Seasons’ Round in Nice, Cote d’Azur

 

“…there is less rain and wind at Nice, than in any other part of the world that I know; and such is the serenity of the air, that you see nothing above your head for several months together, but a charming blue expanse, without cloud or speck.”

Tobias Smollett Travels Through France And Italy 1764

*

100_1234

Umbrellas beside the Promenade des Anglais, round-topped palms and the cupola of the Hotel Negresco against a china blue sky. Where else but Nice.

*

Nice is pretty much a year-round travel destination, a fact first discovered in 1731 by members of the English aristocracy. Lord and Lady Cavendish were the trendsetters in question, and from the time of their visit onwards, anyone who was anyone began to spend the winter season there. By 1860 there were 704 foreign families wintering in this way. Of these, 252 were English, and 128 were Russian. There were lesser numbers of well-heeled Germans and Americans. The arrival of the railway in 1864 further helped to boost upper class tourism, making it possible to leave London Bridge Station at 7.40 on a Monday morning, and reach Nice by Tuesday suppertime. 

The benign climate and shiny bright days also made it popular with convalescents,  the “pale and listless English women and listless sons of nobility near death” as French historian Paul Gonnet described them. Very soon then, and in response to this influx of moneyed people,  Nice the fishing port transformed itself into Nice the fashionable resort for Europe’s elite. 

Among that elite was an elderly Queen Victoria. She travelled under the name Lady Balmoral, although heaven knows why. There could have been no failing to notice her arrival, coming as she did in her own train, accompanied with up to a hundred staff, and her Scottish pipers piping her in. Full warning of her advent was further marked by the forward arrival of her bed.  In 1895 and 1896 she spent her spring sojourn in The Grand Hotel, Cimiez just outside Nice. But for the next three years she and all her royal household would occupy, through March and April, the entire west wing of the Hotel Excelsior Regina Palace.  This was a brand new hotel, built with the Queen specifically in mind, it being well recognized that Lady Balmoral’s continued patronage of Nice did much to boost local business and encourage tourism. By the end of the 19th century the city’s population  reputedly increased by 80,000 during the winter months.

100_1299

One wing of the vast Hotel Excelsior Regina Palace, now apartments.

*

One of the things that most people know about Queen Victoria is that she was tiresomely dreary for years after Prince Albert’s death. When in Nice, though, she underwent a complete  transformation, girlishly taking part in local festivities, driving around in a donkey cart that allowed her to explore byways  too narrow for her carriage, inviting the scarcely respectable Sarah Bernhardt to put on a private performance, handing out presents to all and sundry. In fact she brought with her to France a trunk filled with watches and chains, pens, inkstands, portraits and cigarette holders. These she bestowed on all ranks – from hotel staff upwards, while keeping account of who had received what so she would not give anyone the same thing twice. On her death bed she famously said, “If only I were at Nice, I would recover.”

Hotel Negresco, Promenade des Anglais

In the 20th century, the Cote d’ Azur became the haunt of the avant-garde: Matisse, Picasso, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Chagall. In later life Matisse had a studio in the The Hotel Excelsior. But for travellers and tourists, the hotel to stay in was, and still is  for that matter, Le Negresco.

It was built by Henri Negrescu (later Negresco), son of a Romanian innkeeper,  and opened for business in 1913.  In the first year the hotel made a profit of 800,000 francs in gold, but then came war, and Negresco turned the place into a hospital. He died, penniless, a few years later. His hotel, though, goes from strength to strength. Its past guests include Louis Armstrong, Salvador Dali, Princess Grace of Monaco, Queen Elizabeth II, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Beatles, Ava Gardner, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf, and Michael Jackson.

When we visited Nice a few years ago we saw no one famous in the bar or foyer. In fact it was all rather quiet. We decided to have dinner in the hotel’s very bizarre brasserie, La Rotonde. As you can see, it’s an inside-out carousel in overdone pink.

