The scrubland is on fire. The wind from the south exceeded 110 km/h, throwing the flames right onto the village. I took my white car, I climbed the side of the pines of the house. I drove through the cypress hedges that were shaking under the embers. The lavender fields were reddening, the fire was at the gates of the village. Some palm trees were waiting for their destiny under the August heat. I drove on for a while, without making up my mind to take a decision. I passed the closed phosphate mine, my parents’ candy store. I reached Nice an hour later. My car almost hit a milestone decorated with a Savoy cross.
Young people were dancing the farandole on the square of a small church. I blended in, pulling my cap over my ears. Are these people amateurs, or travelling actors? The dancers hold hands and beat the ground in a lively rhythm. The sun burns the pediment of the church. God has fled because of all this noise. I look at the sky. The rain will not fall. I wipe my lips with a mandiyu (handkerchief) adorned with the initials R&B, they are my sister’s.
My sister, yes, the only solution is to join her. The dancers are already doing some kind of spirals and jumps before my eyes. The sun dazzles me, it seems to me that they are stars, become crazy because of the heat. I return to the church to rest a little. On a fresco, the farandole of death is spread out and contrasts with the painting of Nice outside the building. Who will go to heaven? Who will go to hell? I contemplate the macabre drawing. Skeletons, living people, pope, emperor, cardinal, abbot are holding hands under a glowing sun. Only a pretty woman, isolated in a corner of the fresco, does not seem touched by the atmosphere of horror. She is holding a small bagpipe on her puffy blue polka dot dress. She reminds me of my sister.
Suddenly, I hear the sound of breaking glass. I rush out of the church. The dancers have faded away under the sun. I enter a café, order a glass of white wine. The waiter brings it to me shaking, then he sponges his forehead; I decide to leave Nice. I have to meet my sister, in the principality of Monaco. I still make a detour to contemplate the bay of the Mediterranean, and the Bay of Angels. An aviun (plane) flies low, and passes over the tramway. Nice is sheltered from the wind by an amphitheater of hills, but it is still hot. My legs have trouble moving under the heat. The sky sends little electric bursts into my eyes.
After a few hours wandering on the Lympia harbor, the Stellar Observatory in my back, the Vinaigrier mount on which the evening falls more in the east, I resolve to leave. I had time to drink several lemonades and to change my shirt twice. Did the house burn down? I don’t want to know. I just want to find my sister and make her promise to take me in, until the fire calms down at home. But will my sister be able to receive me in her ivory hell? And will I find her?
There is a fishing boat, a little isolated. A rowing boat, blue and white, made of marine wood with a cable panel and even a steering cabin. The evening falls, purple and sizzling on the square of the port. I rush into the cabin. I imagine for a moment to make the trip to Monaco in this boat, but I never knew how to pilot such a machine. A couple of walkers stare at me while passing. Fortunately, they are the only ones, the port is deserted, the people of Nice are parked in their cafés. I get out of the boat and stand on the pontoon. I see big yachts on the horizon. One sees the hertzian tower of the mount Leuze detaching itself from the black sky. I murmur a poem by Louis Notari in Monegasque:
A lüna è ciaiřa, u tempu è beIu,
o Munegascu, vařa u batelu :
ganta řë rame e voga e canta
d’au cavu d’Ayu a Spina Santa!…
Se řa to’ terra è picenina,
godetè ‘n paije tüt’ a maiřina :
e chësta sëřa, che fà bunassa,
arma u palangru, prepařa a nassa!…
Sarghi e umbrine, pagaři e blade,
crovi e luvassi, sarpe e duřade,
ienceran tütu d’ořu e d’argentu
řu to salabre, se nun fà ventu!…
Se se levëssa ün mistralotu,
issa řa vëřa sciü u batelotu,
lascia che voře, cuma ‘na ciuma,
sciü ři mařusi, gianchi de sciuma!…
(The moon is clear, the weather is fine,
O Monegasque, put your boat in the water:
grab the oars and sail and sing
from Cap d’Ail to Spina-Santa!…
If your country is very small
enjoy in peace the immense sea
and tonight, may the sea be calm,
bait the longline, prepare the nets!…
Sargues and umbra, pageaux and blades,
crows and wolves, saupes and sea breams,
will fill with gold and silver
your salabre, if there is no wind!…
If a bit of mistral would rise,
hoist the sail on your little boat:
let it fly like a feather,
on the white waves of foam!…)
At mesanœte (midnight) already, I open the dirty doors of my white car. The stars break my heart; they are motionless, they want to speak to me, but I cannot decipher what they have to say. So I drive without interruption. I make a stopover only at the Trinité, Saint-André-de-la-Roche. The pink walls of the town houses are illuminated. I catch my breath, park the Clio. Monaco can wait a few more hours; the city’s coat of arms, a golden goat, holding a sandy snake in its mouth, flutters on dark pennants in the urban wind. I pass a fire station, and the fire comes back to haunt the whites of my eyes, so I clench my fists and decide to run away from this place, to go even further to the only person who cares about my existence.
