Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mid-April Miettes

Well, dang. I just hiked down to the market and walked around and there was nothing interesting. The price of asparagus is coming down, but that was about it. Still, it's warm in the sun, the exercise does me good, and any excuse to get out of the house is welcome. As the days get nicer, the excuses get fewer. And it's about time to put down another blog post.

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A while ago, I mentioned the USB keys that the local transport system was selling, with a special introductory offer. Five Euros for ten's worth of credit? Sounded good, plus one could refill the thing on line. This would get me onto the tram and bus system, so I went looking for the details on how to get one. It took a while -- the ads all over the bus stops and tram stations notwithstanding -- but I found out how you do it. All you need is:

* a filled-out application for a subscription to the system
* a photocopy of a piece of identification (passport or identity card)
* an ID photograph
* and a check made out to the local transit authority

which you then mail in to the transit folks and, if you're lucky, get your USB thingy back within seven days. It's called a Clé T@M, and you can read all about it here. And yes, this is a very mild form of the kind of bureaucracy France throws up all the time.

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There's an exhibition of Louis Houdon's sculptures at the Musée Fabre that opened while I was in the States, and it's good enough to warrant an article in the New York Review of Books, but I'm watching the nickles and dimes at the moment (long trips always cause interruptions in the cash-flow, since I'm not working when I'm on them), so I haven't checked it out. Meanwhile, there's a retrospective of twenty years of the holdings of the city's photo collection over in the Pavilion Populaire. I wandered over yesterday, and must admit that, once again, I wasn't exactly blown away. Whoever's curating this collection is big on soppy romanticism, one-liners, and the deadly obvious. The lack of big names is neither surprising nor a detriment: there are a couple of Lee Friedlanders that are pretty good and two rather surprising pictures by James van der Zee, the pioneering portraitist of Harlem, not exactly the first person you'd expect to run into here. I was impressed by a series by Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, whom I'd never heard of, called "Hommage to the Photographer." Taking up an entire room in the show, this portfolio of 27 black-and-white shots is an affectionate and humorous tribute to the street photographer, plying his trade all over the world: Beijing, the Congo, Fez, Moscow, Bangalore, and elsewhere. The rest of the show is hit and miss, but this room made it worth visiting for me. Oh, and so did the image the city's using to advertise it, Michel Maïofiss' "La Joconde: Café Mont Lozère," which is at the link for the show above, and will enlarge when clicked.

20 ans de collection - Fonds photographique de la Ville de Montpellier, Pavillion Populaire, Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle, open Tue-Sun 10am-6pm. Show runs through April 30.

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With warmer weather comes more street performers, who are of variable quality, mostly dire. The guy who sits on the Comédie shaking one of those eggs filled with sand while blatting away on his digideroo was, I thought, nicely satirized by another guy I saw using a vacuum-cleaner tube for his digideroo, with no noticeable difference in sound. There are a couple of decent gypsy swing bands who mostly play the Saturday market, but who also set up here and there on occasion, a duo playing identical (and expensive-looking) guitars with a narrow oval sound-hole, and Bruno the Bluesman, whose enthusiastic ukulele playing and huge repertoire of songs make him worth checking out if you see him.

But the guys I wonder about are the ones with the pianos. Yes, upright pianos. One of them has an elaborate display of signs and press clippings saying that he's touring the world for peace, and he's a rockabilly fiend, with a large number of Jerry Lee Lewis tunes in his bag. The other one was the one I saw yesterday on my way back from the supermarket, just sort of aimlessly noodling. I wasn't going to stick around, though, because the sky indicated that we were due some rain, which came just as I got into the house. I've always tried to figure out how these guys get their instruments into place, but now I'm wondering how that guy yesterday made out when the heavens opened up.

* * *

Speaking of the supermarket, with the outdoor market being as dull as it's been, one nice development there has been the appearance of Pilsner Urquell. The French don't like beer, that's clear. The vast majority of what's for sale here is extremely sweet, with no noticeable bitterness from hops, and this is because a lot of it has a really, really high alcohol content. There's one you see the street people drinking which advertises in huge type that it's 8.9% alcohol (these beers usually are blamed on Amsterdam or Bavaria, but that's just the brand-name), but the more upmarket ones, too, adhere to this super-powerful formula. Urquell, on the other hand, is only 4.9%, which is more like it, and is nicely hopped. Expensive, though: €1.25 for a 33ml bottle. But unlike the Heinecken and Carlsberg sold here, it hasn't been sweetened for the French market.

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Finally, some changes in the blog itself. You may notice an Amazon widget I threw together the other day, which currently features 20 cookbooks I use a lot. All of them are European-market-friendly, meaning I've been able to get nearly all the ingredients I need in Berlin and Montpellier over the years, and all of them are filled with great stuff to cook. And, of course, if you buy any, I get a tiny amount of pocket change from Amazon, which comes in handy.

And at some point, the banner at the top here will change, although I can't make head nor tail of Photoshop, and haven't been able to get into the various layers of the banner Marie kindly helped put together, based on a photo I took last fall. I'll either figure it out or I won't, but I bet I will, and I'll get it up there when I do.


  1. Glad to catch up on your blog Ed. I hear you on the markets being slow to come up with anything this spring - except strawberries. This is the best year I've seen so far (admittedly a lot of them are coming from Spain), even for the gariguettes which are half the price they were last year and tasting almost like something.

  2. Just be glad we have fruit and vegetables. CNN is reporting that if the volcano thing goes on a couple more days the UK could run out.

  3. Vernan Duke and Yip Harburg wrote a song about this time of year in the capital city. But I know that it is just as nice if not better in the South. Suck it up you old flaneur. Get out more and walk around picking up the vibe of the place through osmosis.

    When I lived in Aix in the the 70's we got a lot of gypsies who played music outdoors and read fortunes. Also the usual Eurohippies. The gypsies really created a living soundtrack for you and made walking around a treat. Not too far from you is San Marie-de-la-Mer. The annual festival draws gypsies from all over.


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