûche de Noël for dessert (log cake, bought at the local bakery – whew!)
    • Apertifs, wines, water (sparkling and flat but which brands?), and after dinner liquors — more choices to be made with serious contemplation.
Not to mention, the setting and presentation of the table– cutlery arrangement with fork tines up vs. down, centerpiece, decorations, dishes & glass placements, and table etiquette. (amusing video link)

OK, I was ready – with printed recipes and the timing of the courses calculated to a tee! Just when I thought I had it all figured out, a guest threw a wrench in the works by bringing an entrée of sausages and cooked apples — a very nice gesture to help relieve my having-to-cook stress.  Yet, it had to be heated, and by the time my starter was to be also served, the toasted pain d’épice had cooled and turned into a cement foundation under the foie gras.  One of the guests was tapping it with their spoon to confirm that “oui,” it was hard as a brick and impenetrable!  And of course, by now, the entire meal had been cooking longer than planned, and my stress level was off the charts!

When it was all said and done, the rest of the meal went OK, although I was convinced it hadn’t.  No one wanted cheese nor after dinner drinks, though…..maybe they just wanted to get home to their own French food!!