Tod Wodicka is a novelist and writer. His latest book, The Household Spirit, came out in 2015. American born, he has spent the last decade in Berlin.
Yulia Rudenko is a photographer based in Moscow.
Nice is perhaps the quintessential southern French city. Discovered by the English in the 19th century, it became synonomous with the travellers of the Belle Époque, to those taking the air or searching for artistic inspiration in its balmy climate and bright, soft light.
Area: 71.92 km2 (27.77 sq mi)
Time zone: GMT +1
Like many of you, I have ignored the existence of France for the better part of 20 years, and, until a few weeks ago, the only thing I definitively knew about the city of Nice was that it is mispronounced.
But then this happened:
My girlfriend of five years, the sometime New York Times travel writer Charlize Theron (not her real name) broke up with me in a German castle which I was invited to inhabit while working on my third novel, Bathhouse. Bathhouse was supposed to be a fictitious, pre-emptive memoir about what will happen when Charlize Theron leaves me and my father dies and I return home from Berlin with my nine-year-old German son to run my father’s gay sex club in upstate New York. My father is still very much alive. But, if the wizardly powers of this unwritten novel are anything to go by, he might not be for long.
Because, suddenly, before even starting page one, Charlize Theron, the love of my life, was gone. Things happened quickly. I collapsed. And was then partly pulled out of it by an affair with a dry-witted Italian. But that couldn’t exactly last. And then Charlize Theron wanted to get back together, but I didn’t, and then she broke into my email account and I really didn’t, but then I changed my mind and did. Really, really did. But Charlize Theron had already started a relationship with Dick Kardashian (not his real name). So there we finally were: back in Berlin, separating our home. And more a series of unanaesthetised amputations than a separating, really. You know the drill. The dismemberment of a shared life; the way objects, like that hair-loss tonic Charlize Theron once bought for me, can suddenly come to have heartbreakingly metaphorical meanings; how memory doggedly clings to even the most dumbass piece of matter. Someone once cared enough to try and preserve the hair on my head.
She took all the lighting fixtures. The record player. Her underwear. The plates and the kettle. She got my favourite wall hanging featuring a star fish slowly crushing an oyster to death. No more light, no more sound and forget about effortlessly boiled water. I was left male pattern balding in a flat that felt more like a crime scene than a home. I can still see those two monsters on our wall, forever locked in a death embrace which is not, I think, so dissimilar from true love.
Enter my Russians.
Plat du Jour (not her real name) and her husband, Minty Pete (his real name), invited me to Minty’s parents place in Nice, France. I believe that my Russians were worried about my state of mind and/or bored with their own, and wanting some company.
Like I said, I have spent the last five years living with a sometime New York Times travel writer, often accompanying her on what amounted to an amazing series of paid holidays all over the world. For which, I should say, I will be forever grateful. Such are the demands of her profession that the pieces she wrote rarely reflected our actual experiences of these places. Most were basically ad copy with just enough narrative and excellent writing to convince the reader that some kind of authentic essence of the place was being uncovered, expertly revealed, and that the industry being supported was New York Times travel, not the worst kind of tourism. Our true experiences, which could often be hilariously debauched, always lurked off in the margins of these pieces, only occasionally poking through. Her job was to write about the wrong things, and to essentially congratulate the wrong people for their discernment. She knew this, I think, which is why she was so good at her job. Often, she would even transcend it.
But I always thought that if I could write a travel piece, if some publication – ahem – were batshit enough to fly me somewhere, anywhere, then I would do the exact opposite of what Charlize Theron had to do.
This in mind, before setting out for Nice I made some rules.
