Getting high in Nice

As the huffing and puffing visitors got to the very top of Parc de Colline du Chateau — Castle Hill — in Nice, their sounds of astonishment at what they saw were so predictable and repetitive that they became comical.

Even the view itself was funny, in a way  — so perfect, so unreal, so ready-made for photographing and distribution that all you could do was let out a spasm of stunned laughter at how ridiculous the beauty was, and how ridiculous your good fortune to be able to see it. 

To the left, the Mediterranean a radiating blue that seemed manufactured by the imagination, a thin band of tan beach that curved off into the distance, the peach and terra cotta buildings of Old Nice huddling up against the sea as if trying to get a view of it themselves, and past that, the dusky beginnings of the Maritime Alps.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore — and our family was one of the least well-off even among our working-class friends. And although I’m only here for a job writing about research in Parkinson’s disease, as I sit here listening to the street sounds drifting up to my third-floor apartment in the oldest part of the city — friendly French chatter, yapping dogs, a flutist, motor scooters, the European hee-haw of emergency trucks —  it’s hard to believe I’m in the French Riviera, inside a postcard.

As I made my way back down to the shadowy, narrow corridors of the old city with its endless creperies, patisseries, butcher shops, cigarette-smokers, and pigeons, I saw a woman who looked confused. I assumed she was a tourist who didn’t know which staircase to use to get to the top of the hill. I pointed and said, “Castle Hill.”

She said, “Yes, Castle Hill.” It turned out she was a local artist, and she was trying to figure out where to sit and sketch, but was frustrated because she couldn’t decide. There was mystery and beauty in every direction. 

The unmatched gloom of the dying mall

There is hardly a place more depressing than a dying mall. The vastness of the decay. The long-ago cheer. A space requiring fullness, vacuumed out.

Only in an emergency would I end up in one. But when I landed in Atlanta earlier today, I found that a packing error had rendered me sports jacket-less. Continue reading “The unmatched gloom of the dying mall”