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what does it tell you, the setting?

“Place connects characters to a collective and personal past, and so place is the emotional center of story. And by place, I don’t simply mean location. A location is a dot on the map, a set of coordinates. Place is location with narrative, with memory and imagination, with history. We transform a location into a place by telling its stories.”–John Dufresne, The Lie That Tells a Truth

Some years ago in another life, I taught writing and literature in a high school. Students at that level continue to learn about plot, setting, character, theme, the fundamentals of a story, in other words.

I liked teaching setting and how it could reflect a character. In other words, put a person in a room and tell me who she is from the description of it? What can you tell me about her?

My students, who were living in an upper middle class, suburban neighborhood, would have different perceptions and options than those students living in a big city, such as New York City.

A cautious person satisfied with her situation wouldn’t think of heading into the unknown. The surroundings for her in the story would reflect that. The setting reveals the person.

In one exercise I brought to the classroom a box of objects and spread them on a table. I asked the students to examine them. I asked, “Can you imagine a person from these objects?” (The objects came from my living room coffee table.)

I like mysteries. Whodunnits. I like trying to figure out who the villain is. I look for clues in the story much like a detective who takes out his magnifying glass à la Sherlock Holmes and begins painstakingly examining the scene of the crime. Surely from the setting of the crime one could find a link to the villain.

(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

dessert anyone?? ou, as-tu une ceinture abdominale !?

“Sometimes, it’s just easier to say yes to that extra snack or dessert, because frankly, it is exhausting to keep saying no. It’s exhausting to plead with our kids to eat just one more bite of vegetables.” —Michelle Obama

“If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?” ―Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévigné, 1626-1696

“I have never made a mistake when I asked for  a dessert.” —Michael Groves

The pâtisserie, or pastry store, is as prevalent in France as is the boulangerie, or bread store. One thinks of the Frenchman with a baguette under his arm as iconic.

I would argue that the French like desserts more than Americans. That is, the French are more inclined to order a dessert during lunch or dinner than Americans.

Many Americans will ‘grab-and-go” a lunch, and desserts do not fit well into that pattern of behavior. They might eat a slice of pizza or a hamburger for lunch, and what dessert would follow?

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” –Erma Bombeck

The French sit down to eat lunch and dinner and order one to three courses, one of which might be the dessert. The typical French meal consists of l’entrée and le plat principal or le plat principal and le dessert or one can order all three.

Typically, in France I order the former, l’entrée et le plat principal. I have noticed though that many French will choose the dessert, that is, they will order le plat principal et le dessert. They are more sensible.

(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

nice is nice

When I was going through security in Amsterdam, the official  asked me where I was going before stamping my passport. I told him Nice. His response with a flawless English accent was “nice!”

Nice is a nice city.

At one end of Vieux Nice is the Parc de la Colline du Château. One can either walk up the steps to the top or take an elevator. From the top one will have a beautiful panoramic view of the Promenade des Anglais and la Vieille Ville. It is a popular destination for that reason.

Sometimes I like to go elsewhere for a view. Two places are favorites: La Terrasse du Plaza and Le Méridien Nice. At La Terrasse du Plaza one goes to the 6th and last floor of the Boscolo Hotel Plaza. The restaurant there is good. For Le Meridien Nice I go to the 9th floor terrace and sometimes to the 1st floor. (That would be second floor in the US.) Be prepared to pay dearly for drinks.

During one recent trip to Nice, I went to the terrace of Le Meridien Nice. I had wanted to see from above the Carnaval de Nice parade as it wound onto La promenade des Anglais and past Le Meridien Nice.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

By chance right below me a sniper and his spotter had placed themselves. Everywhere security was tight. But wait, there’s more!

la passagère, a star on the côte d’azur

“Someone needs to eat in a French Michelin starred restaurant, and it might as well be me.” –Michael Groves

« Une cuisine élégante, qui met en valeur les mille et une pépites du terroir méditerranéen, une finesse et un raffinement de tous les instants, une exécution sans faille . . . On se délecte de ces créations sur la terrasse, en profitant de l’exceptionnelle vue sur la mer et l’Esterel ».

“Elegant cuisine that shows off to advantage the countless gems of the Mediterranean terroir with a consistent sense of refinement and faultless execution. The chef, Yoric Tièche, is absolutely in his element! Diners can delight in his creations on the terrace, which has an exceptional view over the sea and the Esterel.” –Guide MICHELIN 2018

Last week I made a reservation for lunch at La Passagère, a restaurant in the Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins, a town on the coast of the French Riviera. It was given its first Michelin star in 2018.

It was not my first experience in a starred restaurant. The occasions are rare though. The cost (let’s underline that), the recommendation to make reservations, and the need to dress well controls most decisions to eat in one.

Once settled at the table, a decision must be made whether to order an aperitif. That will be the first question posed by a waiter. I ordered une coupe de champagne, knowing that ordering champagne in an ordinary restaurant can be expensive and ordering one in a starred restaurant will be expensive.

I went into La Passagère expecting to eat well and to drink heartily. Damn the cost!

The champagne was superb. It complimented nicely the two servings of amuse-bouches I would receive before the first course. But wait, there’s more!