I would do no research before the journey. I would know nothing of Nice before arriving in Nice, not even what it looked like. Unlike a New York Times travel writer, I would be openly for sale: I would accept any and all freebies, expensive meals, hotel stays and idiotic guided tours. And I will not tell you anything about Nice that you can find on Wikipedia, or knowingly guide you to anyplace that might make you feel hip, or special. I will not use New York Times words like “watering hole” to describe a bar, or “sleek” to describe anything, ever. Moreover, if I fuck a tubby Portuguese musician, I will write about it. If I miss a guided tour of a French perfume factory because I am too wasted on red wine and lost in the hills looking for Elton John’s home, I will write about that, too. If I do nothing one day with Plat du Jour and Minty Pete: well, I will let you know what a whole lot of nothing feels like in Nice, France.
This is either a public fuck you to Charlize Theron and her profession, or a backwards, heartfelt homage. Likely, it’s a bit of both.
I do not enjoy flying, so I buy a small bottle of whisky in duty free. I sit next to a lump of a Russian who doesn’t hide his approval of my inebriation and its proven powers of keeping aircrafts aloft. I think he may also want a sip, but I don’t much like the look of his mouth.
I listen to depressing music in an almost regulatory, homeopathic manner. Slowdive’s Just for a Day. Teenage melancholy smearing me over the endless German clouds.
Then, suddenly, mountains.
French mountains rise from the clouds like frozen, choppy waves. Then they obliterate the German clouds altogether, and I smile for the first time in days; I turn and smile at the Russian lump, who freaks me out by doing something smile-like with his mouth, and so I turn back and I smile at the Earth below. Earth manages a smirk.
I think that I actually forgot that the Earth could heave, that it could even have a presence beyond a grey floodplain infected by Germans, and the depressing music suddenly sounds so silly in my ears, self-indulgent, adolescent. It falls behind us like the clouds. Because then comes the sea. I expected the plane to descend before we reached the sea, but, soothingly, we just keep going until only the wildly blue water is beneath us. Then we turn, and start descending towards a huge beach. The beach reveals itself to be Nice airport, surrounded by the hills, a city, and in the distance, those Slowdive-nullifying peaks. This is when I knew the decision to not know a thing about what Nice looked like had been the correct one. I had given myself a moment of joy.
Suddenly, I forget Charlize Theron and Dick Kardashian, and I miss my nine-year-old son, who I love like I will never love anything on Earth.
I wish that he was here to see this with me, perhaps because I am seeing this like a little child.
(Charlize Theron, it should be said, is not the mother of my son.)
I don’t have a phone, smart or otherwise, so I had drawn out a map to the Hotel Ellington, my first of many free destinations in Nice. If you want to know how to get from the airport to the Hotel Ellington, I cannot help you. I only remember how blue the sky was, and how the city, full of wooden French window things, at every turn, at every hill, seemed to ask what every Nazi must have intuitively understood: why the fuck would anyone live in Germany when they could live here?
Then the goopy, unreal experience of checking in; and the sinister elevator with its desperate, tiny music; and the fact that the walls in the halls of the Hotel Ellington, fixed with tasteful photos of dead American jazz musicians, are slightly puffy, you can actually press in on them, or lean restfully against them, like under the wallpaper is a thin layer of cotton, and I remember thinking how kind the French people are to give me such walls. It’s as if they knew.
I can wholeheartedly recommend the Hotel Ellington if you are writing a travel article and want a free hotel in Nice, France. They were very nice there, very nice, and very professional, and the room they gave me came with four – four! – complimentary bottles of water, two still, two sparkling, which you may need if you arrive at the hotel after drinking a little too much duty-free whisky.
Before long, my Russians, Plat du Jour and Minty Pete, arrive to take me back to Minty’s parents’ seaside flat for dinner.
Plat and Minty are my only friends from a disastrous year I spent with Charlize Theron in Moscow. Plat is brilliant, and melancholic, and will not like being called brilliant because she doesn’t yet know what she wants to do with her life, but that is only because she is, as I’ve said, brilliant and melancholic and, more importantly, Russian at this particular moment in history. I believe that she is one of the greatest people I know.
