Winter of 1880 in Nice: carnival, music and confetti
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Paillon Illustration
The city separated in two by the Paillon, a dry river for much of the year but which turns into a violent torrent when the snow melts. Source: Nice-Matin

Winter of 1880 in Nice: carnival, music and confetti

In March of 1880, Nice was about to launch its winter regattas, under the presence of the Prince of Wales. The event was important. Parisian newspapers sent their special reporters. This was an opportunity for a journalist from the Parisian magazine ‘L’Illustration’ to discover the joy of winters in Nice. He described his impressions in an issue from the 13th of March 1880.

“The city of Nice sits by the sea, at the bottom of a beautiful and wide bay roughly resembling the arc of a circle. A torrent divides it into two cities: the old and the new. The bed of this well-known torrent, the Paillon, is almost the breadth of the Seine, and is nearly dry all year round. On our return from the Italian campaign, our soldiers had a very fine banquet on the very bed of the Paillon. However, with the snow melting and after abundant rain on the mountains, this bed of stones suddenly fills with torrential waters which rush into the sea with fury. Within a few minutes, several kilometers of the sea become colored with a yellowish shade which contrasts with the usual azure of its waves.”

Under the shrapnel of confetti

Let us describe the activities of the time. Firstly, the Carnival, which was launched a few years earlier in 1873.

“In the old town, situated on the left bank of the Paillon, is the ‘Promenade du Cours’ where, during the carnival, battles with confetti are most fiercely fought. Floats with banners and foliage rise heavily like the elephants of Pyrrhus. (The elephants that King Pyrus, King of Epirus in the north of Greece, used to fight the Romans.) They stop in front of the Tower of Visconti, and a fierce struggle ensues. (The Visconti bookshop was famous at the time. It was on the Quai des Ponchettes, on the Carnival route.) The combatants lower their visors, a kind of mesh of thin iron wire sold for the occasion. Small bouquets, confetti of faginoli (dried beans) papillotes and pralines rise, descend, collide and crackle like hail on a knight’s armor. Shrapnel shoots from above and is thrown from below from full bags.  Hands spread confetti in the air like arrows among the Parthians.” (The Parthians were a people of ancient Persia, about 300 BC, whose archers were formidable warriors.)

Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais. Source: www.ebay.com

But Nice was also home to less “popular” activities than the Carnival. To experience them, one would have had to go to the Promenade des Anglais. “The modern city is developing along the right bank of the Paillon. The public garden, which dates back thirty years and is planted with magnificent palm trees and rare trees, is the everyday rendezvous for an elegant crowd, usually when music is being played. That’s where the Promenade des Anglais begins, 26 meters wide, 2 kilometers long.”

The Promenade, deserted at the stroke of noon

“In the mornings, idle people, dainty people and invalids from all worlds and all ages come to ask the sun for strength and warmth. It’s time for serious people and happy people. But at the stroke of noon, everyone goes home and the promenade becomes deserted. Administration, prefecture, post office, shops, everything closes. At about 2 o’clock, the shelter where bands play their chosen pieces is the favorite rendezvous for foreigners and it is at this moment that the atmosphere of the Promenade begins to take shape again. The elegant, worldly, under the pretense of listening to music, are readily admired by young men who come and lean on the doors of cars. The two or three hundred merry-goers who, during the winter season, lead Nice into an outdoor existence, as if they were pricked by a tarantula, move quickly and parade about. Which gives a festive air to this part of the city. Public and private hotels of elegant architecture stand on the Promenade des Anglais. These hotels include the ‘Cercle de la Méditerranée’. The hotel has a large ballroom and concert halls, chat rooms, games and reading rooms.”

Cercle de la Méditerranée
‘Circle of the Mediterranean’. In the nineteenth century all aristocracy met here. It no longer exists today. Source: www.delcampe.net

The Circle de la Mediterranean has disappeared today. It stood at the beginning of the Promenade, close to the present Palais de la Méditerranée.



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