I stuck with the plan. First, I followed the 'one day in Menton' guide that I found on a random travel blog and walked through the Old Town to see the St Michael Basilica. The point, for me, wasn't the basilica per se; it was the basilica as a reference point for where the Old Town was. I had to pass through a non-descript and ultra-touristy stretch of the town, flanked on both sides with touristy restaurants and snack bars and creperies where I would never eat at unless desperate for food (like I would be, a few hours later), and I was confused by the flatness of the terrain because the article said 'hike' through the Old Town. And so when I finally saw a steep incline, looked up and saw a church-like building, it was with a sense of relief that I walked up the slope, then up some stairs...and that feeling gave way to awe at the sight of this:
The basilica and the chapel next to it were both closed, which didn't really bother me as I find these things too similar after a while anyway, so I headed for the next spot: the old cemetery from which one could get a spectacular view of the town, the coastline, and even of Italy. I am very glad that I decided to keep walking up a sloped road, in the hot sun, after chancing upon a gate to the cemetery which was locked. I had half a mind to turn around and go back down, thinking perhaps the cemetery was closed; but I decided to push on, and boy, what a fantastic decision.
Because what a view; what a view.
I walked around the cemetery briefly and marvelled over the generations of families that are buried in the same place, marked out by family tombs. Many of them began from the 1800s and continue till today--a graphic manifestation of Heidegger's being-with, history, our thrownness into the world; for these people were thrown together in the same place, bearing the same history and legacy even if some of them had never met. There was also a tombstone written in English; that of a girl who died aged 12. I wonder what happened to her.
After this, I walked down to level ground and to the Old Port to get a view of the Old Town itself, famed for its buildings' colourful facade. Google Maps was a bit confusing, and when I saw the view, I was a bit disappointed for it did not look as bright and cheery as some of the photos that I have seen. Still pretty nonetheless:
It was almost noon, and I was hungry, so I set off for Loving Hut--and this is where the plan started to unravel. Bear in mind that Loving Hut was about a 20-minute walk away from where I was, and that Google Maps made me walk on the boulevard under the hot, relentless sun, from which I had no protection. I didn't quite mind because the sea was gorgeous, and so I walked, and walked...and started to feel uneasy when I realised that I couldn't see a single beach club in sight. No umbrellas lined up neatly on the shore, the different clubs distinguished by the umbrellas' colours. My unease morphed into a sort of panic when I passed the beach landmarks on Google maps and realised that they were public beaches. I started to get moody and irritable when I was 5 minutes from Loving Hut and confirmed that, no, there were no private beaches here. I was so irritated that I didn't even bother to reject nicely this random old French man who started walking beside me and asked me, in French, if I wanted to eat something with him. I was so distressed at the potential unravelling of my plan that I was overly focused on thinking up a Plan B--go back early to Nice, go to another town.
It wasn't until I sat down at Loving Hut and properly searched for private beaches, as opposed to just assuming that this part of the town would have them like I did the night before, that I realised that they were all at the Old Port area--in other words, the area where I had just spent 20 minutes walking away from under the hot bloody sun.
Of course I walked back. After a delicious meal of lemongrass tofu (that strangely had a fishcake texture) with very fragrant non-white rice, I walked all the way back because my plan was a private beach and I wanted a private beach, without which swimming would have been extremely inconvenient. I wasn't even wearing my swimsuit; I didn't even bring a towel other than one to dry myself with; and most importantly, I didn't have anything to shield me from total and complete sun exposure. So I had to have a private beach even if the sea was more inviting along the public beaches because unobstructed and wide open.
But we create our own wide open spaces, even if, in reality, they are fenced in by some rock formations (don't know if natural or man-made) creating a semi-lagoon, if this makes any sense at all. I settled on a club that is cheap and looks out to more open sea than not and spent three hours there.
My plan was salvaged. It was a great plan because the afternoon was wonderful: alternating between swimming and reading At the Existentialist Cafe, and even writing two lines of a new short story...which I promptly declared fucking banal and crossed out and rewrote later in the evening when I had a glass of wine at the Negresco Hotel. More about that later.
For now: I swam out to the open sea, as if pulled towards its openness and away from the shore by a magnetised attraction more forceful than the gently udulating waves. I swam past the rock formations and felt like the sea was my swimming pool, like I was a fish gliding through the water's surface, floating on it, my arms and legs stroking and kicking, sometimes languidly, sometimes more urgently (e.g. when I saw a brown thing bobbing in front of me and panicked because I didn't know what it was; then saw it again while swimming back and panicked because I realised it was a jellyfish), as if I was born in the water and could be a mermaid in an alternate reality. The water feels like silk enveloping my body, which feels as jelly-like as the water looks upclose, its surface unfolding and folding into layers and layers by the wind. I was held by the water, embraced by it; I could stop moving my body and the water would hold me up and carry me adrift slowly, gently, in its arms.
Pure perfection. Pure paradise. Precisely why I need my annual beach holiday.
I am getting tired, so a couple of more things:
- I am so embarrassed by my terrible French when asking a policeman at the Nice station where my platform was. I wanted to say that my train was at 9.36am, so I said, 'Neuf...heure? Et...treize six minute.' It was only after the train had pulled away from the platform that I realised I had told him 'thirteen six' when I should have said 'trente-six', or whatever the hell '36' is in proper French. Still can't register numbers. I have to think really hard when cashiers tell me how much my things cost, which is of course too much time, so I find myself looking out for the display where the amount is stated before returning the cashier's 'bonjour'.
- I mean, I can order a pain au chocolat and a cafe, but yeah, that's about it.
- As for Hotel Negresco: I paid 18 euros for a glass of wine. I could have got at least two glasses of wine at the Cave du Fromager (?) where I had dinner yesterday because I had dinner there last year and had amazing baked camembert and wine. The wine was 7 euros--and I liked it better than tonight's wine. The hotel only had one selection of the three types of wine sold by the glass, so it wasn't like I had a choice. But fuck it--I'm on holiday, the hotel is a posh 5-star hotel and I knew it would be expensive, and I sat outside and faced the Promenade des Anglais and wrote (rewrote) the beginning of a new story, inspired by the creepy French man who took a picture of me on the beach last year when I was changing into my bikini. So it was awesome and worth it.