Monday, 30 September 2013

Nice is Not Nice (but it's wonderful all the same)

This was originally to be a post about my feeble attempts to do a few runs in Nice before Bill arrived, when I knew my legs would be used up walking the length and breadth of the place.  I'm not unhappy with my efforts, but every where aside from the Promonade des Anglais, a rather crowded place, seems to be either straight up or straight down, so I didn't cover much distance.

Place Garabaldi

The original draft pointed out that Nike was the name of the Greek goddess of victory.  We learned this when watching a BBC documentary about the history of the Greeks.  Of course Nike is also the name of a popular brand of running shoe and though I've had good experience of Nike's Air Pegasus, I'm currently enjoying my Sauconys.  

The city of Nice's name, relating to the same goddess, came about around 350 BC, after the Greeks successfully took the port from the neighbouring Ligurians.

Bill's sense of humour being what it is - it's probably a national trait, but his is more pronounced than most - I've found that it doesn't do to describe anything as 'nice' when in the city of 'Nice'.  

Wondering if the term might in any way relate to victory I looked it up and found that 'nice' is actually from old French, meaning 'foolish'.  I shall refrain here from anything other than relating the information I found at :

nice (adj.)
late 13c., "foolish, stupid, senseless," from Old French nice (12c.) "careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish," from Latin nescius "ignorant, unaware," literally "not-knowing," from ne- "not" + stem of scire "to know".  "The sense of development has been extraordinary, even for an adj." [Weekley] -- from "timid" (pre-1300); to "fussy, fastidious" (late 14c.); to "dainty, delicate" (c.1400); to "precise, careful" (1500s, preserved in such terms as a nice distinction and nice and early); to "agreeable, delightful (1769); to "kind, thoughtful" (1830).

"In many examples from the 16th and 17th centuries it is difficult to say in what particular sense the writer intended it to be taken." [OED]

By 1926, it was pronounced "to great a favourite with the ladies, who have charmed it out of all its individuality and converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness." [Fowler]

"I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?""Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies.  Oh!  It is a very nice word indeed!  It does for everything." [Jane Austen, "Northanger Abbey," 1803]

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Nice Flea Market

When asking Ben and Marie about possible cheap shopping excursions they fell into a discussion of what would be called a flea market in Nice.  At some point I gathered there wasn't really a term for it, but perhaps Marie simply isn't accustomed to shopping in such places.  They tended to buy food from the specialist organic stalls near the Liberation tram stop (Nice now has a tram system) and from a particular boulangerie in Rue d'Arson.  They don't do 'frugal', at least not as a lifestyle.

WWI Memorial

Turns out that these are sometimes called brocantes (which I thought was more antiques places) or marche au puces, but then 'puces' seems to translate as 'chips'.  There is a British saying 'cheap as chips', but whatever.  I went there one day, past the port and the WWI memorial, around the corner of the Bay and into the Cours Salaya near the old town (Vieille Ville)...and it's called the Flower Market, much more agreeable than fleas.

It was such a busy place I didn't hang about very long; I don't cope that well with crowds.  Not all the dealers allowed photos.  I'm not sure what they could do about it, but I respected their wishes.  There were many beautiful things to see but I didn't buy a thing.  It was too overwhelming and I didn't have a plan.  

It would seem that I have largely lost the capacity for impulse purchases.  I generally need to know what I'm specifically looking for and how I will use it or to recognise that something has been on my wishlist for quite a while.  At some time in my past it would have been easy to splash out on buttons, glass gew-gaws, linens, clothes, etc., but for now this sort of spending is more stressful than fun for me.  Even when I know I need or want a particular thing, I hold back until I'm certain it is a price I'm prepared to pay:  either I know it's a good price or I'm resigned that to have it, I must pay that amount.  

Though I'm not as carefree in one way, I have slowed the parade of things coming into my house and have fewer regrets about wasted money.  I might be 'mean' about throwing my money at something but then it has allowed me to be carefree in not worrying about how I will meet my living expenses; and we do travel a bit.

Nice is not an inexpensive place.  That whole area along the Mediterranean is the one of the world's playgrounds of the uber-rich.  The Nicoise dealers know the value of the tourist trade.  If there is a place for ordinary residents of Nice to get good deals, I didn't find it. 

Also, someone might tell that man who snapped my head off when I aimed my camera at his goods that it doesn't do to 'wake up' the marks too rudely.  After all, once the dreamy fascination wears off, it's only just a bunch of stuff. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Le Port

I must admit that Bill was far more fascinated with the Port de Nice than I. Perhaps I feel that having seen one or two boats / ships / yachts, I've seen enough. I do sort of understand Bill's fascination with the amounts of money each of these vessels represents and the different lifestyle available to those entitled to use them.  My suspicion is that businesses own these more often than individuals, if only for tax reasons. 

