Nice was not as nice as we hoped it would be, other than our lovely Saturday evening following our arrival. We knew the weather was about to change for the worse after Saturday and it was downright nasty at times during our few days there. Angie and I are accustomed to a little weather during our travels, but I think we have now concluded that the south of France must have something against us. When we did our bike tour in Provence in 2011 we had one decent day and three or four awful days, with some torrential rain pouring down on us when we had no choice but to keep riding. At least during the horrendous weather we encountered on Sunday and Monday, we had some ways of avoiding it, though we also got much wetter than we would have liked on some of our forays out.
The weather on Sunday was wet, as had been forecast, but we managed to avoid some of the worst of it, despite traveling on foot to do our sightseeing and meal gathering.
During this trip, we’ve developed the practice of trying to achieve our top sightseeing objective on the first day, so we have some wiggle room if it doesn’t work out. So, on Sunday, our goal was to get to the Musée Marc Chagall. We are both fond of Chagall and have gone out of our way to see his works in various places on this trip, including stained glass at the Fraumünster Cathedral in Zurich. We put on what rain gear we had and ventured out to walk to the museum. Nice is a city of many hills, which begin not very far from the sea shore, and we had to walk up and down one and up another to get to the museum, navigating with the help of the maps app on the phone, trying to figure out when we were supposed to be going up a switchback with a narrow sidewalk and when we were supposed to be taking a staircase. The museum is in a residential neighborhood with no restaurants along the route we took (not to mention, it was Sunday, when very few businesses are open). Fortunately the museum café was open and had an enclosed seating area. We decided to eat first and then visit the museum with adequate fuel on board. The menu selections were limited but what we picked was satisfying and fueled us enough to sustain us through the tour.
The main objective of this museum when it was built was to display a series of religious paintings created by Chagall, primarily focused on stories from Genesis and the Song of Songs. Chagall, who lived in France for much of his life, directed the hanging of the pictures in the galleries himself and was actively involved with the museum until his death at a ripe old age. The paintings are very powerful, often set up with multiple parts of the stories being told in different sections of the pictures. There were also frequent references in the pictures to Chagall’s own early life in the shtetl of Vitebsk in Russia. I loved the complexity of the art in the Genesis pieces, the level of detail including facial expressions, and particularly loved the way he portrayed leaves and flowers. I think seeing this art was the first time I realized how well Chagall represented faces. There were some pieces where he had dozens or hundreds of figures, and they all seemed to have expressive faces. I’ve often wondered, since Chagall was a Jew and was clearly influenced by the Hasidic traditions of his home town, why his work is in so many Cathedrals and why he so often portrayed Jesus. After reading about him, I learned that in part this was due to his art training and understanding of the influence of Christianity in western art, and partly because of his interest in being a universalist, even as he acknowledged the role his background played in influencing him.
I also saw, when looking at Chagall’s pieces featuring Moses, a graphical representation of what gave rise to the myth about Jews having horns. As I understand it, prophets are historically depicted with shafts of light emitting from their heads (a variation on the aura of saints?), and some people saw these as horns, in conjunction with what is believed to be a mistranslation according to this source: “…and Moses didn’t know that his face shone when He [God] spoke with him.” The Hebrew word for the verb “shone” is “karan” and is phonetically close to the word “keren,” which can mean horn. Another way I have heard this explained is when Moses came down from Sinai with the tablets, the Bible says he had rays of light shining from his head which somehow got translated as horns.
This is also another example of the many connections between things we’ve seen on this trip. Michelangelo apparently reinforced this misconception in his famous sculpture of Moses, which we saw at St. Peter in Chains church in Rome.
The museum is fairly well set up for English visitors with an audio tour that was useful though not perfectly translated and sounded stilted at times despite the use of native English speakers. The most egregious error was in the explanations of the painting Les Pâques (The Plagues). Twice during the narration, the speaker talked about Passover as the Jewish Easter. I’m not sure most Jews think of the resurrection of Jesus as part of their story and I can’t believe no one has pointed this out to them!
We were too busy looking at the pictures to take photos, though Angie snapped this one of a mosaic Chagall designed for the museum. He was over 90 when it was installed so someone else did the physical part, with him supervising.
Kind of liked it.
However, it was still too early for dinner and we couldn’t self cater since the grocery stores close at lunchtime on Sundays in France, so we didn’t stop on the way back to the hotel. We both wanted Asian food but didn’t want to go far on a miserable rainy night. Fortunately, Asian food is easy to find in Nice, which is one of the most culinarily diverse cities in France. Our intense research did reveal to us that there was actually a sushi bar very close to the hotel. Not only that but it’s open on Sundays and does takeout. We ventured down there, getting very wet despite the short walk.
The place, Moschi has one of the most austere restaurant layouts I’ve ever been to. It has seating maybe for 10. The sushi is prepared behind a counter but you can’t watch like in the US because it was wood not glass. The hot food seemed to be prepared in a basement kitchen that was reached by what looked like a gangway on a ship. The Japanese chef, who also seemed to be the owner, offered us two pieces of salmon sushi while we were waiting. I ate it since Angie doesn’t like raw salmon. It was very tasty. The food took longer to prepare than we are used to in the spoiled USA but it was worth the wait. I particularly liked the yakitori and the sauce in which it was served. The owner and his helper were very lovely and most apologetic that their deep fryer was on the fritz so that Angie could not have the tempura roll she wanted. The owner managed to explain to us that since it was Sunday there was no way he could get someone out to fix it. I think that may have been the motivation for the free sushi. It was a lovely experience as we all tried to communicate with our poor skills in the language of the others, and somehow succeeded.
Monday turned out to be an uglier day than Sunday weather-wise. However, we had already decided that we would spend the day just taking it easy in the hotel room, even though it wasn’t a perfect space (one chair, one sort of padded bench and a bed to sit on). We each had books to read, and of course blogging to do. We ventured out to the nearby mega-Carrefour to get some food for breakfast, spending far less than the €9.50 a head being charged at our hotel. We worked on blog entries and read. Of course we also needed to do something about lunch and dinner, and we foolishly ventured out late morning to get some fresh air and look for something to eat. We got dumped on, and stopped several times to take shelter in the downpour. We’ve since learned that the weather has been not so nice in southern France and northern Italy, to the extent of making the news. We saw footage on Wednesday evening of floods in Genoa, through which we had passed on Saturday on our way from rainy Florence. According to this story, Nice Airport was even closed for two hours on Tuesday, when we were battered by the storm.
At one point we managed to find our way into a mall as the rain poured in buckets around us. We had hoped to find a decent meal there, but the only things available at the few busy cafés inside seemed to be sandwiches, which was not what we wanted. Eventually, we lucked on a Chinese place nearby that we had heard of in one of our searches. They had some reasonable prices for the lunch menu and some other items, so we ate lunch there. Crazy Wok was pretty good. Angie had the menu, which was less appealing to me because the apps were either pig or seafood, and I had ginger chicken, which I really enjoyed and was plenty of food. We haven’t eaten much food cooked with ginger in the last couple of months, since it’s not a staple seasoning in European cuisine.
We managed to get back to the hotel without getting dumped on very much more, and then ventured out again (again when the rain wasn’t so intense) to the massive Carrefour, to get food for dinner and to check out all the other stuff they sold. This Carrefour was the biggest we’d been in yet and sold clothing, electronics, all sorts of stuff. We ended up with some delicious goat cheese and some tasty beet salad, along with some nice citrus meringue tarts for dessert, as well as a mandala coloring book and some crayons to play with at some point. It was probably good for us to take it easy for a day, even if the hotel room and weather were less than ideal.