Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Frenchiness Thus Far

Before engaging in any further repartee regarding my travels in the British Isles, Portugal, or Spain - I believe the proper term for such things would be retroactive - I feel compelled to illustrate briefly the setting in which I now reside.

As of January 4, 2007, I have been living in Montpellier, France. One might say it is my personal Promised Land which lay gleaming and hopeful at the end of my long city-hopping stint, much like Utah must have looked to John Smith. You know, before the untimely death. It would be impractical to provide a detailed, blow-by-blow description of my days as I have been doing, to say nothing of the crippling boredom which would, I feel certain, leap from the words themselves to cudgel my fair readers between the eyes (I am, after all, settled into a more or less routine life here now). Thus, a more general discussion is required.

First and foremost: I am no longer alone on this continent. Yes, I have now by my side the honorable and lovely Jennifer Sirrine, who has arrived to sample the academic offerings of la belle France. She is living in Montpellier under the watchful eyes of a host mother, who we have dubbed "The Enfroi" for no other reason than that is a neat nickname and her actual last name happens to be Enfroi. Try to keep up, here. The living arrangement is less than ideal, 1) because the location is not necessarily central, 2) because we can't live together as is our custom, and 3) because The Enfroi does not live up to the party animal stereotypes that we all have regarding middle-aged French spinsters. We do all right, though. Mainly I'm just fucking thrilled to have her here... I missed her a lot, and experiencing Europe with someone - much like all of life, I would think - is infinitely superior to experiencing it without them.

My own living arrangements have been... interesting. Interesting in the way that a spectacular fireworks display might be, or perhaps the Battle of El Alemein.

Upon arriving in Montpellier with Jen, I was dismayed to find that the local youth hostel is closed until the 13th of January. Why, you ask? Solely to inconvenience me, I feel sure. This means that I must, tonight, either pay 50 euros for an actual hotel room or sleep in the train station. Finding both of those options to be sub-optimal, I resorted to my old friend, Couchsurfing (which you may remember from my adventures in Italy). Over the course of 3 hours, using my guerilla warrior skills to hijack a computer at Jen's university orientation, I sent out roughly 60 emails to people all around Montpellier, begging for a place to stay. Wonder of wonders, Hanna and Mihaela responded. Pleased as a skunk in... something skunk-like, I hiked into the city center to find them.

Hanna and Mihaela are German girls (ok, so Mihaela is Croatian-born, but whatever) who happen to be about the nicest, friendliest people this side of a Care Bear Stare. They welcomed me into their home on 2 hours' notice and let me stay there for a full 10 days, first on their absent roommate's bed, then on the couch after that roommate (Barbara, also a rock-awesome girl, Italian this time) returned from vacation. My days there were spent mainly looking for an apartment of my own... no mean feat when you don't speak the local language. In between bouts of apartment hunting, we ate and chatted and generally had a wonderful time. Here I learned the value of the French local bakery, taking it upon myself to soldier forth early most mornings to obtain fresh-baked baguettes and other yeasty treats.

Through them I met a bunch of other locals who have since become my friends, among them Guillaume, Cristof, and Laura (very important for later on). The apartment where these three live is a constant source of hilarity... more than one evening there has been spent trying on ridiculous wigs and old costume clothes from a box of such apparel inexplicably left in the apartment, all fueled by copious alcohol consumption, of course. It's one of those apartments where random people are constantly filtering in and out... in fact, I don't think I ever visited the place without meeting at least one new person each time.

As regards Montpellier: I had been worried before coming here by things that fellow travelers had said about the city, such as it being dirty, unsafe, unclean, dangerous, filthy, violent, and similar unvaried accusations. As it turns out, Montpellier is a lovely place, due to what I suspect has been a Herculean efforts over the last several years to revitalize its spirit. It's simply charming, if somewhat indistinct, like all 300,000 of its inhabitants are merely an un-touristy sub-center in another, larger city. One might imagine it to be the metropolitan Pleasantville of France, were it not for the inordinately large student population that insists on tearing it up Bonaparte style, yo every friggin' night of the week.

Trip #1: Guillaume, Hanna, Mihaela and I made a day trip to St. Guilhem-le-Desert, a tiny little village set in the mountains about an hour or so from Montpellier. It was gorgeous, the quintessential Poor Provincial Town out of myth (yes, I did do some Beauty and the Beast singing). We attempted to hike up into the mountains, but sadly none of us thought to bring a water bottle, so that got cut short after a little over an hour. At one point when we were all doubled over with hunger, there was an incident with me attempting to bring down a free-range chicken with rocks and my bare hands, but as it turns out those things are really fast. On the plus side, the apple juice we bought from the farmer by the side of the road was delicious.

With Barbara's aid - and by that I mean to present her speaking on the phone with potential roommates for me - I manage to secure an apartment near Jen's university. It was spacious, if a bit clinical, reasonably priced, and with an excellent location. Everything about it was great. Except, of course, that I was rooming with The Devil.

I will not detail overmuch the 31 days I lived there, for it is a narrative that I am still only fully comfortable relating in person. However, I will say the following. I was living with a married couple, each 28 years of age. At first they seemed like lovely people, if a bit frightened-rabbit-ish. Then, gradually, they began turn into horrible, horrible people. Truth be told, I have to give the man, Aurelian, some credit, for he appears to be merely been a puppet to Anca's (his wife's) dark summons. Anca, on the other hand, turns anal-looney-territorial-OCD-freak-of-nature into an entirely new context. As an example, I was once censured for boiling pasta because the steam from the pot condensed on the wall next to the stove. This meaningless occurrence turned into an actual attack on my character as a human being, much like a normal person might react had I, say, raped their only daughter, killed her, and used her corpse to fuel a magic ritual that caused blood to rain from the skies. Needless to say, I had to get out of there.

Trip #2: Jen and I made a weekend excursion to Paris, but that deserves its own separate blog entry, so look for that in the coming days.

During this time I secured a job as a professional soccer commentator, working for a company called Running Ball, Inc. Essentially, I am paid to attend soccer matches in Montpellier and give live commentary via my cell phone to clients who, I am given to understand, reside primarily in east Asia. The job is fun and pays extremely well, but unfortunately the company seems to be having some difficulty, so the frequency with which I am given matches to cover leaves much to be desired.

Ok, so this bare bones account takes us up to February 15 (Valentines Day will also get its own post), which begins my trip with Jen into Germany and the Czech Republic, which is where I will pick up next time.

I'm back, baby, and don't you forget it.


Anonymous Karen said...

Yea! William is back and I am darn happy about it! I really enjoy reading this stuff. Glad you are having a good time and that Jen is there with you now. Looking forward to more.

Aunt Karen

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey kid. It's Kate Wicker. I've really enjoyed reading your stories and I am now planning my own trip to Europe since I have always wanted to go. Any tips on where to stay/go would be great! Hope you're having the time of your life.

4:12 PM  

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