No trip to Montpellier is really abortive, because it is such a pleasure to be there. Nevertheless, my main reason for going – to have the car boot fixed – was abortive.
The Mercedes garage in Castelnau, a grimly unappealing modern growth on the northern edge of Montpellier, is my nearest Smart agent. A week ago I went there to report that for some months the boot has been progressively difficult – or too easy – to close (and sometimes actually springs open). The technician fixed the problem but ordered new hinges to be doubly sure the problem would not repeat.
Yesterday I had an appointment to have these hinges installed – except it turned out that two parts were still stuck in Germany, in Hanover. Clearly the business of alerting me had fallen between the Mercedes ordering department and the Smart atelier. I expressed much righteous (and justifiable) indignation at not having been phoned and the reception guy came as near as anybody in France does to apologising, promising that he would take personal responsibility for ensuring that this would not happen again.
So, I went on my way to the centre of Montpellier. I have taken to parking at one of the two huge underground carparks under the central Place de la Comédie or next to the hideous opera house, le Corum. I came out of the latter, opposite the Musée de Fabre, and immediately my spirits lifted. There is something very special about the brilliance of the winter light in the south of France combined with the lovely, light Montpellier stone and magnificent architecture. It is such a pleasure just wandering down the narrow streets.
On to my second frustration of the day: I had planned to upgrade my iphone, which I have had for over two years. But at the Orange store, I discovered I had misread the small print: the special offer I had spotted on the Orange website applied only to new customers.
The fact that we have been customers of France Telecom/Orange for over 25 years and that I have had mobile contracts for well over ten years counts for nothing. The reduction on the new Apple iPhone was derisory and I had to walk away. Instead I went on to the Apple Store and ordered a new battery for my old phone (at a reduced price following the recent scandal about Apple slowing down old phones).
Lunch, on the other hand, was not frustrating. As usual I lunched at l’Apparthé, Alain’s excellent restaurant, sharing a table with two other couples (one from near Paris, the other originally from Lyon). This was all very jolly, we shared appreciation of Alain’s food, and of the architecture of Montpellier, agreeing that Georges Frêche, the charismatic though controversial mayor of Montpellier for nearly 30 years , had played a pivotal role in transforming it from a sleepy, rundown backwater to this elegant and dynamic city.
The third frustration, or minor setback, was finding my car again! I had remembered the parking number (178), but at the moment I had been about to take the lift, there had been an earsplitting siren (which I initially thought I had set off) followed by loud, urgent messages to vacate the building, which I did, up endless flights of stairs. On my return, no sign of my car on level -1. More going up and down, hunting for key notices, before finally discovering my car was on level -2. I thought it was a universal convention that the first digit indicated the level in carparks and hotels.