It was a lazy Friday afternoon in the office. My colleagues and I were winding down in preparation for the weekend. As we began to tidy our desks and shut down our computers, one of the receptionists informed us that it was the first night of the carnival and that we ought to go Place Massena – one of the main squares in central Nice – to enjoy the festivities as the first night was free. For the rest of the festival entrance to the main area would be over 20EU. As I am a massive fan of getting something for nothing, I decided that it was a fine idea. So, a small bunch of us marched down Rue de France to enjoy the sights.
It proved to be a bizarre evening. The Place was immensely crowded and was a scene of pure chaos. There were scores of small stalls selling confetti, silly string – foam string that can be squirted from a can – and snow spray. Hundreds of children (and a few adults too) were taking advantage of this to ensure everyone was soon covered in foam or hundreds of tiny pieces of paper. Amidst this chaos we had to wait for the show to begin.
When things finally got under-way, there was an overwhelmingly nautical theme about events. In Place de Massena stood a giant inflatable version of Neptune, which was to be finishing post of the parade. It was a bizarre sight as the God of the Sea was red and was bathed in deep orange light, which seemed odd to me - surely, blue would have been a far better colour. I guess there was something artistic that I had overlooked in the whole situation. Neptune was soon joined by scores of balloons depicting various ocean creatures. There some that looked like fish, others that seemed to be jellyfish and one that looked like a giant lobster. These were eerily beautiful. They floated rather gracefully above the crowds and really did give the impression that they were swimming through the waters of the Mediterranean. The jellyfish was particularly captivating as it seemed to genuinely be floating and drifting above our heads.
We stayed for the main part of the performance, which was pretty impressive, and then headed our separate ways – all covered in confetti and silly string. I guessed that my brief flirtation would be all I would see of the carnival. I presumed it would last over the weekend and maybe into the following week. However, over the next three weeks, I found that I just could not escape the carnival and that it began to grate on me a little.
The first thing that began to get to me was the predictability. There were shows and parades around the old town, along the sea-front and into Place De Massena almost everyday. Even though admission to Place de Massena was quite expensive, there were plenty of side shows and parades that were still free. I must have seen the sea-creatures that had been the star attraction on the first evening around seven or eight times more during the remainder of the carnival. Apparently, they made an appearance everyday. This seemed to me to be overkill. However, it was the same for the whole event. Sadly, many of the other parts of it were far less awe-inspiring.
The sea-creatures had been elegantly crafted and looked genuinely beautiful. However, there were also a series of floats that sported cartoon style characters that were amusing on their first outing, but which soon began to get very annoying very quickly. For example, there were three or four giant figures with frighteningly pink skin that were depicting sun burned tourists. This make me chuckle the first time I saw it as even in early March my pale English complexion was struggling with the Riviera sun. The joke was far less funny the third and fourth time I spotted them ambling down the sea-front. The same was true of the confetti. Getting sprayed on the first evening was rather fun. It created a very carefree environment and a sense of allowing caution to fly to the wind. But, when three weeks later I was still finding kids wanting to throw the stuff at me as I tried to get through the celebrations to my office, I felt far less carefree.