My first night in Nice does not provide the lush, royal sleep I envisioned. Despite my dreamy AirBnB close to the promenade and my comfy bed, getting a shut-eye is not the cinch I’m accustomed to. After two hours of tossing and turning and recounting the embarrassments of my teen years, I throw in the towel and pop a Xanax.
Insomnia vs the wickedness of truly shitty nightmares
The Xany-induced sleep arrives with a smorgasbord of original nightmares. The first one feels incredibly realistic and has me spring up in the middle of the night, convinced I sharted the bed. A quick digital check and sniff under the covers assure me it was a mere mind prank, courtesy of Morpheus. On the upside, this sensorial nightmare does make all the unpleasant dreams that follow plain walks in the park.
I wake up rather tired. The colorful pictures of Menton I saw days prior, still vivid in my brain, help me muster the will to get ready and march out to the train station. There are over 40 daily trains from Nice to Menton and the trip costs only around $6. Not taking advantage of this would be unforgivable.
On the train my body tenses up and I hold my breath intermittently. At this point only four cases of coronavirus have been documented in France. In Italy, however, the number has risen over three digits following an outbreak in the Lombardy region, just a few hours from Menton. The fact I shouldn’t be traveling at all is starting to sink in.
I try to enjoy the trip and focus on the turquoise waves darting by outside the window as the sun browns my skin through the smudged glass. Thirty minutes later I arrive in Menton.
Locals and visitors from the neighboring towns and from Northwestern Italy conglomerate along the promenade and its adjacent streets. The Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) is ending but the remaining sculptures all over the city invite passersby to stop to snap a selfie.
I break away from the crowds and into the hilly labyrinth of alleyways that make up Old Menton. Vibrant clothes hanging outside the windows above me flap rhythmically in the breeze—the only sound to break the pleasant monotony of my solitary thoughts.
Beautiful houses of mild pastel colors shine brightly among palm trees and against the clear blue dome over the Mediterranean. I fantasize of owning property here and waking up to this every day. Taking midday strolls along the promenade and imagining I’m the victor at the end of a heist movie, to cope with the misery of the workday.
Then I remind myself how quickly the colors would fade and the houses would turn to prisons once I put down roots. Everywhere I go and fall in love with, the same delicate dance between my fleeting wants and my abiding needs. As if the clear fact I can’t afford more than a shared cardboard box here weren’t enough of a detractor.
If you ask me how many pictures of Menton you can take before you tire, I’ll have to quote renowned mathematician Cady Heron: ‘the limit does not exist’.
Picturesque alleyways and patios abound and so do the angles from which to photograph them. It really is a surprise that I don’t have to elbow anyone in the throat for these pictures.
Outside Cimetiere du Trabuquet a small stray dog parades cheerily in front of me, absorbed in his own explorations. I can’t resist trying to pet his fluffy gray fur and I nearly get bitten as a result.
‘Prick,’ I throw in his direction as I walk into the cemetery.
I’m not sure why I decide to go inside. These places and the melancholy that pervades them invariably poison my mood. Why didn’t that goddamn dog like me? Why??
Wandering around I check the dates on random tombstones and calculate how much time each soul got before the big black. This fateful math of Death transmogrifies my soothing solitude into biting loneliness, but it does also invite contemplation.
I don’t wish to buy a house in Menton. Or to experience all the perks of living here to the point where what was once desirable is now a chore—I know this feeling well.
No. I miss having someone with whom to travel. Someone to yell at xenophobic canine drifters for me. Someone who can be my constant when my lack of roots leaves a void that can’t be escaped with yet another solitary trip.
I abandon the cemetery and the loneliness it brought about and begin to make my way back to the train station and the safety bubble my AirBnB provides. Robyn Davidson and Nina Simone await me at home. So do some glazed doughnuts.
Who needs the approval of a biting tramp, anyway?
Has the loneliness of solo travel ever made you consider putting down roots? What did you choose to do?