Death of Artist Ben: Nice in Shock

Front page of the Nice-Matin announcing the death of Ben VautierUpdate:  The city held a huge memorial with the two caskets right in the middle of the Promenade du Paillon gardens (!) backed by a big screen with photos and memories.  Over 1400 people showed up to pay their respects, including a who’s who of the local art world.  Following the public tribute, a private ceremony was held before the cremation.

Few artists incarnate the absurdity and optimism of life as Ben, a true original that painted with his words.  A world-renown wordsmith with an unmistakable French grammar school scrawl, it was in Nice that he made his home, and where he left his biggest mark.

Ben’s pithy French sayings are posted at every tram stop in Nice, not to mention popping up in unexpected places like on wine bottles (La Jaja de Jou), restaurants (Bar des Oiseaux), hotel rooms (Windsor Art Hotel ‘Ben’ room, #65), and even crowning a public toilet (“I piss, therefore I am” just below the Opera tram stop).

He was instrumental in the birth of the modern art movement which defines Nice (L’Ecole de Nice), and his whimsical work is featured not only in museums, but he printed his platitudes on almost anything to create an ironic pairing, and his ramblings soon started showing up in trendy French-leaning boutiques world wide, and of course online.

Late last Monday night, Annie Vautier, Ben’s wife of 60 years and inseparable companion, suffered a massive stroke and died shortly thereafter Wednesday morning at 3am.  A few hours later, unable and unwilling to live without her, Ben wrote his final act, taking his own life at his home in Nice, to join his beloved Annie in eternity.  Ben Vautier was 88.

Read more here from The Guardian

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80 years ago today: the US Dropped Bombs on Nice!

B-24 bomberIn the spring of 1944, the situation in Nice was dire.  Nice was not only under German occupation, but after the townspeople frequently foiled the Gestapo’s efforts to ferret out hiding Jews, the SS had recently sent a new commandant, the brutal and sadistic Alois Brunner, who was now ruling Nice with an iron hand, and submitting the town to daily horrors.

Imagine the buildings along the Promenade painted in camouflage and the empty beaches lined with bunkers and bales of barbed wire.  Armaments built on top of the Chateau hill were ready to fire upon Old Nice at a moment’s notice.  The Hotel Excelsior on Ave Duranty near the train station was being used as Nazi torture headquarters, and by that point over 3000 Jews had been packed into freight trains in Nice and sent to their deaths.

At the same time, the Allies had started a bombing campaign targeting strategic military sites in occupied France, including supply depots and train lines sending supplies to the North, and had already bombed Toulon and Saint-Laurent-du-Var.

The morning of May 26, 1944, it was Nice’s turn.  Around 10am there was an ominous buzzing in the air, then over the next 20 minutes 4 waves of American B-24 bombers dropped their payload on the neighborhood of Saint Roch, just behind the Nice Port.

Map of Saint Roch neighborhood in NiceThere were 29 bombers in all, each carrying 5-6 tons of explosives.  The targets were a Saint Roch warehouse stocking metal (from the Jette de la Casino?) and the Saint Roch train station which sent the supplies to the North.  But the bombs were dropped from such a high altitude, especially with the resulting smoke, that precision was not possible and the bombs fell everywhere…

The catastrophic result:  an entire quarter destroyed: 384 people killed, 480 injured, and 600 buildings damaged or completely destroyed.

See related pages: 

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How to do the Cannes Film Festival On The Fly

The Cannes Film Festival is an industry-only affair, but even without a badge there are still ways to spy movie stars, catch some films, and and take in the whole crazy scene.  If you are lucky enough to be around this week and next, don’t miss experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime glitter bomb!

I have an entire Cannes Film Festival page with insider tips on star-gazing strategies and multiple ways you can get into movies without a badge, but here is a zoom on the easiest way to see a film, at the free nightly beach screenings.

Every night of the festival, there are free beach screenings of Cannes Classic films at Mace Plage at 9:30pm.  No tickets required, just line up early, and even if you’re too late to score a beach chair, you can always just throw down a towel or perch on the beach wall.  Bring a picnic and wine and it’s a memorable way to experience the Festival.

