Wednesday, October 23, 2013

France: The Last Days

The Slum cleared out, I moved to a hotel for two nights. I'd been curious about the Hotel d'Aragon, a nondescript-looking three-star around the corner that consistently got good ratings from the likes of Tripadvisor. Since it was the only affordable, semi-luxurious option (at around €100, lest you get the wrong idea of my concept of luxury) I grabbed Saturday and Sunday nights there.

It turned out to be (mostly) a good idea. For one thing, the shower had seven heads set in the wall and you could blast yourself, a great luxury after five years of the weak stream from the handheld hose in The Slum. I washed the last dust of the place off of me and met E and J for a glass of wine in the center of town.

As we walked afterwards, I passed a new place I'd looked at that had pig's foot and lentils as a daily special. I'd already decided on Le Chat Perché for my last meal on Sunday, so a couple of hours after I'd parted with E and J, I walked back up and got a table. Which, for Saturday night, was ominous: someone right off the street could get seated. Of course, there was only one of me, and sometimes that's a lot easier.

The meal was definitely okay: an odd "beef pâté" was followed by that pig's foot, which just hit the spot. The lentils were perfectly cooked with some carrots hiding in them, and I just wish I'd remembered about the tough layer of skin that always accompanies this cut, because I tried to eat it. It's not strictly the foot of the pig, but a nearby area, what Berliners call Eisbein. The one thing I didn't like at all about the restaurant was that instead of a wine card, they had a bunch of bottles you could choose from. I didn't know half of them, and the kind of wording one often finds on a card would have helped. As would not having to unwedge myself from my seat and wander out into the entryway. The place looks kind of understaffed (or maybe it was Sunday that did it), but despite their odd location on an almost-hidden street, I hope they have what it takes to make it. Nice folks

La Poule au Pot, 8 rue Collot, 34000 Montpellier, 04 67 86 96.

* * *

If I have a complaint about the hotel, it's that the proprietor is something of a fussbudget, and an opinionated one at that. The next day, when I asked him to get me a reservation at the Chat, he refused. "I don't like that place," he said. "Go to Le Grillardin. It's traditional. Or Bistrot Gourmand!" He could not fathom that I'd lived in Montpellier for five years and knew my way around, and had my own opinions, one of which is that Le Grillardin is overpriced and not very interesting. He pulled down a restaurant guide and began noting how few places were open on Sunday. I insisted that the Chat was open 7/7, so he called, got no answer after a few rings, and hung up. He then called Bistrot Gourmand, got their machine, and made a reservation for me. The punch line is that I wandered down there -- they're close neighbors -- and neither restaurant was open. I guess the Chat goes 6/7 in the winter, because I've certainly dined there on Sundays. I wound up at a hamburger/steak joint that was heaving despite it being 9:30. There are advantages to being the only game in town. And, to be honest, it wasn't bad: a plate of local charcuterie that was great followed by an odd disc of lamb, with a tender piece in the center, and a lot of seasoned ground lamb surrounding it, held in place (it had obviously been sliced off a larger sausage-shaped piece) with a ring of fat, which crusted up nicely during the roasting. A medley of winter vegetables -- carrots, turnips, pearl onions -- roasted in duck fat reminded me of the season. 

Chez Boris, 20 rue de l'Aiguillerie, 34000 Montpellier, 04 67 02 13 22

* * * 

The next morning at 9:24 I got on the TGV for Paris, scolded by the train guard for almost missing it. They're redoing the Montpellier station, and direct access to the trains is through one door, which sends you downstairs, then up to the right track. (No moving band for luggage, no escalator). The stairway to the track I needed was blocked at both ends, but the guy in front of me kicked it aside and hurdled the top barricade. I more modestly kicked it until I could squeeze myself and my luggage through. When I got there, I saw there was an open area leading directly from the street to that track. No signs, of course. 

My seat was backward-facing, which I don't much like, but it did give me the chance to see the town slide away one more time. I forgot to look for Pic St. Loup and l'Hortus, but I'm sure they'll still be there when I return. 

* * *

Paris was about two things:  the Roy Lichstenstein show at the Pompidou and dinner at a Cameroonian joint that evening. I skipped lunch in my haste to get to the Pomp, although I did walk there from my hotel, which allowed me to see streets I hadn't seen in a long while. They were jammed with (mostly) women shopping, as always. The quest for luxury never ends in Paris, sweeping all ahead of it as it expands into formerly unfashionable districts. Not that the Marais has been unfashionable in my time of coming to Paris. 

