Among many Parisians, Nice has a bad reputation. It's boring, they say. A place for retirees. It's the top vacation destination for the worst kinds of French tourists, like Les Bronzés. The English and American second-home buyers who live there don't even try to speak French. The mafia runs the city. The locals are cliquish. Their style is tacky. Don't go.
So of course I went. I left Paris on a cold and drizzly Sunday morning in March. As the train pulled out of the Gare de Lyon, the early morning sky was the exact color of slate, and so were the sooty buildings that surround the station. Five hours later, as the train approached Nice, my voiture, or train car, was sunnier than my apartment has been all year. Exiting the station, it hit me: warmth.
Bone-warming, winter-banishing sunshine — it was everywhere, bouncing off the sides of buildings, glimmering on the hubcaps of parked cars, peaking through palm fronds. It bathed everything in light, and I began to suspect that les Niçois know something les Parisiens don't. Walking along la Promenade des Anglais, I passed rollerbladers, families on bicycles, joggers and, yes, retirees — hundreds of silver foxes sitting on benches, soaking up the sun and the views of the Mediterranean. Looking at them sitting there like contented cats, the phrase "the older the wiser" came to mind.
And then I went out for socca. Crunchy and chewy at the same time, socca tastes like it should be bad for you but it isn't. It tastes like slightly burnt popcorn smells, and it goes great with chilled rosé. It is the perfect party food — the perfect munchie food if you know what I mean — and it really should be exported all over the world. At the venerable and charming Chez Pipo, I discussed the merits of this idea with Steeve, the restaurant's owner. His sister lives in San Francisco and she also thinks Chez Pipo should expand to the U.S. A Chez Pipo in the Mission District? A sure hit.
I took the long way back to my hotel that evening, and thought about my first day in Nice. No one had been impolite. Everyone, from Steeve at Chez Pipo to the waitress at the café in which I had lunched, had been friendly, ready to talk, far from cliquish. The city is indeed full of retirees — who look happy. Les Parisiens are also right about la style Niçoise: it's flashy, especially when compared to la style Parisienne, but that's fine by me. The fake nails and eyebrows, the rhinestone boots, the leather pants on 70-year-olds — I think of it as eye candy. Sorry, Parisiens. Nice is a city to love. Especially when, at the end of the day, you get to look at this: