Farewell to the French Riviera! Watercolour Memories of Nice

Farewell to the French Riviera! Watercolour Memories of Nice

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Ten years ago, my parents bought an apartment in Nice, on the French Riviera, so that they could escape the dreary Irish winter. They’ve done that in style since then. Over the last decade, I’ve been lucky enough to have joined them in Nice with my young family for holidays. I loved the apartment from the first moment I set eyes on it. The 1930s carrelage tiles, the polished parquet floor, the marble steps leading to an orange tree heavy with fruit. I think I may have seen it for the last time, because my parents have decided to sell up. My father, who is no longer a young man, is more inclined to stay at home in Bray, close to the golf course of which he’s been a member for 66 years. My mother has had poor health over the last few years and doesn’t want to be in Nice on her own. She is genuinely heartbroken to leave her apartment as she loves it deeply, but she knows she has to be realistic. She asked me to come and help her move, packing and sorting and suchlike, so I found myself basking in the sunshine of the French Riviera last week.

Of course, the French Riviera in August was going to be hot, and a nasty heatwave (nicknamed “Lucifer” for its resemblance to hell) was sweeping much of Europe. But in Nice we avoided the worst of it, and temperatures didn’t exceed the low thirties while we were there. The humidity was high, making for hot and sticky days, but a solution was at hand, and we spent every afternoon on the beach.

The Blue Beach, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

2nd August
After a 3.00 am start, we arrived in Nice just in time for lunch. “Dad and I often go the Blue Beach the day we arrive,” said my mother. “It’s right on the beach.” Down the steps to the restaurant we went: young waiters and waitresses, dressed in navy and white, typically French sporty gear, greeted us in a polite and friendly manner. After my mother and I had a delicious scallop salad I started sketching. I don’t normally do this in company, but my mother is a passionate artist, and didn’t mind in the least.

On the right in the above sketch are little vignettes from the restaurant. Jets of water vapour were puffed into the terrace for our comfort. The rosé was cool and fresh and went a long way to counteracting our fatigue from the hideously early start. The waiter, Patrick, was charming. I asked him for his name, so that I could include him in my sketch. “Je n’étais pas “bad boy?” Ni vilain?” he asked. I assured him that on the contrary, he was marvellous.

It was a minute’s stroll to the beach, and I picked up where I’d left off. On the left are the umbrellas beside us. The scale of my figures is a bit wonky – spot both the Godzilla bather and the Lilliputian one – but never mind, I soon got the knack of drawing people going in and out of the water, ie. avoid it.

After a little while, I tried again, looking the other direction, and felt I did a bit better. My mother was pleased with my depiction of her. She has always been very glamorous and that’s how I drew her. On the right a couple of dark-skinned children with South American accents played with an inner tube. As we left, fishermen came to set up their rods on the little pier.

Mum on the beach at Nice, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

3rd August
The next morning I thought I’d start recording my mother’s lovely bits and pieces in her apartment. Here is some of the pottery she’s collected over the years.

Mum's ceramics, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

That afternoon on the beach we sat in the same spot as the day before. The lady in black was gorgeous, and must have been a child bride, for the fine, strapping young men flinging stones into the sea gave the impression that they were her boys.
An old man (looking good, like everyone on the Med, regardless of age) tried to coax his granddaughter to swim to him, just a bit further…they were Italian, as you can see from the speech bubbles.
The lady in the red polka dot bikini wasn’t frolicking in the shallows on the left of the page at all, but on the far right, off the page. Unfortunately when I started drawing her I didn’t know that I’d end up making such a comprehensive scene. Her companion sat to her left, but although he was there for ages, I started to draw him seconds before he got up and left. Lesson: draw someone as soon as they get comfortable.

Throwing stones on the beach, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

4th (and 5th and 7th August)
The next day we met a friend of my mother’s, Chantal, for lunch in a place called Mori’s. The food was sensational. Chantal said the guys who run it are Egyptian. She had huge prawns flambéed in a pastis sauce. “I order the same thing every time,” she said. I had mussels in roquefort sauce, but I resolved to go back and try the prawns next time. That’s why there are two dates on the page on the right – the first time with Chantal and the second time with my mum. That second time, the only table free happened to be the same one that we’d sat at with Chantal, so I continued my drawing where I had left off. I had the prawns in pastis sauce this time, and I can assure you they were incredible. We finished with a home-made creme brulée and the entire meal was perfection. “My compliments to the chef,” I said to M. Mori, “these prawns were a dream.” “I’m the dream,” he said, in true Niçois-flirty style. My mother quite liked him. I preferred a young waiter who smiled as he served his diners, flashing a gold tooth as he did so, but he only had eyes for my mother. I should try to be more glamorous.

The sketch on the left is a nice place where we had lunch the next day. The elderly couple on the right were not as young as they used to be but I was pleasantly surprised when the gentleman put his arm across his wife’s shoulders after the meal. I saw that a lot in Nice – older couples showing casual affection to each other – and it was a very lovely, positive thing to behold.

Restaurants in Nice, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

That afternoon I drew these beauties on the beach. This time we were at Castel on the eastern end of the promenade. I revelled in the chance to capture sunlight on brown skin, which made a nice change from painting my pasty compatriots.

