Not all oceans are created equal

Nice in the French Riviera is undoubtedly, well – beautiful is not even the proper word to describe it – it is amazing. Imagine Matisse or Chagall strolling the beaches here attracted by the soft light in this area. Honestly, for more than a week in Nice, I sought to “see” that soft light but in vain – I need a special pair of eyeglasses, then.

Light aside, I have never seen the water this color before. From afar, the white beaches are in stark contrast to the turquoise blue water – a perfect picture that never fails to draw you in. After the first few minutes of amazement, I found myself looking for something missing. It puzzled me for a moment that I could not put a name on it. Then it became clearer. The ocean smell!

I grew up in Vietnam. Vacation time meant beach time. The long ride from the city to the beach was coming to an end the moment I began to smell “the ocean” from miles away. It is a very distinctive smell: the saltiness of water, the stinking pickled fish in big vases in the yard of every household waiting to become fish sauce, the pungent smell of dead shells and seaweed brushed upon the beaches by the tides. They all mix together to create a very strong, yet inviting and therapeutic smell in the air that is able to shake up the senses. I have long associated “salt water” and “aromatic air” with “ocean.” I came to Nice with a yearning for these.

Walking along the waterfront, I realized Nice air didn’t have any scent at all – and I was not sure how to take it. I came closer to the water hoping to smell something there. Still nothing. At the same time, I was shocked to realize the “white beaches” that I saw from a distance turned out to be rock beaches instead. There is not a single grain of sand – therefore you need to wear light rubber shoes to protect your feet if you go in for a swim.

I sat down two feet away from the water trying to swallow disappointment, for a long while, and patience paid off. The smell of smoke from the endless line of cars on the Promenade des Anglais vanished completely. The air still didn’t smell salty and tangy, but extremely clean and light. I took a deep breath, then another one, then another one. By now, Nice air already purged any burden I have left from my mind. In close-up, the stones are beautiful, and the water even more mesmerizing. And I found myself happy again, like a child on a Vietnamese beach.

So there you go, not all oceans are created equal, but…

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