16, 2001: Another day in montpellier
I learned a few things at the suisse chalet in montpellier. First, that fondue is from switzerland. I thought it was an invention from the 70's. I vaguely remember eating massive amounts of cheese with skewers of bread nearly twenty years ago, and always wondered where those hotpots of soft goo food went after the fondue fad retired along with the similar but non-edible lava lamp.
I was a bit scared to eat that much cheese, so I opted for the steak. I am vegetarian, but not in a strict sense. I'm vegetarian like madonna is catholic; I just play around with lots of vegetables in my otherwise omnivorous diet. I was however, shocked to find that the opening salad, which I expected to be mixed greens, was a plate of salad covered with a massive pile of steaming liver. I've never eaten liver because my mom didn't like it, and would feed it all to the cats. I tried to be open and experimental though, and choked most of it down. It tastes like formed powdered meat, like a beefy version of pringles. So now I've eaten liver.
The steak was as raw as I've ever seen. I generally like rare meat, but sometimes the definition of rare gets out of hand. I felt like I was committing an awful atrocity or performing surgery on a burn victim.
My last experience with steak in europe involved one I ordered in germany, which was smallish but good. The problem then was the waiter wanted me to pay my bill as he served us, as it "Ich bin goen zu hausen, kannst du payen riten nowen?" Unfortunately, when you don't tip (and they don't in europe), you have no power to affect your server's level of professional decency, so restaurant service can be like any other service industry that doesn't get tipped: think of the city tow or dmv or the kaiser permanente pharmacy.
The service at the suisse chalet was fine though. My steak came with french fries, which I guess really are from france, although they simply call them 'fried potatoes' there, or more literally, 'fried apples of the earth', which they abbreviate to 'fried apples'. Literal translations sure lose a lot of detail.
After a stayover at gabriel's house, I met philippe and we toured the rest of downtown montpellier the next day. We hiked thorough the characteristic narrow streets of the city and toured the old school of medicine, which is still teaching. After lunch we focused on buying stuff. I hadn't planned to stay over, so I ended up throwing away my socks from yesterday. France's experience with nuclear energy waste helped to properly dispose of them.
After buying lots of stuff, we headed back to comedy place for ice cream. I got a parfait (french for "perfect"), which included french vanilla ice cream, also really from france. There, vanilla is a vibrant flavor from the vanilla plant, not a synonym for bland nothingness. The other flavor was raspberry, and the combination was by far the best thing I'd eaten in france so far.
While we were in the café, philippe did his best to appear speak like an american. It is interesting to see a foreign interpretation of the stereotype to which you belong, but I still think it's more fun to make fun of other people.
Also, we ran into local celebrities: at the café was the entire crew from the 10 commandments, a popular theater troupe apparently known throughout france. French celebrities rarely overlap those of america, but phillippe was excited to see them, so I took stealth photos of him with them.
Afterward, we headed from the square past the awful triangle and through polygon, the big mall. We were going to meet phillippe's sister in antigon, an international business center and housing development across from polygon. Antigon, like triangle, was also built in the seventies, but rather than being more hideous international style dreck, it was built along classical lines, which must have been a first for europe.
After hitler's defacing of europe, the world community decided to shun the classic architecture that hitler liked so much, and instead turned 360 degrees toward the non-classical blank lines of the international style. Thus, we can blame hitler for not only his evil politics and virulent hatred, but also for casting the world into over thirty years of anti-nazi, but bland and non-monumental, architecture.
Well, the french know when to give up. Antigon was built with monumental classic lines like some sort of giant Caesar' palace, but with no casino. I took several pictures. They now are adding more high-rise housing on the edge of antigon. This looks like something san francisco should build, if building more housing is really a priority here.
I met max there and we headed back home thursday to make the meeting. Sitting through two hours of french is difficult when you don't know any. I was exhausted afterward. I was under massive medication and was planning for the x-rays the french doctor recommended to find out what was wrong with me. Leaving that weekend was no longer an option, so I changed my flight plans, at considerable expense, so that I could leave later and get doctored again. The next day, I would go to arles by myself to hang out. Little did I know that while I was in france, I was getting robbed at home. But that's another story.
More information about architecture, the south of france and the french:
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