As final corpus delicti let me field this one right here: nothing. I have stated all the inconveniences I have thus far been able to confront in the cultural ecosphere of Montpellier. Given that I‘ve been here for six days, there is not much I have learned about the city at all. Strange, come to think of it. You travel thousands of kilometers to get to a place and then, even as you criss-cross it, you realize your only sliding along its surfaces and what you need to be able to delve even one iota deeper is text: be it a book, a plaque at a street corner or long-voweled gibberish spilling from the mouth of a Languedoc-Rusillon native. And that you yourself, with those same pedantic anxieties and noxessions, are still at the center of the cosmos, waiting for things to be attracted by the gravity of your ego.
What else did I chance upon? It happened the other way around! The second day, after Ecole Kresse‘s lacadaiscal morning session [good, fine french but incroyablement laid back], a trip to the beach appeared to be in order so I could get that to-do point out of the way. The truth is: if you go to a mediterranean city flush on the seaside and fail to go down all the way to the water, those waves crossed by Odysseus et al., our ancient creator the sea, you cannot come back to your friends in decent faith and tell them you didn‘t [touch water] without getting ragged on for months, probably years, possibly a barb on your tombstone. Repetition is not my keg of beer, truth be typed.
I took the tram and it got me within easy legshot in good time. Montpellier‘s streetcars are astoundingly aesthetic, covered in complex textures that interweave history and ecocultural heritage in ways I can‘t even figure out but smugly assume to exist. They are spacious too, inside, and the bars are organized in clever ways to maximize the available length for holding onto. The signs duly inform you that the tram might „freigne brutalement“ and you had best clamp down on a bar if you‘re not to be flung through the car face-first in such an event. After the tram came the bus. And after the bus came the beach. I‘m laconic for good reason. It is perfectly fine, very fine sand. And the water is of impeccable azzure. Yet the overall morphology of the beach is so utterly holiday-prospect generic, so ClubMed, that stepping off the bus and walking out onto the beach was about as exciting as looking at said prospect from the mosquito-free safety of your own deckchair. Few people were bathing, some were playing volleyball in the shallows and two or three sub-par-IQ Darwin Award nominees were gunning their jetskis just beyond where it is safe to swim. And where any slightly risk-averse person such as myself warily suspects a school of sharks to camp out for lunch.
After moseying for 50 meters or so [finally get to use this word in a fitting context; barely got my tootsies off the ground] , in search of an ideal spot on an already ideal beach, I dutifully plunked myself down in the sand to survey the scene: lying in the sand, being burned by the sun, observing other folks lying in the sun – it was difficult imagining anything more boring. „Faut regagner mes pénates“ occured to me followed by a rush of deep lexemic satisfaction. The beach must be the encyclopedia entry for tedium. Passing each other the volleyball in the shallows is an explanatory sub-paragraph.
I tried to read but couldn‘t find a comfortable position, plus the sun was bent on turning my retina into fried, semi-spherical bacon. Still, I read. Then eventually I folded up my arms, dropped the book openly on my face for a little while and napped. If not my house-deities, I would at least catch those Zzzzs.
What seemed like an innocuous span of somnolence, a posteriori, turned out to be one of the bigger mistakes of my existence thus far [discounting birth, despite my inept twistings and turnings, as a third-party fellony]. For in that short stretch of blissful oblivion, as I lay upon the Sands of Southern Montpellier, numberless mosquitoes must have descended on my arm, especially the right arm, being so blatantly exposed. Pretty much an epidermal tarmac, as seen from a couple of hundred Culex‘ peepers. I suspect that well-trained limbs, given their higher blood flow and surface area, are welcome landing strips to our bloodsucking comrades; whatever chemicals my arms exude they must amount to the human equivalent of posting a ginormous neon arrow on a major thoroughfare in an even more major metropole that states, in every language known to humankind „Come here: forget happy-hour, free drinks 24–7 for everybody!!!“ So my arms had the living daylights perforated out of them. Which I didn‘t realize until the day next. Even simply writing this I feel nasty and insectified and a few foreign-genes short of Seth Brundlesque.
Tuesday evening, the day thereafter, the demangeaisons got so inhumanly horrid, so delirious, so beyond anything I would have ever imagined possible that I found myself having to cross and fold my arms above my head to have any shot at shut-eye. In a shitty way it was spectacular. Whereas tuesday morning, seeing the bites and a bit of swelling, I had casually dismissed the whole thing. So now anyway, the whole week these itches [demangeaisons] have serious sucked away at my cognitive energies and I‘ve not been overly attentive to the idiosyncracies of Montpellier. Plus all these observations have been steeped in the negativity of severe physical discomfort. And I‘ve been able to accumulate dearly little in the way of anthropological detail, as the foregoing self-referential gooey attests to rather more eloquently than an author would wish it did. Also, my girlfriend suffered a lot of Culicidae piqures blabber but remained a good trooper.
Still and all, I have to say, from out of the dense fog of scratching, one cannot get past the irony that Montpellier, despite its mediterranean Franco-Roman charm, its great flights of architectural fancy, is often more post-modernly US American than US America can ever chance to be.
The Place d‘Europe and the Antigone district are a daring, reproductive-organs-out manifestation of neo-classical overreach by the catalan architect Bofil. It is a most perfect illustration of played-out post-modern collage: fat greco-roman pillars leading exactly nowhere, kiss an overarching pediment goodbye. Rectiliniear elements of antiquity are more readily cast in concrete than refined sculptures of gods and mortals. In general the buildings are defined by: „[…] enlarging classical motifs such as pediments, entablatures and pilasters to gigantic scale.“ But the gigantic scale is disproportionate to the elements which have been maintained at a regular size, notably the windows and doors, giving the former the glorious effect of architectural clown noses, thankfully minus the red. All of the windows of the buildings, however faux-spectacular, are mirror-fronted as if an effort had been made for the viewer not to see what shabby materials had been left over for getting the interiors done.
Yet something about the building substance is oozing with the desperate scent of poverty, the je-ne-sais-quoi of low-income tenement, which a quick wiki search confirms. It is that same dense juxtaposition of oppulence and destitution one witnesses a dozen x dozen times per diem in Cape Town, the collage of rich and destitute that would make one vomit explosively if as a rich Westerner i hadn‘t been hardened by acculturation to immorality.
The combination of misplaced, magnified greek temple without a roof and US–style eateries [plus their ostentatious, large neon signs, in part plastered over some of those self-same neo-classical elements of the facade] leave even the most architecturally ignorant passer-by [yes, yours truly is one of them] in a state of jarred discordance: who allowed this? Why? Can something still be done at this late point in the municipal planning game?
The idea was that by this point I would‘ve vented all mock exasperation and, simultaneously, my demangeaisons would have lifted so that I finally could regain the eyes of optimism. But in fact there are still some lingering fumes of ridicule that are due for airing.