Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 65: Musical Montpellier

I hope y'all had a lovely weekend. My time in Montpellier has been overflowing with new experiences and new friends. The weather has been beautiful, like fall, with temperatures around 10ºC (50ºF). Experiencing Montpellier with such beautiful weather has been a treat, especially in contrast to sleeping in the snow.

There's something about the vibe in Montpellier which I enjoy very much. It's a clean city with a lot of youthful energy. People are friendly and it's small enough to be cozy and to bump into your friends, but big enough to be fresh and interesting. My host was telling me about the many concerts here and incentives for students to be active in the community.

In Montpellier I have met a handful of new CouchSurfers. My host, Ophélie is open minded, warm hearted. She welcomed me into her life by bringing me to a theater practice, introducing me to her wonderful friends, and teaching me how to cook classic French food. Staying at her place was a nice balance between relaxing and exciting. It was the first sofa that I slept on in weeks, I was elated to have a comfortable night's sleep. Her room mate, Emilie is charismatic and bubbly. The two of them are a ton of fun!

Their current theater production is based on lip syncing old songs.
Michel, the director shows these young guns what's up.
A cozy theater.

A few days ago, I went out exploring and music followed me throughout the city. The first place I went, the Saint Pierre Cathedral, had a music school next to it. I think that the funky tunes emanating from the building helped me absorb the beauty of the cathedral. In a park there was a hip lookin' dude jamming on the smallest saxophone I had ever seen. I also grooved to a guy playing the accordion, along with a few other people – musical Montpellier!

Saint Pierre Cathedral in Montpellier!
This guy was so funny with his cat.
Some random dog was barking his brain off at the cat.
The cat was not pleased!
An amazing sky right before sunset.
I found a toy shop with various French Tarot decks... neat!

While wandering Montpellier, carrying the English/French dictionary that I bought in Avignon has been enjoyable. I feel like I'm a secret agent, decoding important messages. OK, maybe I'm not that cool, but I am dramatically increasing my efforts to learn French. I've been able to get by with English without a problem (it's almost boring!). I should be taking advantage of this time abroad to become as fluent as I can. I've been reading Benny, the Irish Polyglot's blog Fluent In 3 Months to take advantage of his language hacking tips. The ability to communicate with locals on a familiar level is good motivation, especially because I just met a girl.

Speaking of locals, I also met this CS guru named Andrei who's the most active in the community out of anyone that I've seen. Before coming to Montpellier I sent him a couch request. On Thursday I headed over to his house for vegetarian sloppy joes. His table was full of other Couchsurfers and we hooked down joes and slung stories. Andrei and another girl were from the US so we had a special dessert. Root beer floats! Watching the Europeans' expressions as they timidly sipped the concoctions was priceless. Thankfully they didn't like them so I helped them out :).

It's like on Survivor where they pay $100 for a hamburger.
They smuggled the root beer all the way from New Jersey.
Always a fun time with the CouchSurfing community!

Andrei was planning a hitchhiking trip for the weekend to a cabin in the mountains, about five hours north of Montpellier. I unsuccessfully tried hitchhiking once, so I was excited to learn from experts. We talked about his experiences hitching. He's been doing it for years in many countries, through all times of day and night, in any sort of weather. We planned to start Saturday morning. I left his apartment root beer coma'd and more excited to hitch than ever!

Despite most of my Friday being eaten by a stubborn blog entry, in the afternoon Ophé asked if I wanted to go to a traditional French dance. How many ways could I say oui?

That night, Ophé, Antione, and I piled into her old VW and putted to the town of Sommieres where the Trad'hivernales Bal was being held. It was another beautiful night and stars shone brightly in the sky.

The room was packed with happy and hungry people.

As soon as we arrived, the community atmosphere was apparent. The dance was free to get in and everyone brought food, like a giant potluck. There were cakes, soups, cheeses, I even had a piece of anchovy pizza.

The entertainment was rather strange.

The environment was energetic. The large room was packed with people and there were performers running throughout the crowd. Men danced on stilts to the sound of a folk band. Ophé's family was there and we all hung out and enjoyed the food and atmosphere. When the volunteers started clearing the tables the dance was about to start.

Are you ready to dance?!

Throughout the night many bands played. When one band finished, I would venture to the other venue to see what was going on, there was always music to dance to. It was fun for me to see old traditional instruments being played. I saw a crazy looking instrument called the hurdy gurdy in the Accademia gallery in Florence. At the bal I experienced the hurdy gurdy in action. All of the bands were phenominal. The music was not only traditionally French but European in general. All of it was super fun to dance to.

A fun band playing on the floor with people dancing all around.
I really dig traditional French music.
Apparently this guy used to be a punk singer.
The first time I've heard a hurdy gurdy. Similar to bagpipes.

Merci. Merci beaucoup!

For those of you lucky enough to experience my dancing, you can testify that I am the best dancer of all time. When I arrived I had no clue how to dance any of these dances. Thankfully the old ladies were eager to teach me. My favorite dances were the group dances because I got to dance with so many people. I kept imagining myself in an old village, dancing with the girls of the town. These dances were designed for introduction and interaction. One of the only dances that eluded my skills was the Mazurka. When this one came on, my dance partner did a weird little hop and gave me a look like "If you don't know how to do it already it's hopeless." The one that got away.

Antione, me, and my host, Ophé.
Maybe the girl I met is on the left :p

Everyone was smiling. The music, the atmosphere, the dancing all was perfect and it was reflected in people's faces. About half way through the night a girl came up to me and we started dancing. We hung out, talked, and danced for the rest of the night. Meow. I had such a good time that I got home at 4:30 AM. I needed to find a ride back to Montpellier but thankfully the first person that I asked was able to take me. Whew!

A bout of fireworks to cap off the night!

The next morning, I woke up magically at 9:30. Despite scrambling to pack my bag and meet up with Andrei and the gang, I missed out on the hitch hiking trip. I couldn't find the place where they were meeting up. Yesterday I realized that I was only one street away from the meeting spot. I enjoyed a delicious BBQ, nature walk, and ridiculous birthday party instead. Even without any of that, going to the dance was worth it. I had so much fun grooving to the traditional music and being among locals. Throughout my travels I want to learn more dances. When I get back to the States, who's going to dance with me?

Au revoir!

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