The Story of Dan
Nice, France : March 23, 2020
I first visited Mont Chauve years ago when I walked north out of Nice into the hills behind, along the GR51 to Aspremont and back via Mont Chauve. For centuries, this hilltop served as a lookout for bandits, brigands and enemy soldiers and it marks the end of the Maginot Line. It is still possible to swing back the massive steel doors and reveal the tunnels that concealed trains during wartime.
In the fall of 2018, I bought a van I could live in and visit my daughter in Nice more often. Little did I know that folks ‘round here have no taste ‘campervans’, as they call them, nor anyone in them. As a result, I found myself up the mountain, parked for the night looking over Nice frequently and most nights, I had the place to myself. My daughter’s first ‘test’ night in the van was at the top of Mont Chauve.
On year later and I am on my way up again, as an angry octogenarian threatened to call the police and report me, prompted me move. Pulling into my favourite spot, a car approached from the opposite direction and flashed its lights. I roll down my window and a guy asked me what I was doing.
I pull my usual, I don’t speak French, and he starts in English, explaining he lived around the corner and is tired of people coming to party and leave a mess. So, he keeps a watch out.
“What is your name?” he asks.
“What is yours?” I reply, still slightly irritated from my earlier encounter.
“Dan,” he says.
“I know who you are,” I say as he stares at me incredulously. After a pause, I say: “I am Calypso’s father.”
“You are ‘Papa Calypso’!” he exclaims. “Get out of the van, I need to hug you.”
Dan is friends with a former colleague of Calypso’s mother, and I had heard of his property above from their one and only visit put the pieces together. Since then, he always waved whenever he passed by.
Fast forward again to spring 2020 and I am parked in Dan’s corner when he stops to say hello. A few days later, he brought beer and we chatted for a while, getting to know each other.
“I am just around the corner if you have any problems,” Dan said to me as he departed.
And then Covid-19 strikes, and the lockdown is put into effect. I played cat and mouse with the police for a few days, but with a curfew in place Saturday night, I knew everything had tightened again. I messaged Dan, asking if I might park on his land during the lock down. People can be strange ins times of stress, most being focused on themselves, but Dan welcomed me, saying as “Papa Calypso”, he would help out any way possible.
Sunday morning, I climbed Mont Chauve one more time to park at Dan’s. I knocked on the door and stepped back. He opened the door and saluted, his new greeting, he explained. I opened by requesting we keep physical distance. “I do not want to risk Calypso’s health,” I said.
“No problem,” he said, “my father is on oxygen and my mother has some chronic health issues, so we are very careful here. I have not left the property for a week.”
That cleared, I stepped in, washed my hands and sat at opposite ends of the table on the balcony sipping coffee. Soon enough, Dan’s mother emerged and we greeted with ‘faux bises’ across the room. She remembered Calypso very clearly, asking after her and remarking she must be six now. I smiled and silently thanking her sunny character, outgoing nature and charm, noting she was “6 and a half Papa.”
Now, I am parked on private property and do not have to worry about issues with the police or Gendarmes. My van is full of food and water and there is water at Dan’s place, just above my parking spot. I am allowed to go to the supermarket or to take care of Calypso as long as I fill out the official “Attestation”, but for now, I stay in position.
In spite of a heavy police presence and somber mood, I think this is a necessary tactic that, sadly, took too long to put into effect. And this region is a hotspot. The game is now called catchup. Patience, distancing and time will tell.
I suppose Dan and I were destined to meet on the roadside and that I happened to be parked nearby as the lockdown took effect. Being “Papa Calypso” has plenty of benefits!