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enjoying Montpellier

Well, friends, now you know what I sound like when I’m put out and have lost all perspective and sense of humour. With more than a touch of my habitual melodrama in there too. In the heat of the moment – when the band was blasting and the floor was quivering beneath my feet – the words, “This too shall pass,” were far from my mind. But this too did pass, last night’s noise was tolerable with two earplugs in each ear, and here’s another stunningly glorious day in the south of France. The problem is what, exactly?

Lynn and I went out last night to dine with a few colleagues of hers from the languages department of the University of Montpellier – translators, English or French teachers and linguists, like Lynn. When we arrived, everyone was there waiting – at French gatherings, apparently, no one begins to drink until every guest has arrived. Which I suppose is very polite but means the others had to stand around for a long time with nothing to drink, because Lynn and I, as ever, got lost.
We began with, as aperitif, a sweetish wine brought back from Spain that provoked much discussion about the exact qualities of its sweetness and where it was from; our hostess eventually provided a map of Spain to show us exactly where she had bought it. At home, we’d have knocked back three glasses and be telling jokes by then. Then we had jambon cru also from Spain, which also provoked a discussion about its qualities, its relative lack of saltiness … How I love this concentrated focus on tastes. A very nice bunch and a most enjoyable soiree, which featured my friend and me, in a very non-French way, entertaining like stand-up comics , as we’ve been doing since 1967.
One of Lynn’s colleagues who’s leaving with Lynn to do the same job and be away the same amount of time offered me the opportunity to stay at her place, which is quiet. If that works out, I will be able to go back and forth between the solitude and lavender fields of Gordes and the teeming life and steak frites of Montpellier, which sounds just about ideal to me.
This morning I gave myself a treat – walked to a cafe on the Place de la Comedie and had a grand creme, a large cup of coffee, watching Montpellier go by in the late morning sun. Here is France at its best – all the great things without the arrogance or crush of Paris. Montpellier is so vibrant, elegant yet relaxed. The Place itself is extraordinary – a huge, wide open space with the opera building at one end, a big old-fashioned merry-go-round or carousel, many outdoor cafes. (There are old merry-go-rounds, with old-fashioned music and little kids going round, in public square all over France, a lovely throwback.) It’s completely flat with no curbs – even the tram runs right through it except for a small platform where people wait to get on. Cars, bikes, motorcycles, wheelchairs, small delivery trucks, go through at any and all angles, and the foot traffic is incessant – this is a town for pedestrians, in fact much of the inner core is closed to traffic.
As ever, as I watched I found the French stylish in an effortless way, including the very old and the crocodiles of schoolchildren who went by in twos. Even adolescents aren’t as extreme in style as ours (except for the ones who frequent the bar downstairs.) Despite the fact that everyone in this country cares so deeply for food, 99% of the people who went by were slender or a solid, sensible weight. It’s because they care so much for food, not despite it, that the French don’t overeat. On the other hand, so many people of all ages smoke here, far more than at home.
And then there’s all of us sitting in cafes, enjoying the parade of people and the sunshine and, for those around me, conversation with friends. I felt that in England, the day is about work work work and then at 6 everything stops and people rush to the pub to drink away their leisure time. To drink really a lot. Whereas in France, even I think in the big cities, leisure and work are more integrated. There is more enjoyment moment to moment. Of course, Montpellier is in the south and has a Mediterranean rhythm, very different from the north.
Today it is predicted to go to 30 degrees. Foolish purchase #642 – the umbrella I bought just before leaving London. I survived more than 3 weeks without an umbrella in the downpours of England and then, just as I left, I bought one. Ah well. Occasionally I make bad decisions and occasionally I lose my sense of humour. Nothing that a bit of really good cheese won’t fix. Right now.



2 Responses to “enjoying Montpellier”

  1. patsy says:

    as ever, landing on your feet, despite obstacles like heavy metal and passing trains – am enjoying you enjoying the food and wine, as I have been in Calgary for three days, in a chain hotel, surrounded by fast food outlets and six lane "trails – but I spotted a fledgling magpie falling out of the tree at the entrance, and behind the hotel, a whole colony of ground hogs with dozens of entrances to their underground world. The food, however, has been entirely forgettable, and the wine, esp. the Ontario merlot in the fridge (yes, the fridge!)that turned out to be full of sediment but still cost $24.00 for a half litre when I got the bill – so drink up, and stock up on ear plugs

    gabriola island here i come


  2. beth says:

    Patsy, wish you were here. No groundhogs, but for $24 you can get the best wine. Sometimes the French drink red wine slightly chilled, so there you go, the Calgarians are so sophisticated, they knew that.

    More boring ecstasy about food and wine to come.

    Welcome home,

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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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