Discover more from A Writer from Manila
Montpellier, We're Here
Nous sommes ici, discovering a new city
What I’ll remember most of all for our move to Montpellier is that it happened the day after Gaspard Ulliel died. You probably remember seeing him in “A Very Long Engagement”, opposite Audrey Tatou (the actor from “Amélie”). He also played Yves Saint Laurent in the biopic “Saint Laurent”, and in Xavier Dolan’s “Only the End of the World” (which I only watched this weekend, as I tried to catch up with Gaspard’s body of work.)
I’m not sure why I feel a bit devastated about his death, a freak accident while he was skiing somewhere southeast of France (please always wear your helmets!) Maybe devastated is too strong of a word. But perhaps we mourn the death of celebrities because we are reminded of our own mortalities and missed potentials. Memento mori: we remember that we will all die in the end. (Jeff Bezos is betting that he could escape it though.)
It’s strange to bookmark a new chapter of my life with another person’s death, but then life takes twists and turns that a lot of times don’t make sense. I’ve never imagined myself becoming an immigrant at this point in my life, but here I am. And I am not complaining. Yes, I had to give up seeing my friends face-to-face, and also leaving the country I’ve called home for most of my life, but then what a shitty thing it would be to discount the tremendous privilege I had to actually make such a huge upheaval. Not being dishonestly modest about that, but just accepting that it is the hand that life gave me—how I wish everyone had the opportunity to do so, too.
What I also find surreal about this experience is that I didn’t know that my attempts to improve my French for years will end up with me immersing in an actual French-speaking environment. In my previous letter, I mentioned that I got a tutor on Preply to improve my conversational skills. I’ve been studying French for years already, first through Duolingo, then by enrolling at a summer class in UP Diliman, and then after in Alliance Française. When I started though, I really just wanted to learn a new language: I had no practical reasons for it.
I’m still at basic fluency, and I’ve only gotten confident stringing sentences together out loud very recently. (In case I drop a few French phrases and sentences later on social media or elsewhere, forgive me: I’m practicing, and humiliation will be inevitable.)
We left London early Thursday morning last week because we needed to catch the 8 o’ clock train from St. Pancras to Gare du Nord in Paris. We almost missed the train because I stupidly forgot my phone at home as we packed our stuff in the taxi. I realized that I didn’t have my phone with me twenty minutes in the journey, and we had to make a u-turn back. The traffic had already started to build up and I swear it felt like the minutes had turned into seconds as we raced to the train station, then carried our six hulking bags past immigration. There was a long sigh of relief as we finally made it to our seats, dozing off most of the cross-country ride through the 50-kilometer underwater tunnel.
The memory of my last visit to Paris shot right back when we arrived at Gare du Nord, where my passport got stolen in 2019 and derailed the last leg of my Europe trip with my friend Gretchen. I wanted to run to the police station where we reported the theft and look for the unhelpful police officers, if only to say, “Guess who’s here!”
As a precaution though, my partner held tight to my passport this time, just in case the thieves were still around the area.
We took a cab to Gare de Lyon, where we would later take the train to Montpellier at 4 pm. We deposited our luggage in the lockers at the ground level of the station. With time to spare in Paris, we had lunch at Comptoir Veggie, a vegan restaurant nearby, then met up with B’s friends who lived in Paris. My stomach was a bit upset, but I was undeterred: I ordered the buddha bowl and croissant anyway, upset stomach be damned.
We walked to a pharmacy after lunch and tried to find oral rehydration salts for my stomach, and then B proposed we head by the Seine just before leaving Paris, where we spent the last few minutes before our last train ride exploring the area.
Since we arrived late in Montpellier, we didn’t have time to see the city that Thursday. We made up for it by roaming around during the weekend, discovering the Saturday market at Les Arceaux. I successfully ordered an espresso in French—an encouraging attempt that makes me hope I’d have more hits than strikes as the days come.
Life in Montpellier is just getting started, and I’m honestly looking forward to it. Good public transportation? Check. Pedestrian-friendly? Very. Vegan options? We’ve found a few, and we’re excited to integrate ourselves into the local vegan community. We’ve also visited a few gyms around the flat we’re renting, and I can’t wait to start working out again this week.
The big challenge would be finding a house we can call our home for the next year, or maybe more. (B & I both love traveling, so it’s too early to say if we’ll be here for good, but maybe I should improve French first before we even decide to go elsewhere.)