It was good I got there when I did, though, because as I exited there was an announcement that the waiting time to get into the Lichstenstein show was 20 minutes. I just waltzed in, and was captivated. 

The thing about Roy Lichstenstein's art is that it is what it is and doesn't exactly invite long contemplation. It isn't until afterwards that the ideas hit you, but you've had everything you needed to start the process in the first minute of looking at the work. No less than any other painter since the late 19th century, Lichstenstein was fascinated with light, with color, and, to a certain extent, with abstraction. Initially, he was fascinated with decontextualizing things: the two-panel war-comic painting Whaam! plays with the foreshortened image of the fighter-jet while rendering the explosion it has caused as something abstract, with that giant word floating above it. 

The huge canvas brings this home: you have to be halfway across the room to "read" the painting as the  comic panel it was originally -- and we have no idea who the American plane is blowing up, even so, or if the pilot gets out of the air battle unscathed. Even trickier are the famous romance comic frames, since we know nothing of the relationships being dipped into or how they turn out. Oh, Jeff...I Love You, Too...But... is nothing but ambiguity: but what? But there's more to see in them, too, which the excellent captions at the show brought out. Take the iconic Drowning Girl

Not only do we know what's going on with Brad (who will undoubtedly save her), but the drama in the center of the painting can take away the droll hommage to Hokusai being played out by the water (not including the standard-issue water in her eyes). 

LIchstenstein seemed to be a restless type, though, and deeply concerned with his place among the masters, as he began first a series (continued for years) of representations of brushstrokes, but done in his meticulous style, as well as with his signature Ben-Day dots, and then he began to render these same images in 3-D as flat, freestanding sculptures. Where it really gets nuts is when he started painting mirrors, as depicted in comics, reflecting nothing, but needing to be identifiable as mirrors in the final comic panel, thus necessitating some abstract, but functional, lines to send the code to the reader. These he blew up as paintings, and then, thinking about them some more, as big round sculptures on pediments, the black lines holding the other colored areas in: hardly recognizable as mirrors (or are they?) and compelling as objects. My favorites are where he added another element: a painting of a lamp casting light, standing on a table, rendered as a 3-D sculpture of the painting, the light having physical form. 

I'm really happy to have caught this show, and it's instilled a new appreciation for Lichstenstein's work in me that will, inevitably, make me see other abstraction based on figurative work quite differently from now on. I hope you saw the show when it toured the US, and I'd say it's pretty damn imperative that, if you're in Paris between now and Nov. 4, when it closes, you hie yourself over to the Pompidou and check it out. You'll be glad you did. 

* * *

The evening was dedicated to not eating French food. The French prefer to ignore that they have large numbers of former colonials among them, and although some have developed a taste for Moroccan cuisine (which is every bit as subtle as French), it's hard to find a Vietnamese restaurant as we know it in the States, and as for the Africans, they might as well not exist. But exist they do, as M. Kouegang and his roommates below me in The Slum proved. My office/living room was just upstairs -- and upwind -- from their kitchen, and I began wondering what Cameroonian food was like. Left on their own, the guys mostly fried chicken livers, which was nice as far as it went. But when the girls came over, the music changed from aggressive American and French hip-hop to smooth grooves of the Congolese-based style internationale, with rhumba rhythms and interlacing guitars. And the girls cooked something else. 

So when a Paris-based American woman on The Well mentioned that a colleague had taken her and some of her other colleagues to a good Cameroonian restaurant, I was determined to find out. Thus, my last meal in Paris was up in the Barbès neighborhood in the north, where Africans of all persuasions mix and where the curbside vegetable stands must confuse the hell out of French people. 

But I gotta say, the ladies who ran this place sure were nice, and they sure can cook. Naomi had a whole tilapia smothered with onions, and I had a dish called folon, after the spinach-like leaves that make up a lot of it. There were also cubes of what I took to be beef, but I hope they were there for flavoring, because no known knife could have cut their tightly-packed fibers.

Whole tilapia, fried plantains

Folon: stewed vegetables with meat 

How to eat fried plantains: mix some nuclear hot sauce with mayonnaise (squeeze bottle to rear). No idea what the Maggi was for, but it was labelled in Polish, oddly enough. 

Shoot and run. No, no people appear in this picture. I quite ostentatiously avoided the crowd outside. 

