“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.” ~ Catherine Douzel
Like scores of tourists before me, I was discovering the beauty of the Côte d’Azur. I was on vacation, it was sunny, and Nice was as beautiful as everyone said it would be. But it was hot, and sometimes you even need a break from vacationing too hard. After walking the promenade and the narrow streets of Vieux Nice all morning, a sidewalk café beckoned.
Although the meal itself wasn’t memorable, the sense of relaxation brought on by food, wine, and pleasant weather was. So we lingered to enjoy the light-headed buzz of wine in the afternoon, the so-very-French annoyance of the waiter, and the throes of tourists meandering down the alley that was masquerading as a major thoroughfare.
Breaking the peacefulness was the arrival of two white-haired British ladies good-naturedly complaining about the heat, the French in general, their tour group, and each other. They collapsed into the empty chairs next to ours, and since this was Europe, the empty table was approximately one inch away. This forced intimacy at European cafés makes it impossible to either maintain your own privacy or try not to eavesdrop on your neighbors.
The ladies, as much in need of a rest as we were an hour before, ordered some tea. As the waiter left the table, one of the women griped about the sorry state of tea in France. “Oh, I do hope it’s not dreadful like that tea this morning. You just cannot get a good cup of tea here,” she snipped.
As a tea drinker myself, I couldn’t resist joining their conversation. “I know just how you feel,” I sympathized. “I haven’t had a decent cup of tea since my visit to your country five years ago.”
We became fast friends. The ladies were from Northern England and were spending a long weekend in Nice with a tour group. We were in the middle of my first trip to France, with the Riviera sandwiched between a visit to the Rhone area and Paris. They joked with us about not understanding the Scots’ English; my friend regaled the ladies with his stories of living next to a farm in New Jersey.
As they enjoyed their tea, or tried to, the woman seated next to me looked wistfully into the distance as if thinking about earlier vacations of her youth. “I’ve been to Jersey once,” she declared matter-of-factly. “It was very nice there!”
Her friend shook her head and spoke up in a much louder voice usually reserved for addressing the hearing disabled or others who don’t speak your language. “No, dear, he said NEW Jersey,” she yelled.
The first woman was not bothered by her friend’s comment and smiled instead. “Well,” she said, “it was new back when I was there!”
The four of us laughed loudly, making our ever-hovering waiter wince.
After the ladies finished their tea, they wandered back down the street trying to find their long-lost tour group. They were a comedy team in motion. We never exchanged names, and we didn’t capture the moment with a photograph. But their humor and joie de vivre certainly captured our hearts.