Old Nice: Rain, Sun, Trains, a Pipe and Some Popcorn

After serious dry spells here in the South of France, the weather suddenly changed, and we had several days and nights of pounding rain. In the foothills above our village, the riverbeds overflowed and water rushed down the slopes again, creating noisy waterfalls.  Lac de Saint-Cassien was up over its banks, something we hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

The author, The Avenue, Old Nice

And then, a few days after a stormy Easter weekend, the sun reappeared, and a fine day awaited. Kim suggested we go shopping in Nice and off we went in our Twingo. On the autoroute, just past Antibes, we got a full view of the Alps, covered in fresh snow and glistening in the distance while the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean sparkled below.

We parked near the Cours Saleya and walked through the flower market. The whole world tout le monde, was out and about, shopping, buying flowers, enjoying lunch, and conversing in languages from around the globe.

Old Nice in the Sunshine

After winding our way through the dark narrow lanes of old Nice, we came into the sunshine again and walked through the park filled with folks enjoying picnics. At the appropriately named Fontaine du Soleil, we crossed the Place Massena and began walking up Avenue Jean Médecin, where serious shopping awaited.

The old street, once the main north-south artery in Nice, was known in 1918 as the Avenue de la Victoire when the French celebrated the end of la Grande Guerre. It wasn’t called the First World War back then because no one knew that in 20 years there would be a second one.

In 1966, the street was renamed in honor of Jean Médecin, the mayor of Nice from 1947 to 1965. Today it is simply referred to as The Avenue.

The story goes that when walking on The Avenue in July 1947, the first nine notes of the famous song C’est si bon * came to mind to the composer, Henri Betti, who was born in old Nice.

Residents quipped that The Avenue wasn’t so ‘bon’ while it was subjected to lengthy restoration work, both under and above ground, during the construction of the new tramway.

The Avenue Evokes Memories for the Flâneur

Since December 2008, though, it has become an exclusive avenue for pedestrians, shoppers, and assorted varieties of le flâneur or la flâneuse** who know this part of the city better than anyone. At night, the center of The Avenue is lit with thousands of blue diodes, a work of public art called L’amorse du bleu, created by the artist Yann Kersalé to celebrate the completion of the tramway.

CTA train near Evanston, Illinois. Photo by Joe Agnew.

CTA train near Evanston, Illinois. Photo by Joe Agnew.

Kim doesn’t take long to shop, but while she was indoors I would profiter by sitting out in the sun, lighting my old French pipe, and watching the world, and the nearly silent trams, go by. The occasional clang of their bells was only meant to shoo folks from the tracks, but it reminded me of a time, 70 years ago, when I would take the elevated trains from Wilmette down to Evanston, just north of Chicago. These were not sleek trams, and certainly not silent, but when they were ready to depart, a bell would ring above the platform, just before the train pulled out of the station.

1950s CTA train about to leave the terminal at 4th and Linden in Wilmette, Illinois. Author’s found photo. Photographer unknown.

1950s CTA train about to leave the terminal at 4th and Linden in Wilmette, Illinois. The author’s found photo. Photographer unknown.

Back then, folks from the suburbs went to Evanston to do their serious shopping at one of the many department stores like Marshall Field’s, Wieboldt’s, or Lytton’s. I’d get off the train at the Davis Street station, but not to go shopping. I mostly went because my dentist’s office was there. I spent two years of my youth getting my teeth straightened, though I’d also stop in, on occasion, to buy something affordable at Woolworth’s, like a bag of fresh buttered popcorn.

I was lost in my thoughts when Kim appeared out of nowhere and sat down beside me. She had two bags. “There’s a pair of new jeans for me in this one, and this one is for you.”

It was a little bag of popcorn, which we shared on our ride home in the Twingo.

* Those famous notes begin at 0:20 on the linked recording.
** Whether you are a flâneur or a flânneuse, cool shoes are important. Kim found these, a perfect 36 that fit perfectly, at a local vide grenier for 10 euros.

Do you enjoy Old Nice? Is there somewhere special that causes you to lose yourself in memories? Please share with us in the comments below.



About the Contributor

Mark & Kim Jespersen

Born in San Francisco and raised in Chicago, I fled Minnesota and landed on the coast of New England (as far as I could go at the time). There I met my wife, Kim, in a used bookshop. Fifteen years ago, we set sail for France. Creating – from music to writing to photography to art — keeps us busy. https://www.mark-jespersen.com/

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.