I find it doesn't do to dwell too long on these sorts of things, however, because one can always find people in the world who are 'better off'. I've seen it make people bitter and envious, ashamed at their 'lack of success'. I prefer to look in the other direction at the vast majority who had far less than I do. It keeps me grateful and contented to hold that perspective.  

Besides, I wouldn't even know how to act if I was aboard one of those vast yachts with servants in livery - I kid you not!  I didn't even have the nerve to take a photo of some people dining at the back of their yacht, being served by others in uniforms. I don't know if it was because I didn't want to invade their privacy (but hey, they were out their in plain view from the street); if I didn't want to make rich people angry, if I didn't want to document the service people's 'lowly status' (might be a cushy job, for all I know). See what I mean?  I didn't even know how to act...

The Port was very much a defining feature for navigating our way back home and we passed it most of the days we headed for the Promonade des Anglais or the Vieille Ville (Old Town), as Ben's flat was up the hill, NE of the Port.  You can see it on the map below at the east end of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), the little rectangular shape. The road that traces the edge of the Bay is the Promonade des Anglais, apparently so named because of the many rich English who came here in the 1800s.  At the east end of that road is a short bit called the Quai des Etats-Unis (Dock of United States), so named when the U.S. joined in with World War II.

View Larger

More than the many boats in the water, and there were a few old wooden crafts that were truly beautiful, I mostly enjoyed the historic buildings around the port. I'm guessing they might date back to around the late 1700s, early 1800s.  

One day Bill noticed a sign with a painting on it, indicating that the artist had painted this view and pointing out the buildings still there as reference points.  We didn't document the sign as we did with most of the ones we found relating Alfred Sisley's work in the area around Moret-les-Loing (near where we visited last spring).  We think it was probably the work of Henri Matisse, but I can't document it now. There is a Matisse museum in Nice but Ben had said he didn't think it was very well done and apparently Matisse's work sold so well during his lifetime that his best works are in private ownership rather than in museums.  Ben suggested the Marc Chagall museum but that was a bit more out of the way.  Also, I've seen a Chagall in Chicago and the film Notting Hill, so that's probably enough for me anyhow.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The View

Finally, I got my mitts on Bill's photos. Mind, I already had 160 pictures of the view over the Baie des Anges from Ben's balcony. At the risk of stating the obvious, it does look different in daytime than at night, in sunshine or with cloud. Features we enjoyed other than the sea and sky were the moon - in differing colours and sizes, the ferry to Corsica and some tall ships with the stately masts, airplanes taking off and landing at the airport directly across the bay, the cliffs lit up at night, a fireworks display on the Promenade des Anglais and a couple of rather special houses in the area. So, bear with me while I do this photo-dump. We were both clearly obsessed with this view, but I noticed even Marie often stopped what she was doing to go watch the sunset...

I loved the windows and the balconies of this very elegant house -
actually, it's probably several flats. Still gorgeous.

The ferry to Corsica left from the port, just at the bottom of the street...
well, about a mile away.

The front of this apartment building reminded me of the prow of a ship.

Good. Now that's done I can talk about something else...later.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Genealogical Benefits

I've met some lovely people over the last few years through my genealogy research, and they happen to be members of my family!  Sharon in Perth Australia, Norma in Minneapolis, Clay in St. Paul, John in Bellaire Michigan, Frank in Glasgow, Sandra in Claremont California...  They are some of the nicest people you can imagine.  Amazingly, a good number of them have invited us to come visit and have hosted us - pretty much strangers - for several days and nights, doing their utmost to show us around, feed us well, etc.  I'm the luckiest person I know on this score and I hope we have the opportunity to reciprocate.

I sent a handwritten letter to my Mom's last remaining cousin, Lowell (in his 90s), early last year.  I never heard back from him but a few months later his youngest son, Ben, sent me an email.  Ben and I wrote back and forth for quite a while exchanging family information and photos, getting to know one another a bit.  He's lived in Nice France for the last eight or nine years.  Then it went quiet for a while as we each sort of ran out of things to say and got back to real life.

Then after several months of silence I got this email asking if I'd like a vacation in Nice.  He and his partner, a French lady named Marie, wanted to go on vacation but had two cats and a load of plants that needed looking after.  Bill and I had just scheduled a motor home trip to the Loire Valley in France but we figured an opportunity like this might not come up again, so we did some shuffling around and accepted Ben's offer.

I had to go on ahead because Bill had a commitment to lead a Long Distance Walk for his club, but he joined me 12 days later.  Simon and Simone came down for a weekend.  Ben and Marie actually had several segments to their holiday plans so they were in and out.  It was a bit crazy, but Nice was incredible and just the view from the balcony was heaven. As evidenced by the 160 photos I took of it...

