I didn’t spend my time skulking around Parisian hotels in a latex catsuit, but the alienation and befuddlement that Maggie Cheung feels in Irma Vep is similar to my experience in France. A state of being where the only way to feel vital is to have someone notice you and project onto you a personality that you’re not sure you have.
That’s not to say that I didn’t love France, though.
1. Random guy playing saxophone across the street from my hostel - everybody else on this block are drunken louts, but he makes a better impression. This also reminds me of how much spontaneous singing and music playing I happened to be around when exploring this city (and no, not from buskers, but private citizens…and a choir full of elderly people). Coincidence? Maybe. Enjoyable? Yes.
2. (45 Rue des Tourneurs) The pros of this wine bar are as follows: it makes it’s own liqueur (see #3), the walls inside are decorated with these somber landscape murals, the owner is chatty. The cons? The wine portions are tiny, the owner is chatty
3. Quinquina, and the tree bark used to make it
4. Discussion time: why do hobos always have dogs with them?
5. And are merry-go-rounds less pointless if they look this cool?
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?)
I was stuck with yelling, crying children on the train there and back
A guy stopped to help me find the tourist office, then sort of followed me, telling me I was beautiful in English and…Italian?
By the train station, another guy stopped in his car to blow me a kiss. A kiss that sounded like a cross between a fart and somebody pulling a plunger out of a toilet
I couldn’t open my map without the wind trying to blow it out of my hands. Apparently, I shouldn’t have worn a dress today, either
Children in front of the Hotel de Ville kicked a soccer ball into the back of my knees
It cost one euro to get a map for the Van Gogh walking tour
Few stops on the walking tour had explanatory signs about the paintings they inspired
In the daylight and with the aesthetically non-pleasing post-2000s storefronts, it’s not apparent why Van Gogh thought of Arles as such a pretty place to paint
The yellow cafe? Garishly painted yellow to mimic the glow from the painting
The yellow house? Destroyed during World War II
The site that became “Starry Night” is marked on the map, but not on the quai. You look across and try to find the spot. You see trees, apartment complexes. And the sun is out, so what’s the point anyway?
There are Roman ruins that date back to Julius Caesar, but all of that looks cooler in Italy, or in Lyon, maybe Nîmes…
Too many tour groups, too many souvenir shops. The streets are still narrow, the apartment buildings still charming, the grime has accumulated, but there’s little soul
What makes me maddest: The McDonald’s manager wouldn’t give me one freaking plastic spoon to eat my taboulé with, because I didn’t buy anything at their fine establishment. I mean, this was Montpellier, not Arles, but still!
I reminisce about these two meals the most. I left well over half of that pancake though, and my biggest regret is not packing up its remains for brunch the next day. If you’re ever in Prague, here’s the address for the first two pictures: