Mardi Gras in Nice by Anonymous
Have you ever happened in Nice at Carnival?
On a bright June morning, which my calendar called February twelfth,
Rull and I tripped lightly down through the old olive orchards to the
station, and billeted ourselves for Nice.
Long before we reached Nice Rull's hands tingled; for there lay a
beautiful line of snow, miles away, on the north side of the Alps,
and the poor fellow hadn't been as near a snow-ball as that for the
winter. But I had only to say "confetti!" and his eyes danced at the
vision of the parti-colored hailstorm to come.
Now hasten with us at once to the Promenade du Cours, up and down
which the procession is to pass.
First, however, I shall buy for you each a little blue gauze mask;
for you cannot even peep at Carnival unmasked. And if any of you can
wear linen dusters with hoods attached, all the better. Don't leave a
square inch of skin unprotected, I warn you.
Besides the little masks, you may buy, each of you, a whole bushel of
these "sugar-plums," and have them sent to our balcony. Also for each
a little tin scoop fastened on a flexible handle, which you are to
fill with confetti but on no account to pull—at least, not yet.
The crowds are gathering. Pretty peasant girls in their holiday
attire of bright petticoats, laced bodices, and white frilled caps;
stray dominoes; richly dressed ladies with mask in hand; carriages so
decorated with flowers as to be artistically hidden—even the wheels
covered with batiste—blue, pink, purple, green or buff. Even the
sidewalk, as we pass, is fringed with chairs at a franc each.
The "Cours" is gay with suspended banners, bright with festooned
balconies and merry faces. Sidewalks and street are filled with
people; but the horses have the right of way, and the people are fined
if they are run over.
Let us hasten to our balcony, for here passes a band of musicians, in
scarlet and gold, to open the procession.
Just in time we take our seats, and lo! before us rolls a huge car.
It is "the theatre"—an open car of puppets—but the puppets are
men; all attached to cords held in the hand of the giant, who sits
in imposing state above them on the top of the car which is on a level
with the third story balconies.
The giant lifts his hand and the puppets whirl and jump. But alas! his
head is too high. His hat is swept off by the hanging festoons, and
the giant must ride bare-headed, in danger of sunstroke.
Next behind the car moves in military order a regiment of mounted
grasshoppers. Their sleek, shining bodies of green satin, their gauzy
wings and antennŠ, snub noses and big eyes, are all absolutely perfect
to the eye; but—they are of the size of men.
You lower your mask to see more clearly, you are lost in wonder at the
perfect illusion, your mouth is wide open with "Ohs!" and "Ahs!" when
pop! pop! slings a shower of
confetti, and the little hailstones
seem to cut off your ears and rush sifting down your neck.
For, while you were watching the grasshoppers, a low open carriage,
concealed under a pink and white cover, has stopped under our windows.
Four merry masqueraders, cloaked and hooded in hue to match, have
a bushel of confetti between them, and are piled with nosegays.
We slink behind our masks, we pull the handles of our
scoops—then the battle begins and waxes fierce.
But they are crowded on; for behind them, in irresistible stateliness,
moves on the Sun and Moon. Then come the Seasons: Winter represented
by a band of Russians, fur-covered from top to toe, dragging a
Siberian sledge. Summer is recognized by a car-load of choicest
flowers, whose fragrance reaches us as they pass.
Here rolls a huge wine cask which fills half the wide street; there
moves a pine cone, six feet high, to the eye perfectly like the cones,
six inches in length, which we use daily to light our olive-wood fire.
Then a procession of giant tulips—stalk, calyx, petals, all complete.
They also silently move on.
Next a huge pot, with a cat climbing its side, her paw just thrust
beneath the lid. Ha! it suddenly flies off. Does the cat enter? We
cannot see through the crowd. A colossal stump follows, trailing with
mosses and vines. Upon it a bird's nest filled with young, their
mouths wide open for food; wonderful, because the artistic skill is so
perfect that, although so immense, they seem living and not unnatural.
Then a car of Arctic bears champing to and fro in the heat, poor
things, as well they may; for this is a cloudless sky and an Italian
sun. Look carefully at them and tell me, are they not true bears?
But ah! sling! sling! two handfuls of
confetti sting your eyes
back into place again, and dash the bears out of sight. Isn't it
delightfully unbearable? You shout at the folly of having forgotten
confetti, and then resolve to watch your chance at the next poor
Here passes a man with two faces. His arms are neatly folded before,
also behind. You cannot tell which is the real front, until, suddenly,
a horse trots up and nearly touches noses, while the man moves on
undisturbed. You meant to give that man a dash, but you forgot, he was
Ah! here comes a carriage of pretty girls. Down pours the shot from
the balcony above. It rains on you like hail. It runs in rills down
your back. You hold your recovered ears, and add your tone to the
rippling, rippling laughter that flows on in silvery tide.
Not one boisterous shout, not one impatient exclamation the whole
livelong day; only everywhere the sound of childish glee. How good to
see even old careworn faces lighted up with mirth!
