My husband, Larry, and I are in France on my doctor’s orders. My wise and kind physician, Dr. Neal Fischbach, has given me three self-sustaining prescriptions. The first two are regular exercise and sensible diet, which I have followed assiduously. The third is more elusive: Joy.

Appreciating the joy of life is often obstructed by troubles large and small: Worries in concentric circles encompassing planet, nation, community, family, self. As the great Gilda Radnor said as Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.” Ostensibly, we are here to belatedly celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary; to see old friends; to usher in the New Year doing something more exotic than watching “When Harry Met Sally” on television. But in actuality, we’re here in Nice following the doc’s third order … and with very little difficulty it turns out. 

Without getting into its complicated history, suffice it to say Nice embodies Italian and French characteristics, resulting in a cultural mélange unlike anywhere else in France. There is a particular kind of joie de vivre especially evident along the Promenade des Anglais, AKA “le prom,” where locals and tourists alike wander leisurely stopping to look at the sea (officially the Baie des Anges or Bay of Angels). The colorful Italianate buildings across the way and throughout the city lighten the mood even on a gray day.

New Year’s Eve is celebrated in the large central piazza, the Place Massena, with music and light shows. Families and friends gather to dance and sing. Traditionally, New Year’s Day is celebrated with extravagant lunches featuring fish and seafood platters and lots of Champagne. We settled for simpler fare. (Per Doctor’s order #2)

In the 48 hours we’ve been here, the highlight has been the Village de Noel which typically draws huge crowds for the music, entertainment (much of it geared to children) and food. The food stalls offer international favorites which include fire-roasted salmon, raclette (cheese so rich it could induce a coronary), pizza French style with tiny olives and fresh tomatoes, churros, socca (chick pea pancakes) waffles, and hot wine or hot cider (both lethal).

Picnic tables encourage talking in many languages with strangers who become fast friends. Sometimes simply pointing to a food and smiling telegraphs all one needs to know. Petite Pomerians greet leggy greyhounds without incident. Tonight a hefty bulldog drew admirers. In spite of many people in close contact, everyone is friendly and polite. At dusk the mood was festive. I challenged Larry to join me on the Ferris wheel and he accepted reluctantly until he took in the view of the twinkling lights and sea at a stunning altitude. It’s hard to hang onto anxiety in this environment. And we don’t.

We returned to our hotel on the early side as we were still adjusting to the time change, but we felt obliged to check CNN. Instead we opted for a BBC musical tribute to Lamont Dozier, who with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, wrote some of the best American popular songs from the 1960s and beyond. “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” “Where Did Our Live Go?” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and “Heat Wave.” And that’s a fraction of the canon, some of it co-written with others, but Dozier always at the helm. One hit after another, no boring commentary, all commercial-free. Sweet nostalgia. Went to sleep happy.

Today we made a visit to the Nice flea market at Cours Saleya to people watch. Over the years of visits here, the faces always intrigued me. I saw one gent that I photographed when we were here in 2019 and took his picture again today. He has aged of course, but then so have the rest of us.

So many images bring amusement and mystery when there are no distractions.

Who can resist glimpses of romance caught on the sly, so quintessentially French?

Tomorrow people will return to work and likely the tourist crowds will thin. It’s been two days so far and I plan to strictly follow doctor’s orders for the duration. An easy regimen in such a joyful place.

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