Mark and I swore last winter that we wouldn’t spend the following winter in Paris. Winter in Paris is great when you’re from Chicago. It’s not nearly as cold and windy, and when it snows, it doesn’t stick around. Good thing too, no one has shovels. We once saw a woman sweeping snow into a dustpan. The tourists have largely migrated back home and hey, it is Paris after all! But after a while, hedonic adaptation kicks in and you notice how rainy and grey it is. And damp. We decided to return to Spain for January and February, but then the announcement of a major transportation strike hit and we started thinking if we stuck around too much longer we wouldn’t be able to leave when we wanted. So we left in early December to come hang out in Montpellier.
Place de la Comedie
We’ve been to Montpellier before. We stayed here for a week in 2013 and we came back on a couple of day trips when we did our 2016 Tour de where-are-we going-to-live in France? Montpellier was high on that list until the fateful day our Parisian friend Denise said, If you have the chance to live in Paris at some point in your life, why wouldn’t you? You don’t have to stay forever. Cue the lightning bolt. That’s par for the course with Denise. She’s the person most directly responsible for our what-the-hell moment that kicked our ex-pat plans in motion. I hope you all have a Denise in your life, someone who can make the most innocuous comment and change your life. But I digress. As I do.
So what’s to love about this town? For starts of course, there’s the weather. It’s early December and it’s been about 60 and sunny. Every damn day. Mark and I are in the habit of dropping everything and going out whenever we see the least bit of sun because we know it will be only a cameo appearance in Paris. We’ve had to deliberately stop that nonsense or we were going to wear ourselves out. We’re staying in the pedestrianized medieval center, complete with winding streets that feel like a secret, except they’re full of shops and cafes, opening out into squares. Our apartment is still small by American standards, but it’s palatial to us, about 575 sq. feet. People have asked if we would get a bigger apartment if we left Paris. Oh hell yes. We’re not masochists.
Rue Bras-de-Fer, which translates to Arm Wrestling Street
Hey look, another cathedral!
It’s a university town which means it punches above its weight culturally. There is a major choreography center and we’ve arrived during a festival. We saw a brilliant dance performance by Sylvain Huc that reminded us of nothing so much as a live action Francis Bacon painting. There’s 3 art museums, one of which is devoted to Art Brut, a photography exhibition space, and more galleries than I can count. At the school of medicine there is a museum started in the late 1700s devoted to anatomy so I can get my creepy museum fix .
The botanic garden was established in 1593 and is the oldest in France. Its original intent was to supply medicinal plants for the medical school. Now it’s a nice quiet place to go hang out with the small herd of feral/friendly kitties. It always bums me out to see strays; these guys are at least clean, well-fed, spayed and neutered. There’s also a cat cafe for sitting with non-free range felines.
The decaying observatory
Vestiges of the original garden
We’ve hit the ground running with Meetups and language exchanges. There’s even a group called Goodbye Paris, Hello Montpellier, which feels like fate. Everyone I’ve asked so far is super enthusiastic about their town. Contrast this to Avignon, where we spent 6 weeks during our Tour de France, where everyone wanted to live somewhere else. I understood why after I endured a 10 day mistral there during a cold snap. (Mark was back in Chicago.) This was my I’m-not-living-where-the-wind-has-a-name moment.
Add to all that clean air, a tram/bus to the beach, good transportation, other cultural events, trains to small villages, and buses to the mountains. The downside: it gets hot in the summer. Last summer it hit 113. But it got that hot in Paris, so this is maybe a draw. Another possible downside: it’s a fast growing city. Towards the South is a neighborhood full of new apartment buildings to handle the increasing population. They remind me of invasive stoloniferous plants spreading out in a line. All in all, I’d rather live in a growing city than a declining one, but I suspect the pollution levels will rise. Pollution is one of the main things chasing me out of Paris. The constant throat clearing is getting tiresome.
Is this an upside or a downside? A testimony to the size of the American expat population at the local supermarket. Microwave popcorn, Bud, and Fluff. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Hope you all are loving where you call home!