Her husband, Minty Pete, is no less great, and has a gravitational Russian handsomeness, like an actor playing a noble gentleman who defies his mother, the Countess, and joins the Cossacks in a Soviet film from the early 1960s. Effortlessly charming, he appears to know the architect of every building ever built, and is very interested in cinema and cemeteries. The first time I met him he told me that he had once shot a bear in self-defence.
They walk me through Nice, and the strangeness of walking through this city with my Russians isn’t lost on any of us. I feel like their wayward child returned to them, though they are both 10 years younger than me. They say I’ve lost too much weight; that I look dehydrated. This is true. I can now remove my trousers without unbuttoning them. Ever since the troubles with Charlize Theron, I haven’t been eating properly, or at all, and this will become a theme of my stay. Minty, in particular, is not slow to express his disapproval at my lack of appetite. I do not believe that he has ever not been hungry, and I mean this in the best possible way.
Minty tells me about all the Russian things in Nice, because he knows about all the Russian things everywhere: the Russian churches, monuments, the buried tsarinas or infamous concubines. He even knows which relative of Tolstoy currently lives next door to Elton John. My Nice, I realise, will be primarily Russian. I am happy about this, as the French I see on the streets around me don’t seem particularly passionate or remarkable. They’re tanned, uniform, often topless; they’re like bees lulled by whatever beekeepers spray on bees to make them swarm in slow motion. Some of them actually look like frogs. It is a moderate city, stylistically speaking, and as yet uninfected with Berlin and London’s mania for homesteader beards. Perhaps ostentatious facial hair can only flourish in flat cities.
I ask Minty if he is looking forward to being back in his home of Moscow next week.
“I love Russia,” he tells me. “I love my country. I love Moscow.” Then, “I don’t want to be anywhere.”
They both have a kind of lostness that is deep, and heavy, and one I’ve never exactly experienced in anyone before. The three of us are all, in a sense, heartbroken here in Nice. Or heartsick. But theirs is a weight I can only partially comprehend, having written off my own homeland long, long ago.
Minty’s parents’ flat is just off the bay, so we pass beneath a spectacular cliff, and then by the biggest yachts that I have ever seen. One has a helicopter parked on top. Minty says, “And inside the helicopter is a motorcycle.” He is probably joking. Most of the giant ships, we decide, either look like they belong to exiled dictators, supervillains or people from the 1980s.
Sunset dinner on Minty’s huge balcony that night, with Minty’s mother and three or four other Russians, is spectacular. The skies are filled with clouds from pre-Renaissance paintings; billowing, lit from within. There is much wine, little English, and I look out over the sea to my left, the cliffs before me, and the hills of Nice to my right, alight with villas. But the sky, the sky. I become quiet. I feel emptied, and I begin to understand why everyone around here, my Russians excluded, seem so lifeless.
There is so much to see. In a villa nearby there is a huge TV that always seems, from our distance, to be showing a shuffling, dancing Angela Merkel. The French must have a channel for this. I think she’s dancing to Pulp. Then there is a palm tree which seems to have a large greenish egg within it, prehistoric in size, nesting there in its fronds – which is a word that I had to look up. My Russians and I debate the egg. Minty thinks that it might be a kind of seed. I decide that it is a disease. Plat du Jour doesn’t want to know what it is. For her the world had better retain its mysteries. Binoculars are eventually taken out, and it is revealed to be a Nike football. Plat du Jour was correct.
That night, returning to the Hotel Ellington, I encounter some difficulty opening my door. I try and try, inserting the card, pulling it back out again, fast, up and down, then slowly, gently, but nothing happens. I do this for at least two or three minutes until the door finally swings open – voilà! – to reveal a little man flapping his arms, making French sounds out of spit.
“Entschuldigung!” I say, backing away.
It’s a good rule of thumb that whenever you do something stupid in France, pretend you’re German.
Above right, Hotel Ellington, a charming 10-minute walk from the beach, is an elegant and stylish hotel a short distance from Nice’s finest attractions. ellington-nice.com
Nice was always a winter resort; Belle Époque tourists would descend and promenade in a uniform of white suits. Nice in the summer was the domain of nouveaux riches – like the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night – only they would be so crass as to face the sweltering heat of the French Riviera in August.
