In feeling, Montpellier is as similar to me as Marseille is. You walk through the city and it looks much the same as it did during the French Revolution, minus the modern storefronts, the metal or plastic poled terrace umbrellas, the current make-up of minorities. I like it much more than Marseille, though. Maybe I have to give that other city another chance.
When is the exact moment that you fall in love with a city?* For this one, it might have been the tropical, haunted beauty, to which I don’t do justice in the second photo of this set. Or the art in the W. Eugene Smith photography exhibit and the Musée Fabre. Above all, I think it was when I came across this kebab stand. Actually, my couchsurfing host told me to come here, saying it sold the best kebabs in the whole city. And for the most part, it didn’t disappoint—the portions of pork were so thick and textured, the fries well-salted. I spoke a little to the proprietor, whom I’ll call Cesar (the name of the stand is Pizza Cesar, maybe with a Z, I forget, and it’s on Rue Faubourg du Courreau), who bragged that he makes the pork and the fries from scratch. He also asked me if I mostly associated with Americans or French in France, and when I said that I had some American friends, he said that was bad for my language skills. It’s always great to pay for unsolicited assessments about how well you speak a foreign language, huh?
Come to think of it, there wasn’t enough harissa sauce on my kebab, either. So I think what really clinched my love for this stand was how it was decorated, from the chalk tablet signs advertising “iced coffee 1 euro 30” and “Sandwich Magret de Canard” in red and yellow cursive to the matching counter, from the new-fangled looking espresso machine to the scratched up black tables. Like many hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Pizza Cesar seems so makeshift, but look closely, and you can see the understated intention in its style. And as I walked home, swinging that kebab around by its plastic bag, I noticed everybody mingling on the sidewalk, the small wine shops, the frenchmorrocanturkishtunisian boulangeriepatisseries, the makeshift terraces with men sipping mint tea in decorative glasses.
It was 8 o’clock. The sun hadn’t even begun to set.
I was running late for my train the next day, but I still stopped by to try that roasted duck breast sandwich. If I hadn’t wolfed it down so quickly, I could say for sure that I loved that too. Especially the herbal tartar sauce that Cesar drizzled on top.
(* Honestly, I’ve never been in love with a city. Not even New York, not even Beijing, nor Paris. But if I said I liked x city more than others, that wouldn’t sound as interesting, would it?)