[by Róisín Curé] Ah! La belle France! I was in Nice, on the Côte d'Azur for a family reunion recently. I come from a big family. I hadn't seen my twin brothers, Hugh and Killian, for over twelve years; my sister Fiona and her new husband Bruce for a year, and not since their marriage; my brother Cormac for about three years; my sister Dairine and her beloved, also called Cormac, for about three months and my dear parents Paddy and Cinnie for about three weeks. Only two brothers were unable to join us in Nice, so it was a big occasion. I felt some trepidation before the trip - we've fought a lot in fifty years of being brothers and sisters, and a weekend together would provide a good opportunity to have a row from which there would not be sufficient time to recover.
Between us, we live in Canada, Jamaica, France, Spain and Ireland, and so we all had a distance to travel to get to Nice. Why Nice? My parents have a beautiful apartment there...and Nice is lovely, and there's a beach, and great places to eat. Alas, there wasn't room for all of us in the apartment, so for the first two nights I stayed in a tiny studio apartment on the fifth floor of a stunning Art Deco building near my folks' place.
I woke up the first morning with a hangover. I had let my hair down over dinner and was a little loose-tongued. Now, in a strange place and with no one to tell me that I hadn't been too indiscreet, I began to obsess over all the things I'd said. There was only one thing for it...make a sketch.
We made arrangements to meet the rest of the clan on the beach, and off we set in the sunshine. Passing the site where those poor people were massacred in July was very sad. There are flowers and toys and photos and to think of it is heartbreaking. I suppose it brought home to me how lucky I am to have all my family still...
Then, after all those sad scenes, it was like magic to see most of my family lolling about on a white bench in front of me. It was like a dream where all your long-lost loved ones are there...but real.
Here they all are: from left to right we have Killian, one of the twins; Hugh, the other twin; Cormac and my sister Dairine; Bruce, my new brother-in-law; my sister Fiona, Bruce's bride; my dad Paddy; my brother Cormac, and last but anything but least, my mum Cinnie.
"Those planes are so fake," said one of my brothers. "So CGI."
I saw my mum and dad further out to sea and tried my best to catch up with them. Mum likes to swim steady and slow and Dad swims alongside her, appearing not to move at all, but somehow keeping abreast of her. She's had a lot of broken bones in the last couple of years and my dad doesn't let her out of his sight.
"Slow down, will you," I called out. "I can't catch up with you."
"She won't stop," said my dad, floating on his back with his beach shoes sticking up out of the water. "She going to Corsica."
I gave up and dried off in the sun, sketching each person as they came into view. We had a picnic and said goodbye to Dairine and her beloved, Cormac, who were heading home to Ireland that evening.
Later on, back at my parents', we had another dinner in their beautiful garden and I had a chance to redeem myself and be a little less blabber-mouthed. Luckily, my brother Cormac can always be relied upon for a story. He told us the following, my favourite of the holiday.
"One of the girls went to a friend's birthday party recently," he said [I forget which of his daughters it was]. "When we collected the girls, they all emerged from the coach beaming, each carrying a little cardboard box with holes punched in the front. We wondered what was in the boxes. Turned out they'd all been given a hamster as a going-home present."
"A HAMSTER!" came the shouts.
"Yes, and because our girl was the birthday girl's best friend, she got two," he added.
"Not male and female, surely?" I said, jokingly.
"Yes," said Cormac. "Male and female. They're in two cages, naturally. And the girls aren't allowed to clean out the cages themselves, in case the hamsters get together by accident."
Cormac's girls are very proud of their Irish heritage.
"Guess what their names are," he said. "Seán and Orla."
Cormac sent me a photo of the cages. Each looks like a hamster theme park. I suppose they gaze at each other all day long, pondering on cruel Fate who keeps them from each others' arms.
Next morning it was Cormac's turn to leave the party, along with the utterly inseparable twins, who went back to Vancouver. I packed up and moved into my parents' place, and immediately began a sketch of their garden. The tree in the middle was heavy with oranges, earlier this year, my mum told me. But just looking at the sketch now I start to get itchy feet and calves - I was eaten alive by mosquitoes in that garden.
The beginnings of breakfast can be seen on the table. That was Fiona and Bruce's last day too, and they flew on to London later on to join one of Fiona's daughters. Mum and Dad and I were left to our own devices and the next afternoon we decided to head to the beach again. Sitting around in a swimsuit is the ideal time to think about going on a diet, and my mother and I decided to get serious about it after we got home. My mother said she would swim a little father every day if she lived in Nice, and for some reason I pointed out that she is a slow swimmer. This was a mistake: no one criticises my mother in front of my father. I have known this for many years, so I had no one to blame but myself when my father reprised an old theme.
"You cannot change the shape you were born," he said to me. "You were born stocky, and there's nothing you can do to alter that."
"Stocky," I said. "Thanks, Dad. Then again, I suppose I'm sturdy in a strong wind."
"Now Cinnie," he continued, looking at his beloved wife, "Cinnie has a very slender frame. She has very small bones."
" I do too!" I said. "Look!"
I held out a slim wrist.
"I have a very small frame indeed! Don't mind the middle bit, that's just from overeating. And look at my very slim ankles!"
"Cinnie has much more delicate ankles," said Dad. "They're so delicate that she actually BREAKS them."
"Whereas I only sprain my ankles," I said. "Okay, you win, I concede defeat."
My mother was nearly falling off her chair laughing, despite the reminder of her recent breaks, which took a big toll on her psyche. Luckily we all knew that I wouldn't mind being compared to my mother as an ox to a racehorse.
Here's my father reading his book in the sun at the far end of the beach. The ubiquitous "chariot" is beside him: it fits the swimming gear, a picnic and a bottle of wine so it always comes to the beach. My mother is stretched out on the stones in the foreground. She's the lady with the delicate ankles.
Next day was my last. I popped off to visit the Russian Cathedral, which is about a minute's walk from my parents' apartment. I brought a scarf with me, thinking I'd seen something about covering your head when I had passed by during its lengthy closed period. The inside was stunning, and I'm afraid it's beyond description here - it's too fabulous. I only had a few minutes but I decided to sketch the two young beauties who were gracing the inside with their presence. Try to imagine butterflies all over the middle section of the girl in pink.
"There they are, in their scarves," I thought. "They're clearly Russian Orthodox. They must be so proud of all this majestic artwork. How at home they seem."
I watched them as they moved, their chestnut hair almost to the backs of their knees. As you can see I made colour notes to paint later.
The two girls wandered about then headed for the exit...pulling off their scarves and replacing them in the basket along with all the other scarves that you could borrow if you weren't Russian Orthodox.
Not much, I know. But there'll be a next time.
There's talk of making it an annual event but that's unlikely to happen. Life will get in the way, as it tends to do, especially when you have dependents...but I cherished this trip more than I can say. A celebration of family, of life...of being alive.