Chapter 15 - French Experience
The car drives around the roundabout again and again, my eyes dart from sign to sign, desperately looking for the right one. After the fifth go around, the car veers left, picking a direction at random. I take the chance at the lights to glance down at the three maps that are open on the passenger seat, the street names seem not to match the names on the map, every exit of the roundabout suggests that it was the direction to the city center, but seemingly none of them were.
I push the gas pedal down, ever hoping that the answer, I seek is after the next block, ever disappointed when it is not. Again looking at the maps, I think that I am going the right direction though it really is just a guess since the three maps didn't match each other nor did they match the road signs. I find a road that seems to be a bigger "main" road, and turn towards what I hope is North. I soon see a sign for the beach. The wrong direction. I turn around and head straight, I bypass the signs that would lead me back to that roundabout, which also tell me that is how you get to the city center. I instead keep going straight and soon find myself somewhere outside of the busyness of the city.
I pull into the "Boulangerie" with a large sign that offers me, "Pain". I think to myself I have already had too much of that but I am desperate for a coffee and a bite to eat. The door opens as my hand pulls on the handle and I step through, I pause as the realization that not only do I not speak French but also that in this part of France, being a Vegetarian isn't very common or even really understood. I walk to the counter and order my "large" coffee, and through a series of animal sounds and shaking of my head, order a plain cheese sandwich.
I grab a seat and look at the map again. Sixteen hours of driving, being lost and finding myself, eight times and continually asking myself why am I here. Not in the larger sense, more in the why France sense. The "large" coffee comes and I can see that the "large" cup was designed to be a prop for a small doll house and the cheese sandwich, contained fish. I guess my fish impression didn't impress and that, I wanted to use the coffee cup for my doll house.
I take a sip, finishing my coffee and look through the maps again. I look at my neighbor, who at this time was studying my every moment as though, I was the subject of a film. "Parlez-vous English?" The mans head shakes from side to side, his eyes never leaving me. I point at the map, he looks at me as though I had just punched him in the nose.
I begin to stand, the neighbor clearly disappointed that his weekly entertainment was about to leave, when I was met with a younger guy, "I speak English, maybe, little" I asked where we are on the map, and ask how do I get downtown. He shows me and points to the roundabout. My eyes burn with exhausting and frustration and I know that I am only one more roundabout away from a full scale swear-fest. He tells me that when I take the third exit, that I then take the next right and then another left and then I will see a different sign for downtown. I bite my lip and with a quiet determination to get downtown go back to the roundabout. I take the third exit, the next right and then another left. And finally the sign that I had been looking for emerges from the shadows, followed by another roundabout, a part of my brain breaks. My mouth opens as the cars wheels keep pointing right, as I go around and around the roundabout and what comes out was a relatively long series of real and made up swear words, while my hand beats hard down on the steering wheel. After what felt like my tenth time around the roundabout, I see a sign for a parking structure. I go there and park my car. I tell myself, that it must be easier to walk to downtown Montpellier.
And as the blocks passed, a sudden transformation began in me. There was a uniqueness to the city and the people, I began to find both fascinating as the people lounged in there chairs drinking beer or wine, casual that it was the middle of the weekday and the city was designed to support this. Soon the openness of the city started to give way to narrower streets and older buildings, buildings that had real charm and a surprising sweetness. Soon the camera starts to snap its pictures, the sights and the feeling to be captured for all time, or till I erase it from the hard drive.
I keep walk, exploring the sights and with each step I become more and more of a fan of the city and of the country. Soon, I begin to almost feel like, I was French.
I finally found the cafe, it advertised vegetarian foods and starved as I was, I went in, took a seat and waited to be served. After, twenty minutes, I got up and walked to the front and placed my food and wine order. The food arrived and though dramatically over-cooked, my belly thanked me and just as the last bit of the food was pushed on to my fork by my thumb the wine arrived. I sat back, as I sipped on the fantastic wine and thanked the wine Gods that wine, not only contained alcohol but that it was vegetarian. I knew that it was going to be a long six months, as living and working in France is a testament to patience and determination. I had both and I needed to find joy again in cooking and what better way to find it then in a country that is so much in love with food?