Do you ever expect me to leave Montpellier?

Toulon Travel Blog

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June 27th

Was up at 7:30 had breakfast and was set to go. My time in Montpellier is coming to an end and I had to start gathering my stuff. First thought was my sleeping bag, but I had to put that on hold since, in the immortal words of the littlest member of the Bear Family “somebody’s been sleeping in my bed, and there she is!” I set myself up to arrange to cash in some Travelers Cheques in anticipation of tomorrow’s trip, got fed a good lunch – one of the last free ones for a while, had an afternoon nap and just hung out. A typical Montpellier day.

Two letters came in for me – Sheryl’s right on cue and the other from dear friends David and Zozzie Golden, who fixed me up with Sheryl on a blind date a year before the odyssey began and are directly responsible for my situation at present. Their letter was in the spirit of ‘you’ve had your holiday, now come home’. It was quickly relegated to the poubelle of my mind. The Sheryl missive began with a request that upon receipt, I was to call her to say hello, which I forthrightly obliged. She remains a total pleasure as a person and friend. We spoke as if she were sitting next door. I was brought up to speed on the behaviors of all my close friends, who have been calling her in my absence to lend support. She extolled their virtues. She re-iterated her intention of joining me in Greece, She had recently moved into a duplex with her close friend and that is working out well; she’s learning to cook and, despite my assurance that she has carte blanche, still finds me inveigling her mind when it comes to her getting involved in new relationships. How could I offer her anything less? I know that just because I can’t keep my pants on and I’ve licensed somebody else to licentious behaviour, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy for her to carry it off. One part of me wishes that she could pursue her desires with reckless abandon, the other part of me admires her chaste. It reflects well on the kind of person she is. She will one day make a good wife to somebody and for now, I’ll be damned if it won’t be me. (Author’s note – much has changed since those halcyon days in southern France).


We look forward to spending September together in Greece. Her natural fear for our relationship is abetted by her recently befriending my former flame Fern. Fern’s psychological profile of me, which has been generously shared with Sheryl, notes that in the deepest crevices of my personality something of me always remains hidden. It leads her to wonder if I’m holding anything back. I feel that there is no need to go into detail as to what’s happening in my traveling life. No need to hurt anybody, least of all those who have been hurt the most throughout their lives; especially when the person in question qualifies for sainthood. Naturally, Sheryl is a bit ticked off at the trickle of mail and that I’m not conveying my feelings in them. I don’t promise to upgrade the flow because I know that I won’t do it, so why set myself up for another argument and again, why disappoint more than I have to? That’s how I do things and I don’t think it’s going to change.


I spent my last day going to the Fabré Museum with Johanna. I was taken aback by the quality of the work in this out of the way quaint converted Jesuit college and, as was the case in Amsterdam was taken with the work of that Dutch mystery artist, Nef, who I kept researching and coming up blank. It was only thirty years later when it occurred to me that my little know artistic discovery who chose to remain anonymous in the pages of art history did so very well and for a very good reason. Nef is not a name; it is French for ‘nave’, which explains why the subject matter of all of his pictures were the same parts of various cathedrals throughout Europe. At least I no longer have to keep scouring Amazon.Com to buy the coffee table book of his greatest works. After the walkthrough, we sat at the patisserie in the nave of the museum and ate ourselves unhealthy portions of patisserie. We then went to the café and drank café. The way the French employ the descriptive mode is sanspareille. Unless they’re parallel. I managed to keep my usual stream of polygamous thoughts to myself, almost. We laughed together as she mocked me mercilessly and deservedly.


Upon my return to campus I ran into Stavros – a polite, friendly Cypriot who was often circulating in the same cohort that I was hanging with, but alas, we never really got much of a chance to spend time together. Maybe if he had tits. He struck me as an honest and genuine person and I was overcome with the type of ennui that accompanies a person at a moment of melancholy. I was soon to be departing, I had a weeklong adventure on a multitude of levels, but suddenly felt saddened for having had an opportunity to broaden my scope a bit further with this person and I chastised myself for not making a greater effort.


