July 24, 2016.
Ten days, it has been ten days since our city was hit by the terrible attack, and during this time, all we have been able to talk about, at the butcher's, the baker's, the convenience store, the bus stop, on the tram, in cafés, everywhere, is this catastrophe, this carnage that destroyed 84 lives and countless others. And everyone in that period of time has been shocked to find out that they knew someone who knew someone who perished on that fatal night. This is to be expected in a city of 345 000 inhabitants (in winter-time) where everyone knows everyone, or almost. Nice is akin to a village, quite similar to the home of our famous cartoon strip hero, Asterix: fighting hard against the Roman (or national) invader. A southern city, a rebellious one, ferociously attached to its traditions, food and language. Its inhabitants would often sing the city's anthem, Nissa la Bella rather than the Marseillaise, this video shot in NYC vouches for it, but here is the real thing for you.
The Prom' (as we call it) is stunning, as it always is, on that particular morning of the 24th, and yet walking on it is heart-wrenching, and a hard decision to make: it has taken us ten days.
To a French person, it feels like walking on someone's grave, giving the same impression we get in English or American grass-covered graveyards. As if someone was going to shout: "Stop walking on my grave, you are giving me the shivers." True, this time, we are the ones who shiver, despite the warm morning sun.
Slowly, cautiously, we walk the Promenade again. It is ours to regain. There's few people around, and very little noise. The flowers, candles and stuffed toys that had been placed wherever a victim had fallen have been moved and gathered further east, in two places, near a bandstand that is close to the former Hôtel Ruhl.
But suddenly we have to stop, for there, on the pavement, we meet with an unexpected gift.
The artist at work is called Victor. He is Canadian, as we are first informed by the small flag which is placed near his hat, on the ground, by his few belongings.
I admire what he is doing, so I ask him a few questions, and learn that he has come all the way from Toronto, hopping on a plane after gathering the money for the flight to come here and share his art with the city in mourning. He arrived in the evening of the 22nd and started painting the next morning at 10am, mindless of jet-lag.
He kneels on a kind of cushion as he paints (the surface is hard!) and his work progresses well. Curves and small hearts in the colors of the French flag are filled in, one after the other. What he is actually decorating are the letters of the word COURAGE. Later, he tells me, he will proceed by writing and drawing the word LOVE and add next to it the names of all the victims of the deadly attack.
While he is not asking for anything, some thankfully leave a coin or two in his small hat. I have interrupted his work for a few minutes, but now he is back at it, mindless of the world around him. I like the name given to his "production": "What's Victor up to?", coined by his mom, no doubt awed by this amazing son.
The bright colors of his drawing give a new life to that sorry pavement. People stop and watch, and admire the work. As we do, they take pictures, before pursuing their mournful walk - maybe with a little more courage.
You may see the Niçois flag in this photo.
Further along, right next to the bandstand that is covered in and surrounded by more flowers, candles, wreaths, flags, drawings, hand-written notes of all kinds and teddy bears of all sizes, there is a group of young children. Like Victor, they are kneeling on the ground (if without any cushion!) and very busy drawing their message of love and compassion on a very large sheet of paper that is probably going to be posted somewhere when completed. They chatter in soft voices, surrounded by encouraging adults.
Once more, it seems to me that only art and artists can save us from the barbarians. Even if the conjunction of such talents will not bring the victims back, for a fleeting moment, I like to think that their souls will have been given some of their colors back.
May they all rest in peace.
Most of the photos in this post are those taken by Jacques Lefebvre-Linetzky. I am grateful to him, too.
PS. July 26. My special informer, Peter Burnett, told me last night that Victor was indeed busy painting the word LOVE, and that he looked pretty worn out. Little wonder. And by the way, we do love Canada!