Accompanied with a Cameroonian-brewed Guinness (at an astounding 7.5%, more than twice what it normally is), not to mention DVD-recorded Cameroonian pop videos whose production values were, um, not the highest, it was a great way to end my trip and sail to a new world. 

Restaurant "Le Chicago," Chez Odette, 54 rue Marcadet, 75018 Paris, 01 42 57 52 98

* * *

These two wonderful events were separated by an incident that put a fine point on why I am happy to be leaving France and why I hate Paris, though. It also made me late to dinner, but that was both because I made a mistake and I was so rattled. 

I was low on change, and went into the local Metro station, and discovered that there were two ticket machines. One took bills, one didn't. The one that did was broken. I couldn't use my debit card in the other one because, like all French machines, it requires a chip on the card, a technological advance Americans have yet to institute. So I walked over to the ticket window, where a very stoned African girl with a newborn baby was trying to negotiate something with the Indian-looking woman and the tall French man, but not understanding any of it. Eventually, she got what she wanted and drifted off, and they started trying to tell her to go through the gate where the window was. She was oblivious. 

Finally they noticed me standing there. "I'd like two tickets," I said, like an idiot. "Well, use the machine!" the Indian woman thundered. "I can't..." and the man cut me off. "Why can't you use the machine?" I told him I didn't have coins, just this €5 bill, and the machine that took bills was broken. "It takes Carte Bleu," he said. "I'm sorry, I don't have a Carte Bleu. I'm an American and..." "ÇA CHANGE QUOI?"  he thundered, getting red in the face. "ÇA CHANGE QUOI, M. L'AMERICAIN?" He said that last bit with a devastating sneer. I was dumbfounded. I was about to tell him my card didn't have a chip, but he started yelling "VA T'EN! VA T'EN!!" (Translation: "That changes what, M. American? Get out! Get out!"

It had been a long time since I'd encountered such hatred. It would have done no good to ask his name and file a complaint, of course, and my only recourse was to grab my fiver and head to the next station, in hopes that the machine there took my bill. It did. It wasn't anyone's fault but mine that I went to the wrong Poissonnier Metro stop, however. I had no idea there were two. Thank heavens for kindly cab drivers. 

That's it for France for a while. New city, new (metaphorical hill). To be continued. Stick around. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Goodbye To The Slum

It all happened so quickly after not happening so quickly.

For the past few days, I'd been wrestling with boxes that EP had brought over in small quantities (disassembled, they're unwieldy, and he has to take the tram). I'd put one together, wrestling with the tape, which, charged with static electricity, would sink back to the mother roll and form a bond that was impossible to break, then spend precious minutes looking for the start of the tape to make my next seal with. With the box half-made, I'd load it with the stuff the movers weren't going to deal with and go through the whole sealing process again. I'd then usually discover that the box was overloaded, and that it was too small to accommodate the load. Tearing and bulging would result. I'd vow to do better next time, but usually as I was getting into the swing of things, I'd run out of boxes. In the end, I made a discovery: only Castorama, of all the bricolage places around, makes boxes that are worth a damn. Remember that next time you're moving within or out of France.

J came over at one point to raid my supplies of exotic groceries: Chinese and Indian stuff, mostly. She also got my fantastically-seasoned wok. I'll need to start working on another one. The disassembled apartment made her whip out her camera.

I am not really that fat. J explained that "It's the angle," and it is. 
At the point she took this, I could barely keep my head up, I was so tired, but later that day I went out and got some dinner.

Yesterday I forced myself out of bed at 6:30. The movers would be here at 8, although EP warned me that they're always late. I did some last-minute stuff, but I was amazed at how ready I was for them to come. Which they did, only a half hour late, and that because of the difficulty of getting a permit to stick their truck in the pedestrianized zone.

The crew was made up of three people: the guy who'd visited to make the estimate, a tough-built middle aged blond French guy, and a tall African guy. The blond guy set to packing books right away, the African took full boxes down and, when necessary, brought disassembled ones up. The boss dispensed sticky labels, one per box, while registering the contents on a form. When it came time to disassemble the wire bookshelves, he helped, but otherwise was a supervisor. As were EP and I, with the advantage that EP translated from time to time.