There is nothing like waking up as a fake travel writer in a free hotel room. My hangover is regrettable, but not unheard of, and the first thing that I do is run myself a bath.
I use all of the complimentary four-star-hotel bath and show gel, shampoo, conditioner and creamy skin-moistening stuff: I squeeze it all in. The bubbles are towering, profligate, like yesterday’s pre-Renaissance clouds. They tumble from their heights onto a floor that I will not have to clean up.
The bathroom has a bidet. It is a delight.
I play Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music really loud on my computer, get a book, and into the tub I go. More water and bubbles splosh onto the floor, and I feel like a billionaire.
But billionaires don’t read novels.
Billionaires compose emails to Charlize Theron in their head, some desperate or sad, a few funny, many angry, all of them loving in their misguided way, and all of them missing the basic message, the only message, which is that I suddenly feel dangerously alone without her friendship and love. That she and my son are the only things in my life that don’t feel like a hallucination.
The four-star-hotel-room coffee machine does not work, so I go downstairs for coffee, even though I don’t like coffee. But I need coffee with the cigarettes that I also don’t like; it’s all a part of this giant, self-indulgent mope I wear with all the subtly of a clown suit. I consider getting a neck tattoo.
Complimentary breakfast at the Hotel Ellington is pretty much what you’d expect.
I take an apple with my coffee, and head to the courtyard to sit outside and read. There is an old woman with a zonked-out white poodle sitting on her lap. They will never die, and they know it.
More interesting are the French pigeons. They seem, at first, to be oddly discerning. One stands on my table, a few feet from me, flicking its head. But then, the table next to me leaves, and dozens of them fall down from the sky as if shot, landing in thumps, knocking over a glass, flapping and feeding in a piranha-like frenzy, ripping apart croissants, napkins, cakes. Except for the one on my table, who seems to want something more than food, more than understanding.
One of the special events on my Travel Writing Itinerary is that for some reason I’m supposed to interview the manager of the Hotel Ellington. For this interview, I prepared 10 questions.
1. Is the Hotel Ellington haunted?
2. Which nationality of guest is the worst, and why?
3. Do you believe in God?
4. How would you handle a Danish guest’s complaint that he or she believed that his or her toothbrush has been inserted into the rectum of a hotel maid? Are you more loyal to your guests or your staff?
5. Are you comfortable having a conversation about race?
6. Because are the Hotel Ellington’s wait staff mostly black to better fit in with the American jazz theme? Coincidence or stunt casting?
7. Do you think that I might be racist for bringing this up?
8. How would you treat a suspected racist travel writer or journalist if they were writing, say, a very important New York Times travel piece about the Hotel Ellington?
9. Have you heard Sun Kil Moon’s new album, Universal Themes?
10. Do you have any daughters?
In the end, I don’t interview the manager of the Hotel Ellington because at the scheduled time of interview I don’t present myself to the front desk, thinking: let him come and find me if this is so damn important. I’ve already had my free one-night stay. They were pretty much rhetorical questions anyway.
Minty eventually picks me up, I check out of the Hotel Ellington, and we go to the Nice H&M because a few weeks ago all of Plat du Jour and Minty’s luggage was stolen from their car while parked on the beach in Ostia where Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered. H&M is a horror show.
I move into Minty’s parents’ seaside flat, where I am to stay until I return to Berlin. Plat tries to get me to eat, but I’m more stubborn than hungry. I decide that my neck tattoo will say, IN TOO MUCH EMOTIONAL DISTRESS TO EAT in cool Celtic lettering.
Right, photo by Timur Akhmetov
I wear Minty’s father’s flip-flops. We go swimming. Coco Beach is basically a series of rocky perches inhabited by topless old French women. I ask Plat du Jour about sharks. She assures me that there are no sharks, but this doesn’t seem right so I keep a look out. I am sure they have little ones.