Anyhow, meet my cousin Ben 

and his partner, Marie.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

A Couple of Misunderstandings

I've had some distance from this blog for a while now, though I have done 'remembrance' posts and I did finish the Veblen series {whew}. In looking back I see that I was a bit disillusioned but for erroneous reasons.

For one, I got a notice that Google wanted more money for my storage. It wasn't a lot, but I was annoyed at the time, thinking I wasn't using even a small portion of the allocated space. I later did a tiny bit of research and found that I was on an old plan and that the new ones gave a huge amount of space for free, or at least that's how I've interpreted it. So I've ignore the request for more money. Fingers crossed, this won't all disappear without further notice!

There was also a time a few months ago when my blog stats said no one had opened a page on my blog for an entire week. This happened when I had been working particularly hard on something and that information just shattered me. A few days later I got an email from Statcounter saying that their widget seems to have 'fallen off' my blog. No idea how that happened, but then when I looked at the Google stats, there was the same level of activity as usual. So I calmed down a bit.

The distancing has been good in that it has allowed me the time to explore other interests and I can't see myself trying to publish five days a week again anytime soon. On the other hand, I can see how this blog has become a journal for me, one that I enjoy going back and reading for myself. I've also found it a useful reference at times, especially when sharing writing it all out again!  

It also helps me enjoy our travels more, from a strictly selfish point of view. As I go back through photos I remember the good experiences and in writing posts I'm required to research odd facts that I wondered about at the time but hadn't a reference. Our journeys home have sometimes been fraught for any number of reasons:  bad weather, delayed flights, obnoxious immigration officials, misbehaving sat-navs, driver errors, mechanical difficulties, general exhaustion, to name a few. Though after a long period away I'm usually pleased to be returning home, these difficult journeys can almost obscure the happier experiences and that seems a real shame. 

Cat-sitting in Nice for Cousin Ben

I've always been rather put off by blogs that seem focused on 'look how many Hermes scarves I own' or 'see all my Chanel lipsticks', designer luggage, you name it. I've worried that my blog might come across as 'look at all the marvelous travelling we do'. If I'm honest, part of me does enjoy thumbing my nose at some of the more unpleasant people I used to work with, still slaving while I get to enjoy early retirement. But that absolutely doesn't apply to everyone else!  

So, I hope to share some of our experiences of our past few weeks in France, and perhaps even to go back to the earlier part of the summer because that was wondrous for me as well...

Friday, 13 September 2013

Grandma's Birthday

I've no idea when this was taken but I would guess Grandma was about 16, which would mean it was taken around 1906.  She wrote her name on the photo, as she wrote names on many photos.  She never was a great beauty, but she always loved her clothes and she wasn't camera shy.

I wear her engagement ring most days alongside of my mom's wedding ring; I didn't want more jewelry when Bill and I married.  Grandma's wedding was 20 February, 100 years ago.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Rita's Birthday

I've been sewing more lately - sewing clothes even!  I never hear my sewing machine without picturing my Aunt Rita at hers.  I'm still using her pin cushion, scissors, clippers and other sewing supplies. Many of the spools of thread have her name marked on them, probably from when she went to classes. She bought braiding by the roll in Christmas colours and miles of ribbons in many colours.  My aim is to use it all and to think of her all the while.

Jack and Rita, Christmas 1986

Happy Birthday, Rita.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Grandpa's Birthday

I think about Grandpa fairly often lately, particularly about how orderly and frugal he was, though I don't think he considered himself to be anything other than fulfilling his responsibility.  He spent his money carefully but I remember trips to buy ice cream or a hamburger at McDonald's (long before the advent of happy meals).   His and Grandma's little two-bedroom house had everything they needed. They didn't hoard anything 'just in case'.  I don't even remember them stocking up during the sales. They bought what they needed as they needed it.  Things that could be mended were repaired; those that couldn't be mended or re-used were discarded.  Everything had a designated place.  They didn't have the latest technology, but what they had worked fine.  The closets weren't crammed, the car fit into the garage, there was nothing in the attic.  I didn't even know they had an attic until I was moving to Utah and we were clearing the house in preparation to rent it.  It was a loft space accessible only from the garage.  

I know some people who are frugal and I know a (very) few people who are tidy and organised, but I'm not sure I know many people who could live so nicely on as little as they did.  

Happy Birthday, Grandpa.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Part LV - Classicism and Conservatism in Higher Education

This is the last of a series about the book, Theory of the Leisure Class, written by American economist Thorstein Veblen and published in 1899.   Chapter Fourteen is titled "The Higher Learning as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture."

