More stories from France: a murder in Nice (2009)

In a somewhat out of date edition of the Rough Guide to Provence and the Côte d’Azur, it is noted that ”for all their glamorous ease of luxury living” the coastal towns are ”hotbeds of quick money, crime and tourist rip-offs.” In particular the sleazy side of Nice was emphasised by the author, Kate Baillie, who however, also pointed out that the city is a great place for ”food indulgence.” Not much has changed since the Rough Guide was published in 1990; any trip to the region includes ample opportunities to sample the tastes of both Provençal and world cooking. Similarly, Nice still functions as an extended stage for performances that reveal the contrasting lives of the ultra rich and the proletariat.

An enjoyable holiday in the south of France in 2008 was our cue to return to Nice with our kids for a week of sunshine, sightseeing and sweetmeats. The weather lived up to expectations and at midday it was almost too hot to sunbathe. For the first few days we ate ”à la niçoise”, trying out some of the many goodies on offer at the restaurants in the central district (“la vielle ville”). Then we ventured further west to find out what was available at eating houses in the backstreets of the area behind the flashy up-market hotels along the ”Promenade des Anglais.”

Late one evening, after cooking a dinner of salmon and couscous consumed on the relatively cool terrace of our ”residence”, we went for a lengthy stroll through the city. At a corner of the rue Dalpozzo we spotted Mexican and Japanese restaurants side by side. Having examined the menus and noting that there was a wide range of our favorite bites, we opted for the Japanese, called Osaka. Since it was late we decided to book a table for the following evening. The possibility of returning to the same street to eat Latino food at the ”Poco Loco” (meaning “slightly crazy”) also seemed attractive.

Nice is a fantastic, summer time hot, melting pot of nationalities and cultures. Apparently 10 percent of the population is muslim; the ramadan month of daytime fasting began on the day we returned to Denmark at the end of our holiday. There are tourists from all over Europe; the sounds of Italian, German, English and French mingle in the mass of sunbathers on the pebbly beaches. Significant and varied immigration shapes the top and bottom ends of the social ladder on the Côte d’Azur; with hyper-rich Saudi sheiks (mostly out of town having gone back home for the fasting season) and aspiring North American wannabes on their yachts a few steps away from West African street salesmen in colourful robes, spreading carpets of cheap imports on the pavements.

There are also illegal immigrants in Nice, as we discovered on returning to the Osaka restaurant at the time appointed for our sushi meal. Instead of being welcomed by a smiling waiter, the door was closed and the restaurant was in darkness. A small label had been placed across the lock, with an official stamp and seal. While we attempted to decipher the message, a guy on the street told us that the restaurant was closed because the owner had been murdered the evening before. Then we looked closer and could see bloodstains on the floor and the glass door. It was obvious that a crime (“meutre” was written on the note) had indeed been committed.

Shocked and surprised, we stumbled to a table at the Mexican restaurant next door, where we learnt more about the events of the previous evening. It appeared that around closing time, ”afin de ne pas gêner le service…” (as the “Nice Matin” newspaper later reported[1]), an ex-employee (a cook) had turned up at the Osaka demanding payment of outstanding wages. The owner, who was characterised as ”assez agressif” (in the same report[2]), had refused to pay and an angry dispute ensued, during which the cook grabbed a knife with a 30 cm. blade and stabbed the owner several times.

The waiter at the “Poco Loco” restaurant then explained (as confirmed in the newspaper the following day), that the unfortunate owner, a 28 year old Chinese called Haoxin, had died on the spot despite passers by calling for medical assistance. According to the (many) witnesses who described the incident to the reporters, the attacker, another Chinese man called Quinglong (aged 23), had not put up any resistance after killing his ex-boss, but waited passively for the arrival of the “gendarmes” (police) with their handcuffs. He was then driven off to the local jail. Amongst the people hanging around outside the Osaka, rumors circulated about possible struggles for control of territory and businesses, as well as about the likelihood that the killing was linked to a settling of scores by the “triads” (Chinese gangsters).

We finished the Mexican meal rapidly, realizing that we had missed the violence of the previous evening by a matter of minutes. The murky underworld of the city had suddenly become as visible as the red spots on the floor behind the entrance to the Osaka. Curiously, the Japanese restaurant had been in the hands of Chinese, presumably doing their best to cash in on rapidly expanding demand for sushi and the other varied delights of East Asian cuisine. As we left the scene of the crime, other prospective customers could be seen peering at the same sad little note before turning away to seek another place to fill their stomachs.

[1] in order not to disrupt the serving (of meals)

[2] rather aggressive

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