Monday, October 19, 2009

Midmonth Miettes

The Sud de France people set up on the Comédie this weekend, and as you might expect, it was a celebration of fall. The two products most in evidence were ones I don't have much use for: chestnuts and honey. Guys roasting chestnuts over open fires drew large crowds, weirdly enough, although maybe I'm just blasé from having seen this so much in New York. It smells good, but I just don't like the taste of chestnuts. As for honey, I can't really think of anything I want to make that I could use it in.

Another big draw was a truck whose side opened up to show a small kitchen, where several chefs prepared meat dishes while an MC to the side made comments. I didn't have the patience to stand there and watch, and I'm not eating that much meat as it is, thanks to finances. There were a few wineries represented, although nothing too interesting, and a couple of olive producers. The biggest hit with me was the best Roquefort I've yet tasted, from a firm called Carles. Creamy, tangy, with just a hint of the barnyard in it, I regretted not having the cash to buy a wedge from M. Carles, who was handing out little slivers on pieces of bread. I also picked up guides to tourism and gastronomy in the Aude, which is Cathar castle country.

There was also a guy selling squash of various kinds, and I finally got to get a slice of this long, green-skinned squash with a bright orange interior, about five inches in diameter that I've been seeing around the markets. On the recommendation of some cooking experts, I coated it with olive oil, wrapped it in foil, and stuck it in the oven for an hour. It barely softened, but at least I know what it tastes like now, so I'll try to score another disc and try again. The variety was listed as Langue de Nice, and may be known in America as banana squash, but I'm not sure. The guy who was selling it was too surly to engage in conversation: I made a small grammatical error and he switched to bad English, refusing to change back, and sneered at me. I've only had that experience with Germans in the past; maybe he was a spy.

* * *

I frequently awaken in the middle of the night, thanks to Les Lunkheads downstairs coming in and firing up their stereo and throwing bottles at each other, although this has tapered off as the cool weather has come in because they've been keeping their windows closed. But one thing that helps me get back to sleep is a drone that happens in the early morning hours, a drone with a hissing beneath it. It's the sound of the streets being buffed, the streets and, of course, the vast expanse of the Comédie. Small vehicles with buffing brushes cover the square and the many pedestrianized streets, which are made out of polished limestone. As I fall asleep, I never fail to wonder that I live in a town where they polish the streets.

* * *

Since I've wanted to add some art coverage to this blog, I trooped up to the St. Anne church the other day, alerted by one of the free magazines we get in our mailboxes, an "independent information magazine" with the bizarre name Chicxulub, which, it turns out, is the name of the crater in Mexico where the meteorite which allegedly caused the extinction of the dinosaurs hit. They were among the sponsors of the first "Salon du dessin contemporain" there, and although I took a notebook along, I didn't see a thing to engage my interest. I also wondered what it was I'd gone to see. "Dessin," my dictionary confirms, means "drawing," and yet there wasn't a lot of drawing there. There were a bunch of canvases which looked like the kind produced for interior decorators, some of the usual shocking-to-be-shocking stuff, and one piece which impressed me: someone had arranged a bunch of matchheads in the wall in the shape of a phoenix, then lit them. The smoke stained the wall, and after it was all out, four more matchheads, red, were placed where the bird's eye would be. But for the most part, my guess is that this was an occasion for the local galleries to haul out the stuff they haven't been able to sell in order to entice prospective customers to shop under one roof. Oh, and for Habitat, which I understand Ikea is trying to unload, to hand out their new catalogue.

The other bit of art news is some photos by local news photographers being displayed on the Esplanade. Like the pretty-but-depressing Earth-from-above photos by Yann Arthus-Bertrand which had been out there until recently, I thought there would be a larger show inside the Pavillion Populaire, but apparently not. I was going to write about the Arthus-Bertrand show, but it moved on before I got the chance. Suffice it to say that the captions got wearisome, each image of abstract beauty explained, but no matter how uplifting the image seemed to be, there was always a downer at the end about how the resource pictured is disappearing, harming the environment, or wasn't able to be saved. There are other ways to present this material that don't make the viewer want to slash his wrists afterwards.

* * *

But there's another new artwork up on the Esplanade, if only briefly.

That's right, folks! Montpellier now has its own Berlin Wall. Of course, those of us who have seen the real thing will realize, thanks to the street-buffing guy walking in front of this one, that this one's much shorter than the original. Also, the rounded top isn't made of a different material, and isn't even round all the way: it'd be easy to hop this wall. It's also thinner than the original:

But there's a good reason for that: apparently on November 9, the 20th anniversary of the opening of the German-German checkpoints between East and West Berlin, the city's going to hand out sledgehammers for people to knock this one down. I may wander out to see this, although I certainly heard enough chip-chipping from Mauerspechern 20 years ago (the souvenir market must be fed!) and I know this one's not made from asbestos-riddled concrete and reinforced by iron rods.

This little installation is the gift of the Maison du Heidelberg, which is the German cultural presence here. I'm not sure why there's not a Goethe-Institut, but maybe Montpellier doesn't rate high enough with the German culture bureaucracy for one. As someone who lived three blocks from the death strip on Bernauer Strasse for eleven years and then another year by Mauerpark, where the Wall crept up north, I find this sorta pathetic, but it'll probably be fun to knock down anyway.


  1. What's the oldest part of Montpellier like, if it still exists?

  2. It still exists, but for the most part it only dates back to the 16th Century, because the place was a hotbed of Protestants and got put to the torch by the King's forces. There are a few buildings on the hill whose structures contain 12th and 13th century bits, but the nice thing is that the old places are pretty uniform and are all made out of local sandstone -- and yet they're old enough to be "old." I should take some more pictures now that I know my way around as well as I do. There are some nice details I need to snap.


Site Meter