The last day for flip-flops in Nice.

After my discouraging first day at school, things have been looking up considerably.  I am loving my class so far and miraculously I feel like my French is finally starting to improve.

I never did find the elusive “U” bus but I managed to find the 22, which works just as well.

I started off the semester walking to campus – a 45-minute journey that goes past a number of delightful patisseries and an inexplicably friendly accordion player.

Everyday as I start the ascent up a slightly too steep hill to the school, there he is sitting behind his black suitcase at the intersection of a Carrefour grocery store and a home improvement shop.

I can’t imagine he takes much of a haul at the end of the day, as the neighborhood is far from the tourist areas and most people who pass by are in a rush to get to school or work, but he must have a reason for showing up everyday.

And he just seems so happy!  Every time I pass by he greets me with a wide smile and a “bonjour mademoiselle” and he really seems to be enjoying himself.

He looked completely baffled the other day when I held up my iphone and asked if I could take a photo, but he agreed.

The weather is starting to cool ever so slightly and a whisper of fall is in the air.

It is absolutely lovely.  I am a warm weather person through and through, but living on the East coast gave me an appreciation of how wonderful the changing seasons can be.  Now I look forward to the different smells and to the feel of the air as summer turns to fall and fall to winter.

Now, to be clear, the changing seasons are quite different here in the south of France than in DC.  It is still hovering around 70 degrees most days and we had a warm snap last week, but the shift is just barely perceptible and we have been having some cracking thunderstorms.

In light of the new cooler weather and electric skies – but mostly because I am lazy – I have been walking less and taking the bus more as of late.

Public transportation in Nice is good.  Really good.  There is a fancy modern tram that arcs its way through most of town, and there are also an impressive number of bus routes.  No matter where you go, whether it’s around the corner or all the way to Monaco, the bus only costs €1.

Now, the buses do go everywhere and they come often, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are pleasant.  At certain times of the day, it feels like the entire city is attempting to pile onto the same bus.  And the drivers don’t seem to mind.

The white line on the floor of the bus by the driver that usually says: “Do not cross” does not exist here.  Neither does the concept of personal space.  I’ve seen old men crushed by the opening and closing back door, and baby strollers smashed up against wheel chairs.

I have gotten up close and personal with what many of my neighbors have eaten for lunch, and I have unintentionally touched people and been touched in way too many places.

But it’s really the luck of the draw.  Sometimes a 22 bus will come and it’s like Noah’s Arc, two by two, every type of person in Nice climbs aboard and just as the bus pulls away, with people’s faces smashed up against the windows, their breath making foggy clouds on the glass, another 22 bus will come with 30 empty seats.

In addition to eating more than my fair share of pastries and getting too close to French people on the bus, I have been going to as many flea markets as I can.

I learned to appreciate used things at a young age from my mom, who would takes us garage saleing every weekend as kids.  There are few things I like more than rummaging through piles of old things laid out on tables and stacked up on the ground, and it would seems that I am in good company here in the French Riviera.  I just wish I ‘d known where to find all the French flea markets sooner.

I have learned my way around the places to get a bargain here in Nice  – and trust me there are quite a few – but it’s incredible what you can find at – and learn from –  a vide grenier.

In addition to the antique creamers and 1960’s Parisian dresses I’ve been picking up, I have discovered a few new neighborhoods, and I found a job!  Crazy I know, but I really do believe you can find anything you are looking for at a rummage sale.

I was inspecting a pair of Zara khakis, and explaining to the woman selling them that I didn’t speak a whole lot of French.  She asked where I was from and soon enough she had offered me a job helping her daughter with English.

Isabelle and her family are fantastic.  These people obliterate the old stereotypes of French people being cold or standoffish.  They invited me over to their house the other day and fed me the most amazing homemade apple tart.  It’s wonderful to meet locals and to get some insights into what it’s like to be from here.  I feel really happy to be making some lasting connections.

After I spent a lovely afternoon getting to know my new friends, and my new pupil – in their absolutely beautiful home – I returned to my neighborhood, where it seems all of the suspicious looking characters in town like to gather.

It’s bizarre how my little block has become the hang out for the most sinister people in the city.  If you go one block in any direction away from my block, things are perfectly nice. There are cafes and restaurants, a fresh seafood shop, a travel agent… you can see the main shopping street from the balcony, but right in front of the building is like the resting place for the town’s drunks and maybe drug dealers?

I’m actually not sure what these guys are doing or why they need to do it right in front the door to my building, but once my French is good enough, I am going to ask.

When I came home the other day, after pushing though the three guys standing on my stoop blocking the door, I realized that the electric lock on the door was broken, meaning anyone who tried could push their way in.

As I was processing this information, and before I had pressed the switch to turn on the timed lights in the foyer, I stepped into a puddle.  I thought it was odd; it hadn’t been raining that day, and I didn’t see a leak, and then as an unpleasantly familiar scent entered my nostrils, it hit me that that slightly sticky liquid dripping from my foot was urine and I had just stepped in a not quite cold puddle of it.

And that was the last day for flip-flops in Nice.

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