I swim out into the warm, buoyant sea, watching the hills of Nice, Sean Connery’s villa, the Alps. (Roger Moore lives in Monaco.) It is one of the more beautiful things that I have ever experienced. Not for the first time, I hear Steely Dan playing from a beachside bar. “Kid Charlemagne”! Nice is totally a Steely Dan kind of town.
The evening is spent drinking whisky and watching a TV show called Drunk History, which I introduce to the Russians. “In Russia,” Minty Pete jokes, “all history is drunk.” I decide that we should all walk to Monaco, which is over there somewhere, down the coast. The internet says that this is a bad idea, but should take about five hours. My Russians, being Russians, are mostly concerned with the quality of my footwear. They worry. Russians, as everyone knows, are the most footwear-conscious people on earth. They believe that most diseases enter through the feet.
Before passing out, I write an email to Charlize Theron, inviting her to Nice, saying that I’ll fly her out if she wants, telling her enough already with this Dick Kardashian nonsense. The confusing thing is: the last email she sent me said, definitively, that I was the love of her life. That our love was far from dead. This was about a week ago. I decide that this is a pretty solid basis for reconciliation or, at the very least, a passive aggressive and inebriated ultimatum.
Plat du Jour takes me on a walk to the old town of Nice, which is like being in Italy because it used to be Italy. Tall old buildings loom, tiny streets run with tourists; there is pizza and machines on the walls selling condoms. Plat shows me a towel with firefighters on it at her favourite junk shop. She loves this towel but will not let me purchase it for her: she loves it exactly where it is.
Plat tells me that she has a pathological fear of French teenagers. There really is something menacing about them.
I have not yet heard back from Charlize Theron.
There is a Baroque church which I’m too lazy to look up the name of, the inside of it like an inverted birthday cake. I love it like Plat loves the firefighter towel. The smell of incense; old people sleep-praying; candles being lit for the tourist dead. One wall has a little slot in it which allows you to give money to Sainte Thérèse. Next to the slot is a cartoon with an open palm and two huge gold coins.
Back at Plat and Minty’s I receive an aggressively kind email from Charlize Theron in which she claims to wholeheartedly believe in our true love, but not in our future, or Nice, or our unborn children, and that she would rather waste her time with Dick Kardashian and that we probably shouldn’t communicate any more. (I’m paraphrasing.)
I write back, thanking her for giving me clarity on the issue.
Then I proceed to call her unbelievably shallow and full of shit and I tell her that, guess what, I never want to see her again either! Take that, Charlize Theron! This is all true, kind of, but expressed in a regrettable manner.
Then I write her another one. Yes, I do. SEND. This one is worse. I think that I want her to hate me as much as I hate myself for once believing in her.
Then I compose a third, in which I call Charlize Theron a hack, and a narcissist, and a doomed manipulative gimp whose existence on earth I can barely even comprehend right now if she wants to know the whole sick fucking truth! But Plat du Jour, like grace, descends on me before I can send that one. Plat does not like the look on my face.
We are going for a walk!
I have a complimentary guided tour of the Fragonard perfume factory in the medieval village of Èze scheduled. Instead, Plat and I set off in search of Elton John’s house. Maybe there will be time for perfume later, we lie to ourselves.
Cactus, stone stairways, sudden unreal bursts of view. The doomed quest is edifying. I believe we walked up the wrong hill, or maybe it was presumptuous to think that I’d know what Elton John’s house would look like if I saw it. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”’ lodged in my head, I try to imagine how Elton John lives anywhere, what it’s like to live somewhere while simultaneously being Elton John, and I think of how strange it is that any of us really live anywhere. I tell this to Plat du Jour.
Plat tells me about her childhood in Siberia, and the time she tried to poison all of her classmates. Three of her closest childhood friends subsequently killed themselves, one after another.