Veblen’s Wikipedia entry says that after studying philosophy and obtaining a PhD from Yale, he was unable to find a university post.  Most academics at that time held divinity degrees and Veblen was held to be ‘insufficiently educated in Christianity’.  I’m inclined to believe he vented some frustration in this last chapter of his book.
“…it has generally held true that the accredited learned class and the seminaries of the higher learning have looked askance at all innovation. New views, new departures in scientific theory, especially in new departures which touch the theory of human relations at any point, have found a place in…the university tardily and by a reluctant tolerance, rather than by a cordial welcome…the men who have occupied themselves with such efforts to widen the scope of human knowledge have not commonly been well received by their learned contemporaries.”

Veblen refers to the ‘Maecenas function’, which apparently has to do with wealthy patrons of the arts, though I gather in this particular instance it refers to patronage of a student.  He says this leisure class function has an important bearing on the spread of knowledge and culture.  Looking at this function from an economist’s view point, and of course in keeping with his overall theme, Veblen points out that this patronage is a ‘relation of status’.  ‘The scholar under the patronage performs the duties of a learned life vicariously for his patron, to whom a certain repute inures after the manner of the good repute imputed to a master for whom any form of vicarious leisure is performed.’  Veblen also notes that, historically, this maintenance has not been in support of the sciences but rather of ‘classical lore or the humanities’, the study of which he says lowers the industrial efficiency of the community.

Outside of the classical fields, the leisure classes interest themselves in the knowledge of law and politics, expedient in the guidance of the leisure-class office of government, which he sees as a predatory function, being ‘an exercise of control and coercion over the population from which the class draws its sustenance.’

Veblen is not a fan of the classical education, which he says holds up ‘an archaic ideal of manhood’ but also teaches learners to discriminated between ‘reputable’ and ‘disreputable’ knowledge, the latter being associated with industry or social utility.  Of course, Veblen has his own form of discrimination in what he views as useful vs useless knowledge, for example, knowledge of the ancient language would not be useful to a scientist or anyone not working in languages.  Veblen says he doesn’t disparage the cultural value of the classics but he does doubt their economic value, seeing that ‘classical learning acts to derange the learner’s workmanlike attitudes…’.

Veblen quotes Horace and Cicero in this chapter but also says that knowledge of the dead languages is ‘gratifying to the person who finds occasion to parade his accomplishments in this respect’.   He reiterates a position stated in an earlier chapter that
“The presumption that there can ordinarily be no sound scholarship where a knowledge of the classics and humanities is wanting leads to a conspicuous waste of time and labor on the part of the general body of students in acquiring such knowledge. The conventional insistence on a modicum of conspicuous waste as an incident of all reputable scholarship has affected our canons of taste and of serviceability in matters of scholarship in much the same way as the same principle has influenced our judgment of the serviceability of manufactured goods.”

Although conspicuous consumption has overtaken conspicuous leisure as a means of asserting one’s position in the world, displaying knowledge of the classics has ‘until lately had scarcely a rival’   Veblen thinks that college athletics may have overtaken a classical education.
“…but lately, since college athletics have won their way into a recognized standing as an accredited field of scholarly accomplishment, this latter branch of learning — if athletics may be freely classed as learning — has become a rival of the classics for the primacy in leisure-class education in American and English schools."

Athletics have an obvious advantage over the classics for the purpose of leisure-class learning, since success as an athlete presumes, not only waste of time, but also waste of money, as well as the possession of certain highly unindustrial archaic traits of character and temperament.”

He also lists Greek-letter fraternities, perfunctory duelling, ‘a skilled and graded inebriety’ as leisure-class scholarly occupations which live up to the ‘virtues’ of archaism and waste. 

The use of “classic” English is required in ‘all speaking and writing upon serious topics’ and ‘a facile use of it lends dignity to even the most commonplace and trivial string of talk’;…elegant diction, whether in writing or speaking, is an effective means of reputability’.   ‘The obsolescent habit of speech’ which avoids the use of new words shows that the speaker’s ‘leisure class antecedents’ and demonstrates that he has avoided ‘vulgarly useful occupations’.  Correct spelling is also important, as ‘English orthography satisfies all the requirements of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste. It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of detection. Therefore it is the first and readiest test of reputability in learning, and conformity to its ritual is indispensable to a blameless scholastic life.’
“Classic speech has the honorific virtue of dignity; it commands attention and respect as being the accredited method of communication under the leisure-class scheme of life, because it carries a pointed suggestion of the industrial exemption of the speaker. The advantage of the accredited locutions lies in their reputability; they are reputable because they are cumbrous and out of date, and therefore argue waste of time and exemption from the use and the need of direct and forcible speech.”

I hope you have enjoyed this series.  I know some folks found it hard work; it was hard work to write as well but I'm glad I tackled the challenge and finished what I started.