Once the office/living room was stripped of what was going, which was the main effort, the CD shelves in the hall were hauled out one by one, coated with protective paper, and taken intact to the truck. The bookshelf with the cookbooks at the end of the hall had already been taken care of. The bedroom took no time at all. I had already disassembled the bed, so they just taped the pieces together and took them. The clothes I'd been told to keep on hangers, and a couple of those nifty boxes with rods in them appeared and within seconds the clothes were loaded. It took longer to tape them up than it did to fill them. The African guy took charge of the kitchen, although not much from there was going: just my precious Allclad pans, a nice Le Creuset Dutch oven I bought myself for Christmas one year, and a few glasses that were as much souvenirs of Germany as anything. My two best wine glasses and the blender attachment for the food processor were left, because of my clumsiness, but E and J will get the glasses in return for mailing me the blender. Finally the Adolf-Hitler Eßtisch, the massive wood leaved dining table, so named because somewhere on it is a label showing its place and date (1936) of manufacture, which I understand is worth some money, but mostly is a fine piece of workmanship, and the venue of some future meals with friends in Austin.

They were gone by 1, miraculously enough. It was jarring, almost. I went over the paperwork with the boss, signed a bunch of stuff ("You must sign this one because it is pink," he remarked at one point, as rational an explanation as you'll find in the world of French bureaucracy), shook hands with the crew, thanked EP for his help, and collapsed in the desk chair just in time for Gerry to show up from Nîmes to take me to lunch. I took a quick shower, put on some clean clothes, Gerry helped me move the futon onto the floor, where I'd spend the night, and we went off to the Beehive, the English pub near St. Roch, for burgers (Gerry's wife is a strict vegetarian) and beer for him, Coke for me. Even with the caffeine in me, I was groggy from lack of sleep and release of tension, and when, after we'd parted company, I went for a last haircut from the woman who's done such a good job over the past five years, I almost dozed off a couple of times.

Finally, I came back up here and marvelled at the emptiness.

Looking into the office/living room from the front door. 

The hall, walkable without tucking in my shoulder at last!

The bedroom, its tininess not indicated by anything in this picture, which was taken from the doorway.
With all my silverware and cookware gone, I couldn't eat here, but I was also way too far gone to go out: one glass of wine and they'd have to carry me back here. I mooched around for a while, and finally went to the Monoprix on the corner and got a couple of beers, stuck them in the fridge, and then went downstairs to Hani's place (which will feature in the next post) and got a taouk platter. I told him I'd return the plate today, because I knew that just going down and back up the stairs was going to be an effort. One by one I sipped the beers (after clearing off the couch) and read a little.

I actually made it to 11, and nature helped by providing a rainstorm that kept the binge-drinking, howling, hooting students indoors. It was hard lowering myself to the floor and harder getting up, but I managed 9 1/2 hours of sleep. In a few minutes, it'll be time to start loading up the suitcase, carryon, and computer bag, after mailing some stuff to myself in the States. At noon, various people come to claim various stuff (including the office chair I'm typing in), and later I'll check into a hotel around the corner. A little more giveaway tomorrow, and that's it. The adventure has begun.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

T Minus Three Days: This Will Happen

The Future Is...Now!
I've been a good boy today, and so it is without guilt that I sit down for a brief update of the move.

What I have done: given away a lot of things, including things that have yet to leave the apartment but, I am assured by their new owners, will be claimed. Packed  stuff in a lot of boxes. Taped most of them shut. Scrubbed grease off of kitchen utensils and vessels which will be packed by the movers. Gotten a portable hard drive and transferred most of the contents of my main backup to it, so that if the backup is lost or damaged, I can get another one and not lose anything.

What I have not done: Gone to the market today for one last visit. Weather was crappy, and I have firmly imposed on myself a do-not-buy regime. I need to be consuming (or giving away or discarding) food, not buying more. Although that pear I had for lunch sure was good. Got two more of 'em, though. Filled out the forms: there's a customs form and an insurance form, and I have to have copies both for the movers from Marseille and the home office in Californa, as well as copies of the main pages of my passport (the one with the picture and the passport number) for both of them, and I also have to fill out the insurance form for the stuff I want to insure. Which I'm putting off because who wants to deal with forms?

