Spring has Sprung

Shortly after my return to MontyP after Christmas, my optimistic plan to spend every day from February to May at the beach was quashed by this remark from a volunteering colleague : “Ah oui, à Montpellier on a un bel automne mais un sale printemps.” This translates as “Montpellier has a beautiful autumn but a dirty spring”. Not just ‘a bit grey’, not just ‘mildly disappointing’; a DIRTY spring. I can’t claim that our overcast skies compare to the ridiculously apocalyptic weather the UK’s recently endured, but I have to say I felt a little disillusioned.

However, after months of drizzly greyness, the occasional bit of Saharan mud-rain, and several disappointed guests who’d been promised wall-to-wall sun, the aforementioned has at last broken through the clouds and the tauntingly humid greyness has blossomed into actual Good Weather. It seems that the South of France has finally decided to live up to it’s reputation as the crack den of Vitamin D junkies (guess who’s been watching Breaking Bad?) In honour of the fashionably late spring, I’m going to guide you on a mental journey through a few of the springtime sights, sounds and smells of Montpellier.

We begin by stepping out onto a freshly sun-baked street, where a tantalising scent is evaporating off the shiny flagstones…

That smell, unfortunately, is a heady mixture of vaporised urine, overheated binbags and drying dog shit. Perhaps best not to dwell on it for too long.

Here’s an example of the above, although I took this right after the street sweeper went by so it’s not technically accurate.

All around, tiny animals are building rickety nests out of scraps.

Now I’m not actually saying that our house was constructed by a small, rodent-like creature, but it has apparently been done up by someone with the DIY skills of one – everything seems to be precariously balanced and/or stuck together with spit. While it looks endearingly homespun, minor flaws include every single curtain rail falling down at one point or another, the sofa being made of something suspiciously akin to matchsticks, and the piano stool lacking a piece of metal so structurally important that I’ve had to replace it with a roll of kitchen towel (a space previously filled by a bag of coffee which happened to be exactly the right size, but which began to smell suspiciously coffee-y and had to be removed before a granule-based disaster occured). Bonnie is currently living on a mezzanine in the living room/kitchen and therefore has the added trial of having to regularly make her way down from a precipice on a ladder so French that, instead of being attached to anything, it just noncholantly leans against the wall. It’s a testament to how well we get on that the lack of space hasn’t led to conflicts – not even regarding the bathroom which, I should probably mention, is situated quite literally IN the bedroom and therefore has to be rationed…

As the day seeps aggressively through the poorly-aligned shutters, slumbering beasts awake, hangry, from their long hibernation.

By which I mean “I had an exam at 8.15am and am very bitter about this”. This was doubly horrific as my bike had a puncture so I had to leave early and catch the tram. The general misery of the situation was further exacerbated by the tram being full of People, who obnoxiously refused to move into the aisle, leaving me squashed into a space the size of someone much less fond of eating. In the exam itself, our translation teacher (who usually completes an impressive two to three sentences per lesson) decided that we could totally manage a full A4 page of economic jargon in an hour or so, while simultaneously listening to his not-so-internal monologue of complaints about the terrible administration of HIS OWN CLASS. Fun.

Bright-coloured flowers are bursting into life in all directions…

…causing anyone afflicted with the accursed allergies to appear very over-emotional about the beauty of nature. I’ve spent much of the past couple of weeks trying to enjoy the botanical garden and the stunning blossom all around town, despite my bleary, watery-eyed sneeziness. Fortunately, my uncle Tony brought a life-saving month’s supply of hayfever medication when he came to visit, rescuing me from my martyrish unwillingness to spend a ridiculous euro per tablet. I’ve since been able to properly appreciate how gorgeous everything looks at the moment, although my hayfever was promptly replaced by a summer cold, which has made me suspect that my natural state may just be one of Lurgy.
One of the ridiculously flourishing wisteria(s?) that I’ve been mooning over for the last month
The Jardin des Plantes (which I call the garden of cats because it contains lots of cats).

Fledglings are spreading their alarmingly tiny wings and hurtling out of the nest

So I went paragliding in Millau. This is no small potatoes, given how scared I am of heights – to clarify, I don’t actually have a phobia of them, but I am distinctly uneasy about jumping off them. This made takeoff nerve-wracking, as it involved running towards the edge of the very, very tiny patch of grass at the top of a very, very high cliff. With a great effort of will, I conquered the large and eminently sensible part of my brain telling me that on no account should I do this incredibly stupid thing, and it was an amazing experience.