Stavros was with a girl named Soulah. Another Cypriot who reminded me of Aliah, a Lebanese friend of mine from my McGill days, which at this point seemed a universe away. Aside from the obvious Mediterranean attributes normally shared by Lebanese and Cypriots, there was a deeper, more endearing link in my mind that highlighted the two girls’ commonality. I had spent two semesters with Aliah and the better part of a week with Soulah. In neither case did I ever see either of them wear the same outfit twice. It’s funny what sticks in a person’s head.


My last night in Montpellier was spent at a movie and in a disco. I danced myself into a sweat and a tizzy, not to mention frenzy. I also made it a point to have a talk with Stavros. You can add ‘gentleman’ to the description above.  At the disco, the mood was one of resignation, knowing that I’d be saying my final farewells to most of the crowd. I gave some parting advice to Sabina on the importance of sincerity. Failing that, I advised her, she could always start an airline.


By morning I was gone. A mere two hours later and I was a passenger again, hitchhiking my way to destiny. My lift and I shared candy, water, a felt pen, bread, and chocolate. In true traveler harmony, what I had he needed and vice versa. A spiritual road bond was formed immediately and the road opened up before me – joyously and filled with the sprit of adventure. What lies around the next curve or over the next mountain? The newness of the geography beckoned and I, like a child peeking under the side flaps at a sideshow, remained wide eyed and amazed at all that opened up before me. My ride was a kind young guy – more or less my age. His name was Henri. He had studied animal medicine at one of the Montpellier universities and was about to embark on his career as a veterinarian. But first he had to complete his one year of compulsory military service for the mother country. I realized that when he set up his shingle, the tag line should be ‘Don’t forget – hire the vet vet.’ I didn’t translate all that well, but I got a chuckle out of it nonetheless.


Rather than a simple ride, I received the grand tour; our first stop was in a town called Les Baux. The village was founded by the Neanderthals, kept going through the middle ages and was in the process of being restored by modern man. Quite a slice of history in one little locale. We then drove through and got lost in the mountains around the town of Cassis. We were quite close to Arles and all of my education regarding French Impressionism came to bear as Henri drove me through villages and countrysides that bore the imprint of the canvasses of Monet and others whose works which had enthralled me since my teens. To bear witness to the farmhouses, fields, and ponds which were the subject of masterpieces seen recently at the Louvre and in myriad locations and art books throughout my life added another layer of experience to this itinerant traveler who was ecstatic with the day and gaining more than was possible imagined back that morning in the library at McGill when this trip was germinating.


As night fell, we approached the city of Toulon. We said adieu at the train station and Henri was on his way. The plan was to crash at the local youth hostel and the next morning I would either head off eastward along the coast or check out Toulon’s finery. The hostel plan went nowhere since the five locals from whom I asked directions each provided me with radically different instructions. I think that these were the same crew who were hired by the local constabulary during WWII to reposition the street signs in the event of German invasion to confuse the Nazis as to where in town they had found themselves. Evidently they did a great job and never saw the need to return the signposts to their former locations after the treaties were signed.


I stumbled upon a small hotel near the port. The most dishonest looking gang of disreputable characters I’d ever had the misfortune to come across inhabited it. Whores, sailors, winos, pimps, and greasy natives abounded in every permutation and combination one could imagine. I had a great time.  Dinner was served at a restaurant near the hotel, which was near the docks. Figuring to be fortunate to be directly accessible to extremely fresh seafood of French cuisine, to boot, I was thrilled at the prospect of dining on fresh shrimp that could have been swimming minutes ago. They seemed to be still swimming when the waiter brought them to me on a plate. They were whole, barely cooked, and a slimy greenish colour. I survived dinner with the thought that I’d seen enough of Toulon and comforted myself with the knowledge that tomorrow I’d probably be dining in Nice. Besides, the idea of staying in this overpriced rattrap-come-hovel at a rate of 15 francs a night was less than inspirational. On top of that I overheard the roaches in my room conspiring and waiting for me to fall asleep so that they could lift my watch.

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photo by: ulis