What I did yesterday: EP figured out a giant garden-and-housewares store that was near the tram, like most of them aren't, and I went there yesterday to buy bubble wrap and ecologically-sound plastic peanuts. Naturally, I got off the tram one stop early -- this on the line that only runs every 15 minutes or so -- and wandered around looking for this store. I'd seen it before: my first trip to the Paris Store, the gigantic Chinese supermarket here, I got off a stop early for that, and that was the stop for the place I was looking for. So I got back on the tram for one stop, then was given wrong instructions by the information desk, who didn't understand a word I said, went back to the information desk after looking around the store, and got a completely different set of instructions (from the same woman) and discovered what I was looking for. Two rolls of bubble wrap, two bags of peanuts, a roll of tape, and no, monsieur, there's no bag or other means to help you get this back to the tram stop comfortably, you'll just have to stumble along with a bulky, albeit light, load.

(Today I started building more boxes with the new tape. It seems to be allergic to cardboard. I'll tape up a box, turn my back to get stuff to put in it, fill it up, seal it and turn my back again and pop! The tape's come loose. Where is the reinforced tape you can buy in Germany and the U.S.? Dang!)

Got back here and was so enervated I did basically nothing all day after that. The sun had come out, it was unseasonably warm, I wasn't dressed for it, you get the picture. I did manage to connect with an Argentinian guy who wants some of my stuff that others don't want, and, in the spirit of the day, sent him my address -- but wrote the wrong street name! How do you do such a thing when you've lived in a place for five years? So he came, failed to find me, and went home. Today he's sick. But I suspect he'll get the things anyway. I'm just filled with optimism.

The unexpected highlight of the day was a moving 45-minute conversation with an old running-buddy in Berlin, an American who'd played a huge part in my life there, especially early on. He's facing the decision of whether to become a German citizen (his wife's German) or move back to the States. The kids are mostly out of the nest, and he hasn't been back to the States in years. It's a toughie, and it makes old single me realize that there are, in fact, some advantages I have in this situation. I told him he could crash on my couch any time. Wherever it'll be by the time he takes his reconnaissance tour.

At the start of the day, I'd taken a shower, and, for some reason, looked at the water (which takes forever to drain) and realized that it was the exact color of the dust I've been sweeping off of things here. Dust is a problem here in Montpellier, more than in a lot of places. Mostly, the dust in your house is human skin cells sloughed in the course of everyday living, but here they're joined by extremely fine sand. The weather patterns here are cold air comes off of the mountains, the Cévennes, and warm, moist air off the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean winds, though, carry this fine sand from the Sahara, the desert that comprises most of northern Africa. It's usually not detectable until you start to sweep your floor or try to get to places that are hard to reach. And that's what color the water was.

Every day I uncover more dust and wipe things as I put them in boxes. I'm almost through, though, so now it's about getting rid of more stuff (all these old clothes! You can't walk two blocks in Berlin without hitting a clothes collection bin! And I'm going to leave them out for the Romas? Incredible!), cleaning some stuff, doing a load of laundry, and packing one checked bag, one carryon, and the computer bag.

I look around, I see less stuff, and I feel better. One week from tonight, I'll be in Austin.

There'll be at least another blog post before I leave (and one on the Lichstenstein show in Paris, too).

Wish me luck.

Friday, October 11, 2013

T Minus One: Full-Bore Panic

Dang, where did all this crap come from? And why can't I find what I'm looking for?
In one week, early in the morning (well, they said 8am, which is plenty early for me) a truckload of movers from Marseille will descend on me and start packing everything I've asked them to pack. Then they'll leave, and before long the last twenty years of my life will be on a container ship bound to Houston, to arrive in a truck pulling up at an as-yet-unrented residence in Austin in six to eight weeks.

But, of course, it's not that simple. I have to fill out customs forms (fairly simple) and deal with insurance (not at all simple). I don''t know why I don't speak insurance. For a year once upon a time I paid a lot of money for some expat health insurance that I never again dealt with. I now realize I could have had my teeth looked at and had a general physical, all courtesy of the fine German health system (which isn't as good as the French one, but hey, I was in Germany). But no, I had a card in my wallet, and that was it. And I'm going to have to deal with it again once I get back to the States. But still, these forms sit and stare me in the face and will have to be dealt with. And will be.

A guy is coming over later this afternoon to take a bunch of books I've culled, as well as a lot of CDs I've burned (I have the original music on a hard drive, and now that La Poste can deliver again -- see below -- I'll have a clone of that drive with me so I can access all that music again). He told me yesterday as we were setting up the rendezvous that he's moved 30 times all over the world. I may well seek his sage advice. He kept repeating, "Just stay calm and don't panic." Which was good, since that's what I spent a lot of yesterday doing.

