Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Walking To Jacou, Waiting For Dropping Shoes

Sorry I haven't been here in a while. Once again, I lost telephone/internet service, but at long last I know why this is: I have to pay two phone bills. Have to: no choice. Even though I've opted to have service from another phone company, Free, apparently the neighborhood where I live hasn't been set up for what the French call dégroupage total, so I have to provide France Telecom Orange with €9 and change each month. And although I've been diligent about paying Free each month I thought that the bill from Orange was a mistake. My mistake: they turned off the carrier to my house on Wednesday morning. Getting back on is always a problem, so now I'm waiting. 

* * *

This is why I woke up on Sunday in the knowledge that I had a pretty empty day ahead of me. Sitting around the house would just mean utterly wasting my time unless I wanted to take on some huge project, and since I'm going to have to move anyway (and I'll get to that in a minute), huge projects don't much appeal. 

It was time to revive the Epic Walk. 

It was the right day for it: the sun was shining, a few clouds hung in the sky, the weather was chilly but not cold, and I had an urge to get out of town for a while. I even had a goal: Castelneau-le-Lez, the suburb just northeast of town. Last time I'd gone, I'd gotten there by accident, just wandering. But this time I had a question I wanted answered: the town of Clapiers is northwest of there, and I'd gone to a tomato festival there last year which was a lot of fun. This year I missed it, because the friend who drove last year wasn't around and there didn't seem to be any public transportation to Clapiers on Sunday. There was also alleged to be a Roman house there, and there is a local form of candy the bakeries sell whose name translates as "rabbit shit." Rabbit shit and Romans: what better excuse? The map seemed to indicate that Clapiers was reachable from Castelneau, so off I went. 

I'd gotten to Castelneau last time in a sort of roundabout fashion, and I suspected that the big road that led away from the Corum here in town, which starts as the Avenue de Nimes and bcomes the Avenue François Delmas and parallels the railroad tracks most of the way might be a more direct route, and I was right. What I hadn't planned for was how hard it would be to walk the first five minutes: the Montpellier Marathon was happening, and it was all over the place. The Esplanade was a maze, and a couple of times I dodged people with strained faces propelling themselves along the track. When I finally got to the Avenue de Nimes, it, too, was being used for the Marathon, and a long line of very pissed-off drivers was backed up while the cops let the marathoners by. One car of young men had one of them hanging out the window with a rifle, which I hope was a fake. Other drivers were eying him warily. 

This stretch of the walk wasn't very interesting: there are a bunch of new design and furniture shops close in, a gym, and a high-end restaurant with a "Mediterranean" and an "Asian" menu that might be worth looking into some day, because the largely outdoor seating seems ideal for summer. But the sidewalk was littered with empty water bottles and packages of something labelled "X-Treme Energy Gel," the composition of which I shudder to contemplate, and I knew that at some point the Marathon had passed here, too. Eventually, I came to the walls of the cemetery and knew I was getting close to a snarl of roads, one of which would lead up the hill to Castelneau. This junction, with a traffic circle in the middle, is called Charles de Gaulle. 

Soon I was walking up the hill on the Avenue Anatole Briand, and sure enough, there was the 12th Century church I'd stumbled upon last time I was here. It was Sunday, but there was no sign of activity, although the interior's been modernized and last time it looked like it was still a working church. 

There was almost nobody on the streets of Castelneau, though, and as I passed through town, following the sign to Clapiers which indicated I had more climbing to do, I noted that Castelneau's major industry seemed to be real-estate, which to me indicates a town cannibalizing itself. No doubt, in the surrounding hills there are wonderful expensive houses, remade farmhouses, and other properties new and old. That so many of them are for sale at crazy prices makes me wonder what Castelneau will be like in ten years. 

As I left Castelneau on what was still the same street but now the Avenue Jean Jaurès, I had to stay alert. There wasn't any more sidewalk, no pedestrian path at all, in fact, and although traffic was light, it was still there. At one point, I had to stop, cross the road, and take a picture. There was an actual cliff there, and I wondered if there were any car corpses down below. But what I was looking at was Pic St. Loup in the distance, and, closer in, the Lez River, wider than it is in Montpellier, rushing along. 

I thought about real estate briefly myself. I had all of €17 with me, after all. But all those offices were closed. It was Sunday.

That wasn't the only vista I saw, but it was the only one I shot. I was nervous walking on the shoulder, and soon I was in an even more dangerous position, as the onramp to the D61 highway appeared. The shoulder vanished, but it was clear I had to walk under the highway to continue along to Clapiers. The road climbed some more, and there was a sign with Castelneau-le-Lez crossed off. I'd reached the peak of something, and the breeze was stiffer. As I trudged, a car came along and the guy honked and waved. If it was someone I knew, well, consider this a virtual honk-and-wave from me. 

