Riviera Redux

I.

It was hot and humid. The sun beat down upon me like a bully intent on inflicting bodily harm. The heat was different from the dry heat of Hyderabadi summers I knew so well. In Nice, the heat had a burning quality. As I stood by the unfinished bus shelter waiting for the correct bus to take me near my hostel, after having gotten on the wrong bus, with my camera bag pushing down on one shoulder and the backpack weighing down my back, I could feel every inch of exposed skin burn. But it was a change. It was a change from the cold, wet, grey and miserable ‘summer’ which was on offer in Cologne. So even though I felt like complaining I did not. I just cursed my stupidity in not having taken the correct bus, continuously wiped the sweat off my brow and rejoiced silently when a refreshingly cool breeze off the sea blew across my face.

II.

The waves sounded different. They did not have the majestic power of the waves on the Bay of Bengal nor did they have the soothing synchronicity of the waves of the Arabian Sea. They seemed dispirited and mild. It was as if the Mediterranean herself was tired from the sun. But she made up for the lack of drama with the brilliant blue of her waters, an endless deep azure that seemed to hold infinite beauty in her jeweled tiara. The beach itself was stony, soft and rounded pebbles that could hurt and soothe at the same time depending on the way you walked, sat or slept on them. But they hardly troubled me. On the contrary, they soothed my tired feet by applying pressure on seemingly the correct points. I lay down and amid the cries of children playing in the water and the waves breaking; I read a book set in Ottoman Istanbul and dozed off by the white fence in the shade offered by the shrubs.

III.

She was slightly different from the way I had imagined her from her photos. She was as slim as she was in the photos but not as tall. The spectacles she wore were like a wall, distracting one’s gaze from her pretty face and hiding her big beautiful eyes. Her lips were as lovely as they were in the photos. I had not been wrong.

In spite of her claims she did not talk all that much. At least, she did not talk to me all that much. It is always an interesting exercise to meet someone, whom you have known only as letters on a white screen, in flesh and blood. You never know the level of intimacy you should strike up. Should be you be casual and cool? Or should you be warm, funny and sweet like you were in those many mails? That essential debate can derail conversation and lead to long silences that no one knows quite how to fill. And customary and characteristic shyness does not help either, especially when you have on the other side two people who have known each other all their lives. Still, it was nice (pun unintended) overall. To sit on top of a vantage point of a charming but touristy village with fantastic views along the Côte d’Azur and talk about declining friendships was a particular, if you can pardon the phrase, high point.

IV.

Dawn was when the sounds on the road reached a crescendo. Amid the hum of endless delivery vans and clatter of crates being unloaded there was the unmistakable devilish crunch of the garbage truck. It woke me from a troubled sleep with visions of people being eaten alive and horrifying things transpiring behind its eerily familiar hum. The shimmering white curtains on the balcony door fluttered in the cool dawn breeze. The bed sheet clung to my skin like a perfume you cannot get rid of. The sounds of sleep of the three other people in the room hovered around the edges of my sleepy senses. Outside, the world was already awake.

V.

For some reason I never remember the best meals I’ve had. It could be because I’ve had so few of them or because I’ve never been a big food person. Or it could be for the simple reason that for me a meal is not just about the food. It is about the company around the table, it is about the ambience of the place and it also about the conversation and setting. Right now, there are only a few such meals I can recall off the cuff. One is that surprisingly good bacon breakfast my friend made for us one lazy Sunday summer morning in Hyderabad. The second is perhaps a tossup between the Souvlaki washed down with chilled Greek beer I had in view of the Acropolis and the delicious Ravioli drenched in light white sauce I had in the shadow of the Heiliggeistkirche in Heidelberg. Now, I can add a third one to that short list.

The brunch, again on a lazy Sunday morning next to Nice’s Basilique Notre-Dame, was the nicest I’ve had in a long while. It was not the most delicious but taste is not always the paramount thing. It was long, leisurely and very pleasant. There were of course certain high points, like the charming and witty waiter of Au Soleil, the chilled jus d’orange, the just right hot chocolate and the crisp omelet. But most of all it was the sense of peace that descended on me while I spooned butter and jam onto the bread and read passages from the novel I mentioned above in between sips of fruit juice. It all came together to form a tableaux of time that was intricate in its detail but soothing in its essence. An ensuing memory that will not be forgotten soon.



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