100_1348

La Rotunde bistro at the Negresco

La Rotonde brasserie, Hotel Negresco

*

Every hour, parts of the decor come to life, fairground style, while a life-size figure of a girl in an ill-fitting smock and straw hat rotates in the centre of the dining room. We found it all rather  perplexing, and the food was not good enough to distract us from feeling we were in the wrong place. In fact there were much nicer things to eat, or at least look at along the streets of Vieux Nice. And as it happens, most of them were round.

100_1380

100_1374

100_1386 (2)

100_1383

100_1382

100_1384 (2)

bonbons

 

Easter Greetings Everyone

 

 

AILSA’S TRAVEL CHALLENGE: ROUND

A Word A Week Challenge: Round for more round posts

Nancy Merrill Photography

Snap Thoughts

It’s not what you look at that matters

 

Reference:

Michael Nelson 2007 Queen Victoria and the Discovery of the Riviera

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Elephants, E-books and Enticing Reluctant Readers

Two at once challenge – DP : Reel Talk and Frizztext’s  EEE

Everyone who comes to this page is a reader. Bloggers love to read as well as write: poems, flash-fiction, memoir, novel excerpts, reportage, long pieces, short pieces; it’s how the blogweb works: exchanges to entertain, enchant, enthuse, encourage and elucidate.

Some of my stalwart followers and followees boldly read and create in second and third languages, which for me who only has proficiency in English is a great source of admiration and envy. And if that’s not enough ‘Es’ already, I have some more. But first a question: what about those (old and young) who find reading a struggle? What about those who find a page loaded with text a total turn-off, or the average sized paperback too daunting in scale to broach?

And to answer my own questions, this is where the book cover below comes in, because one of the things I do besides loitering in cyberspace is to write good stories for unkeen teen readers, (or for anyone else I can corner for that matter).

Shades covers for REPRO Batch 2_Layout 1

Cover: copyright 2013 Ransom Publishing.

The title of this new edition of my very short book Mantrap clearly begins with ‘M’ ( which means you can look forward to more mentions further down Frizz’s alphabet.) So what is it doing here now? The elephant is of course the excuse I needed to write this piece, also the fact that Ransom Publishing will shortly be bringing out  an e-book version for Amazon Kindle and Apple, as well as a paperback edition. It is part of their Shades series. Full details of this and other books in the series can be found HERE. The series is being printed as I write this and will be launched in August.

Interest-wise, the stories are aimed at readers of twelve years and upwards, but whose reading ability is deemed to be a few years younger. The text is a piece of short fiction but presented in a novel format i.e. 6,000 words divided into several chapters, and over 64 pages. There is plenty of white space on the page.

Banner 

Ransom publishes a wide range of fiction and non-fiction for all ages. Personally, I think the Shades’ quick-read formats are ideal for just about anyone who wants a good story, but has limited time to read it. You can slip these nice little books into your pocket. However, this is not so much a sales pitch as an explanation: the why, where and how this story about ivory poaching came into being. There’ll be an excerpt at the end.

I can also tell you precisely where the Mantrap story began – under a baobab tree. And here it is, the very one:

South Luangwa - mighty poachers' baobab

The fact that it was in leaf at the time was perhaps auspicious. Baobabs are usually bare. This one could be a thousand years old. We stopped under it for a noonday picnic after a get-up-while-still-asleep and go on a dawn game drive. The location is South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. It is a glorious place with parkland vistas, much shaped by the local elephants who knock down the thorn trees, but rarely the baobabs, to encourage the growth of their favourite food – grass. 

The other great shaper of the territory is the mighty Luangwa River as it endlessly carves new meanders through the bush country.

South Luangwa - dawn walk and hippos

*

As the river shapes a new channel, so the old meanders are left behind, some becoming stagnant lagoons where hippos wallow amongst the cabbage weed. The local people call such places Luangwa waffa or Dead Luangwa.

