Montpellier – This doesn’t look like Vermont

Montpellier Travel Blog

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July 19th

The Lyon trains final destination was Avignon- that famous medieval town that was the site of the alternative papacy as Roman Catholicism went through its first mid-life crisis. The problem began during the days of Kid Charlamagne and his Holy Roman Empire around the turn of the millennium. Fast forward to the 1300’s when a papacy installed itself in France and hung out there for a while, the Pope showing a preference for foie gras over tortellini. With this new challenge to the legitimacy of the Vatican, a good time was had by all parties, each claiming to be ‘Holier than Thou’. The twin papacies, while responsible for thousands of deaths and losses of personal fortunes during the Great Schism, did ultimately produce one benefit to mankind, albeit many centuries later. It is a little known fact that The Patty Duke Show in the 1960’s was based loosely on those frolicking fras, those capricious cardinals and those boisterous bishops. In fact, Martin Shallert bore a striking resemblance to Pope Clement VI, a fact that Shallert was very proud of and never failed to allude to when meeting somebody new.


So that’s what Avignon was famous for; that and a plucky little children’s ditty a propos its famous bridge. My destination that night was Montpellier. I would be visiting a former neighbour and good friend, Michael, Schacter olleh v’shalom, who was attending university there for the summer. My fortuitous ride on The City of Lyons deposited me in Avignon a good half day ahead of schedule. I was a mere 90 kilometers from my evening target. Great, I’ll get there in the afternoon, meet up with Michael, tour the campus and find some attractive co-ed to share dinner and my wittiness with through the evening. The bridge of song heretofore referenced was situated a stones throw from the train station and represented the quickest way out of Avignon toward Montpellier. I stationed myself on the bridge, knapsack at the ready and waited to be whisked away. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. I began to hum that little tune, much to my initial amusement. Sur le pont, d’Avignon,on y danse, on y danse.  I even began to danse a little jig. After three hours on the fucking bridge, with that god damned song stuck in my head, repeating itself as if it were on an endless tape loop, I was ready to fill my knapsack with rocks and jump off the side into the much less famous Avignon River. The skies began to darken along with my spirits. Everything came into question.” What are you doing here?” “What are you trying to prove, and to who?” I decided to put off the answer pending arrival at my evening’s destination. It is at times such as these that one begins to develop a deep seeded hatred for the human race.


I finally got my lift and made it to the city’s edge by about 8:00 PM. Fortunately, the summer solstice was virtually upon us so plenty of daylight remained. The skies that had seemed to cloud up on the bloody bridge (editors note: it was only years later when I learned that the pont d’avignon that I stood upon for what seemed the better part of my life was actually a newly constructed span which replaced the original ramshackle pont d”avignon which had been situated a bit down river – another one of those great disappointments that I will have to learn to live with) gave way to a pleasant warm gloam as Daytime handed her bouquet of light to Evening in exchange for a garland of stars.


Arriving at the city center at sundown, it dawned on me that I had no idea where Michael was staying nor where the university was situated. I had to make an educated guess. I enquired of the first passer by as to where the university was located. “Which one?” he asked me. “You mean there are two universities in this little town?” I replied. “No” he said, “Five”.


Great, I’ve just spent an afternoon accessing a city that has to be the world record holder for university density. University density? – that has to be some sort of an oxymoron in an esoteric kind of way. Your intrepid traveler, never one to discourage easily, especially in light of the day’s earlier travel performance, sat down totally fed up. That display of self-pity lasted about 10 seconds and then it was off on my holy mission to locate Sir Michael of Schacter. I followed my instincts and, bolstered by specific instructions from the local townsfolk who knew which one of the 5 institutes of higher learning offered French Language as a summer course, I arrived at the correct university – only to be advised that there were three distinct campuses which made up this particular university. Instantly I began to understand why the French were so well fashioned to serve as bureaucrats. No national group on this planet spends more time creating and developing structures, organizational charts, and flow patterns which merely serve to infuriate those of us who actually prefer working and getting things done as opposed those who organize and planning ad nauseum for its own sake.


Just when it appeared that things could get no worse, I stumbled across two British girls, who upon hearing my tale of woe, took pity on me and offered accommodation for the night. Things seemed to suddenly get much better. But of course that didn’t last – I turned around, and there stood Michael. I was never happier and more disappointed at the same time. I regretfully had to turn down the girls’ offer, especially Vivian’s as she was really cute. I took solace in the fact that in our brief moments together it was determined that we would be in Greece at the same time later that autumn. I considered the interruption as a brief 3-month delay that would only serve to heighten the eventual experience. I said adieu, in my most perfect French accent after kissing her on both of her upper cheeks, vowing to meet up at some American Express hangout in Helas, but alas – this continued to be a crazy up and down day. I went back to Michael’s dorm and he handed me a letter that he had carted across the ocean for me from my girl friend Sheryl. I read it with a combination of excitement and trepidation. Guess who had re-scheduled her holiday in order to fly to Greece to meet up with me that autumn?


Deciding to avoid the future for the present, I turned to Michael and suggested we go outside in order to acclimate myself to the local flora and fauna  - especially the fauna. He led me to a garden in the center of the campus. We had to navigate our way through a labyrinth of trees, bushes and flowers (enough of the flora – on to the fauna). We arrived at a clearing stocked with a highly convivial bunch of Swedes, Dutch, Danes, and Canadians. They all had healthy glows, smiles on their faces, wore well fitting casual apparel and were having a grand ole time conversing, joking, and generally hanging out. Although the common thread shared by all in attendance was the desire to brush up on their French language skills, the true langua franca of the group was English. The occasional gesture or acknowledgement was made to their program and its encompassing philosophy that all discussions, curricular and extra, were to be held in French, but that paean to French linguistic alacrity lasted about as long as the French Resistance did to the Germans. It was back to English and fun,fun,fun as the garcons de plage would have you believe. I quickly realized that this was not an institution of higher learning – at least not during the summer months. What I had found myself immersed in wasn’t a school – it was a luxury resort! On top of that, as a guest of one of the students, I was able to have my own room and board for the pauperly sum of 65 F for the week.


I quickly assimilated myself, as any good traveler would, into a group that had grown tight together since their arrival a month earlier. It was a testament to my successful ability to adapt and ingratiate myself to any human environment that I presented myself to and I was getting pretty good at it. To become welcomed as a member of an existing cadre within hours of being introduced is a skill set tat I was born with. It derives from being able to instantly find a level of commonality with the individuals and to be able to discuss subjects of interest to them with authority and insight. Charm, dashing looks and intelligent, humorous wit doesn’t hurt either. We had a great time together that first evening; talking, drinking, and singing till well into the early morning hours.



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photo by: Marina2710