We had just left the Chagall museum, and were trying to get our bearings on a confusing three-way corner, when a woman approached us speaking in French. It was clear she was trying to help us find our way, so with our best French accent, we replied very slowly, "Poooortoooo." She made a face and tried again, speaking rapidly in French. With much more emphasis and some pantomiming, we said, "Poooortoooo, baaarrrcoo," making wave motions with our hands. Then, with a tilt of her head, she asked, "Why don't you just speak in English?"
Her name was Heidi and moments later she became our personal guide through the streets of Nice. It turned out that Heidi was Austrian, had moved to Nice 28 years ago from Morocco, where she met her husband (also Austrian), though she never intended to stay in Nice so long. She had spent time on boats but suffered from seasickness, something she didn't tell her boat-loving husband for 12 years. She was born with defective hips that no one noticed until she couldn't swim, she had her first hip surgery when she was just a teenager, and now has three artificial joints. While we never, ever use this word to describe anything, Heidi was simply "delightful."
She constantly apologized for being slow, but to us, the 80-something woman was surefooted and energetic. We can only hope to be as sharp and perky as Heidi at that age. She was on her way to get some ice cream but insisted on making sure we got to the port without issue.
We had pulled Berkeley East into the Port of Nice the day before. While it is the capital city of the French Riviera, Nice is almost as Italian as it is French, the perfect transition place for us after spending so much time in Italia. It is the ideal combination of big-city grit, old-world opulence and casual beach town.
Heidi wove us through the backstreets, and the old town, telling us tales of the past, of royalty and celebrities. She talked about the French government and asked questions about politics in America, as she pointed out monuments, and the Promenade des Anglais', wondering if we knew of the terrible terrorist attack there years before. She showed us the Parc du Chateau with the most beautiful views of the city, and the port, and Berkeley East.
And when we got close enough to our destination that Heidi was certain we would not lose our way, she opened her arms for big hugs, this beautiful stranger who strengthened our hopes that the world, and the people in it, are not as horrible as it sometimes seems.