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Alors, les amis, hard to believe it’s Thursday already. Je suis de retour en France, but this time in the beautiful langorous south, Montpellier, in the Languedoc. The sun is hot. My, it’s good to feel that unfamiliar sensation on my skin.

I spent a couple of days in Barnes getting myself organised, which included mailing home nearly 8 kilos of stuff. Or maybe it was pounds; I can’t believe I had so much. Anyway, all my cold weather stuff including my heavy raincoat has gone home. That was a good morning’s work. I walked and emailed, called my kids, left a message for my mother, and got ready for the next stage.
Early Tuesday morning I got a cab to Gatwick Airport. My flight was with EasyJet, a discount airline, so I was expecting chaos, but everything was well organised and efficient. There were only two problems – my bag was overweight even without its winter load, requiring an additional fee, and there wasn’t a good selection of English chocolate in the stores there. Be warned next time you want a dark chocolate Mars bar at Gatwick.
The flight left on time and landed early; what a marvellous sight from the plane, the red roofs of southern France and, as we landed, flamingos in the water. Not England any more. The cars on the right side of the road! An odd sight at the airport, though – young men with Uzis again. Somehow the security is always more discreet in England. Nothing discreet about these menacing youths in camouflage.
I gradually removed layers of clothing as I made my way to Lynn’s via the bus from the airport and then the sleek ultra-modern tramway – and then up her ancient, spiral staircase with my overweight bag. How good to see my old friend again, after our last visit together in Paris months ago, and to see her under the hot Meditteranean sky, with palm trees and old cream-coloured buildings with the usual black iron filigree balconies just outside her window.
We went out for dinner that night and I saw downtown Montpellier, a city which seems to live entirely out of doors – the gorgeous wide open Place de la Comedie filled with people; every restaurant has a terrace, the streets are narrow and winding and filled with walkers and diners, and there are squares around every corner filled with trees and the good smells of French cooking. We ate in one, and I had another first – octopus, which melted in my mouth. We dined with university colleagues of Lynn’s. I loved how solicitous the waiter was, describing in detail the qualities of the “vin du pays” he was suggesting for us – not too dry, fruity but not sweet … Not, not in England any more.
After that lovely interlude, however, I discovered the downside of Lynn’s interesting old section of Montpellier. She rented her apartment, which is renovated, bright, just the right size with a luxurious bathroom, during the day; she noticed, of course, the bar directly underneath but was assured it wasn’t too noisy. And, she said, for a while it wasn’t. But recently the managers have converted an empty space just outside her bedroom window into an outdoor courtyard, so from 5 on there are revellers so close she can hear every word of their conversation, not to mention smell their cigarettes. But then, worse – the music. Heavy metal of the most violent obnoxious kind starts early and finishes late. The smokers also stand outside in the street, so there’s noise at the front of her flat too, and even before the bar opens, there’s the deafening screech of the trains going regularly by 200 metres from her front window.
But this, Lynn said last night, isn’t bad! And it wasn’t, as I was to find out the following night. But first, a great treat Wednesday morning – she had arranged for me to have a haircut with her hairdresser, Justin. I had a cut and colour before leaving Toronto – ten weeks ago – and now resembled a lion with a shaggy orange mane. Justin is British, had 2 salons in London and had worked in New York and Washington, and one day four years ago just decided that he didn’t want to raise his four kids in London, they’d grow up too fast – so he sold everything and moved the family to Montpellier. He didn’t even speak French. His kids hated him and resisted – how familiar – but now they’re happy here and so is he. He lives in a village on the sea, his kids go to local schools, they all, of course, speak fluent French. He cuts hair a few days a week because he loves to do so, not because he needs the work. And, lucky me, he is a terrific cutter. The colour is great too. I felt like a new woman.
Lynn and I had a superb dinner at a place just down the street which serves only steak frites. That’s what you get, no choices – a menu with a salad to start and then a big platter of perfectly cooked steak in a divine sauce and the best thin French fries ever, and before long the waitress comes around with a platter and offers you more fries. Which we took. I could hardly walk home with my distended belly. Heaven.
Unfortunately, what greeted us at Lynn’s was hell – the bar had brought in a live band. The noise in her place was unbelievable; we couldn’t hear ourselves talk. We went down together to complain and I went down again alone, but … it’s a bar. It’s a bar with apartments above – what’s the solution here? I don’t know, but I did know that I could not stay here. I was supposed to stay at Lynn’s for six weeks, from now, minus a few days with friend Chris next week, until the middle of July, but I simply could not stand the noise. Except for the trains, which are fine, the place is fantastic till about 5 p.m., and then it’s hell until 2 or 3 in the morning. Intolerable. It doesn’t bother Lynn so much – she works during the day at the university and goes to Gordes on the weekends, and in any case is a good sleeper and isn’t bothered by noise the way I am.
So, suddenly I felt homeless. What to do where to go? This place came free of charge because Lynn had to go away for work anyway; I can’t afford to rent a substitute place, though I did start to look on the internet, and I actually went to see a room in a hotel nearby, just for the next few days. Charmless and no guarantee of quiet there either.
But then, a logical solution: I am going next week with Chris to Lynn and her husband Denis’s main house in Gordes, a beautiful village on a mountain. Denis works in nearby Cavaillon but returns to Gordes at night; otherwise it’s empty right now, though everyone is arriving there for the wedding in mid-July. Until then – if it’s okay with Denis – I could live in Gordes, have all the solitude and quiet I want during the day and keep him company in the evenings. Gordes is isolated and very small, but I’d have Lynn’s car if I needed to get groceries or wanted to visit other villages. So I am hoping that’s the solution to my dilemma.
Too bad – I adore Montpellier. Walked around today, had a picnic – yes, ham sandwich, on the best bread in the world – in the Jardin des Plantes – what a lovely town this is. The streets are winding and medieval, there are remnants of the ancient city walls, the buildings are lovely, old, ornate or crumbling – there’s a university so lots of young people, and there seemed to be musicians practicing and their music pouring out of windows wherever I turned. Lovely music. Oleanders everywhere and bougainvillea. But, sadly … impossible.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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