Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Ten wintry days in the South of France

Montpellier, Arles, the Camargue, and lots of et cetera



You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Montpellier again (and a museum, and an opera)

(Mozart, no less)

Saturday's the day for Montpellier's famous weekly flea market in the spacious Place du Peyrou, and this is the wonderful inexpensive tram from the northeastern suburb of Jacou (adjacent to Teyran) that's going to float us into the city centre at the Place de la Comédie. 28 December 2014.

Solar farms along the way (USA congressional Republicans would be apoplectic)

Our stop at the Place de la Comédie, and the Opéra Comédie itself, built in 1855 to replace a number of predecessors destroyed by fire.

The huge Place de la Comédie, looking east

An awkward statue of the "Three Graces" from 1790, by someone named Étienne d'Antoine. The figure in black is not part of the ensemble.

Kids will be kids

Our first task is to figure out where we are, or to put it the other way round, where the flea market is from here. An Office du Tourisme would be nice, but in the absence of that, we'll trust to our hunches. (In fact, the tourist office turned out to be just behind that globe thing.)

A tram from a different suburban line pulling in

Happy Design. We're on the main avenue to the northwest (shortly to become Rue Foch), towards the upper town around the Arc de Triomphe at the Porte du Peyrou.

The prefecture administration for the department of Hérault

The Rebuffy Pub

The former church of Saint Anne, now the Carré Saint-Anne exhibition of contemporary art

The Court of Appeals, next to the . . .

Porte du Peyrou arch

The huge park of Peyrou, with its famous weekly flea market, looks distinctly underpopulated today.

Probably complicated symbolism

At least Louis XIV is still here despite the cold.

A small crowd clustered around the hot drinks tent

This is the tasteful hexagonal, Corinthian-style Château d'Eau, or 'water tower', built in 1768 to distribute drinking water into the city from the aqueduct of St-Clément.

It stands at the high point in the city, and today the north wind is brutal.

Connecting to the Château d'Eau, this is the 17th century aqueduct of St-Clément, bringing fresh water into the city from the spring of St-Clément 14km away; after that, gravity took over and filled the fountains throughout the city.

The Aqueduct

The famous weekly flea market of Montpellier on the 28th of December. We'll come back in May.

Now it's back into the centre city; it's museum time.

Next stop, if we can find it, the Musée Fabre -- we're wending back downtown.

An Office du Tourisme would be a good thing now, with a free City Plan showing the hotspots.

Surely one of the hotspots: "Happy Hour 16h to 20h". Do they have free admission for the ladies at the play readings on Thursday nights?

Approaching the Place de la Comédie as hoped

A string of venerable cafés and restaurants along the northern side of the huge Place; the one on the far left is the McDonald's.

A seasonal tradition: what centre city doesn't have a temporary ice-skating rink for the holiday season?

Good grief! How elegantly modern.

The Place de la Comédie from its eastern end (as we're pleased to have discovered, at the Office of Tourism)

The long Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle, now occupied by a holiday-season market of food and nifty artisanal things

Kristin would like to buy tickets for this afternoon's opera, and the tourism office has directed us to the fancy modern Corum convention centre at the far end of the esplanade. There was nobody home there, unfortunately.

But perhaps a little something along the way would hit the spot. We settled for the blessed aligot, always a favorite, a blend of puréed potatoes, tomme cheese, and garlic, from the Auvergne region. We could happily have stayed right here all day.

Santa playing catch-up

We've misplaced the Musée Fabre.

Bingo. The museum reopened in 2007 after massive restructuring running to €63 million, and it's fabulous. (The name Fabre, and its other forms Favre, Faivre, Fevre, Febre, etc., is the equivalent of the common English name Smith, 'ironworker'.) The first collection was donated by F.-X. Fabre, a Montpellier painter, in 1825, and big donations followed throughout the 19th century. The present building, a grand family home, was donated to the city in 1968, and modernizations were begun in 2001.

Perhaps the collection has weaknesses, but one among its many signal strengths is in Flemish and Dutch masters, which suits me very well.

