We’re all used to it, we all know it’s coming, but we still on occasions jump out of our skins when the Midday cannon goes off. Birds lose a few feathers, tourists wandering around Monoprix in their bikinis almost shit their pants, and even locals momentarily wonder if we’re under a pirate attack.
On the plus side, it can be the kick up the arse we need on a lazy day, not to mention the green light to go ahead and eat more frites. But how did this peculiar tradition begin?
The story dates back to 1861 when a Scottish Lord and his socialite wife used to nip over to Nice for the winter. Come lunchtime, when he was ready for his Scotch pie or his bridie or whatever, Lady Muck was too busy fannying around on the promenade or getting the same three strands of her hair highlighted to care. So her husband, an ex-British army officer, devised a cunning plan to ensure that “her indoors” was exactly that, indoors, at his desired feeding time. How did he summon her home? Well, he went to the mayor and suggested someone shoot off a cannon of course. He would provide the cannon (he had a spare one knocking about in his backyard), it would be placed up at the chateau and it would go off everyday at 12 sharp – not a minute sooner, not a minute later. Somehow the mayor swallowed his idea and to this day, the people of Nice know exactly when it’s time to scurry to a restaurant for a formule midi. Except it’s no longer a cannon, it’s actually a large firework manually set off at the very same place by the same man for more than 20 years now! In 20 years, he’s only missed it once because he was stuck in a traffic jam! He’s even been known to trick people on April Fool’s Day by setting it off an hour early – tee hee.
How about we go one step further and set off, say, a fanfare at 5pm to remind people to close their laptops and crack open a bottle of rosé? Or play the theme tune to Downton Abbey on Sundays at 9pm?
Who wants to throw together a powerpoint and set up an appointment at the Mairie?