“Un macaron… vanille et fraise, s’il vous plaît.” After finally putting my high school lessons to use, I concluded my French was good, not great, and I tried to funnel my request for the vendor alone to hear me. She, engulfed by the shade of her stand’s red and white striped awning, smiled warmly, nodded, and placed the white and pink pastries into a brown glassine bag.
My best friend and I were perusing the Marche aux Fleurs Cours Saleya in Nice, France, bending on the shoulder of the Mediterranean. The open-air market abounded with bright tents, a dazzling but less frenetic circus of vendors selling their produce, baguettes, and sweets. An abundance of flowers harkened to passersby with their romantic swirls of scent and color: rose, lilac, dahlia. Rows of flora gave way to a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables. Interspersed were artists, selling their paintings of the Cours Saleya on days exactly like this one, drenched in the golden spell of sunshine.
Less than two days earlier, we’d arrived in Nice at the onset of night, the plane dipping so low it appeared the wheels could be skimming the water’s glassy black surface. Shortly, after standing squished against the doors of a shuttle bus and relinquishing to the unavoidable whack as it hit me at every stop, I caught my first glimpse of the Côte d’Azur. The hillside, dotted with embers of light emanating from windows, looked like a birthday cake prepared for celebration.
In the morning, my friend and I set out early, post croissant and baguette breakfast, loping down streets lined with Parisian opulence–eggshell blue shutters, wrought-iron balconies spiraling around Gothic buildings. The spacious main squares, with sprinklers that cast the ground to a mirror and mansions kneeling in submission to the bordering mountains, eventually gave way to a cloistered neighborhood. It was in this exploration of pastel apartments and restaurants touching the sky, shopkeepers and restaurant owners beginning their day’s preparations, that I began to understand the joie de vivre that defines French lifestyle. Maybe it’s all to do with the beach nearby, a constant ebb of retreat, but we didn’t need much more than the unhurried meter of morning filtering through the narrow passages and occasional bonjour to absorb the bliss.
We followed a short hike up to Castle Hill, where every turn was met with yet another picture of tangerine roofs and turquoise ripples. A waterfall sent a misty breeze over us, the perfect cool-down for the remainder of our journey upwards. At the top, my breath caught as the Mediterranean ocean stretched over my vision, until the horizon curved away.
Later, we drifted through the city and along the beach, taking time to lounge on the time-worn rocks underneath us and easing over them to the water, the cool water lapping at our thighs. Couples madly in love snuggled against one another in between swim breaks, and mothers watched their children speed to the lip of the shore. In the early afternoon we drank wine, and in the late afternoon we ate crepes with ice cream, trying to stop the inevitable meltage. That night, we opted for pizza and sangria (lured in by said sangria) at Maison de la Pizza, resembling the film set of the ABC Cafe in Les Miserables. When our server realized that we they brought us our round of drinks in the wrong sized glasses, he swung by with two more on the house.
The opportunity to visit Nice arose around the same time that I began even considering going. This was a France I had longed for, with an unexpected flourish. Unencumbered by life, apologizing for providing too little sangria, and profusely laissez-faire by trade.
I knew the macaron seller knew I wasn’t a native speaker, just as every server and local we conversed with gleaned the harshness of our vowels and politely switched over to English. Still, we were regarded kindly for trying, for throttling ourselves into a pocket of the unknown and surfacing with that much more bliss.
The rest of the day found us on the beach, eating our spoils of macarons and strawberries and watching the sky’s metamorphosis from cerulean to lavender to rose.
This Wild Heart is a collection of stories reveling in the way places and moments create soul-deep emotional attachments. Look out for a new tale every Thursday.