On a day when I was disheartened with Montpellier, it managed to surprise me once again. I had eaten at McDo alone, and was very much lost on what I knew would be a futile attempt to start my on-the-ground research. There I was, eight o’clock at night, on a strange street lined with dilapidated medieval structures. I followed the only reasonable direction there is, forward, and the buildings began to grow more and more impressive.
In the goldening light of first evening, the stones seemed to glow with the secrets of hundreds of years of life, and in front of me appeared a palace. As lovely as it was, however, I was several tram stops from my neighborhood, the evening was quickly approaching, and I had still not found the gardens integral to my studies. I leaned against a lamppost, unfolding my map and staring blankly at it. Then, like a cat would have, a friendly young French man appeared. I was immediately at ease with his mop of brown curls, big smile, and beachy sandals. He asked me what I was looking for, then quietly walked me in the right direction. On my left developed an increasingly incredible botanical extravaganza, a fantasy in plants. I was seduced and intrigued by the foliage, but once we reached the tall iron gate, we found it to be closed. My new companion, Romain, worried I would I would be sad and told me of another garden I could visit nearby, but I wasn’t sad, nor did I want to see another garden. At a moment that should have been disheartening, I was inexplicably filled with hope. I knew I would return tomorrow, with more daylight and a camera prepared to shoot. But for now, I was content to see the sun set over an iron gate, reflecting off of a cascading fountain, making the flowers and trees within sparkle with one last ray of light before being extinguished.
I explained to my accompanist that I was studying vitalist discourse in the Enlightenment, and instead of being confused by my big ideas and little French, he listened, nodded and said “vitalism wasn’t very Enlightened.” I admitted that it is the exact opposite of my biggest philosophical tenets, those of Descartes, and that this is why it interests me. My new friend did not ask me to repeat myself, nor did he have any trouble understanding me. He said very little, in fact, and was only confused once he asked where I lived and found I was in North Carolina, in the South of the US. He smiled when he talked about summer in Montpellier, and I knew I was lucky to be here in such a time.
Romain walked me, completely platonically, to the train stop before heading on his way with a pleasant “enchanté” and an attempt to pronounce my name. Now the sun was really setting, and when I stepped off the train, I remarked that the swallows, always present in Montpellier, were flying very high in the sky. It brings good luck to see them so situated, my host mother once explained to me, because they have the sense to fly lower if it might rain. I plucked a pink flower for my hair, and walked the last few paces home in an overwhelming state of pure contentment.