Sunday, February 25, 2018

The not-so-nice bits of Nice

Zoë Sharp

Writers must make for strange travelling companions. And crime writers must make for the strangest travelling companions of all. Mostly, we are not there simply for the view. When I visit anywhere that I’ve pencilled in as a possible location for a novel, I’m looking for something specific – something that could only happen in that place, or where the place dictates the action to begin with. I generally want to see the grubby backstreets rather than the tourist hotspots.

Take my trip to France earlier this month, for instance. On the homeward leg, I was due to fly out of Nice, which presented the ideal opportunity for some on-the-ground research.

Nice is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean, if you discount the package jets flying into the beachfront airport at regular intervals during the day. The Promenade des Anglais runs from the airport for 7km along the seafront. Known to locals as “La Prom” it is a place to stroll, cycle, skate, or sunbathe, and to be seen doing so. Until the Bastille Day attack of 2016, that is.

I was interested to see a bit of La Prom, but mostly to check what additional security barriers and precautions had been brought in over the last two years. London bridges these days have concrete and steel central reservations worthy of a motorway.

Mainly, though, I wanted to see the harbour. Or, more particularly, the boats therein. Ever since I lived aboard as a child, I’ve been fascinated by yachts, from the traditional to the sleekly modern.

Their ports of registration were interesting to note. The majority were from the Channel Islands or Malta, and the reasons behind that will make intriguing further reading for me, no doubt.

The big money had clearly been spent on power rather than sail, although when you have so many multi-million-pound floating gin palaces about the place, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.

On the far side of the harbour were the smaller local boats. 

And the lovely traditional fishing boats. Is there still a living to be made from tiny crafts like these, I wonder?

And then, of course, was the gated marina, where boats jostle on floating jetties. I’ve always wanted to know just how often some of these ever actually go to sea.

Simply getting in and out of the harbourside involved barriers and cameras, but I get the impression this is more to ensure you pay for your parking than for security.

I haven’t yet mentioned the elephant in the water, which was taking up one whole quay to herself, and that was the Quantum Blue, looming over everything else on the waterfront.

This 340ft mega yacht – or is it a super yacht? – is Russian owned, Channel Islands registered and reputed to have cost $250,000,000. It must be like having a cruise liner all to yourself.

Personally, doing my sailing with engines rather than sails, and five storeys off the water, is not my idea of fun, but thinking about the kind of person who commissioned, bought, and owns this vessel, gets my creative juices flowing.

What about you? Are there any specific bits of a foreign place that always seem to draw you in? What do you look for first?

This week’s Word of the Week is Pantagruelian meaning enormous, and originating in the late 17th century from Pantagruel, who was the giant in Rabelais’s novel of the same name.

Coming up next week is not really an event as such, but it is the launch of CULPRITS: The Heist Was Just the Beginning, edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips. The book is an anthology, but not in the usual way. The editors wrote the opening set-up – the heist and the complications that followed. The contributors wrote what happened next, and I’m proud to be a part of it. If you're on NetGalley, you can order a copy for review now.


  1. I always find toilets of particular interest. How much the styles change, and what that says about what a particular society finds important, necessary, and/or "the proper way to do things." It reflects upon how that society views bodily functions, whether dirty, filthy things that need to be hidden, or just a natural function not to be embarrassed by, how germaphobic they are (or not), how much they separate the sexes, etc.

    The littlest details reveal a great deal about the social conciousness, which in turn reveals a great deal about the thinking of the individuals therein.

  2. I know the toilets in quirky restaurants and posh hotels are always worth a quick look, EvKa, but I've never made a study of public conveniences, except to say the ones in Japan were fascinating, the ones in Greece were fairly nasty, and the ones in the Austrian alps were entirely stainless steel and a bit chilly!

  3. "Culprits" sounds fascinating, Zoë. I don't think I need to name which Greek island has a harbor offering similar experiences to your very Nice ones, nor do I dare offer an opinion on the subject of public toilets in Greece, except to say I'd not be surprised to see written their walls, "Pantagruel was here."