About a week ago, I had a visit from noted extremely obscure rock star Julian Dawson and his wife. Julian's been a part-time resident down here for some 22 years, and I've run into him from time to time at SXSW and other such dos. This year, he was promoting his biography of Nicky Hopkins, And on Piano. Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock's Greatest Session Man at SXSW and I handed him my card, which is how he and the missus wound up here. I gave him the tour (yes, I now have a tour, not as spectacular or famous as my Berlin tour, but it'll get there) and we had lunch. At one point during the meal, I noticed three large snail shells, out of which came strips of the French flag, and another painted red, all fixed with push-pins to the tree we were eating next to.
Since this made no sense, we asked the waitress, who, after all, must see these shells all day long, what they were. She shrugged and said "Street art, I guess."
They were still there today, so I went over and took their picture. Yes, things are kind of slow around here. Thanks for asking.
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As promised, I've been keeping an eye on the t-shirts as t-shirt, shorts, and bad tattoo weather has been upon us. The selection is downright bizarre. There are the fake-badly-silkscreened ones that come from the like of Franklin Marshall and Abercrombie & Fitch (and didn't they used to be a prestigious firm once upon a time? Probably making more dough off of "streetwear," though). Then there are ones from the cheapo stores which say things like "Fashion is wonderful." As I've long noted, wearing sportswear is no substitute for actual exercise, and wearing the word "fashion" on your body doesn't make you fashionable. The current garment for any female who can get away with it (a demographic which goes from the early teens up into the upper 40s at least around here) is a perfect demonstration of what "fashion" means. Sort of by default, everyone is wearing denim short-shorts...with cuffs. And I look at those cuffs and wonder: is there anything at all as useless as this detail? But they all have them.
For the most part it's guys who wear the worst t-shirts, though. And the best: teenage Maghrebi and Arab guys haven't settled on this year's shirt yet. The first year I was here, it was the DONT PANIK IM MUSLIM shirt, which actually went into a second edition with correct punctuation. Last year's had a flag and the words (in French) DON'T BE JEALOUS. NOT EVERYONE CAN BE TUNISIAN/ALGERIAN/MOROCCAN, etc. depending on the flag.
But bad? How about a powder-blue shirt with its design, an infant wearing Clark Kent glasses and a tie, and nothing else, sitting at a desk, reaching for a telephone, done in glitter print. Then, the text above the image, the words A GOOD DAY FOR in dark blue type, and then, in the same dark blue glitter material POO POO BOY. The fact that this was worn by a macho-looking 50-ish French guy deterred me from asking what the hell that was supposed to be about. But it really was bizarre. Runner-up for odd text was the guy with a greenish shirt with some impressionistic vegetation on it and the words RAILROAD GARDEN IN MY FAVORITE CITY. Really, you'd have to go to Japan to match that for weirdness.
Then there are shirts you figure were bought by someone who recognized a word and thought whatever it said was cool. Like the teenage boy with the sketch of a girl's head with palm trees behind it, kind of a surf motif, next to the words
And then there are the totally inexplicable ones. On the way to the market the other day, I passed a JESUS SAVES ALCOHOLICS TOO shirt. Okay, that one makes sense. Except...why was an 11-year-old African girl wearing it?
This will get worse before it gets better, mark my words.
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The Place de la Comédie, as many of you know, is essentially my back yard, and it's one of the central gathering-places in Montpellier, as this story from the Sunday Independent makes clear. (Very nice visuals when the weedy reporter isn't in the picture). But don't ask me to join you for a coffee there. I know of dozens of other locations, and I won't patronize any of the cafés on the Com. The reason is simple: the music. The Algerian guy with the amplified classical guitar seems okay if all you're doing is walking through, but since I can hear him when the wind's blowing right, I'm here to tell you that he knows basically five tunes. It's because of him that I've decided that no street musician should be allowed to perform in public unless they can do a 45-minute set without repeating themselves.
But he's heaven next to the real blight out there, a kid who's been around as long as I have. He was about six when he started, toting a tiny accordion which he couldn't play at all. At all. But he smiled and mugged and "performed" with a canned passion that made little old ladies want to throw money in his cup and photograph him. Last year, he learned a whole lot of ornaments. No tune, just ornaments. He and his accordion were also a bit bigger. This year, he's back with the ornaments again, fancier, and, just the other day, a tune congealed out of them: "Besame Mucho." And he was singing. Or making a noise with lyrics: the syllables weren't exactly landing where his fingers were. So that's his current schtick. If you read that a 9-year-old Roma boy was strangled in full view of hundreds of tourists in Montpellier's busiest square, you'll know I finally flipped.
His dad picks him up at night, though, to go back to their encampent on the edge of town, and a new threat hits: the unsuccessful bar-disco with which I share a wall has now become a bar-restaurant which needs to change its deep-fryer oil from time to time, and occasionally presents music. There was a pre-teen who played inaccurate drums along with records one night, and occasionally there's a female vocalist and a trio. But most of the time it's a Dixieland/swing band. And boy, are they awful. Oh, don't get me wrong: they know a few tunes and they perform in tune. But soul? Any understanding of the material? Forget about it. What the attraction for 20-somethings for this stuff is eludes me, but I'm sure they'll be able to tell you that a clarinet is an instrument that makes yuk-yuk noises, that the slide on the trombone increases its volume when in use, and the trumpet always takes the melody. In case you didn't know, Duke Ellington et. al. are funny, as their renditions of "The Mooche," "Rockin' in Rhythm," and "I've Got a New Baby," each of which is performed at least twice a night, make clear. Sadly, there are too many of these guys to strangle.
The only interesting street music I hear is the occasional Romany flamenco declaimed by young men at The Royal, a bar next to the bakery. There are also occasional manouche jam sessions there, but apparently some of the musicians are of interest to the cops, so this doesn't happen that often.
And there you have a wrap-up of the Montpellier music scene. In short, it mostly sucks.
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In the last batch of miettes, I mentioned that there was a Montpellier iPhone app, and it's now available. In the process of getting it, I was rather disconcerted by the description on the Apple website: "Rated 9+ for infrequent mature/suggestive themes, infrequent/mild suggestive violence." Either Apple is way more prudish than I thought, or someone there gets upset by girls in short-shorts with cuffs.
At any rate, it's unseasonably mild here at the moment with strong gusts of wind, which I rather like, although I'm not trying to bring a vineyard to maturity. I bet it warms up later, though; I can wait.
10 months ago