Each summer, the city of Montpellier hosts a dance festival: Montpellier Danse. We built a two-night excursion around two performances that we wanted to see. Our plan was to enjoy nice lunches each day, relax, do a little shopping, maybe a museum, and then go to the performances, which started at 8 pm. After the shows, we would get something light to eat and drink outside in a café.

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Day 1

By train, Montpellier is only about an hour and a half from Carcassonne. We arrived around 11 am on a very hot July day. We had selected a pleasant little hotel just across from the train station. We dropped off our bags  and headed back out into the heat. It was already in the 90s F / upper 30s C. We maneuvered from shady spot to shady spot.

Around the corner from our hotel is a shady park called Square Planchon. Curious public-art sentries watch over whatever the Montpellierians were doing in the park.

First stop was the cool covered Halles Laissac, a new neighborhood fresh-products market. We wanted to see the colored glass roof and the local stalls. Hanging out in the market for a little while, out of the heat, was a little masochistic. Everything looked delicious and hyper-fresh. We hadn’t eaten breakfast in anticipation of the day’s nice lunch. We stared at the vegetables, fish, meats, and prepared foods, mouths watering.

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At last it was time to venture out again, up hill through the historic center of Montpellier, called the Écusson. Montpellier is a university town, full of creative young people. Among the winding streets of the Ecusson, we found many distinctive boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Even in the heat, people were enjoying lunch outside in the shade of welcome trees.

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“The cats sleep but there is iced tea.” In the window of a tea house that includes friendly cats.

We had chosen a small Korean-Japanese-French fusion restaurant called Umami La Cinquième Saveur (the fifth taste).  The chef, Amélie Young Min, is a young Korean woman; she has created a concise menu with creative dishes that bring French and Asian flavors together. Mike selected the Bibimbap, which was almost completely traditionally Korean, with welcome energetic spices. My Morue Frîte (fried cod) was more of a fusion, with gentle Korean flavors along with fresh French asparagus and edamame. While we have a lot of restaurants in Carcassonne to choose from, this type of creative international cuisine is absent. Spending a couple hours in the attractive tiny modern restaurant with tasty attractive food was delightful. At the end of our meal, the chef stopped by our table. She enjoyed the fact of Mike’s Korean heritage, but perhaps was a little disappointed when he couldn’t reply in Korean!

After lunch, as we wandered through the Écusson, we came upon a political demonstration. Nothing terribly disruptive. Nice flags, lots of ordinary folks, and a couple people trying to organize the rest. Very French!

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Another sign of a hot summer day.

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Montpellier has a nice big Uniqlo store; it is always a stop when we visit. On the hottest day of the year, I bought a new down vest; winter will indeed come back before we know it. Like Costco or Ikea, entering Uniqlo with a short list of target items translates to a couple full shopping bags of t-shirts, polo shirts and more. Not unforeseen!

With the heat, we thought that we’d just go back to the hotel, relax and take a siesta. Like many hotel rooms around here, you have to put your key-card in a slot by the door in order to activate the power and AC in the room. We weren’t surprised to find the room a bit warm and stuffy. However, we were surprised to find how anemic the AC fan was. It was just too warm and still for a comfortable siesta. The woman at the front desk said simply and pleasantly that it just takes a little time for the rooms to cool down.

I decided to head up the street to the Monoprix store (part grocery store, part general store) to buy a fan for our room. I rationalized that we could always use another fan at home. Alas, at Monoprix, no fan.

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The street from the hotel to Monoprix

But there is a big multi-level mall on the other side of the Place de la Comédie, Montpellier’s famous huge public square.

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Place de la Comédie: The Polygone mall is at the far end to the right.

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By the time I got to the mall, I was dripping. Four stores later, at all ends of the mall, I found a fan that seemed OK and reasonably priced. Triumphant, I came back to our room, and to Mike who was contentedly reading on the bed. The room was a bit cooler, but still in need of air flow. I showed Mike the box, and then realized that, of course, this fan required some assembly. After finally discovering that a key screw-knob turned the opposite way of typical screws, I put the fan together, and fell asleep under its welcome breeze.

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The first dance performance was in the Opéra Comédie, the attractive 19th-century opera house that anchors one end of the Place de la Comédie. This was the first time that we had been inside the opera house. It is full of lovely paintings, classical and almost modern details, great chandeliers and balustrades. The main hall seats 1,200 people, but felt intimate.

