Montpellier III

Tuesday

Have I mentioned how much I love Montpellier?

All day the sun has shone. By the time I leave Dell a blanket of cloud covers the sky. And just like a blanket, it traps all the heat. Even walking under the trees offers no respite. The heat radiates from the ground like a griddle. I see a bolt of lightning streak from the sky, but no rain.

I have decided that the reason people stare at me is not the suit, but that I’m white. Not just ethnically white, but pasty English winter white. Everyone else is a shade of brown, regardless of ethnicity.

Blessed swimming pool again, and then into the town for dinner.

It is midsummer’s day, 21st June. I have been warned that in France that means it’s the music festival. Everywhere will have bands. I have decided to explore the old town for somewhere to eat.

As I make my way slowly up Antigone it starts to gently rain. It does nothing to cool the air down. It is like standing under a dripping shower in a stuffy bathroom. No-one runs for shelter or hunches their shoulders. Even people with jackets carry them over their shoulder.

Antigone is busier than I have ever seen it. The roads around are packed with cars. When I reach the old town the main roads are packed with people, and the warm rain is falling heavier now. I decide to explore the back roads, slowly making my way uphill to the centre. Some of the back roads are less than 6 feet wide. Shop awnings totally enclose the street. I am reminded of a Morrocan souk.

I settle on a restaurant in a quite side road by some public gardens. It is still too stuffy to consider eating inside, even with the rain. I eat under a parasol by the gardens. Two girls barely 10 play a violin and a guitar that seems to be two thirds the height of the girl playing it. By the end of the meal they have been replaced by a soft rock group.

I explore the town further. By this time it is 8:30 in the evening and the rain has stopped. Every other restaurant, and every square or widening of the road has a band. A jazz singer in the style of Sade. A skiffle band playing French pop. A four-piece band whose average age is not much less than the Stones, but whose tight 50 and 60’s medleys have people twisting and jiving from the very young to those that can remember Blue Suede Shoes when it was first released. A reggae band with just one Rasta to give it authenticity. By the opera house there is a club anthem DJ playing trance. Just around the corner a folk singer on acoustic guitar. A huge crowd surrounds an all-female ensemble of Stomp-style percussionists.

And the audience is made up of kids of three or four, tourists, pensioners in electric wheelchairs, rude boys, goths, businessmen, drunks. Three huge men with shaven heads, broken noses and tatoos laugh with an elderly couple. And everywhere pretty young things of both sexes in couples or groups. Everyone is happy. The atmosphere is intoxicating.

And I realise that I am falling in love. A bit of a surprise to someone who has just celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary. The Scots, Irish and Welsh all have countless songs about how beautiful their home towns are. The English have in total two: ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ and ‘Jerusalem’. I’ve never been in love with a place before. I start to choke up. It’s all so beautiful.

It is beginning to get dark. I start back to the hotel via Antigone. My feet ache. I have been standing all day. I’ll find a quiet cafe in Antigone for a sit down beer before bed.

Antigone is packed. At its narrowest it is 50 feet wide, but goes all the way to the river a mile away in great squares and circuses flanked by imposing tall buildings. It is shoulder to shoulder with people. In the second square is a soundstage, and on it a young threesome is giving it big. The singer is running around the stage, his guitarists are grandstanding. But it is the style of Pop peculiar to France, bland to my ears. I move on. About half a mile from the river I start to hear the thump thump thump of a club mix. It is loud, and coming from up ahead somewhere. Another hundred metres and I can now feel the beat in my chest cavity.

I pass the square on the left where I saw the Salsa class on Monday. A couple are giving a Salsa demonstration. But back in Antigone the buildings are funnelling the noise from near the river. I can now hear the music over the thud of the beat. People are unconciously walking in time to it.

The end of Antigone opens into a semicircle of lawn some 300 metres in diameter, ringed by high apartments. In the centre there is a sound stage surrounded by speakers that dwarf the DJ’s. Lasers light the sky. The stage is backed by a floodlit fountain in the river. The lawn is covered in people. Some are swaying, hands in the air. Some are chatting, some have sat down on the damp grass and are sharing an impromptu picnic with friends. In front of the sound stage people are dancing, but there is so little room to move. I fight my way through to a cafe just behind and to the side of the stage. It has a garden. I order a beer and sit at the one vacant table. Even with the speakers facing away from me my whole body vibrates to the beat.

I am at least 10 years older than anyone else there, and I’m the only one on their own. I long for my wife, so that I can share this with her. To be truthful, I long to share this with anyone, but she is my first choice. I realise I am beginning to get maudling, bad enough when drunk, but inexcusable when sober. I drink up and leave.

The crowd in front of the stage has melded into one amorphous body. I struggle to make any leeway at all. Once out of the crush I start back to the hotel. A young woman jumps up from the grass and runs over to me. She wants to know if she can borrow my mobile phone. I have left it in the hotel. How much more civilized than Paris. In Montpellier they ask you first before trying to steal your phone.

Did I tell you I love Montpellier?

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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