As I mentioned, EP brought over some moving boxes his mom had picked up at work. I filled one of them with CDs, lifted it onto a table, and one of the handles broke. This seemingly simple accident paralyzed me for several hours. There are some CDs I have to pack so that the movers can get to the rest of them. Seriously. And this was most of them. And now the box was foutou. occurred to me later, as another friend was over looking over household stuff she might want, the movers aren't going to use those handles. They hump the boxes onto their shoulders and go. And maybe they won't pack the boxes so full and use peanuts or bubble wrap to fill out the rest of the volume.

Or so I tell myself.

I still have to arrange to have the electricity and phone cut off, do a load of laundry, and deal with a bunch of appointments. A young woman I know here who has a band was interested in a keyboard I bought in Germany and haven't unpacked since I've been here, so she came over with three of her friends, and it was like a load of beneficial locusts. I found one in my kitchen, entranced by my funky dining table. "Are you getting rid of...this?" she asked. Uh, yeah. "Oh! I want it!" And she shall have it. They all found stuff they wanted. They're making up a list of stuff they want and will give it to me on Monday. They'll be back on Sunday the 20th. It was going to be the 19th, but they're going skydiving that day. So actually, the ones who survive will be here on the 20th. I hope one of the survivors is the one who wanted the table.

Oh, and what I said about La Poste? For the past three weeks, the RF chip that opened the front door of The Slum hasn't worked. Mme. Merde's next-door neighbor (who professes not to hear her tirades and bellowing) knocked on all our doors and told us, and reported that she'd told the managment company. Three weeks ago. The only way out was to push the button, as usual, but unless the door was blocked by a piece of paper or other wedge (which, most of the time, it was, but not at night), you had to throw a body-block at it to get it to open. Which Mme. Merde's kids can't do. Doorbells would go off, meaning someone wanted in, and, since my phone/buzzer thingy hasn't worked in two years, I'd trudge downstairs to let them in. Two flights down, two flights back up. Good exercise. I got an e-mail yesterday that said it was being fixed today. Which I'll believe when I see it's happened. For this I pay almost a grand a month?

And there are other niggling details: just as I have to print out a bunch of documents -- and with only a week left to own this printer, which I hope someone wants to buy off of me, since I just discovered it cost €300 or so -- the black toner absolutely and definitively dropped dead. No problem: the FNAC multi-media store has tons of printer supplies. But...not for a Samsung.

Won't someone give me a good home? I'll have new toner!

EP, decoder of all things tech, tells me that short of getting into a car and going to Office Depot, I'm screwed, which means I can't have it today, but he's taking care of it. (Oh, and add this to the list of expenditures I'll have to make back in the US...)

Meanwhile, there are as-yet-unpacked boxes from the Berlin move whose contents must be unified today so I can clear some room for the movers (and psychological space for me), and the doctor to see one last time to get my prescriptions filled (but can't call her just yet because she's out to lunch) and the mailing address to change (and just how does one do that?) and I just discovered that that portable hard drive to clone my other one is supposed to be delivered on the last day I'm here, so I'm not quite sure what to do about that, and what'll I do with all this stuff I was going to give the charity if they don't want it and why did I find a bag with a Canadian $5 bill in it and a defunct watch and an Extra Point (from my old supermarket in Berlin, the means with which I bought many a fine piece of cookware and some very nice wine glasses -- but there's no Extra in France!) and what other goodies are lurking here from my past and which of them will I need but forget and

Wait. My doctor's having lunch? I'm going to get some, too. I'm going to live through this and I'm not going to panic and it's going to work out fine.

I just wish I could push the fast forward button on next week and wake up on the train to Paris.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

T Minus Two And One Day: Paralysis

Hang on: not so fast!

What I did for the move yesterday:


What I've done so far today:


What still needs to be done:

Not quite everything. And it's the "not quite" that gives me hope. There's a lot of stuff that I shouldn't be doing: packing the books and so on is included in the moving price, and were I to pull them all off of their shelves, I'd have nowhere to put the boxes. If I had boxes. Also, it's kind of hard to pack things I'll be needing in, say, the next seven days. Or ten days.

And some of the stuff I've needed to do has come to pass: I got a quote from the mover, along with an official letter of what they will and will not do for that money. It's about as much as I thought it would be, although I'm now trying to trim it down just a bit by deciding not to take some stuff I thought I'd take. And I have to put together a letter with some questions in it for him.

