from Sandy Needham

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Montpellier '07 Dispatch

November 18, 2007

We found more lovely weather in the south of France in mid-October. The Saturday evening of our arrival was the day of the semi-final rugby match between England and France. The gigantic Place de La Comedie was wall-to-wall spectators for the mega-screen erected there to air the match. We all made our way through the crowd, then onto side streets equally packed with spectators at outdoor bars and restaurants with TV screens. Led by members of the French partner company, we wound our way to a small, elegant French restaurant.

After our party of eight was seated, Hal studied the wine list. The single tiny waiter who can only be described as Roberto Benigni in a serious, officious role, informed us that we must order our food before we could order the wine, as monsieur le chef would need to start preparing it. After studying the menu and having Meredith, who lived in Paris for 7 years, explain some of the dishes, we continued to deliberate while Hal tried again, unsuccessfully, to order some wine. The little man briskly took our orders. Now we wanted to order the wine. He did not return for some time, but eventually took our wine order. Now he reappeared many times, to serve food and wine to other tables, to collect our place-setting plates, to store clean glasses in a cabinet...I was sure he would return with a feather duster soon and clean the room to further postpone serving us. But he would not bring us our wine! Finally he ran out of busy work and brought the wine. After pouring, he put the white wine in a bucket across the room. Now Hal, who is about 6'4" and 250 pounds, was ready for more wine, but the waiter was not around, so Hal got up and went across the room to pick up the bottle. The waiter appeared and began to admonish him in no uncertain terms from mid-torso height that ze waiter does ze pouring. Of course, now that we had our wine, we found it all hilarious. The truly gourmet food made up for most everything, but the waiter had the last word by not replenishing ice in the bucket and letting our second bottle of white get warm.

While the business partners met, I returned to the Sunday morning street market I had discovered here last fall and bought a pancake of chopped greens and bacon for breakfast . The rest of the day I wandered through the vast open public plazas, past a fountain with a copy of the 'Zeus or Poseidon' statue from Greece, stopped for an outdoor curry lunch since Newton doesn't like Indian food and there is none in Natal, read my book on a bench along the esplanade.

As I was reading, I recognized a familiar distant rhythm, and followed my ears. There in the large Place de La Comedie in this small world was a circle of people watching capoeira - the marshal art/dance created by African slaves in Brazil, who were not allowed to fight. My Afro-Brazilian dance teacher of 8 years in Manhattan, Loremil, was a capoeirista from Bahia - the state where slaves disembarked from Africa. He taught us a little capoeira in class, but mostly samba and dances from the African candomblé religion. I loved to go see him perform capoeira at my favorite Brazilian night club or in Central Park on a Sunday afternoon in those NY days. I stayed with his very poor family in Salvador, Bahia when I visited in '83 and sent his mother some money after he died of AIDS some years later. It is common to find these circles of capoeira in Brazil. Recently we were watching a group on the Ponta Negra Beach sidewalk. One of the performers had only one foot, we discovered, when during his formidable acrobatic feats the sneaker on one leg was turned all the way around backwards. He was amazing. This group in France consisted of locals studying capoeira and some Brazilian instructors and musicians. The music is a combination of chanting, the strumming of a berimbau - a gourd with a thudding, long string, percussion, and clapping of the rhythm. It was a funny sensation to watch this against a backdrop of 18th century French architecture!

Newton and I flew to Paris for a very short night before embarking on our separate trips to Asia and the US. I had to emerge from the hotel pre-dawn, alone, pulling my suitcase under the street lamps to the Metro station to ride to the airport. I missed Newton already! Nine flights to go for Newton and eight for me, now off to Boston. Newton had time to visit the Musée de l'Orangerie with Monet's 360º painting of water lilies, but was coming down with a horrible cold and felt lousy when he flew to Tokyo.


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