I was surprised at how stable the tiny kite-thing was, although every time we moved unexpectedly I’d suddenly realise the only thing separating me from a 1500m drop was an insubstantial fabric chair. By the end I was enjoying myself enough that I untruthfully denied feeling sick, and agreed to do some swoops. I even regained a sort of serenity when I resigned myself to my imminent Death by Falling. However, as you can tell from the very existence of this post, I survived.

Here is an illustration of my thought process throughout the flight. I realised halfway through that I was so tense that my legs were completely straight, and it took a huge effort to prize my hands off the ropes when we landed…
My sunburnt face after paragliding
Laura and Rosie in Millau, which is completely gorgeous but apparently has about as much to do in the winter as Ross on Wye.

Tourists and locals flock to the beach to feast, lizard-like, on the UV rays.

Bonnie and I cycled from the beach-tram to an undetermined location somewhere around Palavas, and saw various interesting bits of wildlife, notably:

1) A very professional looking cyclist who overtook us, revealing his… well… revealing cycling shorts. Frankly they were much too transparent to be allowed out in public and we accordingly reacted with equal parts dismay and mirth. Despite this disarseter (oh come on) we made it to the next attraction…

2) Actual flamingoes. Yep, apparently they hang out on the Montpellier coast. We may or may not have freaked out and nearly crashed into each other while gawping at them.

When we finally got to a suitable beach, we discovered that the fairly strong wind was even stronger by the sea, essentially meaning that we’d inadvertantly signed up for a whole-body-sandpaper-massage. This is not a thing I’d recommend, especially in conjunction with the very ripe mango which we’d brought along in a surprising display of forethought. Most people are not yet in swimwear at this time of year, but given that I’m a crazy English person, I cracked out the bikini to better appreciate the sandstorm. This also made me less-than-blissfully aware of just how many times my own body weight I consumed over the winter. (Hint: it’s a lot). Bonnie actually swam, being an even crazier Scottish person.

And creativity is (supposed to be) blossoming everywhere…

Hence the excessively long gap between posts… In my defense, I have been doing an average of four choir rehearsals a week, with a record of five in seven days. Part of the reason for this is the concerts’ ambitious mise en scene, of which I am NOT a fan. For a start, I’m already learning 13 songs by heart – mostly in Gaelic, which, contrary to what my fellow choir-members like to think, is not “practically the same as English”. What’s more, this mise en scene is not just simple blocking and embellishment, but involves Acting, an activity so alien to my disposition that I consider it an abomination to make me attempt it. The concert’s coming up in a week (as, coincidentally, are all my exams), and is currently providing an excellent excuse not to revise, because I’m primarily concerned with the likelihood that I’ll forget how to move and sing at the same time and fall off the stage.

In other creativity news, Bonnie has persuaded me to take part in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) in which you write a poem per day for a month, and it’s been surprisingly fun. To prove that my year abroad has made me appropriately pretentious, here are some of my more light-hearted attempts*. I’ve been vaguely contemplating sharing more throughout the month and/or starting a poetry blog – feel free to let me know if you have thoughts on this idea or the poems themselves, although obviously in a way that won’t ruthlessly crush my delicate, budding poet’s soul.

*If you don’t like poetry, skip to the end – there’s a picture.

I’ve been trying out Formats. This one is an acrostic in iambic pentameter, for all you English teachers.
I live in France now, and I try quite hard
Not to hate it too much. Now and then
Dismay becomes too strong to overcome –
Irate, I scowl at harmless passers-by,
Gnashing my teeth at jobs-worth acceuillants
No document too big or small to hate,
Administration is a heartless fate:
The endless paperwork is barely worth
Its weight in paper. Still, despite the pain
Of mild but permanent exasperation,
No torment can eclipse the lovely sun.
And now a limerick, dedicated to a Paul Valéry prof who shall remain nameless…
An incompetent teacher of French
Came to notice a horrible stench,
For his students, you see,
Had all died of ennui,
And would never again study French
And you can guess what this one is. 
Bonnie doesn’t like
Haikus with the wrong number
Of syllables. Pedant.
And finally, one for the linguists. 
You’d better not play with your words
Or you might have to eat them all up. Stop that!
It’s not polite to put your plosives on the table,
And nasals are, naturally, a no-no,
Unless you want mum to hang her head in shame.
Fricatives – now they’re suspicious sounds,
Sure, they seem harmless if they’re said separately,
But have you seen them in a fistfight?
Sneaky f*ckers.
And watch out for affricates,
They seem gentle, but there’s always a catch.
This week’s bonus picture is Bonnie looking mildly dismayed with a cup of thé au lait. It may look like an empty cup, but the white is actually foam. The horror.

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