Walking downhill, I saw a sign to Clapiers, or at least a park belonging to Clapiers, so I headed left thinking it might be the park where the tomato festival had been. It wasn't. There was a big water park, now closed for the season, a restaurant, and a sign noting the sister cities of Clapiers, one of which was in Burkina Fasso, one in Italy, and one in Serbia. How close was I, though, to anything I'd recognize, let alone a way back to Montpellier, which was a consideration at this point? As I'd turned off the main road, I saw an entrance to a hike-bike trail in the woods. Also, I knew Jacou was down the road, and that was the end-point for tramline number two, which could dump me off back at the Corum. I'd been considering a walk to Sommières and had mentioned it to Gerry, who said my best bet would be to start in Jacou, so maybe it'd be worth checking out. Plus, the tram would be empty and I could sit all the way back home, which, since I hadn't done one of these walks in a while, sounded wonderful. The rabbit shit and Romans will just have to wait for another day.

So I walked over to the trail and it was beautiful: the woods were deep and studded with impressive limestone rocks, huge pines, and patches of briar. I should have taken a picture, but instead, as I walked closer to town, I got this end-of-season vineyard instead. There are a few up there; no idea what the product is like, or even what label it bears. 

Finally, a McDonald's appeared, and I knew Jacou was near. I trudged through far more of Jacou than I wanted to see. The entire thing looks to have erupted since 1970, although I'm sure there's an old town somewhere in all of that mess, or the remainders of one. I followed signs (and the occasional bus) to Parking-Tramway, saw the ugly fountain built by Jacou's sister-town in Portugal (it had tiles on it, and horrid blocky modern-art statues of a man and woman), the International Ecumenical Campus, and what seemed like mile after mile of suburbia, French-style. Just when I was convinced I was lost, the sight of the yellow-and-red tram caught my eye. With five minutes til departure, I spent €1.50 of my fortune on a ticket, sat down (ahhhh), and about a half-hour later, I was at the Corum, where the only sign of the Marathon was a litter of plastic bottles and cups. They were deflating the bouncy castle for the runners' kids as I walked back to my apartment. 

* * *

Which apartment won't be mine much longer. The landlord was by the other day with the news that the building will be sold as of November 30. At that point, the new owner will probably evict all of the tenants so that the place can be renovated, although there has been a painting crew doing the hallways over the past week. We can't actually be chucked until March 15, but I want to find another place before then. 

This place has never been right, although I really can't fault the location, but the landlord lied when he told me it was fifty square meters. I have no way of estimating this -- it's not the meters, I can't do it with feet, either -- but a friend who is better figures I have between 35 and 40, which is why I've sitll got a bunch of boxes unpacked from my mid-November move from Berlin in 2008. My office has never been set up correctly, my books are in chaos, and so is my CD library, partially because the living room is partially blocked by a huge pillar. Plus, I hate the kitchen: although I really enjoy having a spacious pantry, which is great to store my miscellaneous dry ingredients, two electric units placed so close together that it's almost impossible to have two pots going simultaneously isn't a great stovetop, and I'm amazed I've done as well as I have with it. As for the rest of it, there's virtually no water pressure, the faucets are clogged with lime from the hard water, the drains are slow, and the toilet broke over a year ago, necessitating my reaching into the cold tank water to flush it. All of this could be yours for nearly $900 a month, plus, of course phone and electric. 

I know the town better than ever now, so I can read into the classifieds better than ever. The current fantasy is to start the new year in a new place. There are many obstacles to this, not the least of which is money, but I'm determined to do this right this time. It's going to require some luck, but that's already started: over the past week, Les Lunkheads, each and every one of them, has moved. The painting crew is in there now, and there are sounds of a drill, no doubt installing a new door. 

So now I'm ready for the 60m2 place in St. Anne with the gas stove and "pierres apparents," as the ads say, for €400 a month. Just let me know when I can come look at it; I can spend December moving in. 

Now if the phone would come back on so I could start in on those classifieds… 

UPDATE: I wrote this around noon. At 2:30 the phone still wasn't on, so I called Orange's wonderful English help line. A robot voice came on saying "Orange garble computer garble please call back within 48 hours." Great. 

UPDATE #2: Still not up. I'm so glad I paid the bill. 


  1. Ed the more I read about your trials and tribulations, the more it starts sounding like Walter Benjamin's biography. I know. I know. He killed himself running from the Nazis. You, on the other hand, are not thinking in those terms (although there always seems to be Nazi stand-ins poking you in the eye with a pool cue).

    When you mention your need to move and the inadequacy of your living space, and the unopened boxes, it reminds me of Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library."


    You've got the flaneur thing down so maybe there will be some resonance to seeing how he felt about the numerous moves and the comfort he got from being surrounded by his books.

    Just some thoughts from an ADD adult with an idiosyncratic mind.

  2. Love the picture of Castelneau, and fear for its future, as you indicate.

  3. Ed, I admire your fearlessness in getting out and exploring. And here in the comments section I've learned a wonderful new word that fits perfectly - flâneur.
    Good luck with finding a new place.

  4. Your kitchen sounds like my kitchen; I have a stovetop with only two hobs that are so close together, you can only use one at a time so what's the point of having two? And my oven is broken. I cook every meal on one stove top. It takes me forever. If I had a full time job, I'm pretty sure I'd starve.
    (and don't get me started on the hard water!)

    Best of luck with the new place!


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