South Luangwa - lagoon with cabbage weed 2

But back to Mantrap. It was while I was standing under the baobab, and peeling a very English hard-boiled egg, that our guide happened to point out the narrow strips of wood that had been driven unobtrusively  into the tree’s hard, smooth trunk. 

South Luangwa - mighty poachers' baobab 2

“It’s a poachers’ ladder,” the guide told me. “Ivory poachers. This tree has been a look-out post for years.” He went on to tell me how earlier that week an elephant had been killed nearby. The tusks had been taken, but then later, when the coast was clear of poachers, the local villagers had come to grab the meat.

My spine tingled:  horror and pity, and not only for the elephant. I knew that rural Zambians were  in a poor state. This was the reason why we had come to Zambia. Team Leader Graham was responsible for the logistics of delivering EU food aid to drought-stricken villagers. (See Letters from Lusaka.) Also, elephants and other game can destroy a farmer’s whole crop in a single night. The conservation of wild game, then, and the protection of neighbouring people’s livelihoods are matters  not easily resolved.  Game parks across Africa generally do not have fences. Animals move about at will, and many farmers are maimed or killed by buffalo, crocodiles, hyenas and elephants. Their families rarely receive compensation.

South-Luangwa-Zambian-homestead.jpg

We, however, belonged to the fortunate segment of the world’s population that had no shortage of food and also the leisure to take a few days holiday, staying in a small tented camp run by Robin Pope Safaris. On the way to our campsite from Mufuwe airstrip we crossed a dried up river where a girl was digging deep into the sandy bed in hopes of scooping out some water. In the gardens of a nearby farmstead, the maize was blown to dust. It was hardly surprising that there was a poaching problem in the district. People were starving.

But then to my  mind, there’s a big difference between hunting antelope and small game for the pot, and particularly when the park and surrounding licensed hunting blocks occupy the local people’s former hunting territory, and the obscene and pointless slaughter of elephants solely for their ivory.

South Luangwa - young elephant

Yet the temptation to some locals must be enormous. They have families to support, children to send to school, medicine to buy. Big business cartels, especially in the Far East, are apparently more than glad to arm and fund local hunters in the pursuit of ivory and rhino horn. This means that park rangers are at great peril. Many are murdered in their attempts to protect wildlife so tourists like us may come and stare, and snap away.

One way to combat poaching is to give people good reasons to protect the game. Robin Pope’s Safaris have pioneered schemes to involve local communities in conservation.

Helping communities to gain from tourism

*

So these, then, were some of the things I wanted to explore in my story. What emerged was a life-and-death adventure that had its beginning the moment my fingers touched the rungs of the poachers’ ladder.

Here then is an excerpt – the opening scene. It is dawn in Luangwa. Hunger has finally driven Danny and his father, Jacob, into the National Park to hunt antelope. But Danny is a schoolboy, not a hunter; it is not surprising that, in his panic, he makes a mistake – a mistake that lands them in the clutches of a corrupt ranger who has a far more dangerous quarry in mind.

Chapter One: The Kill

Impala. A small herd among the sausage trees. Jacob stopped dead and held up a warning hand. Danny froze on the spot and this time, without a sound, dropped behind a potato bush. He peered through the leaves, fixing on a big ram. He was about twenty paces away, grazing the yellow grasses, his harem of females all round. Danny’s eyes stung with longing. There was that beautiful ram. So near, and yet so far. The smallest sound might send him bolting. Out of reach!

Danny willed Jacob to shoot. Now, Dadda, now. Then nearly howled when the ram raised his lyre-shaped horns and sniffed the breeze nervously. The ram had scented them. He had. Danny prayed and prayed. Please let our luck change. Please let Dadda shoot. Then we can get out of here. Before the sun comes up. Before the park rangers start their patrol. Before we’re caught and sent to jail…

And finally, here’s a short clip that shows Luangwa in all its rain-soaked glory. One of the earth’s most beautiful places, and over four hundred species of birds.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Links:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/reel-talk-writing-challenge/

http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/eee-challenge/