Saturday, June 10, 2006

from Pierrerue: mirror mirror

I wanted to catch the 2:15 train to Montpellier. I worked hard to get stuff done, but in the end, even though I drove demonically to Beziers in the hopes of making it, I missed it by two minutes and had to settle for the 3:09. It is almost an hour ride from Beziers, which meant that it wasn’t until after 4 that I exited the train station of Montpellier La Roche. Late, considering I absolutely had to be on the 6:47 return in order to make my dinner reservation up in the little village just beyond Pierrerue.

Montpellier is a big city. And it is actually very pretty, all cleaned up and spiffy, with large boulevards, flashy modern blue and yellow tram cars moving along the main circuit, squares, parks, and I hear it has a fascinating old town.

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I saw hardly any of it. Here’s why:

In my rural ramblings, I have been missing this one aspect of city life: the café. Village cafés are different. Oftentimes they are right in the midst of traffic, just so you can catch every single car and person that passes through. They are not pretty, they’re functional. A pastis or an espresso, a chat and you’re off.

Sure, they are good for people watching and especially of older men watching, as they are the most frequent habitués of the village café. This was taken yesterday, over a café noisette (forget about cappuccino at the village; the cappuccino to them demands whipped cream; most often, the café-bar has none and therefore will refuse your cappuccino request).

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the men of St. Chinian

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okay, the St. Chinian poodle could feel at home at any city or village in France

But there’s something about a grand outdoor café that a city provides, out there on the open boulevard or closed-to-traffic square, something that just cannot be replicated elsewhere – not on the corner of St Chinian, not on State Street in Madison. It’s certainly not better than the latter, it’s simply different and after two weeks of village life, I was hankering for an afternoon of that difference.

And sure enough, Montpellier has an abundance of outdoor cafés. Indeed, the focal point is a large square which, like in Krakow, Venice or any other large European city, has been handed over to the café crowds. And they are different than my wonderfully capped men of St Chinian. (Again, not at all better and hardly more interesting, just very different.) Compare and contrast.

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St Chinian cafe

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Montpellier cafe

But before sitting down for my coveted and adored cappuccino, I make the mistake of entering the Galleries Lafayette and trying on a beautiful blue and yellow scarf.

I look in the mirror and freeze.

Pierrerue does not have much of a mirror. There is something resembling one hanging in the bathroom, but the lightbulb there has long gone out and I haven’t bothered climbing up to replace it. And now, in the bright lights of the Galleries Lafayette I could witness the true state of my hair: under the influence of the southern sun, it had turned almost completely blonde.

That’s fine. I have no problem with being a blonde in the summer of 2006. The problem is that the roots, hidden there under layers of blondeness, are having a hard time catching up. Brown roots, a splash of gray at the temples and a mound of basic blondness. I can’t believe I have been out in public like this!

It is 5:30. I enter a haircut store conveniently positioned outside the doors of the Galleries Lafayette and tell the desk person: do something! Is there a product you can sell me? Anything!

She looks at me, spins around and runs off to get the manager. He comes to the front, looks at me, frowns, reaches for some product and proceeds to explain how I might use it and what I may hope to accomplish for an interim solution.

I lost him on step number 43. It could be that after going through this, I will wind up looking worse than I look right now.

I have a train to catch in one hour and fifteen minutes. Can you fix my cheveux in that time, please?

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Jason's replacement in the background

Fifty five minutes, that’s all they needed. He painted and hummed so that my roots caught up to the rest of the south of France effect. She scrubbed, conditioned and conditioned some more. Want me to cut it too? Oh, go for it. Snip, snip, two minutes later she is done. My man Jason back home would be appalled.

Fact is, though, I can’t say I’d be looking much better after a Jason afternoon. And the price? One third that of Madison’s. I’m thinking: if I saved on hair by tending to it here and used the savings for airfare, could I make it to Montpellier, say, every two months and come out even?

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No café this time. I ran in my flashy flowered sandals, without even pausing for an ice cream cone. But late at night, as I worked my way through the multicourse presentation of chef Frederic at my favorite village restaurant, I did think for the first time that I looked at least presentable. No little girl shoes, no denim skirt, perfectly styled hair with no dark roots. France is transforming me.

The night ended with cheeses and gratineed fruits.

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