Here goes an ostrich with a monkey on his back, then a man with a
whole suit of clothes neatly fitted out of Journals.
But—look! look! there towers a huge car. Nay, it is a basket—a
vegetable basket! but its sides are as high as our balcony. On its
corners stand white carrots with their green waving tops upward.
Around the edges are piled a variety of garden beauties.
But, wonderful to see, in the centre rises a mammoth cabbage. Its
large-veined petals are as perfect as any you ever saw in your garden,
but their tips reach above the third balcony. Upon these veined petals
climb gorgeous butterflies, whose wings slowly shut and open while
they sip. As the mammoth passes, the outer petals slowly droop, and
snails are seen clinging within, while gayly-hued butterflies creep
Now the carriages mingle gayly in the procession. Here is one with
young lads, their faces protected with gauze masks, which laughably
show shut red lips without, and two red lines of lips and white
glittering teeth within. The battle of confetti waxes hot. Merry
faces fill all balconies and windows. Many a beauty drops her mask
for an instant like ourselves to peer more eagerly at the wonderful
procession, but at her peril. On the instant dash! dash! flies the
confetti, slung with force enough from the little scoops to sting
War is the fiercest yonder where there is such a handsome family
(Americans we are sure), father, mother and daughter.
Here goes a carriage decorated with United States flags; all its
occupants cloaked and hooded in gray linen, the carriage covered
likewise. They stop beneath the balcony, and sling! sling! sling! in
wildest combat until crowded on.
Up and down the procession sweeps. Up one side the wide "Cours" and
down the other; the space within filled with the merry surging crowd,
under the feet of the horses it would seem. But no matter. Horses and
men and women and children bear a charmed life to-day.
Now and then a policeman pounces on the boys, who are gathering up the
heaps of confetti from the dirt to sell again; but this is the only
suggestion of law and order behind the gay confusion.
Here rolls a carriage trimmed with red and white. Within are a pair of
scarlet dominoes, who peer mysteriously at you.
But look again at what moves on. A car longer than any yet seen.
It is a grotto. Within its cool recesses bask immense lizards. Some
slowly climb its sides, then, in search of prey, thrust out their long
tongues. In shining coat, in color, in movement, you would avow them
to be lizards, truly. But how huge!
Behind the lizards pass again the mounted grasshoppers, our favorites
of all, for their wonderfully perfect form and dainty beauty. And lo!
they bear, to our delight, a silken banner, token of the prize.
For, pets, do you read between the lines and understand that this
wonderful procession was the result of truly artistic skill?—that to
imitate perfectly to the eye, to represent exactly in motion all these
living creatures, and yet conceal within a boy or man who invisibly
moved them, required all the delicacy of perception and nicety of
workmanship of French eyes and fingers? Think you that your little
fingers and bright eyes will ever attain so much.
Besides, all this was also a great outlay of thousands of francs.
For Nice aroused herself to excel in Carnival, and offered large
prizes—one of five thousand francs, another of four, another of
three—for the most perfect representations.
Nowhere in Italy was there anything to compare with Nice. And I doubt
if you would see again in Carnival what would so perfectly delight
your young eyes, or so quicken your perception of artistic skill.
We look at our watches. Two hours yet; but we long to taste the fun on
foot. So we fling our last
confetti, fill hair and button-holes and
hands with our sweet nosegays of geranium, sweet alyssum, mignonette
and pansies—mementoes of the fight,—then descend to the sidewalk to
press our way along the crowded court.
More and more to see! and, last of all, Carnival tossed and tumbled in
effigy until his death by drowning or burning.
But we must be early at the station. Early, indeed! Peppered and
pelted all the way, tweaked and shot at; but ever and always with
only the harmless
confetti and soft nosegays.
Sure that we are the first to leave, sure that no others are there
before us, we pass into the outer baggage-room. Fifty more are there
pressed hard against the closed door.
The crowd swells; hundreds are behind us; we can scarcely keep our
feet. Yet what a good-natured crowd! The hour for the train to leave
passes. By and by the closed door opens a crack; a gilt-banded arm is
thrust through and one person taken out, and the solemn door closed
So, one by one, we ooze through, pass the turnstile in the passage
under surveillance of the keen-eyed officer, and are admitted into the
saloon, which is also locked.
We sink down into a seat nearest the one of two doors which instinct
tells us is to be opened. Again we wait an hour till the last panting
victim is passed through the stile.
Then, O! it is not our door which unlocks and opens but the other. We
rush for a compartment; but no! all appear filled, so we step to an
official and state our case.
He conducts us on, on, nearly to the end of the train, over stones and
timbers; but, at last, bestows us out of that crowd in a compartment
with but three persons. Soon we leave, only two hours later than the
For in France, little pets, the trains wait for the people. The people
are locked in till all is ready; then follows a rush like a grand game
of "puss, puss in the corner!" and almost always there is some poor
puss who cannot get in.
Guess how many bushels of confetti rattled on the floor of our
chamber that night!