Another thing I've done is to photograph my CDs. Which, given that they're wedged into an area not quite big enough to hold me, has been a pain.

Don't worry: there's an in-focus version of this
Some, like the ones above, I photographed by lowering the camera by its strap. The lack of space in this house is absolutely amazing. But bit by bit, and with the help of my couch, I've gotten most of them, although there are more yet to shoot. I only get a couple of hours when the light is right for this: for the sunny South of France, this is one dark apartment -- and fall is upon us, too, which means less bright light.

There, that's better!
Another thing I've done is to engage the services of the amazing EP. EP was a high school kid who somehow met Chuck and Judi, who ran the English Corner Shop a couple of years ago. An Apple computer genius (not from the genius bar: he disdains them because "they are not real geniuses"), he helped them with all their technology problems and then, when it came time to move, he proved himself omnicompetent there, as well. At one point, he bought all my dead computers, fixed them at home, and made a pretty penny. Now that Chuck and Judi are happily settled in Ecuador, they suggested I contact EP, who's between school and college, and he came over the other day, looked around, and had a bunch of good ideas. Another thing he has is a mother who works at Brico Depôt, which may or may not be the same company as Home Depot, but sells moving boxes for the things I want to pack myself, like all this crap on my (physical) desktop. And although they're cheap enough, she gets a discount.

So I'm not entirely procrastinating, although the place looks more or less like it did when I typed my last post. I've also made arrangements: I've booked two nights at a hotel for my last two nights in town. The movers will, I hope, come on the 18th. On the 19th, the charity will come take everything that's left. On the 20th, well, I'm free, because it's a Sunday and you can't do anything on Sunday in France. I just hope I can get into a decent restaurant for my last meal in Montpellier. On the 21st, I've got another Senior Super-Saver First Class train ticket to Paris, a hotel not far from the station, a ticket to the Centre Georges Pompidou for the Roy Lichstenstein show I've wanted to see so badly (fitting that a year that started with Philip Glass comes to an end with Lichstenstein), dinner with a friend from the Well at a Cameroonian restaurant, and, the next morning, a short walk back to the train station where the Air France bus to Charles deGaulle will deposit me at my terminal.

(Oh, about that ticket: SNCF, the national railway, totally rebuilt the Montpellier station, and it's a lot nicer place. For the most part. I was expecting an easy job when it came to picking up the ticket I'd bought online, and walked into the huge room labelled "Billeterie" with my receipt only to be met by a bunch of computer terminals, inexplicable screens on the wall, and a small area in the middle with humans in it. I wandered around confused, tried to get the ticket via my credit card from a machine which refused it because, like all American cards, it has no chip, and finally located a woman who was handing out tickets with numbers which, when they came up on one of the screens, gets customers to a human. It took forever. In the old place, there was a bank of SNCF people at a counter and you stood in line. The lines were frightful. They also moved with incredible speed. Yesterday was the longest wait for a ticket I've experienced here. Let's hear it for technology!)

I've also begun to think about Austin, perusing a clever personalized web page of rentals a realtor friend has made for me, as well as cheating on her with another realtor and, of course, Craigslist. I've indulged in some fantasy furniture shopping and found at least one couch that looked right. I'm utterly baffled about the music situation, though: I hope someone sells what I used to call "stereos," ie, amplifiers into which I can plug a CD player and the turntable that's been sitting in storage for the past 20 years (now that I've given all my vinyl to my archive at the University of Texas), and maybe a movie playback unit of some sort. I've got the same excellent speakers (University Seniors) my dad bought me when I went away to college in storage, too. Oh, and there's also health-care...

Enough! Two weeks is plenty to deal with this, and I'm still here. I went to the market this morning and the fall bounty is beginning to come in, with the last of the summer (I scored a melon and three peaches, but I doubt that'll be possible much longer, let alone the tomatoes, which looked kind of scraggly) hanging in. We had some very dramatic thunderstorms last night -- orange alert! -- and this morning the air was so clear as I walked to the market that I realized I could probably read the date on a dime being held by a guy on top of Pic St. Loup, with good enough lenses. Of course, I also realized that it'll be a long time before I'm back there, or able to go find that castle on l'Hortus. There's a lot of sadness on the horizon, I can see, when it really kicks in that I'm not here any more.

One day at a time, like the alcoholics say. Be here now, like ol' Dick Alpert says. Better get some lunch, like my stomach says. Wonder if those pears I got on Tuesday are ripe yet?

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