Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday night in Montpellier

An open letter to my friends who find themselves in the fundraising business: a report on tonight. It's easy in a Mediterranean culture that lives outside, it's true, which Canada is not. There is no forecast of rain to worry about. But still, I wonder if something alone these lines might not work in Canada ...

I've just come from the first part of the regular Friday night festival on the Place de l'Opera here. There are always market vendors lined up, but tonight, there are many more, including old books. The main event - for 4 Euros, I bought a wine glass and a ticket for 3 glasses of wine. The vintners are lined up further down the plane-treed boulevard, along with many different kinds of food vendors. So I got to choose, one after the other, 3 different glasses of wine and then go and buy myself some food, while listening to music - canned at first, though they're getting ready for a live band. There are tables so groups and singles can sit down. I ate some Greek delicacies and a giant cheese platter and yes, 3 glasses of wine, all of which cost about 10 Euros. I went shopping while I munched and bought a few trinkets as presents. And most importantly, as a single woman wandering about, I was absolutely comfortable and unbothered.

There were also the usual street performance groups - black kids doing amazing dances and fire breathers and jugglers - and about a million people sitting at sidewalk caf├ęs. The air smells of the sea and also, as it does so often here, of urine and worse. But it's all rich and delicious, and tonight, almost everything is free.

As I sat drinking my third glass of wine and eating hummus, a couple walked by hand in hand who looked so like Ben and Sarah that I burst into tears. Luckily I was wearing sunglasses and could weep unembarrassed, missing and mourning my beloved friend, here in the most unlikely of spots.

At one end, there was a marvellous exhibit of huge photographs taken from a helicopter by Jann Arthus-Bertrand, in the interests of ecological enlightenment and preservation. As I walked around looking at the panels, I became aware of the problems of : irrigation in Lebanon; coal mines in South Africa; cotton production in Syria; fishing in Senegal; civil war in Sudan; flooding in Bangladesh; cattle production in the U.S., and the melting snows of Kilimanjaro. And on the plus side, the miraculous dromedaries in Mauritania, the miraculous flamingos of Kenya, the solar panels of Seville, Spain and the metal swirls of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, designed by the "Californian architect Frank Gehry." There was one Canadian shot, the melting ice of Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

At the end, it informed us that 20% of the world has no source of clean drinking water, 25% has no electricity and 40% no sanitary installations. 820 million people are underfed and half of humanity lives on less than $2 a day. On the plus side, since 1980, 80 countries have undertaken a democraticisation process, 47 have reached that goal and 33 are in transition. And on the other side of these panels, vendors from Africa and other third world countries were trying to sell their wares.

Ah well. I've had 3 glasses of wine and will not carry the world's burdens tonight. I'm going to go back out and listen to the band "Sticky Fingers." The air smells of the sea, and I'm ripe for the music.

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