Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nice (no matter how you say it)

A few weekends back, I took a field trip to Nice.
It was a semi-blind adventure that turned out wonderfully. I had received a grant from my University in the U.S. to conduct 'enrichment' research on the proposal that I wrote : Gastronomy and Regional Identity in France -- How food has shaped the cultures of Normandy and Provence.  Living in Rouen covers the Normandy side, and then I chose Nice as my base point of Provencal cuisine :D!  The city is very youth-oriented with the bars and nightclubs, but there is Roman history and Italian influences and also an endless number of museums.  I took a train down very late on a Friday night, posted up in a 16 person co-ed hostel and passed out.

I started my Saturday off way too early with everyone in my dorm passed out from their bar-raging (probably through 3 or 4 AM).  Nonetheless, it was a 75 degree morning and I made my way through the Old City in such a rare, tranquil state.  The photo above is the Place Giarbaldi, an immense public square with artistic sculptures, checkered tiling, performers, palm tress and more.  My hostel was literally a five minute walk to the beach -- the Mediterranean Sea -- and the Cours Saleya square, where I met up with my culinary class teacher. The Cours Saleya was like any other market except that it was in Nice so there were exotic flowers, an abundance of fruit (the region is known for citrus) and vegetables and olive oil and tourists with their cameras.
Before my culinary class began I wandered the market and interviewed the farmers, and one of the ladies was so helpful that she allowed me to try a traditional local product called Estouffadou.  It was an almond-corn meal type cookie that filled me right up!  When I rendez-vous'd for my course, my instructor Rosa explained the history of the city and region, we went shopping in the market, then back to her apartment to cook!

I also was in the class with two ladies from Britain.  It was a lovely afternoon filled with incredible food!  Even though I'm not an olive fan, I tried the Nicoise variety and liked it a lot; I also brought olive oil produced in Nice back to my host family in Rouen.  For the first course we made the classic Nicoise salad; then we had what seemed to be a green lentil stew with carrots, a bit of bacon and guinea fowl (first time eating that, it had a mild game-y taste though similar to chicken), a platter of regional goat and sheep(!) cheeses and then a fig tart for dessert, made from scratch!
The fresh figs from the market were marvelous.  We also finished it with some lavender honey on top.  I was so stuffed the rest of the day I didn't need a true dinner; I just relaxed on the beach with my water, journal and Bueno Bars :).  The stones are bothersome for sure, but it was surreal just lounging about on the French Riviera and watching the cruise ships and para-sailors.  I even took a dip in the water because it was so warm.
I also met some fantastic girls in my hostel who were international students studying in France, like me, except they're living in Lyon.  I was so fortunate to spend the rest of the weekend with them!  We went out Saturday night to one of the raucous bars, then Sunday morning we took a macaroon course.  It was more like we watched the chef explain how to make them, and then reaped the rewards with our own boxes of macaroons to eat :).
Sunday afternoon we also went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (here's the website if you're interested)!  The museum was free first off, so I was thrilled for such an opportunity to see 20th century works that shook up not only the art world, but society itself.
The permanent collections were quite impressive, such as this from Niki de Saint Phalle.  Many of her works are a critique of mainstream views of beauty, specifically for women.  This was her sculpture of 'Venus de Milo'; the original Greek sculpture of this goddess rests in the Louvre, and you can see her that she no longer remains the perfection that was once portrayed..
I apologize because I didn't note the artist or title of this sculpture, but I thought it was incredible how this 'gown' was constructed out of plastic bottles, even including a train.  My friend Jordanna remarked that it reminded her of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and I totally agree!
There was also this artist named Ben (Benjamin Vautier), who had a giant room plastered with signs and objects with his signature artwork, begging the viewer to question what is real and not, according to what society has taught us -- totally up my alley :).
I just realized I posted mainly photos of installations and 3D works, but there was a great variety of paintings too!  The temporary exhibit was called "Coleur en Avant" and I saw some tableaus from Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.
The picture above is one of the shots from the top of the museum; I just adored the terra-cotta roof tiles, winding streest and the cresting Alps that nestle Nice right into the Bay of Angels.  And here's me taking one last step into the Mediterranean Sea.  Now I can say I've been in the North and South coasts of France!!!
Alas, all good things must come to an end. 
I shared dinner with my new friends then set on my way back to Rouen.  I loved Nice and would go back in a heartbeat, and I am interested in seeing the rest of Provence as well!  If you happen to ever find yourself planning a visit there, give me a heads up and I'll point out so more things to do :).

And I'm expecting more adventures to come!  Have a great weekend, everyone.


Olive said...

I've been behind in my blogging, but you can best believe I'm taking a look back through your France posts with insane jealousy! I'm so glad you're over there, really immersing yourself in the culture. I can't believe your beach was the Mediterranean gorgeous. Nice sounds nice ;) hahah, excuse my corniess, but it really does! That's so cool how your culinary course is set up--so you go shopping with your instructor and go back to their apartment to cook. It all seems really relaxed :). I want to be on that beach right NOW eating those maccaroons! I'm trying to go on a trip to Ecuador over winter break myself, but am hitting some resistance from my dad and grandma, so we shall see.. I'll be posting tomorrow if all goes according to plan. Keep having a marvelous time in France and good luck with your courses :D. Can't wait for the next update!

Allison said...

Okay, I'm yet again so jealous of these amazing pictures - especially those macarons (I am obsessed with them and would die to learn how to make them!). I'm so proud of you for taking advantage of all these opportunities - some of my friends that studied abroad were so lame about it and definitely didn't immerse themselves in the experience.
Your culinary course sounds absolutely incredible - sign me up for that class! :)
The beach looks amazing, the art museum is INCREDIBLE - that bottle dress?! I'm obsessed.
Amazing, amazing post (as always). All your pictures make me tres proud to be French :) xox

yiqin; said...

nice :)

Olive said...

I must say I'm quite jealous of your experience in France, drink some hard cider for me please ;). I still can't get over how awesome it is that you're over there!! I'm sure you'll crowd surf again one day---you are definitely NOT fat at all, you would have no problem riding the crowd :)!

It was so good to get your imput on traveling--I know you're one with experience, and I feel like we would have a similar style of traveling. Like my relative who was trying to talk to me about traveling, she was all about sightseeing and formal tours, I'm not against either of those, but I have an urge to do things independently or on a more intimate, small group basis, which it seems like you do as well. I think it's awesome that you plan on going to China next year, you're going to be so travel-savvy :).
I think you're right though, it's a great opportunity to discover myself better and to give back to the environment. It's hard having opposition though, but it's good knowing you faced it too, and don't regret your decision. I think they would get over it once I went and came back safely. The money sucks too..but I am working, so I'll eventually make that money back. I just need to watch my everyday expenses better, and try to fundraise. I'll definitely get ahold of you if I have any questions, I'm going to try to get my passport tomorrow ;).

I hope you're having an amazing time!

♥ Olive

Jen-Jen said...

Dear Nicole,
you are the most brilliant girl i know and as i catch up on your blog tonight, that is one of the only things that keeps coming to mind. i admire that so much and it's so great that you are having this amazing experience. you are documenting and sharing it all so well, i can't imagine anyone doing a better job. i'm also so happy that you have this blog because it feels so good to be able to keep up with the goings on there. you're in my thoughts and i can't wait to hear more soon!
-Jen N <3 :)