Monday, August 08, 2005

On the Chin

The train for Menton (French for "chin") left today from Nice at about 12:45 and I was stunned once again by the beauty of the seaside as we traversed in and out of tunnels along the coast and emerged into postcard-like images of an azure blue sea with buildings topped by terracotta tiles. I kept pulling out my still camera and trying to get shots of the sea, within which the variation in depth is clearly visible by changes in color from a light teal to a deep, deep blue.

When the train pulled into the station in Menton, I descended and started my search for 5 Avenue Cernuschi, the address where I stayed for one month in 1976 when I was 16 years old and learning to speak French. I headed for the seaside, but within a few hundred feet, noticed that a dark-skinned man was walking in front of me and every time I made a turn, he seemed to be heading in my direction. Eventually, he started looking back at me, and I thought that he must have thought I was following him. In reality, I was, but not with any intention. He finally turned around and introduced himself to me as a man from Ile Maurice in the Indian Ocean. When I told him I was from "Caroline du Nord au sudest des Etats-Unis", he said, "Ah, you speak English?" I said that I do, indeed, and he proceeded to talk to me about how hard it is for him to find something in Menton. I assumed he was talking about work. He then said that he had heard that it was easier to find something in the United States to which I replied that the economy at home sucks as much as it must here. When he started talking about the need to look around oneself and to make sure one is safe before asking for a little something, I realized he wasn't talking about work...or maybe he was, I don't really know. Finally, he mentioned this elusive "something" once again and I asked him if he meant something "gay" and he said that he was. He wanted gay sex and was really not having any luck getting anything satisfying for him. I told him that I am gay too. Immediately, he asked me if there were any place in Menton where we could go so he could get something with me. I said that I was not particularly interested in sex, but thanked him for the offer. I then told him that I have HIV/AIDS. On finishing my sentence, I looked at him and saw shock, followed by the extension of his hand to offer a shake and the words "Nice to have met you." He immediately left without further interest in something with me. I didn't even get the chance to educate him about the risks or lack thereof of sex with me!

I continued toward the seaside and then turned right when I reached the avenue just before the sea. Within a few blocks, I found the address of the avenue where I had lived with the family Pirmez/Mathe in 1976. When I reached the address of their old domicile, it was still a general store with fruits and vegetables displayed on stands on the sidewalk out front, but there was a man inside instead of Suzanne. I asked him if he knew of the family, but he had only been working there for a couple of years and didn't know anything. I went down the street to find another store that now sells salads and sandwiches and which used to be a poissonerie (fishmonger). There I had a conversation with a couple of ladies who didn't know the people whom I sought, but they gave me the clue to speak to the boucher down the street as he had been there longer than any of the other merchants. I followed their directions and found the butcher and his wife.

They told me that Suzanne had died many years ago and that Lucienne had moved into Monaco with her daughter. These details fit with my expectations as Suzanne was 62 years old when I was living there and Lucienne's daughter had married a man from Monaco and was living there when I last heard from them in 1980. Having found a reasonable end to that part of my life (I don't know Dominique's married name), I decided to walk across town to take photos of the beautiful city center in Menton. On my way, I stopped for lunch and watched an elderly woman who had apparently not come to terms with the aging of her image and who had a strong penchant for the color red....and jet black hair rinse. After she finished each course of her meal, the compact mirror would be removed from her purse and the makeup that made her look a bit clownlike was refreshed to intensify that image. I felt quite sorry for her as the skin on her exposed back clearly marked her as a seventy year old, but she was wearing the make-up of a thirty year old. The overall image was sadly reminiscent of that of an old prostitute. After we had both left the restaurant, she continued to turn up in every corner that I walked into for a while and I began to wonder if she, too, wanted "something" from me. Lord help us both if she did.

After taking a few wonderful photos of the town center, I returned to the station for my train back to Nice. Again, I found the striking beauty of the coastline to be just about the most beautiful that I have ever seen. Once the train arrived in Nice, I went in search of my high school French teacher's family, and found their name on the security box of the house where I expected them to be living in Vieux Nice. Their home was built two years before Columbus sailed for America, but it has been freshly painted in a pastel orange color that makes the whole neighborhood look much younger. I rang for someone, but there was no answer. This is not surprising as the French are known for leaving town for August to take their vacations elsewhere.

Walking around the city, I found numerous restaurants that offer specialities of the region of Nice. I am hoping to find a nice dish of "poutina", a local name for a dish that the Italians call "frittura di mare". These are small fish that have been fried whole and which are simply astounding with a little lemon juice on top. Yes, you eat them heads and all.

So I am here in an internet café, hyped up on coffee that the young lady that runs the place just offered me for my long duration session of writing. She is about to put on some music for me as well, but I think I will wrap up while she is taking money from those who have used her telephone cabins to call to all corners of the Earth. Maybe I can get an interview out of her for my film....



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