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The performance was entitled A Quiet Evening of Dance, choreographed by William Forsythe. In the 1980s, I lived in New York City, and had the good fortune to attend a lot of contemporary dance performances. This was the time of William Forsythe’s coming into his own. Now, he is a celebrated contemporary choreographer. The word Quiet in the title was important. Most of the first half of the evening’s pieces had no musical accompaniment. The dancers performed in a quiet hall, with sparse recordings of bird calls, and the the inevitable background of audience coughs and rustles. The first dancers were clad in black, with white gloves that extended to their upper arms. Their movements were precise and enormously varied. By the time the end of the first half arrived, mostly in silence, the crisp movements and the quiet had put us in a soothing trance.

The second half was more musical, but equally precise and capable. A lovely night of contemporary dance.

We emerged from the opera house after 10 pm, to find the Place de la Comédie full of activity. The air had cooled, and the sky was just getting dark. We found a front-row table at one of the cafés. We ordered steaks and frîtes (despite having sworn to eat light after the generous Korean-French lunch) and a bottle of red wine. We think the bottle had sat out during the entire hot day. Hot wine is for mid-winter, not mid-summer. We eventually convinced the waiter to bring us a bucket of ice, which tamed the (mediocre) wine. And the steak was dense and chewy. But the fun was being outside in the now-lovely summer evening, watching all the activity in the square. People of all ages and ethnicities were coming and going, being tourists, being students, being young families on a summer night.

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Two young men performed acrobatic leaps to a wide range of very loud music, just beyond our café. The crowd quickly gathered. One song that they selected (and that we heard a couple times each night), unabashedly has the F-word in every line. Only the English and American tourists would know what word was filling the square.

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Day 2

After the hotel breakfast, we spent the morning in the Polygone Mall, just off the Place de la Comédie. This is the time of the semi-annual sales in France. By law, there are two times in the year when stores are allowed to have sales on their existing stock — usually in January/February and July/August. Most retailers have figured out lots of creative ways to offer sales — called “promotions” — at other times of the year. But this is the season of official sales. We looked around, but didn’t buy much.

We had selected a fine-dining option for this day’s lunch. The restaurant, La Réserve Rimbaud, is located a little ways outside the Écusson, along a river that runs to the Mediterranean. Judging by Google Maps, we decided to walk to the restaurant. Alas, almost the entire route was bereft of shady trees. Arriving, sweaty, we anticipated a cool restaurant overlooking the river. However, all dining was outside, under umbrellas, above the river. About 95 degrees F / 35C. There was a light breeze, happily, and plenty of water. We acclimated, and enjoyed sitting overlooking the river. The food was delicious, creative, beautiful. A really wonderful meal. But warm!

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No walk back for us. We discovered that Uber is alive and well in Montpellier. The cool ride in a Mercedes back to the hotel made us happy!

With our new red fan, siesta and relaxing reading were easy this afternoon.

Tonight’s performance was in Le Corum, a corporate-looking huge concert hall at the far end of a leafy park. Much larger than the opera house, but fully booked.

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This performance was choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmacker, a Belgian choreographer. The evening was comprised of all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. This performance was different from last nights. The choreography and/or the capability of the dancers was looser, even messier, than what we had experienced in the opera house. I thought a few times that it felt like a bunch of dancers who spontaneously got together, “Let’s put on a show!”, and just had a great time jumping and running around. The best moment was when one of the male dancers strolled off the stage. The movement of the concerto at the time had almost a pounding rhythm of base winds and strings. The dancer returned with a black-and-white dog on a leash. The dog was delighted to be there, and barked his enthusiasm along with the music.

We returned to the Place de la Comédie after the performance. This time, we chose pizza and rosé. Another warm pleasant night, full of passers-by and performers.

Day 3

Our train would leave at noon. After breakfast, we thought we’d stop in the newly opened Moco Museum (contemporary art) just around the corner from the hotel. It was Saturday morning. Much to our surprise, we discovered that the museum would open at 1 pm! (I just noticed that NOW the museum opens at 9 on Saturdays. Argh!)

Plan B: We had walked by the Tour de la Babote on our first day. It is a 12th-century tower, once part of Montpellier’s fortifications and home to an observatory; certainly that would be interesting. Alas, only a courtyard with cafés.

Still in the mood for culture, we sought out the Musée du Vieux Montpellier (the museum of old Montpellier). Entering the forecourt of the museum, we realized that we’d been there years before on a walking tour. While normally, the museum would have been open at 10 (it was around 10), this particular Saturday, it wouldn’t open until 11.

Running out of enthusiasm, getting warm, we plopped ourselves down in a café, under misters, and ordered some sparkling water. Pleasantly, a casual group of jazzy musicians set up and enlivened the square.

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Unlike many SNCF trains, ours left on time and easily took us home. Not a bad 48 hours in Montpellier.

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