Like these peasants catching out a card sharp, by Pieter Breughel the Younger

And this vision of a village kermesse by David Teniers the Younger. What outdoor painting by Teniers doesn't include somebody leaning up against a wall having a wee?

And Jan Steen's 'As the older folks sing, the kids are squawking' (they look like they're sneaking into the wine pots)

The President's State of the Union speech to Congress, 2015
(Hondius, Wild Boar Hunt, 1675)

Tenier's peasant scenes may include someone discreetly having a wee up against a wall, but this is much worse: Johannes Lingelbach's medicinal The Purgative Source (ca. 1650).

Detail from Johannes Lingelbach's The Purgative Source (ca. 1650)

One collects pictures of Mary Magdalene paintings, who knows why? Church traditions about Mary have been confused and contradictory: was she one of the closest followers of Jesus, the one who first discovered his resurrection? Was she the 'prostitute' who washed his feet or whatever? Was she the 'woman taken in adultery', well-spring of the "Penitent Magdalene" tradition? Was she the apostle to whom Jesus gave the Special Secrets of God that he wouldn't even divulge to the Twelve male Disciples (as in the gnostic Gospel of Mary)? Was she married to Jesus? (cf. entertainingly and reliably, Bart Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene (2006)). This one's by the early 17th century Jacques Blanchard, presumably in the Penitent Magdalene tradition -- but very mild stuff against this Donatello.

Room, after room, after room, with lots of benches for the old folks

Oh no, another Poor Saint Agatha, a perennial hagiographical favorite, martyred in Catania in about 251 and thence "the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna". This from about 1630 by Anonymous.

This is Zubarán's version, about 1635.

Oh no, not the pincers! Poor Saint Apollonia, looking quite untroubled here, martyred in the anti-Christian persecutions in Alexandria in about 240 (for refusing to give up either virginity or Christianity, you choose). As to the traditional pincers -- she became the patron saint of dentistry, 'nuff said. (By Giovanni Battista Salvi, about 1650)

Kristin scrutinizing Art, and a guy at the end of the room observing her carefully, perhaps critically

Oh it's just Voltaire. He won't give us any problems (ca.1785, by J.-A. Houdon, an equal opportunity employee who also did a good job with Ben Franklin, G. Washington, and Thomas Jefferson . . . as well as Louis XIV and Napoleon)

Back out onto the Esplanade. Time's running out: we need to find this opera! We've been badly misled.

No points for the Tourist Office, but we've found the right place our-own-good-selves. It was at the Opera House. It's Kristin's treat (she's an opera enthusiast) and she's buying the tickets now, two and a half minutes before Curtains Up.

At a full run

"The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Bingo. The Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon has two venues: l’Opéra Berlioz / Le Corum in the fancy and from-the-outside uninspiring Corum centre (to which our Tourist Office friends sent us) and . . .

. . . here in L’Opéra Comédie, for the afternoon performance of Mozart's Idomeneo, re di Creta (1781), staged in 1950s dress on a fairly bare stage, successfully I thought.

Never having been to an opera before (except for Don Giovanni at the marionette theatre in Prague, which was great), I was positively inclined, despite its length -- luckily, the lyrics were shown in French on a screen above the stage, so the plot, if there was one, was only semi-perplexing.

The intermission, long long lines at the john

The curtain call (no flash, but maybe a bit crude and déclassé anyway). Experienced opera-goers have trained themselves to retain their impressions in memory for the rest of their lives (I need my camera).

Luckily the No-Photo police missed me and we were able to sneak out without creating a scene.

One of us was mightily impressed by the grandeur and regality of the premises and is entirely unqualified to comment on the singing, etc.; our more experienced companion enjoyed the performance heartily and felt that the city needs to reassess the condition of the venue and make some commitments for the future.

No problems with the electricity bills so far, anyway

We can thank Kristin for that opera escapade; I'd never have made the effort on my own. (I always have the notion that one good concert ticket could set me up with CDs of 10 concerts and a DVD of some of them. But that exclusive little box was neat, like being in a movie.)


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 2 February (World Wetlands Day) 2015.


South France, December 2014


SW France, June 2009


SW France, November 2008