Monday, 14 February 2011

Thinking voyeurs, Chinese laundries & political incorrectness

Place du Palais, Nice

A man goes into hospital to have a leg amputated. The surgeon performs the operation and the next day he visits the man in his bed. The man asks him how the operation went and the surgeon replies: “I have some good news and I have some bad news. The bad news is that we cut your good leg off by mistake. But the good news is that your bad leg is getting better."

Hardly had I finished telling my joke than the cabin crew told us to fasten our seat belts for landing.

The place we were flying into was Nice - yet again!!! My flights to Nice arrive at Terminal 2, which is very bright and airy and which you can get through very quickly, très rapidement, which is good news for travellers like me who are always rushing. But WHY am I always rushing??? Why, why, why, for God’s sake why??!!!?? It isn’t as if I have an important deadline to meet. I don’t do important deadlines, never have. Nevertheless, I rushed out, bought a day ticket, un pass, and hopped on the first bus to the Gare SNCF Nice-ville, the train station in the centre of the town.

It’s a great journey in, which I’ve probably blogged already, so I’ll cut to the chase and fast forward to the Place du Palais, the square in which the Palais de Justice, the Law Courts, are located, though it isn’t about the Palais de Justice that I want to talk about right now, as interesting and fascinating as that may be, but about a café on the square, one of my favourites in Nice.

Now let me say first of all before going any further with this rambling narrative that the food they serve in this café-restaurant, for that’s what it is, is not haute cuisine, or haute anything, in fact it’s pretty ordinary, although the omelettes are quite nice. No, the attraction of the café is its location, in a peaceful yet animated square, and one which is often filled with musical buskers, one of whom plays jazz standards on a soprano saxophone. But mostly it’s good for people watching.

In the year One Nine Hundred and Jumpin’ Sixty Nine there was a popular musical called O Calcutta! which its producers promoted as a play for the ‘thinking voyeur’. 

The thinking voyeur? Now that pretty much sums me up…..apart from the thinking bit, that is…..and I don’t believe that I’m alone in this regard. Because let’s face it, there’s a voyeur in all of us, we all like watching people, their quirks, their mannerisms, and not forgetting their national peculiarities, if that’s not a politically incorrect thing to say, though it probably is, in which case so much the better. (Political correctness is another thing I don’t do.)

Now I’ve already blogged national traits in an earlier post so I wont babble on about that, instead I’ll recount an esoteric conversation I had with a man on the terrace of the café who spoke English in an accent that I couldn’t quite locate but which was ineluctably east of the Danube.

I was quietly watching a young woman reading Guerre et Paix, when the man sidled up to me and said to me in all seriousness: “Excuse, sir, where I find Chinese laundry, please?”
I had no idea, but suggested that he try China.
“Is too far”, he replied, again in all seriousness.
I suggested next that he stops the first Chinaman he meets and asks him: A: Do you do laundry?; and B: Do you know a Chinaman who does? 
“Naturally”, I told him, “you will only ask B if the answer to A is in the negative”.
“And if answer to B is also negative?” he asked me.
“Then you look for another Chinaman”, I told him, “and you keep looking until you have get a positive answer either to A or to B”.
“Is shirt I want laundry”, he told me. 

I glanced at the young woman reading War and Peace. I read it once myself and only liked the war bits. A woman friend of mine also read it and only liked the peace bits. I wondered which bits the young woman on the café terrace liked. Her face was intense, she was obviously absorbed in the book. Possibly she was reading the part where Napoleon abandoned his retreating army and scooted off post-haste to Warsaw for some extra-marital sex with his Polish mistress. All in all, not a terrifically responsible thing to do, but typical of the great personalities of history, all of whom were completely irresponsible. Imagine how much duller the history of the world would be if they weren’t!

“Please, what I do?” the man asked me.
“Um?” I said. “You still here? Well, if you don’t like my first suggestion, you could always try the tourist office or the public library”.
The man thought for a moment and then replied: “Yes. Is good. I try”. And then he left as promptly as he had come.

I looked across at the young woman reading Tolstoy but she too had gone. So I cast my voyeuristic eyes at the tables around me, but apart from an elderly English couple talking to a young seedy looking waiter who obviously couldn‘t understand a word they were saying, there wasn’t much happening.

So I got up and left and swear that I spent the rest of the day involuntarily looking for a Chinese laundry. I found none and so can positively affirm that they do not exist in the beautiful city of Nice. But please don’t quote me on that.   

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