My face fell within five seconds of our train pulling into Montpellier. My heart bled with the sky, my skin cold as much as from dread as the wind. You see, I got onto that train from Paris as much to shun the old as much as embrace the new. But life has a funny way of reminding you when things are going terribly, manifesting as it seemed through pathetic fallacy in my case.
With a €10 Picpoul tucked under each armpit we dodged and ducked our way to the AirBnB that was fortunately a mere five minute walk from the station. Our incomplete coterie of travellers allowed us to use waiting for the last member, an unknown Facebook friend at that very moment, as an excuse to avoid the dismal outdoors. My friends struggled to connect to WiFi, I struggled to get comfortable as I melted into the couch – moulding myself to its nooks and crannies, finding warmth in the sharp corners.
Here I was, doing what I knew best. You see, practise made me the perfect escapist. As a child, Sophie’s World was mine, as was Hogwarts and Neverland and Narnia. There were no bullies here. And as I grew up, I ignored Beckett’s warning – habit became my great deadener, my choice to constantly leave at the sight of something that made me uncomfortable clawing bit by bit at any possibility for permanence. This time, it took me a train ticket and 800km. A ticket and all that earth stretched tight to tread lightly my comfort zone that so far suffered a stab to the gut with every glance outside the window, the patter of rain and the skies hanging low an ominous reminder of the very thing I sought to escape. Imperfection in all its motley glory : a bitter pill to swallow as a habitual perfectionist struggling to quit.
Eyes snapped to the door.
One foot followed the other.
It was hard to tell the rucksack from the person, scarf and sweater strewn haphazardly across both bag and human. I sat up curiously as a twenty something took shape, her face now visible as she shed first one bag, then a tote to stand there, eyes wide, smiling at a bunch of complete and absolute strangers.
With a quick swish of hair and sweater, I found her on the floor beside me, wine glass in one hand, arm stretched towards me in camaraderie.
I took the glass she held out for me, launching a generic interrogation, the hows and whats and wheres of her being settled within the next fifteen minutes or so. And then the question we all wanted to ask:
“Where were you for the past five hours of stepping foot in Montpellier anyway?”
“Rescued by a Moroccan woman!”
I took a large sip from my glass. Fresh.
She told us how she had arrived in Montpellier, unprepared for the weather in her denim shorts and long sweater and had spent the first couple of hours welcomed by a total stranger who offered her tea and lunch.
Unprepared. For the first time, so was I. All my knowledge of the region came from that morning’s train ride spent skimming through the guidebooks I had so impulsively purchased in bulk. My oohs and aahs were in unison with the rest, but my mind was racing, bewildered at the novelty of it all. She had taken my fear of not knowing and turned it on its head, paving the way for surprises in absence of expectations.
I sat at the edge of the sofa now, holding on to every word she said with curiosity.
“What will you miss most about Paris?”
“I’m going to jump into the Seine, so I suppose I’ll miss that.”
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“Does it matter?”
She talked about going to jail for purchasing wine as a minor, how her life hit refresh with every new city she moved to, every cut and scrape, every flaw and virtue, the two sides of all the things that made her. I swallowed my wine, its sweet and spicy zest lingering faintly in the back of my throat. This wine was complex yet rooted in its place, outrageously unapologetic for what it was. Too acidic? Too bad. Too much lemon? Too bad. It was a fresh summer breeze, flowing softly and kindly over your palate while simultaneously setting your whole goddamn mouth on fire. Sipping the wine and speaking to her was like sailing on a rough sea but doing it anyway until you were forced, by the weather or your peers, for the love of god, to turn around.
Like travelling to a Mediterranean city only to find swollen skies and icy wind but venturing out anyway.
Why I chose the big, bad outdoors over the corners of that couch that evening, I will never know. Sure, the Spartan wind numbed my face and the rain made me wish I had my umbrella. But she stood there smiling, Pinet in hand and somehow the grey became another shade on my colour wheel.
It was cold. It was wet. It wasn’t always sunny in Montpellier but that was okay. You see, imperfections come easily for it’s the natural order of the world.
Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle – Le Corum Palais des Congrès – Opéra Berlioz – Boulangerie Pâtisserie Frézal – Porte du Pila Saint Gély – Parc des Pastourelles – Bistro Romain
Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Félines Jourdan (2016) : White | Light/Medium Bodies | Dry | Pair with Oysters| Get some here.