Not all beach films are subtitled, so pick your night carefully.  This year, the screenings in English are:

  • Friday May 17 Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985)
  • Saturday May 25 Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Getting back: The screenings start at 9:30pm but the last train back to Nice is very inconvenient at 11pm, which means cutting your soiree short.  Another option on Fridays and Saturdays is the #621 Night Bus to Nice leaving from the Cannes bus station/train station at 11pm, 12:30am and 3:45am.  This night bus will only take you as far as the Parc Phoenix stop (near the Nice airport), and since the Nice tramway doesn’t run at that hour, from there you can easily do the last little bit with an Uber.

After Hours movie posterIf taking the bus is not your bag, a taxi back from Cannes to Nice will set you back around 100€, so better to take an Uber which will only run around 50€.  First-time Uber users can click here and save 7€ on each of your first 5 rides.

…Or, create your own After Hours adventure: pack a quick change into nightclub glam and just roll with it and hit the Casino (note: passport required for entry) then dance ’til dawn (Bisous Bisous or Disco 7)  until the trains start running again at 8am…

For more ways to experience the Cannes Film Festival on the fly, here is my full festival guide.

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Nice’s April Fool’s Day Pranksters Are At It Again…

Every year on April 1 the Nice Noon Cannon goes off at either 11am or 1pm, and even though all the locals know this is going to happen, it still gets us every time…!

Making it even more destabilizing this year, Daylight Savings Time just started yesterday in France, so Nice’s favorite April Fools prank will pack an extra wallop!

But wait, there’s more: every year the Ville de Nice gets into the spirit and pulls an elaborate visual prank somewhere around town, which mysteriously goes up in the night, and is gone just as quickly 24-hours later.  This year it’s an ‘asteroid’ that conveniently crashed to earth right in front of the ILoveNice sign at the seaside.  Go see it today because it will be gone by tomorrow.

See related pages:

Photo credits: Boom from, Asteroid by Ville de Nice

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Adieu Velo Bleu! How to Use Nice’s New Self-Service e-Bikes

Bike wheel with shadowAdieu Velo Bleu!  Nice just got two new fleets of modern electric share bikes that anyone can use, locals and tourists alike. They’re easy to use, not expensive, have sturdy construction and are well-maintained. In all, there are 2000 bikes in designated zones all over town (even in neighboring towns), mostly where the clunky old Velo Bleu docking stations used to be.

You’ll see blue bikes and green bikes: The main differences are that the Day-Glo green Lime bikes are just for one rider and have a big handy basket on the handlebars.

The blue Pony e-bikes are made for 2 riders, with a comfortable rear passenger seat and footholds.  Also, for purists, Pony has a few classic muscle-powered bikes mixed into its fleet as well.  Pony is a French start-up and Lime is an American share-bike giant, formerly affiliated with Uber.

Both companies have their own app, but they work basically the exact same way:

  • Download the Lime and/or Pony app to your phone (both available in English) and register a payment method
  • Look on the online map to find the nearest bikes (each bike’s battery charge is noted in kilometers)
  • Put a 10-minute reservation on your chosen bike so no one else can snake it before you get there
  • Walk up to your bike, scan its QR code with your phone to unlock it, and away you go…
  • The ride ends (and the timer stops) when you park the bike in one of the designated zones.  Nothing to do, the bike just knows (but take a photo anyway)

Both Lime and Pony start with single-trip prices of 1€ plus a few centimes per minute (.19 for Pony, .23 for Lime), then offer much cheaper multi-trip discount deals by the day/week/month: Pony’s are based on number of trips, and Lime’s are based on cumulative minutes.  See my Bike Rentals in Nice page for an easy chart with the pricing options, but between the two there is an affordable offer to fit every user.

If you have never tried an electric bike you are in for a treat: you start peddling and then it just peddles for you… it’s so fun, like riding a magic bike!  Test it out with a morning spin along the Prom: you won’t regret it!

See related page Biking in Nice

Photo by Best of Nice

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