This is a sing-along sketch: you are supposed to mimic the musical calls of the beach-hawkers as they try to sell you water and beer and the like.

Bathers on the beach, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

On Friday evening my mother invited her neighbour, Paolo, over for dinner. He is from a tiny village in Italy and was most charming company. He kindly sent a friend of his to see my parents’ apartment the next day: she had been looking for a place for ages. She made an offer but it wasn’t what my parents were looking for, and that was that.
In this sketch you can see the curving marble steps that lead from the living room to the garden, and the orange tree that fills your gaze when you look through the French doors. The blue pot was a gift my parents bought to celebrate fifty years of marriage, so that will have to go back to Bray when they leave.

Mum's garden, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

5th August
Saturday afternoon on the beach: two beautiful Italian ladies sat under this umbrella and gossiped about one of their sisters (my Italian is very bad so I didn’t pick up what they were saying). The two ladies were in their early sixties, I’d say, and like everyone on the beach were immaculately groomed. Not a hair out of place – and a change of bikini, from scarlet to sunny yellow, halfway through the afternoon! To be honest, I have been inspired to make more of an effort with my appearance by all the glamour-pusses I saw in Nice. I didn’t draw the two ladies, because I thought it might make them feel scrutinised, but I knew their friend wouldn’t notice, so I drew him. When I was finished, they asked to see the sketch. “Brava!” they cried. “Bravissima!” No need to have worried, then.

Italian on a Nice beach, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

6th August
Well, there’s only so many times you can draw the same patch of beach, so the next afternoon I turned to face the other direction, and I drew the lifeguard hut. It wasn’t much of a scene but I stuck to a limited colour palette and managed to achieve something better than it might have been. The bird on the lower left was in the opposite direction, but I wasn’t about to miss that chance. It was a cormorant of some sort, albeit a brown one. I’m glad it’s there – it tells you what a beautiful colour the water was.

Baywatch, Nice style, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

7th August
Back in my mother’s place the next day, I drew the view from the hall corridor towards the open shutters and French doors. I very much wanted to capture the beauty of the tiled floor, so that evening I attempted it, but the real thing is a million times nicer than my sketch. It’s hard to draw something that’s beautiful partly because of its intricacy and symmetry. I made a total hames of the circle things but I’m still glad I have it. I’ll blame it on the nice fresh rosé that we lugged home from the corner shop.

Mum's apartment, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

8th August
On Tuesday morning, the day we were set to leave – but not till late evening – I drew the exterior of the apartment. It’s in the Russian Quarter, where all the buildings are signed by the architect. It’s appropriate that the Sun God guards the entrance on horseback…the city is all about sun. It wasn’t easy standing outside at midday with the base of my spine against a metal bollard. I had just donated a portable stool to charity, along with many other of my mother’s possessions, but, twenty minutes after Chantal drove away with all the bags for the church, I regretted giving it away.

The drawing of the odd-looking plant with the yellow background is a representation of one of the mosaics that decorate the top floor of the apartment building. They look great in real life, glinting in the sun – not so good in watercolour. So, to detract attention from it a bit, I drew the vine that was growing in my mother’s garden around it, complete with grapes that could have come from the local supermarket, they were so perfect.

The exterior of Mum's and Dad's apartment in Nice, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

We had lunch in Le Gambetta at Libération. I drew the waiter and it was a failure of a drawing, so I drew the lunch right on top of him. Much better!
In the afternoon we lounged about on the beach, just within sight of Le Negresco, a very fancy Niçois hotel built in the Russian style. I’m glad I included the French flag on top.

And so, as our horribly-delayed Ryanair plane climbed over the twinkling lights of the Baie des Anges at midnight, I bade farewell to the French Riviera!

For now.

Le Negresco, Watercolour by Róisín Curé


  1. Eileen Scrymgeour Rigby

    August 18, 2017 at 6:26 am

    I love all things French and your journal along with all your artistic flair made me feel so happy. Had they been published it is very likely that it would now be sitting on my bookshelf of ‘all things French related!’ In 2013 we spent a very happy few days in Nice and went up the hill to Saint Paul de Vence.

    • Róisín Curé

      August 18, 2017 at 6:50 am

      Thank you, but the memoir that was turned down was not about France. The agent was actually very good to me and recommended me to someone else. And yes, I love all things French too (although I met some truly dreadful people while I was living in Paris many years ago – but that’s another story!)

  2. Ruby

    August 17, 2017 at 4:11 am

    These are fabulous, and not even vaguely in the category of holiday snaps. Thanks for the good story- written and visual.

    • Róisín Curé

      August 18, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Thank you for your kind comments Ruby. I’ve learned to embrace the “holiday snaps” description – just as well because I love to tell a story of a time and place, in words and pictures.

  3. Geraldine Dunne

    August 16, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Oh my goodness Roisin… your sketches were beyond fabulous… you can see your heart and soul were in them.What a special memory you created for your family… priceless!
    That literary agent made a huge mistake!!
    How did you get that beautiful flower pot home?
    What a wonderful post😍

    • Róisín Curé

      August 16, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      Oh thank you so much Geri! I’ve had to learn to stay true to myself and have faith, despite the many rejections over the years. Hard to do, but I do it with the support of all you wonderful people who say such nice things. As for the pot…not home yet!

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