The Principatu of Mu̍negu (Principality of Monaco) undresses before my dazed eyes. I am tired, I have been driving and wandering for a good part of the night. The sky is fanfarun (boastful) and whitens with joy at my arrival. I greet it with my hand in visor. The sun is now only a reflection disappeared behind cottony and opaque clouds. I am the eroe (hero) of this whitewashed south, I tell myself, and I clench my fists and prepare to spend the rest of my night wandering the principality. A sciama (flame) welcomes me to the terrace of a café that has remained open, in which I drown another good hour. There is a small speyu (mirror) behind my table, and I see my demon look escaped from hell. I think back to the fire. My phone didn’t ring. I probably would have been warned, if the house had burned down. I was crazy to take the road. The moon, like a cut baijadona (poppy) sways before my eyes. It looks like an omen.
The cemetery of Monaco is spread over two flowery hectares. I already came there last month for my sister’s funeral. She is waiting for me there, next to Josephine Baker’s grave, under the burning stars. The night is like a steamroller now, my temples hurt, a little rain is coming down on my neck and I am cold. I tremble as I kneel; I have no flowers. The grave is smooth, beautiful. The moon makes the inscription glow. I see my sister’s face hovering above the other graves. Her body was never found in the fire. Suddenly, I regret having come all the way here on a whim. I have to pull myself together. A stele in honor of Monegasque Jews rounded up in hotels further on, I walk with my hands in my pockets. Most of the graves have been recently flowered. Brightly colored begonias, pinks and reds, pierce the darkness of the place.
I have almost come to my senses now. But I don’t take the Clio back, it can wait until morning. « A se revede » (goodbye) I murmur to the wind that envelops my sister’s grave; then I drive into the Monegasque city. The rain is now falling, heavy, like a stream of oil, on my eyelids. Some young people wait beside their cars, the door open. The morning starts to open its pink eye. I sing in a low voice in Monegasque. I will return to the land of my ancestors more often, I promise myself. U can (a dog) starts barking and leering at my uncovered calves.
For the penultimate time, I enter the Belle-Epoque building as a regular. I changed in the back of the car, once again. I put on a white polo shirt with green Ralph Lauren piping, rust-colored pants with legs and brown leather loafers. I slipped a pair of tortoiseshell glasses over my nose. I don’t really need glasses, but they age me a bit and I need them tonight to get into the Casino. I hear the sound of a helicopter in the distance, see my sister’s tender smile in my mind, and hand my card to the security guard at the entrance.
The night is short for those who have lost all hope. I play until I am exhausted, I have not slept. The artificial lights of the hall burn my eyes, the chips burn the palms of my hands. Finally, exhausted, I finish a last glass of Malibu and go out to the terrace to get some fresh air. A beautiful woman in a white crinoline dress turns towards me. I catch the expression on her beautiful face and I jump: it’s my sister. I try to embrace her, but she disappears. It only remains for me to seize the balustrade. The rain falls. My gaze melts into the oily hues of the summer sky. There is no one else on the terrace but the mistral and me.
Suddenly, a clicking noise, and thousands of streetlights going out below. The light makes its show, it yields however its role of young first to the day. The morning is totally uncovered. I think that if I had my revolver on me, I would put it at sight, before shooting myself in the head. But the wind freezes my thoughts, and I go back to playing English roulette and craps for a few more hours, bantering with one of the waitresses in a tight white dress who is having trouble holding her tray straight
Around me, people seem to be strangely enjoying themselves. A young man’s eyes sparkle. An orchestra is playing pleasant chamber music. A military man has just won a lot of chips. Except for the waitress, most of the women are in their Sunday best and much older than me. I close my eyes, dizzy from lack of sleep. I have to go and put flowers on my sister’s grave tomorrow, I tell myself, and finish my glass of Malibu. Death is a jackpot, my sister played badly that night, in the fire by not waking up. I lick the drops of alcohol from the corner of my mouth, then get up like a ghost. It’s 4 o’clock, the games are about to close, it’s time for me to join reality.