Above left, Èze, famous as the home of Friedrich Nietzsche in his last years, is a charming Provençal town overlooking the sea. It is also home to the Fragonard perfume factory, which offers a regular guided tour. Right, Villa Arson is an art school, museum and research centre designed by Michel Marot. It may or may not be the best building in Nice. villa-arson.org
Day Quatre & Cinq!
So I spend the morning sulking in my bedroom, blah blah blah. Then on the balcony. Then in the shower. Minty is a genuinely good man, one of the few I’ve ever met. He sees through my swearing, through my drinking and my smoking and my ostentatious lack of eating at properly designated intervals. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy his concern.
Then, to make Minty happy, I eat delicious truffle pasta at a place I’m not even going to tell you the name of because this isn’t the New York Times and I’ve stopped taking notes. The French, my Russians tell me, are lazy. Most restaurants only open for about 20 minutes around 7PM.
I am taken up to an art school, Villa Arson, an extraordinary building by French architect Michel Marot. Minty tells me that this is the best building in all of Nice. He is wrong. But it is a very interesting place, like a castle or a maze designed by a senile Holocaust survivor. I fall asleep on a slab of concrete.
Later, Minty and I get a complimentary “Tour de France of Organic Wines” organized by this Taste of Nice tour company. The guy giving us the tour was pretty great and really knew a whole lot about French organic wine, which, frankly, tastes nowhere near as good as non-organic French wine. Both Minty and I miss the tang of pesticide. But organic wine, working along the same principles of non-organic wine, gets us good and drunk with a Canadian policeman and his worryingly tanned personal-trainer wife. We ask the Canadian policeman if he’s one of those horse policemen. He is not. We ask him if Canadian crime is politer than American crime. We ask him what, if anything, he can tell us about forgiveness.
Minty and I come up with a genius idea to better the personal trainer’s profession. It is this: two small TV screens, made to look like an automobile’s side mirrors. These we would attach to a running machine or an exercise bike. In the small screens, the person running would see things chasing her, and if she didn’t keep up the pace or run fast enough, those things would catch her and bring great shame or maybe an electric shock. Minty called this new idea RUN 4 YOUR LIFE.
“Four written as the number,” he says. “That is more douchebag, no?”
Minty and I debate what kind of things could be chasing the runner. Raiders of the Lost Ark boulders. Gangs of inner-city children. ISIS. German mothers. Lions. Swarming bees. I suggest running from an amorphous cloud of loneliness and regret and Minty tells me to knock it off already. “Cannibals,” he says. “Because you are fat.”
Finally, Minty Pete and I meet Plat du Jour for what is – no joke – one of the finest meals that I’ve ever had in my life at South African chef Jan Hendrik’s restaurant, JAN.
But, because I was already totally wasted, and the meal was paired with at least five superb glasses of wine, I don’t remember the foggiest thing about it, what it consisted of or the decor of the restaurant. I’m pretty sure that the butter had antelope shavings on it. Butter with antelope shavings is a revelation. I know it was one of the best meals, complimentary or otherwise, because here is the sole note I wrote in my Nice notebook:
The less said about the next day, the better.
I will say this: that poisonously hung-over Plat du Jour and I go on another complimentary tour organized by Taste of Nice. This is the flagship Taste of Nice Food Tour, a #1-rated Trip Advisor thing to do in Nice, because, as Plat later tells me, most human beings are morons.
It is humiliating, shameful, walking the streets of Nice in this tour, being told all about errors in the Pixar film Ratatouille, bumping into other tours, occasionally trying this or that Nice food. Plat goes dark. I become afraid. We are shown vegetables; we are asked rhetorical questions about vegetables. We are taught how much water costs in Nice, France. The food is pretty good, but if I ever have to hear the word “local” or “authentic” or “organic” again I will surely do something unkind to someone who probably doesn’t deserve it.
