Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain | Montpellier, France

I came across a tourist brochure advertising Montpellier’s charms, which claimed that the region boasts, on average, a total of 340 sunny days per year.

So, it seems that I have caught exactly those 25 other days, the ones that went unmentioned, the ones tourist brochures would gloss over conveniently. Because, let’s see (making a quick calculation in my head)… yup, for just over three weeks now, the skies have been almost constantly overcast, dark and cloudy and rain has been pouring out of them pretty much incessantly.

In addition to making it hard to believe in the promises of eternal sunshine and be enraptured by the alleged charms of southern France, the constant rain and clouds also take away the pleasure of walking through autumn leaves – when they are soggy, they no longer rustle.

On a more practical level, though, constant rain makes for wet feet, causes me to miss open-air farmers’ markets, results in the interruption of the running of trams and poses a danger of flooding. (On the bright side, though, it meant that I just had to buy a cute polka-dotted raincoat from the kids’ section.)

But I am a firm believer in statistics. (That, and whatever information is advertised in tourist brochures.) So, relying on those, as well as the visible, albeit slight, opening up of the skies, it actually looks like the gloomy and wet spell is now coming to an end and the sun will finally come out. Let those 340 days of sunshine begin!

Shadow theater | Montpellier, France

Shadow plays are an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, which uses opaque, often articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. According to ever-trusty Wikipedia, this form of entertainment for both adults and children has a long history in Asia.

Although it may not look like it, the stick-like shadow in the right part of the above picture is actually that of a baguette. Very French of me, I know.

Speaking of French, as fate and circumstance would have it, in addition to China, India, the Ottoman Empire, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, shadow theater has a long history in France as well. The Ombres chinoises, or Chinese shadows, first came to France in the middle of the 18th century, brought over by French missionaries to China and travelers to the Orient. Performed in Paris – especially in Montmartre, in Marseille and later in Versaille, for the pleasure of the royal family and its court, these shows caused quite a stir. After a time and some local modifications, the Asian shadow theater eventually became known as Ombres françaises.

Leave it to the French to hoard and appropriate other places’ cultural traditions. Just kidding… sort of.

P.S. This post is a special shout-out to my dear friend Tanya, who likes to take pictures of her shadow in interesting places. (Yes, the same Tanya I visited in Vienna last fall.)

Finding my feet | Montpellier, France

When I stumbled upon these yellow cobblestones in the center of Montpellier, I was instantly – and predictably, reminded of their larger, brighter and more full-of-history distant cousins, which grace the center of Sofia.

I may not be brilliant at a lot of things, but this is one thing I know I am pretty good at (that, and being humble!): I can travel to and live in different places freely, light-heartedly, without being bogged down by homesickness, nostalgia and the longing for home, without the cumbersome impulse to find and latch on to familiar things, to seek out fellow compatriots or to regularly consume luytenitsa or lukanka. Don’t get me wrong, of course I miss friends and family and places that I love, but that’s a constant that happens all the time and everywhere, regardless of whether I am “at home” or traveling or living abroad.

And still, this time, the spontaneous association with Sofia’s cobblestones snuck up on me in an instant, before I could rationalize and wave it away as some sort of unwarranted signal of a sentimental attachment to my hometown.

I am pretty sure that a term must have been coined for this syndrome – the tendency among travelers and ex-pats to spot and latch onto familiar things when they find themselves in a foreign environment with no recognizable points of reference. When searching for what it might be called, among all the coping-with-life-abroad websites aimed at helping people who face culture shock when living and traveling outside of their home country, strangely, one of the search results was a link to a dictionary definition of the idiom ‘to find one’s feet’. Apparently, it means ‘to become familiar with a new place, situation or experience’.

A crazily fitting coincidence, no?

And, as for the term that describes the tendency to look for the familiar when placed in an unfamiliar environment, I wasn’t able to find it. Any ideas?