The day is partly redeemed by Minty and Plat taking me to their favourite Neapolitan pizzeria. This is called Made in Sud. It is the best pizza that I’ve had since the time Charlize Theron and I visited Naples. We get our pizzas to go and eat them by the bay, at night, sitting on a dock among the coked-up Steely Dan yachts. I tell them how strange life feels for me right now. I tell them about the short affair I had over the summer with an Italian who doesn’t like pizza.
Minty and Plat tell me about Russian fairy tales and children’s films. This is one of their most inexhaustible conversation subjects. I have never seen adults so excited about fairy tales. Though this is a Russian excitement, and so it’s tempered with that lostness, that heavy broken-heartedness of theirs.
But they are comforting, and I think about how soulful their connection to their homeland is, its history, and their family, their past – and, mostly, to each other. I want what they have so badly that it hurts. I love them dearly. And I wonder if I were to kill myself right now, right here – Der Tod in Nizza! – if I might someday be reincarnated as their son or daughter.
Candle in the Wind!
We will not be walking to Monaco.
Instead, we take a complimentary e-bike tour of the French Riviera, also organised by the Taste of Nice tour company. This, I can say, is one of the greatest things you can possibly do in Nice, France.
Riding an e-bike feels like riding a bike in a video game. You pedal to make it go, but there’s no resistance, no work: it just goes. The city and the hills open up in a giddy rush of sunlight and salty wind. It is probably incredibly dangerous, but doesn’t feel like it. Like a video game, I feel like I could ride the bike over a cliff and in the next second start anew exactly where I went over. I’d be lying if I said the idea didn’t appeal.
The e-bike tour takes us past Elton John’s house, which we can’t see. But we all feel it is a true and solid thing. Elton John has rather shabby shrubbery. Passing by it a second time, on the way back, we actually hear Elton John make a triumphant, dinosaur-like screech, and I feel like I can finally go home now, that I am finally something like happy. I imagine Charlize Theron in the mirror of an e-bike version of RUN 4 YOUR LIFE, and I imagine her not chasing me, but receding into the distance, stuck with Dick Kardashian, and a life so much less real than mine is, here, in Nice, driving by Elton John’s house, listening to an obviously deranged Elton John make some noise. But the ride is not yet done, and we coast through hills, and down to beaches, past insane view after insane view, and we are shown Madonna’s ugly house, and the place where Princess Grace accidentally ran her car off a cliff.
Later, the three of us go for one last swim at Coco Beach.
This time I take the flippers and snorkel and go looking for a sunken pirate ship and octopuses but I only find myself swimming in these schools of steely, nondescript fish, maybe trout. Maybe tuna. I don’t know what people call fish in France.
Plat du Jour and Minty Pete join me, and we decide to swim out as far as we can, out to a huge green buoy that, when you go near it underwater, actually sings in a mournful, otherworldly manner. It is the chain that makes the sound, I think, not the thing that is chained. And I think that this is the truest thing that I’ve thought in a long time, even if I don’t know exactly what it means.
The three of us manage to climb atop the buoy, all of us cutting our legs, blood drizzling down our legs, falling into the sea. I am too happy to be concerned with small sharks smelling our blood and killing us, though it does cross my mind. We stand above the sea, laughing, bobbing up and down, looking back at Nice and all the places in Nice that I will never go, and will not tell you about, and one day, I know, Charlize Theron will come here, too, because she is also friends with Plat du Jour and Minty Pete, and maybe she’ll be writing the next “36 Hours in Nice” or “Footsteps: Tod Wodicka, Ex-boyfriend” for the New York Times, and maybe she’ll use this writing in the same way assholes use her New York Times pieces, and she will try and connect to something “authentic” in the way we all do when abroad, but I will be long gone – I’m already long gone – but I’ll also be right here, always, and I know that Charlize Theron won’t be able to forget the image of me standing out on this buoy, bobbing around like an idiot, like a candle in the wind, or someone who doesn’t know how to drown. §
Above, left, Plat’s firefighter towel. Right, A Taste of Nice organises food tours, e-bike tours and organic wine tours in the Nice area. atasteofnice.com